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Portugal (S A) - 29 Mar-01 Apr 12

Posted: August 2, 2012 9:17 PM - 6127 Hits

Round 4 - 2012 World Rally Championship
S - S2000 Championship
A - WRC Academy


Posted: August 2, 2012 9:17 PM

Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson have inherited their first World Rally Championship (WRC) win at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal following the eleventh-hour exclusion of provisional rally victors, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.

Last weekend’s rally proved to be one of the most eventful for decades. Whilst none of the four leading manufacturer-entered drivers were classified at the end of the event, Østberg thrived behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC in the tricky conditions. Keeping his composure throughout the four days of competition, the young Norwegian excelled where the more experienced faltered to claim the first WRC victory for a privateer since 1993.

The decision also promotes M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet to second overall. With a sensational drive in their ALM Russia and ALM Rally.ru supported Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the youngster overcame a multitude of issues – including late dramas with a broken throttle pedal over the final loop – to claim the first ever podium for a Russian driver in the WRC. Coming into his own over the course of this season, Novikov’s second place demonstrates his potential as one of the WRC’s most gifted young talents.

Hirvonen was excluded following a report from the FIA technical delegate late Sunday night which stated his car’s clutch did not comply with the regulations. The report also stated that the turbine wheel in the car’s turbocharger exceeded the authorised diameter, but a decision on this has been postponed to allow further examinations. Citroen Total World Rally Team has appealed the exclusion with the results remaining provisional for a further seven days.

Despite missing the first round of the season, Østberg now lies third in the drivers’ standings, just nine points adrift of factory Ford driver Petter Solberg in second, and 13 from the lead. Novikov remains fifth, but extends his lead over Jari-Matti Latvala to 11 points.

Mads Østberg, Adapta World Rally Team (1st) said:
“Of course we are very happy with the win, but it is not the way we wanted to take it and I am very disappointed for Mikko [Hirvonen] as he did a fantastic job all weekend.
“But we had a really good rally ourselves and we will definitely be celebrating our ‘second’ place. Our pace was good and I felt as though we were always in control. “We have had a great start to the season and are now in a very good position in the [drivers’] championship. We won’t be aiming for a podium in Argentina, but once we return to more familiar events we’ll certainly be pushing for more.”

Evgeny Novikov, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team (2nd) said:
“I was so happy to have achieved my first podium, and now to discover it is second place, it is the maximum we could have hoped for. Obviously I am very sorry for Mikko [Hirvonen] as he had a very good rally.

“Denis [Giraudet] and I have both been waiting for this moment for a very long time and it has been an amazing weekend for us both. He [Giraudet] has helped me a lot and I hope we can achieve more podiums together in the future.”

Dominant victory for Fisher in Portugal

Posted: July 19, 2012 2:51 PM

Alastair Fisher has begun his bid for the prestigious FIA WRC Academy title in style by winning the category for young rally drivers in Portugal today.

Fisher, a 23-year-old rising talent from Trillick in County Tyrone, produced a faultless display to win from Australian Brendan Reeves by a margin of more than 40 seconds. It was Fisher’s second victory in the WRC Academy following his maiden success in France last season. It came after the Northern Irishman mastered some of the toughest weather conditions experienced in the World Rally Championship for a number of years.

Following a superspecial stage through the streets of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, on Thursday afternoon, Fisher and co-driver Daniel Barritt, from Burnley, Lancashire, tackled three night stages in their Ford Fiesta R2.

In challenging conditions that caught out eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, Fisher drove without error and reached the first overnight halt in a strong third position, 1.9s off the lead having posted one fastest stage time. And third became first when Alastair won Friday’s first stage as fog, mud and heavy rain made driving conditions treacherous.

Despite the adverse weather, Fisher continued to build his lead with a third stage victory by almost half a minute over his closest rival. With all 10 WRC Academy drivers competing in identical cars, this achievement was particularly noteworthy. Alastair was in front by 59.4s when organisers cancelled Friday’s three closing stages due to the worsening conditions. With a lead of almost one minute starting the final three stages on Saturday morning, Fisher adopted a risk-free strategy to clinch victory by an impressive margin.

“The conditions on Friday were very tough, unbelievable but I felt I coped with them well,” said Fisher. “Some people said I was going too fast because the conditions were so bad but I tried to be smooth and consistent all the time and it worked.

