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Rally Portugal WRC (P) & (J) - 3-5 Apr 09

Posted: April 10, 2009 10:11 AM - 13540 Hits

Round 4 - 2009 FIA World Rally Championship

Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts
Photos: tightangle.com

More Photos

Posted: April 10, 2009 10:11 AM

Citroen Report

Posted: April 6, 2009 4:05 PM

Engine failure denies Neiksans a possible podium finish

Posted: April 6, 2009 3:51 PM

What could have been a dream result for the LMT Rally Team crew of Andis Neiksans and Peteris Dzirkals turned into a nightmare when the engine of their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX failed on a road section at the start of the second day of the 2009 Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Zero points instead of a possible podium place were the result for the team on the third round of the FIA Production car World Rally Championship.

“We started the first day very determined. We knew that driving safely would not bring us the result the team and our sponsors were looking for. So we pushed hard right from the start,” explains Neiksans. “At the end of first day we were 6th in P-WRC and our eyes were set on gaining some more positions on the following days. It was quite a big surprise how difficult the Portugal Rally was. We did not expect so many retirements.”

Unfortunately, the 23-year-old Latvian would become one of those retirements. The engine of their Mitsubishi failed on the read section before the first stage of the second day. “We did only three kilometres after the service area – then our engine let go. It was a big surprise because the engine was brand new and the settings were developed by one of the best professionals in the business. But things happen. That’s rallying.”

The AMP Motorsport mechanics (the company that runs the car for the LMT Rally Team) considered an impossible task for a while. As engine changes are prohibited, they considered rebuilding the engine in situ, by replacing the damaged cylinder head, con-rods and pistons and welding up the hole in the cylinder block. If this work had gone ahead and succeeded, it would have been unheard of. Unfortunately, the damage to the cylinder itself was too great and the planned mission-impossible never happened.

“I would like to thank all the team members for coming up with this crazy idea and giving us a hope that we had a slight chance of returning to competition under Superally regulations. We need the WRC experience and every stage kilometre is highly valuable,” adds co-driver Peteris Dzirkals. “If we look at the results, the podium place was what we could have achieved. But let’s not think about what could have been, let’s look at the future. We have improved our speed and that looks good for our next event –Rally Italy at the end of May.”

Zero points in Portugal means that Andis Neiksans has slipped from joint 3rd place in P-WRC to 6th position overall. The series is led by Portugal winner Armindo Araujo, followed by Patrik Sandell, Eywind Brynildsen, Martin Prokop and Nasser Al-Attiyah, with Neiksans the best-placed of the P-WRC newcomers.

Prodrive aims for more WRC events

Posted: April 6, 2009 3:40 PM

Following Gronholm and the Prodrive Impreza’s strong run during the first day of Rally Portugal, Prodrive is aiming to do further WRC rounds in 2009.

Despite only having little time behind the wheel of the Prodrive Impreza WRC2008 and not having competed for nearly 18 months, Gronholm comfortably held second place during day one of Rally Portugal. Having got to grips with his pace notes and becoming increasingly comfortable with the car, Gronholm was aiming to pick up the pace on day two with a target of a podium finish. Unfortunately, he ran wide on a corner early in the first stage of the day, clipping a tree and rolling the car. The resultant damage to the engine forced him to retire.

“Marcus has shown just how competitive he can be in the Impreza,” said Prodrive team principal, David Lapworth. “If it wasn’t the accident yesterday, I am sure he would have been on the podium today.

Gronholm’s appearance at the championship has also been a major bonus for the rally organisers. ACP President, Carlos Barbosa, said: “Marcus has brought a real buzz back to the World Rally Championship and made this year’s Rally Portugal even more special. We have had an amazing turn out from the fans and the media this weekend and I am sure much of that is down to Marcus.”

Driving a near identical car to Gronholm, and running out of the same service area, Adapta World Rally Team driver, Mads Ostberg, had an almost trouble-free rally, finishing sixth, his best ever result in the World Rally Championship.

“What can I say, it’s a good result. The car has been feeling great and we have been able to have a close fight with Novikov for the last two days. It was just a shame that he retired, as it would have been great to keep fighting to the end. I am now really looking forward to Sardinia, it is my favourite event, with stages that are similar to those here in Portugal.”

Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts equals record finish as FSTi gets underway in Portugal

Posted: April 5, 2009 7:51 PM

The 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) kicked off this weekend at the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, showcasing many drivers who were making their first competitive experience on a WRC event. The opening round of the six race series was dominated by Irishman Craig Breen (19) and Welsh co-driver Gareth Roberts (21) finishing 25th in the overall standings which equals the record of 2007 FSTi champion Barry Clark (fittingly, a record first set in Portugal two years ago).  

