Vodafone Rally de Portugal - Citroen out to continue its winning streak
Following its absence from the 2008 calendar, the Rally de Portugal returns to the FIA World Rally Championship this year. For Citroen Total WRT, which saw both its C4 WRCs finish on the podium here two years ago, this weekend's encounter will provide a pointer to the real potential of the different runners and riders on the loose. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have yet to be beaten in 2009 and will looking to build on their current run. For Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, the proximity of Spain will be an added source of motivation as they target a top-three finish.
The Rally de Portugal is one of world class rallying's classic fixtures, and this year sees it return to the WRC fold with a significantly revised route and the Estadio Algarve as its epicentre. The stadium will also serve as backdrop for the super-special which is always a highlight for the connoisseur Portuguese spectators.
After claiming victory on the first three rounds of the 2009 championship, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena go to the first all-gravel showdown of the year intent on continuing their winning streak. "The Citroen C4 WRC is competitive on all the different types of surface, as our recent successes in the rain in Ireland, on snow in Norway and on the mixed-surface Cyprus Rally show," observes the five-time World Champion. "Portugal marks the return of a more conventional format. If we are competitive here, it would suggest that we are also likely to be strong on the year's other gravel rounds."
In addition to adding a second Rally de Portugal success to his name, Sebastien Loeb will be targeting his 51st WRC victory: "I start every event with the intention of winning. We will push hard from the start and see how things unfold…"
With a score of 17 points to their name, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti have got their 2009 campaign off to a flying start and have high hopes for the fourth round of the season: "There are plenty of new stages, but I enjoy this rally which is very varied. The stages are narrow in places, and fast and wider in others. It's a concentrate of what we will find in Argentina, Greece and Sardinia later in the year."
During his visit to the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, Dani Sordo will be able to count on the support of fans who make the trip from Spain: "If only for them, I will give it my very best shot. It's always nice to feel their support behind me. As in 2007, my aim will be to finish on the podium."
The Rally de Portugal marks the debut of the 2009-homologated C4 WRC. Both Citroen Total World Rally Team cars will feature small modifications to the engine, gearbox and suspension.
Three questions to… Sebastien Loeb
After a year away from the WRC calendar, the Rally de Portugal is back on the programme. What is your opinion of this event?
"It's a really nice rally which deserves its place in the World Championship. It attracts big crowds and the local spectators know their rallying. We always get an excellent welcome and it's nice to feel that our sport counts for the people here, and that the WRC is seen as a major event. I love the stages; they are very varied with a range of different surface types. The weather tends to be good, too, so it's basically got all the ingredients anyone could ask for to be a great weekend!"
This is the first all-gravel round of the year. Does it set the tone for the rest of the season?
"A crew or a car which goes well in Portugal will also be competitive on events like Argentina, Sardinia and Greece. We kicked off the season with three very specific rallies, and Portugal is the first round to feature a more conventional format and spirit. Given the level we have reached with the development of the C4 WRC, we have a shrewd idea of where we stand. In Cyprus, for example, we worked from the same basic set-up we used in Wales. That suggests that our car is versatile enough to adapt to all types of terrain."
You have begun the 2009 season by winning the season's three opening rounds, which is a first for you. There are 12 rounds in the calendar; do you think a grand slam is possible?
"On paper, I know we are capable of winning every event, so a grand slam isn't out of the question, but 12 rallies is a lot. Last year, we won 11 rounds from 15, and we are enjoying a good run at the moment, but it's really not the sort of thing I think about. I take each outing as it comes, and our main objective is the title."
· Vodafone Rally de Portugal (April 2-5), round 4 of 12
· Surface: gravel
· Host town: Vilamoura
· Practical information: Rally HQ, the service park and the Media Centre are all located in the Estadio Algarve in Almancil, 8km from Faro. There is a one-hour time difference between Portugal (GMT+1) and Continental Europe (GMT+2). When it is 7am in Portugal it is 8am in France. Sunrise on Day 1 of the rally (Friday April 3) is 7.16am. Sunset is 7.56pm.
