Thrilling WRC season continues at legendary gravel fixture.
The FIA World Rally Championship is in the thick of one of its most intense seasons in recent memory as Vodafone Rally de Portugal (11 - 14 May) looms ahead.
With a mere 11 points separating the leading five drivers, this fifth round could set the tone for the remainder of the season. Portugal, a legendary founding event of the WRC, kickstarts a series of gruelling gravel challenges, seven in a row.
Toyota Gazoo Racing star Elfyn Evans seized the joint championship lead with a classy victory in Croatia last month. Pressure on the Welshman has been well and truly cranked up this time out, especially with his table-topping team-mate Sébastien Ogier absent from competition.
Opening the road in Friday’s first leg, Evans will face the challenge of low grip on slippery sand-coated roads as he sweeps away loose dirt to leave a cleaner line for those behind.
“We’re into a busy period now with rallies coming thick and fast, and Portugal is the start of a string of gravel events,” he said. “We will just have to try and maximise our performance in the loose conditions we will face on Friday and see what’s possible.”
Defending champion Kalle Rovanperä knows exactly what it takes to win from the front and did exactly that 12 months ago. The Finn, who joins Evans and Takamoto Katsuta in a three-strong Toyota entry, is still searching for his first triumph of 2023 and sits second in the points.
Esapekka Lappi will be eager to build on the podium result he achieved last time out, his first in Hyundai colours. Thierry Neuville drives a similar i20 N car along with Dani Sordo, a six-time podium finisher in Portugal.
Ott Tänak, fourth in the points, headlines M-Sport Ford’s Puma attack. The Estonian, victorious in Portugal back in 2019, partners with French driver Pierre-Louis Loubet to challenge for top honours.
The rally is based in the coastal city of Matosinhos. After Thursday night’s start in Coimbra, competitors face 19 speed tests covering 329.06km in north and central Portugal. It finishes on Sunday afternoon after a finale over the iconic roads of Fafe.
Image: Esapekka Lappi (FIN) and Janne Ferm (FIN) Of HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WORLD RALLY TEAM perform during World Rally Championship Mexico in Leon, Mexico on March 16, 2023