Second place went to Patrick Anglade and co-driver Björn Röhm (29). The 21-year-old from Germany, who was competing in his first ever gravel rally and his first WRC event outside his homeland, also achieved an outstanding overall finish position of 30th.  Team Abu Dhabi had a great start to their season as Ahmed Al Mansoori (22) took third place with Irishman Killian Duffy (26) reading the notes.  There was disappointment for their team mates as Bader Al Jabri (24) and co-driver Stephen McAuley and Majed Al Shamsi (28) and co-driver Allan Harryman had to retire from the rally after both rolled their cars on Day Two.  On his return to FSTi for a second season, Russia’s Denis Grodetskiy and co-driver Safoniy Lotko were forced out of the rally two stages from the end with an oil leak.  

A spectacular 2.2km Super Special stage in the Algarve Stadium marked the start of the rally on Thursday night and with thousands of fans inside the arena it was a great experience for the young drivers. Breen started as he meant to go on leading the FSTi cars home ahead of Anglade and Al Mansoori.  

Day 1 saw the competitors tackle 136 km of rough and rocky stages in the Algarve hills.  Breen made his mark on the competition, winning all three morning stages and building up a lead over the consistent Anglade.  There were just seconds between the Team Abu Dhabi drivers all morning with Al Mansoori marginally taking the edge.  SS2 saw Al Jabri finish just 0.2 seconds behind Al Mansoori, although Al Jabri left himself with work to do after beaching the car at a hairpin corner on SS4 and losing just under four minutes.  Grodetskiy posted a strong time only 25.3 seconds slower than Breen over 22 km on SS6, an amazing feat given that the boot of his Fiesta ST had opened midway through the stage, filling the car with dust until the crew could barely see the road ahead.  He continued into the last stage of the morning in a similar condition, so was relieved when he could take the car to be fixed in service.  Going into the midday service, Breen led Anglade by 31.8 seconds, with Grodetskiy just 19.3 seconds behind the German and Al Mansoori a mere 0.5 seconds in fourth position.  

The morning’s stages were repeated for the afternoon, albeit with significantly rougher sections after the first run through.  Breen took the fastest times on each stage, with Anglade always close behind him in second.  Grodetskiy lost over seven minutes with a puncture on SS5, dropping him from third to last after that stage.  But worse was to come for Al Mansoori, whose damaged clutch went on to affect his gearbox, bringing the car to a halt and incurring a ten minute penalty under SupeRally regulations.  Al Jabri damaged his hub on SS5, a problem which he thought he’d carried into SS7, only realising at the end of the stage that he had sustained a puncture.  Al Shamsi also suffered a puncture five km from the end of SS5.  With a third of the WRC field in retirement by the end of the first day, the FSTi drivers were going exceptionally well, with Breen leading the way to Anglade and then Al Shamsi.  

Day 2 saw the cancellation of SS9 and SS12, meaning that the drivers only needed to complete four stages that day.  While Breen continued his charge at the head of the field, Al Shamsi’s rally came to an abrupt end as he rolled on SS10, while Grodetskiy lost time on the same stage when he hit a rock, losing the front left wheel and breaking the rear beam, ending his rally for that day.   

Later that afternoon, Al Jabri was forced out of the rally when he rolled in exactly the same place as team mate Al Shamsi on the second pass of the stage.  Breen’s luck changed when he suffered a front left puncture on SS13, nine kms from the end.  Fortunately the Irishman had built up a big enough cushion over the chasing Anglade not to affect his time.  Al Mansoori took his first stage win by just 3.1 seconds to Anglade.  In another day of high attrition that witnessed nearly 40% of the field having stopped, four Fiestas now remained.  

Like the previous day, Day 3 saw the cancellation of SS15 and SS17, again due to accidents higher up the field.  The morning’s stages passed without incident, while the afternoon claimed Grodetskiy, forcing him to retire due to an oil leak.  Anglade was overjoyed to take his first stage win on SS1, earning him one extra point in the standings.   

Breen, Anglade and Al Mansoori returned from the final gravel stage to a crowd of thousands awaiting them in the Algarve Stadium Super Special, where Breen claimed his final victorious stage win by one second to Anglade and 12.6 seconds to Al Mansoori.  

The next event on the FSTi calendar will be Rally d’Italia Sardegna in May, followed by Rally Poland, Rally de España and closing in Wales Rally GB.  

FSTi winner Craig Breen (19) from the Republic of Ireland said:
“I’m ecstatic! It’s been a really good week even though the conditions have been quite difficult throughout the rally.  Everything’s gone extremely well and we’ve been really lucky that we’ve only had one real problem all weekend.  The efforts of Tom [Gahan] and the team have really paid off with this class win and I just can’t believe we’ve equalled the record for highest finishing Fiesta.  I badly wanted this win – I’m absolutely over the moon!”