· Technical matters: The three Citroen C4 WRCs will have new engines which will go on to compete in Argentina and Italy. One spare gearbox, one spare set of differentials and one spare turbo are permitted per driver for Portugal and Argentina. Steering racks and subframes will be sealed before the start of the Rally de Portugal and will then be used again in Argentina.
· Tyres: each crew will have 46 hard compound Pirelli Scorpion 205/65 tyres for the event. Competitors may carry two spares, but the 're-cutting' of tread patterns is not authorised.
· Recce: Tuesday March 31 (8.00am to 8.00pm) and Wednesday April 1 (8.00am to 6.00pm). The maximum authorised speed is 70kph (or lower, depending on local restrictions).
· Shakedown: Thursday April 2 (8.00am to 12 noon) near Vale Judeu.
· Press conference: Thursday April 2 (1.30pm), Media Centre.
· Start ceremony: Thursday April 2 (from 4.45pm).
· Route length: 1,164.99km, including 361.36km divided into 18 stages (12 different).
· Day 1 (Thursday April 2 and Friday April 3): 429.19km, including 136.21km divided into 7 stages (4 different). Thursday April 2: SS1 (SSS Estadio Algarve 1, 2.21km). Parc ferme (17.00). Friday April 3: Service A (09.10, 15 minutes). SS2 (Ourique 1, 23.42km), SS3 (Silves 1, 21.54km) and SS4 (Malhao 1, 22.04km). Regroup (13.20, 15 minutes). Service B (13.35, 30 minutes). SS5 (Ourique 2, 23.42km), SS6 (Silves 2, 21.54km) and SS7 (Malhao 2, 22.04km). Service C (18.00, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 21.00.
· Day 2 (Saturday April 4): 467.30km, including 145.18km divided into 6 stages (3 different). Service D (08.40, 15 minutes). SS8 (Santa Clara 1, 22.61km), SS9 (Almodovar 1, 27.18km) and SS10 (Vascao 1, 22.80km). Regroup (13.05, 15 minutes). Service E (13.20, 30 minutes). SS11 (Santa Clara 2, 22.61km), SS12 (Almodovar 2, 27.18km) and SS13 (Vascao 2, 22.80km). Service F (18.00, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 21.00.
· Day 3 (Sunday March 15): 268.50km, including 79.97km divided into 5 stages (3 different). Service G (06.50, 15 minutes). SS14 (Loule 1, 22.65km) and SS15 (S. Bras Alportel 1, 16.23km). Service H (10.01, 30 minutes). SS16 (Loule 2, 22.65km), SS17 (S. Bras Alportel 2, 16.23km) and SS18 (Estadio Algarve 2, 2.21km). Rally finish (14.10).
· Podium: Sunday April 5 (from 2.45pm).
· Post-rally press conference: Sunday April 5 (3.30pm), Media Centre.
· New: although the event uses the same facilities, the route has been extensively modified. Silves (SS3/6) is new, but Ourique (SS2/5) and Malhao (SS4/7) have been modified. On Day 2, Santa Clara (SS8/11) and Almodovar (SS9/12) have been modified, while Vascao (SS10/13) is new at WRC level. On Day 3, only S. Bras de Alportel (SS15/17) is identical to 2007. Loule (SS14/16) is a new version.
· The crews' WRC statistics before this rally: Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: WRC debut: Catalunya 1999 (Saxo Kit-Car, retired). WRC starts: 116. First WRC win: Germany 2002 (Xsara WRC). WRC wins: 50. WRC titles: 5 (2004 to 2008). Dani Sordo: WRC debut: Catalunya 2003 (18th). WRC starts: 62. Junior title: 2005 (C2 S1600). Marc Marti: WRC debut: Catalunya 1992 (21st). WRC starts: 128. Junior title: 2005 (C2 S1600).
· The crews' Rally de Portugal statistics before this rally: Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: second participation: 2007 (C4, 1st). Dani Sordo: second participation: 2007 (C4, 3rd). Marc Marti: fourth participation: 2007 (C4, 3rd), 2000 (retired) and 1998 (20th).