“We had no moments and I felt I was actually braking too early in some corners. I worked really hard over the winter with my physical fitness and it’s paid off already.
It’s great to start the season with a strong set of points and it’s given me lots of confidence.”

To underline his dominance, Fisher only failed to post a top-three stage time on one occasion. And his capture of three fastest stage times means he leaves Portugal with three bonus points to add to the 25 he earned for claiming victory. The WRC Academy resumes on the Acropolis Rally in Greece at the end of May. Before then Fisher will contest round three of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally from April 6/7 when he steps up to a Super 2000-specification Ford Fiesta, which puts out 100bhp more than the Fiesta he drove in Portugal. The event is based in Armagh but begins with a superspecial stage in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

Fisher’s WRC Academy campaign has been made possible by the support of Modern Tyre Service, GR White and Son Electrical Contracts, TBC Motability Conversions, Armagh City Hotel, Pacenotes Rally Magazine, Jennings Fuels and Sport Northern Ireland.


Posted: July 19, 2012 2:46 PM

Alastair Fisher from Northern Ireland has won the opening round of the 2012 FIA WRC Academy, which is exclusively supplied by Pirelli, on Rally Portugal.

The event was one of the toughest in recent memory, with so much rain and mud that the entire loop of three stages on Friday afternoon was cancelled following several delays in the morning. Despite these extreme conditions, Pirelli’s K4 gravel tyre – which will be used on all the loose-surface Academy rounds this year – performed perfectly on the challenging stages, cutting through the layer of surface mud in order to find traction on the firmer ground below.

Pirelli’s WRC Academy tyres – which were developed especially for the Ford Fiesta R2 used on the one-make series – do not benefit from anti-deflation mousse, but despite the rough roads and stones washed up by heavy rain there were only three slow punctures throughout the three-day event, none of which caused any time loss to the competitors.

Fisher, entering his second year of the WRC Academy, won the rally by 40.3 seconds from Australian driver Brendan Reeves: also in year two of the Pirelli-backed series. Norwegian Pontus Tidemand (the stepson of WRC driver Henning Solberg) was third and top WRC Academy rookie.

Fisher, aged 23, commented:
“It’s been a very tough rally that’s been all about controlling the pace. On an event that is as demanding as this one, the tyres play an absolutely crucial role and I was very impressed by both their performance and their strength, even though the conditions were hardly ideal. The stages were very rough, and it would have been so easy to have a puncture. The Pirelli K4 was extremely effective at dealing with all the mud, allowing us to maintain control even when so many people were going off.”

WRC Academy regulations restricted each driver to 18 tyres for the entire event and the four-hour pre-rally test, in one pattern and compound only. Fisher claimed the lead on Friday morning, after Sweden’s Fredrik Ahlin set the early pace. With points also on offer for winning stages, the accent is firmly on speed and talent.

Pirelli’s WRC Academy tyre engineer Matteo Braga said: “The first round of the Academy was certainly filled with action, and conditions that go beyond what we would normally expect from this event. Even though the weather was extreme, the K4 tyres coped extremely well with some of the biggest challenges that they have ever faced. Congratulations to Alastair and all the other finishers: just getting to the end of this rally was an achievement in itself, and we’re delighted to see the WRC Academy highlighting the talents of the rally stars of the future. The conditions last year were easier here, yet this time there were fewer retirements: proof of the maturity displayed by all our young drivers. Pirelli has been involved continuously in the World Rally Championship since it was founded in 1973, and it is a privilege to continue this engagement in 2012 with the spotlight on youth.”

The next event for the Pirelli-supplied WRC Academy will be the Acropolis Rally from May 25-27, where the K4 tyre will be seen in action once more on the hot and rough roads of Greece.


Posted: July 19, 2012 2:45 PM

As some of the of the world's most talented young talents did battle for the spoils in the inaugural round of the 2012 FIA WRC Academy at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal this weekend, there was sure to be some excitement. Rising to the challenge Alastair Fisher (23) took the victory ahead of Brendan Reeves (23) and Pontus Tidemand (21).

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, the WRC Academy embarked on some of the most challenging conditions the World Rally Championship (WRC) has seen for decades. Thrown in at the deep end, the WRC Academy crews were faced with an exceptionally difficult first event. Having to cope with persistent heavy rain, thick fog, and treacherously slippery conditions, the quality of the 2012 competitors shone through with nine out of a possible 10 Ford Fiesta R2's making it to the finish.