P-WRC Report

Posted: April 5, 2009 7:48 PM

J-WRC Report

Posted: April 5, 2009 7:46 PM

Frustrating Rally de Portugal for Tom Cave

Posted: April 5, 2009 7:44 PM

The UK’s first minor international rally driver, Tom Cave, suffered a frustrating Vodafone Rally de Portugal this weekend, the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. After an excellent start, the engine on the 17 year-old’s Ford Fiesta ST suffered damage from overheating and despite attempts to rectify the problems, the crew was forced to retire with only four stages under their belt.

The event began well for Tom and co-driver Gemma Price. They were the fastest Fiesta around the opening stage of the event, run on the superspecial stage in the Algave Stadium in front of thousands of rally fans on Thursday evening.

They also did well on the opening morning of the event proper, Friday, when they recorded a fourth-fastest and two second-fastest Fiesta stage times on the first loop of three timed tests over the fast and technical Portuguese gravel roads. Tom and Gemma arrived at the mid-day service on Leg One as the second-placed Fiesta, an excellent opening to their rally.

However, on the way back to service, Tom had noticed that the car was pulling to the left and at service, the mechanics attempted to rectify the problem but could not find the fault. On the way to the first of the afternoon’s stages, the problem became more and more acute, to the point where the car was rapidly becoming undriveable. Then, 10Km into the first of the afternoon’s three stages, the power steering failed and the crew was forced to retire from the day but hoped to return on Saturday, using SupeRally regulations.

The mechanics left the service area to collect the stricken Fiesta but could not locate the crew, so told Tom and Gemma to drive back to service, despite the fact that the failed power steering pump also drove the engine’s alternator and water pump. Consequently, the engine overheated on the run back to service and once cooled down, the mechanics discovered that the left-hand driveshaft had failed and the power steering fluid had drained from a failed steering rack, causing the pump drive pulley to shear.

The mechanics replaced the driveshaft, attempted to repair the steering rack, replaced the steering pump and after a brief run-up, confirmed that the engine was OK for Tom and Gemma to restart on Saturday morning, albeit with 15 minutes of time penalties under SupeRally regulations.

However, on the road to the first of leg two’s stages in the morning, Tom attempted to check the water level in the engine while the car was being fuelled and found the coolant reservoir was empty. He tried to remove the cap to add water but it would not release, indicating more serious problems with the engine. Again, the crew were forced to retire and once the mechanics had recovered the car, with the help of technicians from M-Sport, the company which developed the Group N Fiesta and runs the Fiesta Sporting Trophy International one-make series, the engine was diagnosed with terminal heat damage and Tom’s event was over.

Tom spent the remainder of the event spectating on the Algarve’s stunning stages, studying the techniques used by drivers in different types of cars through a selection of corners, using the time to his advantage.

Commenting at the end of the event, Tom said: “Obviously this is an incredibly frustrating way to end an event which began so well. I was very pleased with the way things were going on Friday morning. The notes were working very well, probably the best I have made. We settled into a really good rhythm and everything was working very well for us. I was encouraged by the pace we were setting, even though we were taking things relatively easy and driving round the worst of the conditions to make sure we didn’t have any problems.

“I knew there was something wrong with the car as we headed back to service and on the road section back out to the stages, it got worse and worse. We decided to start the stage but only got 10Km in before we lost the power steering. I didn’t realise at that time that the driveshaft was also broken and we managed to limp to the end of the stage, where the mechanics told us to drive back to the service area, even though the battery light was on and the temperature was climbing.

“As soon as we stopped to check the water on Saturday morning, I knew we were in trouble. The coolant reservoir was empty and the cap would not come off; the system must either have been vacuum’d or pressurised. But whichever way, it meant that there was a serious problem with the engine and it transpired that the overheating from the drive back on Friday had caused too much damage for us to continue.

“So we spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday out in the stages, watching how different drivers tackled the sections we could see. It was a very useful exercise, because you very rarely get to see how not only your direct competition handle corners you have noted on the recce but also, the very best drivers in the world.

“Although we didn’t get very far, I feel that we learned a lot of valuable lessons this weekend, in terms of developing our pace notes, the challenges that come with the sport and of course, how the car needs to be treated. I’m sure that this experience will only help us to move forward for the rest of this year’s programme.”

Tom’s next scheduled event is the Jim Clark Rally in May, part of the British Rally Championship. However, because of his truncated rally in Portugal, he is looking into alternatives to allow him to return to competition sooner and ensure that his 2009 program maintains its momentum.

Hirvonen claims second for Ford in Rally de Portugal

Posted: April 5, 2009 7:42 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen maintained their perfect record of podium finishes this season when they finished second in Rally de Portugal today. It was the fourth consecutive podium for the Finns and their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and keeps them in second place in the FIA World Rally Championship after four of the 12 rounds.

The rally, returning to the series after a year's absence, was the first all-gravel event of the season and was based in the Serra do Caldeirão hills, above the Algarve holiday resort of Faro. It mixed fast, open roads with narrow, more technical sections and there were many blind crests hiding sharp turns ready to trap the unwary. Hot and dry weather left the road surface coated by loose stones, while underneath the hard bedrock posed tough challenges for Pirelli's tyres.