Returning to the popular Super Special at the Praça do Império on Thursday afternoon, first blood went to the Australia brother and sister pairing of Reeves and Rhianon Smyth. With just 2.1 seconds separating the top three, asphalt ace Jose Antonio Suárez (21) claimed second with Sweden's Fredrik Åhlin (22) securing third overall. Privileged with opening the event, Portuguese driver João Silva (24) set the sixth fastest time, in front of this home crowd.

Thursday evening saw the crews embark upon their first real challenge ' three back-to-back night stages north of the rally's base in the Algarve. With three different stage winners over the three tests, the WRC Academy was fast becoming one of the most exciting battles in the field.

Securing the stage win on SS2 followed by two top-five times over the remaining loop, Åhlin leap-frogged Reeves for the lead ' just 0.5 seconds ahead going into Day 2. SS3 saw Tidemand prove just what it is that makes him Sweden's youngest ever national champion when he secured the stage win on his first venture to the Algarve ' climbing from 10th to an incredible fourth overall in the standings. Contesting the final 11.1 km of the day, it was Fisher who came out on top to lie just 1.4 seconds adrift of Reeves.

Elsewhere however, there was heartache for John MacCrone (23) as the Scotsman suffered a heavy landing on SS2, damaging the radiator of his Fiesta R2 and was forced to restart under Rally 2. Nevertheless, with less than a minute separating the top six crews going into the second day of competition, the outcome remained impossible to predict.

Day 2, and as the weather played havoc on the stages around the Tavira municipality, organisers were forced to cancel SS7, SS8, SS9 and SS10 for the WRC Academy crews. Despite the treacherous conditions, nine crews made it to service ' highlighting the quality of this year's field given the number of more experienced drivers who fell foul of the conditions.

Having to contend with stages that better resembled Wales Rally GB than the Algarve, rally leader Åhlin was caught out by the tricky conditions on SS5. The Swede went too deep into a second gear left-hander, damaging the wishbone and driveshaft of his Fiesta R2 and having to restart under Rally 2 regulations on the final day of competition.

It was Fisher's experience which paid dividends. Securing both stage victories, the Northern Irishman was propelled into the lead of the event with over a minute advantage to Reeves in second.

Elsewhere on Day 2, there was heartache for Elfyn Evans (23) ' relegated to the back of the field as poor visibility caused him to go off the road on a steep downhill section. Becoming lodged in a ditch and unable to get the car back on the road, the Welshman put his initiative to good use, driving his Fiesta down the bank and building a 'bridge' to get back on the stage. Despite losing some 14 minutes, Evans restarted on the last day of competition.

Embarking on the final day of competitive stages, the WRC Academy crews faced three stages through the hills north of Faro. With the top three keen to preserve their hard earned positions over the remaining tests, Åhlin put in a charge to secure the stage win on SS11 and SS13 ' minimising yesterday's upset with another two points.

SS12 went to Reeves, but it was not enough to catch Fisher out in front. Excelling in the difficult conditions, the Northern Irishman's times were never out of the top five as he flew to victory in the first round of the 2012 FIA WRC Academy Cup. Setting some blistering times in the dry conditions, Reeves claimed second overall with Tidemand excelling ' despite incurring a 10 second penalty when a fuel issue saw him leave the last service a minute behind schedule ' to claim the final podium position on his first venture to the Portuguese stages.

Returning for his second season in the FIA WRC Academy, Timo Van der Marel (22) brought his Fiesta R2 home in fourth ahead of Suárez who, following an accident in the Spanish Championship last week, had to compete with a new co-driver for the first time. Recovering well, Åhlin and Evans claimed sixth and seventh respectively, ahead of local-boy Silva. Following his heavy impact on Day 1, MacCrone did well to bring his Fiesta R2 to the finish in ninth place.

Elsewhere there was heartache for Chris Duplessis (24). Having been going strongly in fifth, the charismatic American damaged the rear of his Fiesta on SS12. Losing over 20 minutes and despite his best efforts and ingenuity to find a temporary fix, the youngster ran out of time and was regrettably unable to be classified as a finisher in the rally.

Battling through the treacherous conditions, the WRC Academy crews impressed the field on their first event. Next up in the Cup, competitors' will be eager to excel once more as they contest the notoriously rough stages of the Acropolis Rally.

103. Alastair Fisher (1st) said:
'We are very happy to take the first win of the season. We have never seen anything like the stages yesterday but we seemed to cope really well in the conditions and everything seemed to work well.

'We focused on being smooth and consistent and the car has been perfect, even in the rough stages. We drove with a bit too much caution on the first stage today [SS11] and Brendan [Reeves] took 15 seconds out of us, so we made sure we stayed on his pace for the next two stages [SS12 and SS13]. We have worked very hard over the winter so it is nice to get a good solid start to the season and points on the board.'

106. Brendan Reeves (2nd) said:
'It feels so good to get this result. The conditions have been tough and Alastair [Fisher] hasn't made it an easy weekend for us. But with two stage wins and second overall we couldn't be happier.

'We took it a bit easier yesterday in the wet but went for it today. The stages had a lot more grip and we felt very comfortable in the car so we decided to push. We wanted to keep the pressure on Alastair but he drove really well all weekend.

'It was a great rally for us and we couldn't be on the podium with better people! We have had a lot of support to allow us to be here and it is all thanks to them. We now need to focus on getting more support to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.'

105. Pontus Tidemand (3rd) said:
'We had an issue with the fuel pressure this morning so we are lucky to be here. I am happy with our first weekend in the car, it is the first time I have driven the [Ford] Fiesta R2 so it is good to get a strong result and some good points.

'The stages were much nicer today but we are not pushing the car to the limit yet.'

107. Timo van der Marel (4th) said:
'Today was good. We pushed a bit on the first stage [SS11] to stay ahead of Jose [Suárez], but he had some problems, so after that it was just a matter of getting to the finish. The conditions were a lot better today, I didn't expect it to be this good! We had no problems and we made it to the end so I am happy.'

102. Jose Suárez (5th) said:
'We lost third gear on the first stage this morning [SS11], so it was not possible to fight with Timo [Van der Marel] for fourth position. But we are still happy with our result and to score some good points. This is a much better start than what we had last year.'

114. Fredrik Åhlin (6h) said:
'Our plan went well today ' we kept our focus and knew what we could do with the car. The first stage [SS11] went well and we won this by a good margin. But unfortunately we lost five or 10 seconds in the next stage [SS12], so our plan to win all three stages did not happen.

'We won the final stage [SS13] so it is good to get the bonus points. To have restarted under Rally 2 yesterday but still take 11 points away from the rally 'and fifth in the Championship standings ' was much better than I thought when we were standing in the mud on SS6 yesterday!'

109. Elfyn Evans (7th) said:
'It was a difficult day, we didn't settle into the rhythm as I would have liked so we just concentrated on getting around cleanly rather than forcing it and making a mistake.

'There wasn't an a lot we could gain without taking risks for a stage win so we just kept it clean and made it to the finish. We have definitely learnt a lot about the Championship this weekend. The pace is very quick, so even though it is a long rally, you still have to push all the time.'
111. Joao Silva (8th) said:

'Today was much better for us. We changed the set up and I was much more confident. We had an issue with the throttle calibration this morning, but fixed this and I tried to improve my pace. I am happy with the times I made and my progress. I am feeling much more comfortable in the car, so hopefully we can keep moving forward as the series progresses.'

108. John MacCrone (9th) said
'We had a problem with the intercom cutting out every time we went around right hand corners so my co-driver Stuart [Loudon] was having to point and use hand signals which was quite interesting!

'We got into a rhythm on the last two stages [SS12 & SS13] and everything felt more natural. For me it is really about getting more seat time, I really want to go back out there and do more! We made a mistake on the first gravel stage of the rally [SS2], which was a shame, but once we got into it today I felt good and the car was spot on. We will try to get some more time in a car in between events.'

101. Chris Duplessis (DNF) said:
'We slid a little wide on a right-hander and hit a bank, bending the axle pretty badly. We managed to crawl through the next stage but the wheel later broke and we just ran out of time. You don't want to ever end a rally like this but it was a good experience. I will keep practising my notes back in the USA and am looking forward to the next one.'