Hirvonen led by 15.0sec after Friday's opening leg but as a result the 28-year-old Finn was first in the start order yesterday. He faced the unwelcome task of sweeping the loose gravel from the surface, leaving a cleaner and faster line for those behind. He knew he would lose time and ended the day 26.8sec from the lead. Today's final leg was the shortest of the three and Hirvonen quickly accepted there was no point in risking second place in an all-out attack that was likely to prove fruitless.

Nevertheless he won two of the five speed tests today, finishing 24.3sec behind Sébastien Loeb after 18 special stages covering 361.36km, all held in glorious sunshine and in front of huge crowds. It was his 19th consecutive points finish.

"It was incredibly dusty this morning," said Hirvonen. "I started the day thinking a win was possible but the dust hung in the cool air and I realised after the opening stage that in those conditions I had no chance of catching Loeb. I hoped to win here but it wasn't meant to be. I think second place was the maximum I could achieve. Eight points is good for me because many drivers scored zero.

"It's frustrating to see Loeb on top again but I'm not giving up on the championship title just yet – we are only a third of the way through the season. I go to every event hoping to win and without him I would do that! The car was excellent here and I really enjoyed the rally, although it was tough yesterday when I had to clean the road at the front," he added.

Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished eighth in their Focus RS WRC on the Abu Dhabi driver's debut in Portugal. It was his third consecutive points finish. "This was my best gravel rally. Friday was hard because I slid off the road and then lost time with a turbo boost problem. The team did a great job in fixing it and I stepped up my pace as the weekend continued. My times steadily improved and I'm really happy with this result," said 37-year-old Al Qassimi.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila crashed out of the lead during Friday's opening leg, their Focus RS WRC rolling almost 20 times as it plunged 150 metres down a hillside. Both escaped injury, testament to the strength of the Focus RS WRC, which was destroyed.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for Hirvonen. "It was another terrific performance by Mikko, especially as he was put under pressure again following Jari-Matti's accident on Friday. He claimed more valuable points in the drivers' championship. Jari-Matti will be back in a rally car tomorrow for a sponsor passenger ride event and that should help him regain his confidence. I'm confident he and Miikka will go on to deliver a solid and sensible drive in Argentina," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said:
"Clearly it was a mixed weekend for the team's fortunes. Jari-Matti's early exit, whilst proving the inherent strength of the Focus RS WRC, dealt our championship aspirations a blow on an event where a double podium was our target. Mikko took the fight to the world champion, securing valuable and well-earned points and we will now assess the situation and our strategy ahead of the next round in Argentina."


Posted: April 5, 2009 7:41 PM

1. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 53min 13.1sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus WRC 3hr 53min 37.4sec
3. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 54min 58.5sec
4. P Solberg/P Mills Citroen Xsara WRC 3hr 55min 57.7sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud Ford Focus WRC 3hr 58min 59.4sec
6. M Østberg/O Unnerud Subaru Impreza WRC 3hr 59min 33.9sec
7. F Villagra/J Diaz Ford Focus WRC 4hr 06min 12.6sec
8. K Al Qassimi/M Orr Ford Focus WRC 4hr 11min 34.8sec
9. A Araújo/M Ramalho Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4hr 15min 31.6sec
10 M Prokop/J Tománek Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4hr 16min 38.7sec

Full Results and News:

Latvala's Crash..............

Posted: April 4, 2009 1:02 AM

Prodrive turns 25 at Rally Portugal

Posted: April 2, 2009 5:44 PM

When Marcus Gronholm drives over the start ramp for Rally Portugal today, it will be 25 years since Prodrive first competed at the 1984 Qatar Rally.  Then, a Prodrive-prepared Porsche 911 SC RS, driven by Saeed Al Hajri, won on its debut and went on to bring the Rothmans Porsche Rally Team the Middle East Rally Championship title. 

Qatar was the first of 129 rally wins for Prodrive, with victories coming with four different manufacturers in the Porsche 911, the MG 6R4, BMW M3 and for the last two decades with the Subaru Legacy and Impreza.   

Prodrive has competed in a round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) every year since 1984, taking its first win at the Tour de Corse in 1987 when Frenchman, Bernard Beguin, drove a Group A BMW M3 to victory.  Since then, Prodrive has won three WRC manufacturers’ and three drivers’ titles, all with Subaru, and has helped turn the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg into world champions.

In 1987 Prodrive started circuit racing with BMW in the British Touring Car Championship, winning titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990, before taking further titles with Alfa Romeo in 1994 and Ford in 2000.  Since 2003, Prodrive has continued touring car racing, this time with the Ford Performance Racing team in the Australian V8 Supercar series.   In recent years, Prodrive has also concentrated on sports car racing, firstly with a privately-backed Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello, which took Le Mans GTS class honours in 2003, and most recently with Aston Martin Racing, with the DBR9 taking GT1 class titles in 2007 and 2008.  This weekend the company debuts the new Aston Martin LMP1 car in Barcelona, at the first round of the Le Mans Series, and will head to Le Mans in June to challenge for outright victory in the 24 hour race.

From its origins in a small business unit at Silverstone running the Porsche 911s, Prodrive today is a multinational business employing nearly 800 people in the UK, Australia, Thailand and China.   While it roots are in motorsport, more than half the company’s £100 million turnover now comes from its activities in the mainstream automotive sector.  Today it is working on programmes ranging from innovative electric and flywheel hybrid technology for future vehicles, to the design and assembly of high performance cars for Ford Australia.  Its client base now includes businesses in the aerospace, marine and defence sectors.

Andis Neiksans hoping for easier run in Portugal

Posted: March 30, 2009 4:57 PM

The LMT Rally Team crew of Andis Neiksans/Peteris Dzirkals will start Vodafone Rally de Portugal (2-5 April) in joint third place in the 2009 P-WRC rankings. When they began their first-ever P-WRC season six weeks ago in Norway, they never expected to be in such a high position after two rounds. Nevertheless they maintain that the overall P-WRC position is not their main concern in 2009.

“After two 5th positions in Norway and Cyprus, we are now tied 3rd overall,” said Andis Neiksans “This is a situation we never expected. But let’s not get too excited – this is only our first year in the FIA Production World Rally Championship so we are here to get experience. We have very limited experience of WRC events, so expecting top positions would be like running head-first into wall. In Portugal, we once again want to finish the rally, in a points-scoring position if we can and on some of the special stages, we want to measure our speed.”

The 23 year-old Latvian is able to post top-four P-WRC stage times, doing that on every surface so far this season – snow, tarmac and gravel but the consistency is not there yet. “That is due to a lack of experience,” explains Andis. “We are fast, but not on every stage. So we must keep improving. The more WRC mileage we get, the more consistent and faster we will become. We want to stay on the road this year – we’ll leave developing the combination of speed and staying on the road for the seasons to come.”

However, the P-WRC round in Portugal has attracted 19 participants – that makes it a big challenge to finish the rally in the points. Before the season, the team announced that they want to finish as many rallies as possible and to score points in every rally they finish. With 19 drivers participating, just staying on the road will not be enough for the points, so Andis will have to push a little harder than in Norway and Cyprus. “We’ll try,” he says. “But I hope that Portugal will not be as tough as Cyprus was. The average speed will be higher, which is good but it still doesn’t compare to what we are used to in Latvia – the average speed on the stages varies from 110 to 130 km/h, so faster roads like Finland and Great Britain would suit us better!”

Last week was a busy one for Neiksans. He met with several national media for interviews, as he is becoming increasingly well known in Latvia. Speaking on national television, he was asked about if a switch from his AMP Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX to a Super2000 car would improve the results. He said: “It would make our P-WRC programme more expensive, that’s for sure but I don’t think the results would differ dramatically. Perhaps an N4 car is even better for our learning year than Super2000 would be. You need to drive the Super2000 car to the limit to succeed and that is not our objective in our first P-WRC season.”

Portuguese pressure mounts for FSTi contenders

Posted: March 27, 2009 10:55 AM

The 2009 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series gets underway next week as the competition joins the FIA World Rally Championship for the fourth successive year kicking off the first of six rounds at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. This will be the second time that FSTi has visited Portugal, the last time being in 2007 when FSTi champion Barry Clark raised the bar to finish a record-breaking 25th in the overall classification.

The series, run by M-Sport with support from Pirelli, will again run alongside the WRC returning to Rally d’Italia Sardegna, Neste Oil Rally Finland, Rally de España and Wales Rally GB for an early finish in October. The third event, Rally Poland, is a new addition to both the WRC and FSTi.

In a change to previous years, of the six counting rounds, the best points from the four rounds will count towards the championship standings. This will allow those drivers who have completed the full season to drop any low scores, but will also assist those drivers who are only able to compete on an event-by-event basis to score highly overall if they achieve good results on occasional rallies.

A new scoring system will also be introduced in order to reward outright pace. One point will be awarded for every stage win and, with between 18 and 24 stages per rally, these will be points worth fighting for. A win will still be given maximum credit and points will be offered 30-25-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10 for first to tenth position.

The prize for the championship winner will be an all-expenses-paid test in the latest specification Ford Focus RS WRC with Ford factory driver Mikko Hirvonen, with the chance to discuss the test over dinner with the flying Finn and M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson. A prize fund has also been introduced and the winner of each rally will receive a €1,500 M-Sport voucher.

There is also the chance for those who support the series by entering at least four events to test the Ford Focus WRC in addition. As in previous years, the series winner plus one ‘wildcard’ will be put forward to the FST International Shootout to compete against drivers from other FST championships around the world in order to win a year’s residential contract to work at M-Sport with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team.