Breen sees his SWRC lead cut after early exit in Portugal

Posted: July 19, 2012 2:43 PM

Reigning WRC Academy Champion Craig Breen saw his 18 point advantage at the top of the Super 2000 World Rally championship standings significantly cut over the weekend. Breen was hoping to extend his lead as the championship moved to gravel for the first time this year on round three of the season in Portugal but as torrential rain descended on the Algarve over Thursday night and Friday, Breen succumbed to water damage in the engine of his Ford Fiesta S2000 early on the four day event, retiring on stage six. Naturally the Irish driver was very disappointed not to finish an event for the first time this season,
“We encountered a ford/river crossing on the first stage this morning (Friday, special stage 5), I went through it very slowly but it still sucked in a lot of water. After the water had drained out the engine was running poorly so I took out the spark plugs, dried and replaced them and the car fired back up no problem everything was fine. Then on the following stage I drove through another ford, there wasn’t that much water but it must have just have been the angle of the water impacting on the car as we suffered the same problem as the previous stage but on this occasion we weren’t so luck and the engine would not restart. After further inspection the water had damaged the engine and we were out of the rally. I know the conditions were quite bad but I had settled into a good rhythm and I’m gutted in regards to not being able to show my pace here in Portugal and looking more long term to the championship as well.”

The Algarve event began on Thursday afternoon with the customary superspecial street stage in the capital city of Lisbon where Breen set the pace leading by 1.7 seconds from New Zealander, Hayden Paddon. Following the superspecial three gravel stages were tackled on the trip back south to the event base in the resort of Faro. Overnight Craig trailed Paddon by 24.6 seconds after the Kiwi took stage wins on tests two and four.

Friday morning dawned to torrential rain turning the gravel stages into a mud bath. The rain continued for the day and as Craig retired on stage six, category leader Paddon was already after stopping on the previous test with an electrically problem. Friday’s schedule entailed a double loop of three stages and as conditions deteriorated the event organisers decided to cancel the second loop. This however gave the chance to Paddon restart under ‘Rally 2’ rules with an incurred time penalty but he still had the opportunity to score points. After leading the day before he now saw himself more than twelve minutes of the pace in fifth. Craig on the other hand did not have this opportunity as his Fiesta’s engine was beyond repair. In the tough conditions over the remaining two days Paddon slowly began to climb the leader board and as other drivers fell by the wayside the New Zealander went on to secure his first win of the SWRC season. The win now elevates him to second in the championship and narrows the gap to Craig to only six points.

The next biggest winner over the weekend was P-G Andersson, the Swede who drives for the Proton Motorsport Team, was second in the championship standings prior to the Portuguese event now drops to fourth on 25 points but as Craig did score any points Andersson has the opportunity to close the gap on the next round in New Zealand. That event, the fourth of the season will take place without the Irish driver as Breen nominating to drop the southern hemisphere rally at the start of the season as the championship regulations state one round must be dropped from the eight rally series.

Craig now turns his attention to next weekend’s Circuit of Ireland and his first outing with the Sainteloc Racing Team. The event will also be Craig’s first time to drive the Peugeot 207 S2000 in completion. The rally based in Northern Ireland begins next Friday afternoon.


Posted: July 19, 2012 2:41 PM

After completing the post-rally technical scrutineering, the Rally de Portugal Stewards were issued with a report from the FIA Technical Delegate which had identified differences in between the homologation sheet and two components on the No. 2 Citroën DS3 WRC.

After receiving representatives from Citroën Racing, the Stewards excluded Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who had finished first.

Xavier Mestelan-Pinon, Citroën Racing Technical Director and Deputy Team Principal:
“The scrutineers identified differences in between the homologation sheet and two components: the clutch and the turbocharger. The Citroën DS3 WRCs clutch mechanisms are homologated with lightening holes. Our supplier recently provided us with a batch of parts that were not perforated and one of them was fitted to the no.2 DS3 WRC. These parts don't provide any gain in terms of performance, as they are heavier than those which are homologated. Regarding the turbocharger, which is a standard part on all World Rally Cars, the wheel turbine dimension exceed the maximum authorized. This difference comes from dilatation, as the wheel is subject to extreme temperature and rpm factors.”

Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal:
“We had no intention whatsoever to cheat and the decision appears out of proportion. Given the fact that the reported differences didn’t bring us any advantage, we’ve decided to appeal. At the moment, most of all I feel sorry for Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who produced a superb performance on a particularly difficult rally. They really deserved their first win with us. All I can do, on behalf of the entire team, is offer my sincere apologies for this situation. I hope that Mikko and Jarmo will have the chance to top the podium again very soon. ”

Ford Fiestas claim podium clean sweep in Rally de Portugal

Posted: July 19, 2012 2:40 PM

Ford claimed a 1-2-3 finish with the Fiesta RS World Rally Car in Rallye de Portugal following a late-night decision to exclude winners Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen for a technical infringement on their car.