The opening rally of the series has attracted six competitors from four different countries who will compete on 18 stages over 361 kilometres of gravel in Ford Fiesta ST GpN cars. As well as the regular stages the competitors will also experience the thrill of a packed Super Special, in front of an audience of thousands in the Algarve Stadium.

Following in the footsteps of 2008 champions Castrol Ford Team Turkiye, Team Abu Dhabi have mobilised a three-car assault on the 2009 series to reinforce Abu Dhabi’s support for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team and to launch the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team in to the WRC.

Majed Al Shamsi (28) undertook his first rally in Lebanon last year, winning the Fiesta class and will be hoping to repeat that performance as he teams up with Irish co-driver Allan Harryman.

His fellow Emirati, Bader Al Jabri (24), also began his rally career in 2008 and has had a successful start to the year winning the N3 class at the Qatar International Rally in February. He teams up with Irishman Steve McAuley as co-driver.

The newest addition to the Abu Dhabi Junior team is Ahmed Al Mansoori. The 21-year-old competed in his first rally this year at the Kuwait International Rally and will be looking to gain valuable rally experience as he takes part in the FSTi with Irish co-driver Killian Duffy (26).

Returning to the competition for a second season are Russians Denis Grodetskiy and co-driver Safoniy Lotko. The Russian duo are the most experienced of the FSTi crews, having taken two stage wins in the four rallies they entered last season. They will be looking to build on that foundation to score some serious points in this year’s championship.

For Germany's Patrick Anglade, Rally de Portugal will be his first gravel rally; despite having entered Ralllye Deutschland in 2007 and 2008, the 21-year-old engineering student from Losheim has only ever rallied on Tarmac. Anglade’s Fiesta is being run by the I-Cars team, who tested the young German in the Fiesta for the first time in Wales in early March. Anglade is just one of two German drivers undertaking a WRC programme in 2009 and he is aware just how much responsibility that entails and that his first WRC event will present many new challenges for both himself and co-driver Björn Röhm (29).

Irish teenager Craig Breen (19) is currently lying second in the Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland championship and is expected to be a strong contender in the Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy in the UK. Portugal will be his first experience of a WRC event, but as former All Ireland Kart Champion in 2007, he is well place to offer strong competition.

The drivers will get their first taste of what it means to be a member of the Ford family when the FSTi teams will be launched to the world’s media in Portugal on Wednesday 1 April, with the rally then commencing on Thursday evening for the first Super Special Stage in the Algarve Stadium.

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“I am delighted to see the Fiesta SportTrophy International series return for its fourth season and that there continues to be strong interest in the competition from around the world. FSTi has become a strong proving ground for young rally drivers and can provide an excellent stepping stone to the top level of the sport. Last year, the top two drivers entered the final round with just one point between them; let’s hope for more of the same this year!”

Stobart plan to prosper in Portugal

Posted: March 27, 2009 10:53 AM

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team drivers Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson are both looking to pick up where they left off in the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Cyprus as they prepare for round four of the series, the Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Solberg and Wilson are lying fourth and sixth respectively in the driver standings after putting in outstanding performances on both asphalt and gravel in Cyprus and are looking to continue that form on the Algarve gravel where they will tackle 361.36kms of competitive stages on the 43rd running of the Rally de Portugal.

After returning to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar in 2007 following a long absence the Rally de Portugal is again based in the Algarve in the south of the country with many of the stages taking place in the hilly Baixo Alentejo area inland from the coastal town of Vilamoura.

All three rounds of the championship so far have been affected by weather giving some drivers with better road position an advantage. But, with mild weather expected, the Rally de Portugal should provide a level playing field for most drivers regardless of their starting position.

Wilson finished 12th on his only previous visit to the Rally de Portugal in 2007 when a final-day time penalty pushed him down the field. But with few changes to the stages used on the rally two years ago the young Briton, partnered by co-driver Scott Martin, is planning to use that experience to post some respectable times.

His confidence is high after taking his first full stage win on the final day of the Cyprus Rally and a good result in Portugal could move him up to fifth in the driver standings, his highest ever position in the rankings.

Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud finished in 11th place on their last outing in Portugal two years ago after suffering the same time penalty as their team mate. The Norwegians will be hoping to eradicate the memory of their disastrous start to the Cyprus Rally, where they collided with a non-competing vehicle on the way to the first stage, by continuing the speed set on the final day in Cyprus where Solberg outpaced the leaders on several of the closing stages.

Rally de Portugal has traditionally attracted a huge number of fanatical spectators out on the rally stages and those numbers will be boosted on Thursday night as the rally gets underway with a spectacular 2.2km Super Special stage in the Algarve Stadium.

It’s expected to attract more than 20,000 fans to cheer on the drivers as they race side by side on a specially designed track. Spectators will have an action feast with 75 crews registered to take the start; the highest entry for a WRC event so far this season.

The rally then heads north of the Service Area at the Algarve Stadium into the hills of the Baixo Alentejo as day one gets underway on Friday with the 23.43km SS2 Ourique stage.

Day two features the longest stage of the weekend, the 27.18km Almodovar test, and drivers are expected to face loose gravel and rocky conditions; testing the Pirelli Scorpion tyres which have stood up well to everything thrown at them so far this year.

The final day features the highest stage of the rally, SS14 Loule, where the cars will reach an altitude of 350 metres before heading back to the Algarve Stadium for a final Super Special stage.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It is great to be going back to Portugal as I really enjoyed it there in 2007, the stages are enjoyable but also quite challenging. Hopefully most of the stages will be quite similar to those that we learnt two years ago and we can use that knowledge to good effect right from the start. We finished really well in Cyprus and I hope that we can start in Portugal somewhere near that pace and basically continue where we left off. If it is dry there then grip should be good but if it does rain then that can make it really difficult on some of the stages so I’m hoping that it stays dry; the consistent grip levels always help with confidence.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I can’t wait to get started in Portugal. After the accident in Cyprus it feels like this is the first gravel rally of the year so I’m concentrating on putting in a good performance and hopefully we can challenge for a top-five result. I was encouraged by our times in Cyprus, we made some really good progress with some settings and the car felt much better on the last two days. Hopefully we can put these improvements to good use next week. I remember the roads in Portugal being quite fast and difficult to get exactly right, but I am always up for the challenge.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The team has started strongly this season and we are hoping to continue that form in Portugal. Matthew is coming into this rally off the back of an excellent result in Cyprus, his confidence is high, and I think that will help him settle into this event quickly. Both Henning and Matthew have demonstrated an increased level of experience this season and that will be put to good use in Portugal where the fast and demanding stages can easily catch out an unwary driver. Hopefully they can both produce another good performance to strengthen their already impressive positions in the drivers’ championship.”

Development continues on Focus RS WRC ahead of Portugal rally

Posted: March 27, 2009 10:51 AM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team begins the second quarter of its FIA World Rally Championship campaign in Portugal next week with subtle improvements to its record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car. As the series heads to the Iberian Peninsula for Rally de Portugal (2 - 5 April), the British-based squad will introduce a revised engine for the first time in competition.

The newly-homologated power plant available to drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila includes an electric water pump and a lightweight flywheel. During a comprehensive testing programme, the drivers have reported a slight improvement in outright engine performance from the upgrades.

This fourth round of the 12-event championship marks a return to the calendar for one of the sport's classic events after a year's absence and heralds the start of the gravel element of the season in earnest. Traditionally based on Portugal's west coast, the event was reborn in the WRC in 2007 in the Algarve holiday region in the south. It is based on the edge of Faro and the speed tests in the hills above the town blend fast, open roads with more technical sections on hard tracks, which are abrasive in the dry.

Hirvonen, who lies second in the drivers' standings after three podium finishes in the opening three rounds, was fifth in 2007 and the 28-year-old Finn was encouraged by his performance on gravel during the second and third legs in Cyprus earlier this month.

"I'm confident of matching the pace I showed then because my speed, especially on the drier sections, gave me plenty of belief for the gravel events to come. The engine upgrades are another step forward. Although the nature of the regulations means huge steps forward are impossible to achieve, there is more power and a bit more response and that will all help," he said.

"They are enjoyable stages to drive and Portugal is the rally I like most in the southern Europe and Mediterranean regions. The roads will be abrasive if conditions are dry because some sections have a solid bedrock base with a sandy surface on top. You don't see many loose rocks compared to Greece and Turkey, but the hard base does make it hard for tyres," he added.

Latvala was eighth two years ago and the 23-year-old is relishing a series of seven consecutive gravel events. "The start to the season was tough, and the rallies in Ireland and Cyprus were probably the most difficult I will face this year. Now we start the gravel events which comprise the bulk of the championship and I'm happy about that. I've tested the new engine and while it's not always easy to feel small improvements behind the wheel, I'm sure we will see them in our times," he said.

"The road surface is very abrasive and hard for the tyres, but it gives good grip. The tracks aren't rough and the stages contain a mix of narrow sections and wider areas. It's important to be careful on the exit of corners because there are often small trees on the outside waiting to catch a driver who slides wide so keeping the driving line precise is crucial," added the Finn.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS WRC for the team. Al Qassimi has finished in the points on both his outings this season and this will be the 37-year-old's debut in Portugal. "Tackling a rally for the first time is always a difficult challenge. It takes time to understand the characteristics of the roads and a driver is always at a disadvantage against rivals who have previous experience. It's important to make the most of the opportunity and drive all the stages. An early retirement on either of the first two days can mean missing well over a third of the rally's distance and that's a lot of experience to miss out on," said Al Qassimi.

Team News
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with just the one regulation tyre pattern. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* The team's drivers are undertaking a four-day pre-event test in the Extremadura region of Spain this week. Latvala began yesterday (Thursday) and drives for the opening two days before Hirvonen takes over tomorrow for the final two days.

* Seven other Focus RS WRCs will start. Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad, while Federico Villagra / Jose Diaz are nominated by the Munchi's Ford team. Dutch father and son team Peter Van Merksteijn / Hans van Goor and Peter Van Merksteijn Junior / Eddy Chevaillier will drive 2007 and 2006-specification cars respectively while fellow countrymen Rene Kuipers / Erwin Berkhof and Dennis Kuipers / Kees Hagman will pilot 2006 cars. The rally also marks the opening round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International with six cars entered.

Rally Route
Organisers have made many changes since 2007 and more than 52 per cent of the competitive distance is new, including two all-new stage venues. The rally is again based at Estádio Algarve, just outside the holiday resort of Faro, which was built for the 2004 European Soccer Championships. As well as hosting the single service park, the stadium complex also holds a super special stage to begin the action on Thursday evening and a repeat test to end the event on Sunday afternoon. The bulk of the stages are based in the Serra do Caldeirão hills, north of Faro. Each leg comprises two identical loops of stages split by a return to the service park. The second leg is the longest and most northerly of the three days. Drivers tackle 18 stages covering 361.36km in a route of 1164.99km.

Posted: March 27, 2009 10:50 AM

Marcus Gronholm's Subaru Impreza WRC for Portugal
Photo: Prodrive

Gronholm ready for rally comeback

Posted: March 26, 2009 8:27 PM

Marcus Gronholm is looking forward to his WRC comeback at Rally Portugal, following a successful pre-event test in his new Prodrive Impreza World Rally Car.

“I have the same feeling I had when I last drove competitively nearly 18 months ago,” said Gronholm.  “The test was good, the car ran well and we made some improvements to the set up of the car.   All I have to do now is to remember how to make my pace notes!”

Gronholm today finished a 200 km, two day test in Spain near the Portuguese border, in which he refined the set up of his car, finalising the differential and suspension settings he will use for next week’s shakedown.  The car will now be transported to Faro, where Prodrive will rebuild it ready for the rally.

Prodrive will be running Gronholm alongside Mads Ostberg in the Adapta World Rally Team service area.  Ostberg is also competing in a Prodrive Impreza WRC2008 at Rally Portugal.  He shared today’s second day of testing with Marcus and has chosen a near identical set-up to the two-times word rally champion.

“We had a very good day of testing.  I am really happy with the final set up we achieved and I have good confidence in the car,” said Ostberg.

In addition to Ostberg, Prodrive will also be supporting 2006 Production World Rally Champion, Nasser Al Attiyah, who is competing at Rally Portugal in the new Prodrive Impreza N2009 with the Barwa World Rally Team.

Irish Entries:

Posted: March 20, 2009 2:11 PM

90 Craig Breen / Gareth Roberts (Ford Fiesta ST)

14 Michael Orr co-driving for Khalid Al Qassimi (Ford Focus WRC)
92 Allan Harryman co-driving for Majed Al Shami (Ford Fiesta ST)
93 Stephen McAuley co-driving for Bader Al Jabri (Ford Fiesta ST)
94 Killian Duffy co-driving for Ahmed Al Mansoori (Ford Fiesta ST)

Entry List

Posted: March 20, 2009 2:04 PM

Marcus Grönholm and Prodrive back in the WRC at Vodafone Rally de Portugal

Posted: February 24, 2009 4:51 PM

In addition to the best drivers in the world competing in all three categories of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC, J-WRC and P-WRC), the 2009 edition of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal (2-5 April) will have an additional point of interest: former world champion Marcus Grönholm will be back in rallying at the world level, making his first appearance at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza, a WRC car the Finn has never driven.

Marcus Grönholm, winner of 30 World Championship events, competed in the last two editions of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, driving a Ford Focus WRC on both occasions: in 2007 as a Ford works driver and in 2008 driving the event safety car, car 0.

“It will be fun to return [to the WRC], even in an ad-hoc way, in a car that I don’t know at all and after a year where I competed in some rallycross events’” said Grönholm.
“It will be nice, as there was a chance of driving for Subaru just before the manufacturer decided to retire.”

The Finn is quite clear about his expectations: “I will not start aiming for the win, as I want to compare my speed with the regular WRC boys over the first few stages. The important thing is to feel confidence and pleasure, coming back to an event that I enjoy very much and know the stages quite well.”

Grönholm will be driving a latest-specification Subaru Impreza WRC2008, prepared and run by Prodrive and will be co driven, as always, by Timo Rautiainen.

“Of course I will test in the Impreza before the rally, not only to try to understand how it works but also, if possible, to adapt it to my driving style. But most importantly, it will be a pleasure to come back to the WRC in Portugal,” concluded the former world champion.

Event Website / Details

Posted: January 1, 2009 12:01 AM

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