The decision means Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson claimed their maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory in this fourth round of the season. Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet were promoted to second, while Ford World Rally Team's Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson took third.

Solberg now lies second in the drivers' standings, just four points from the lead, after a remarkable recovery in Portugal. The 37-year-old Norwegian slipped to 13th, almost seven minutes adrift of the podium, after sliding into a ditch early in the second leg of this four-day event.

Ford World Rally Team remains second in the manufacturers' standings but has narrowed the gap at the top to just 12 points.

Hirvonen was excluded by the rally stewards following a report from the FIA technical delegate which stated his car's clutch did not comply with the homologation form. The report also stated that the turbine wheel in the car's turbocharger exceeded the maximum authorised diameter. A decision on this was suspended to allow the FIA technical delegate to carry out further examinations. Hirvonen's Citroen team appealed the exclusion and the results remain provisional pending the outcome.

'Nobody likes to see the results settled in the officials' room and I feel sorry for Mikko and Jarmo,' said Solberg. 'But tonight's events mean I'm now only four points from the lead of the championship and Ford has made a big leap forwards in the manufacturers' standings. I can't wait for the next round in Argentina!'


Posted: July 19, 2012 2:35 PM

1. M Østberg/J Andersson (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 21min 16.1sec 2. E Novikov/D Giraudet (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 22min 49.3sec 3. P Solberg/C Patterson (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 23min 11.7sec 4. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 27min 21.9sec 5. M Prokop/Z Hr?za (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 27min 25.3sec 6. D Kuipers/R Buysmans (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 28min 03.4sec 7. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Skoda Fabia S2000) 4hr 28min 25.1sec 8. T Neuville/N Gilsoul (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 29min 54.0sec 9. J Ketomaa/M Stenberg (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 31min 08.9sec 10 P Van Merksteijn/E Chevaillier (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 31min 27.1sec

Craig Breen out of Rally

Posted: March 31, 2012 10:28 AM

Sad news of Irish rally driver Craig Breen from World Rally Portugal. Craig has retired after stage 5 today the first stage of the Friday stages as torrential rain descends on the Algarve.

After an exciting start yesterday to round 3 of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship where after the opening 4 stages, Craig was lying in second place. He did suffer from water entering the engine of his Ford Fiesta S2000 during the second of last night’s stages but Craig was able to continue and trailed New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon by 24.6 seconds.

Today’s stages got underway at 12 noon local time near the Holiday resort of Faro but the rain that started yesterday evening continued through the night leaving the stages in a terrible condition.

On SS 5 today Craig succumbed again to water entering the engine as he made his way through the test. He tried in vain to restart the car but with the water damage the engine had died.

Overnight SWRC category leader Hayden Paddon also failed to finish stage five going out early on the test with an electrical problem.

With the first and second place crews going out on special stage five Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rahji inherited the lead but as the horrendous conditions continued on stages 6 and 7 and as of the latest event update there’s no SWRC cars through on stage 7.

World Rally Radio @ Qualifying.

Posted: March 28, 2012 9:39 AM

World Rally Radio will be live from Qualifying this morning at Rallye de Portugal.
Links above.


Posted: March 26, 2012 12:08 PM

Old faces return to the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team as the leading privateers embark upon the fourth and first European gravel event of the World Rally Championship (WRC) next week. Having made an impact on the first three events of the season, regular points scorers Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak will be looking for another strong result as Dutchman Dennis Kuipers joins the squad for his first outing of the season at the 2012 edition of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Returning to the world series, Rally de Portugal is a classic and popular fixture on the WRC calendar. With its mix of open roads, hidden crests and narrow twisting sections, the rally is one of the most technically challenging of the year. Famed for its abrasive nature, the onus is on tyre wear and tyre choice will play a pivotal role as M-Sport's youngsters push for another strong result.

Revisiting the popular Super Special at the Praça do Império, Rally de Portugal kicks off in Lisbon city-centre before the crews tackle three back-to-back night stages on their return to the rally's base in the Algave. Two loops of three stages follow on Friday as the rally returns to the Tavira municipality for the first time since 2007 before returning to last year's format for the remaining two days.

Continuing his assault on the WRC, Novikov will be looking to maintain what has already been an impressive season for the young Russian after securing two successive fifth place finishes on the opening rounds of the championship. Despite failing to score on the previous round in Mexico, Novikov holds sixth place in the Drivers' standings and will be eager to consolidate his position as one of the Championship's most exciting young talents as the series continues next week.

Novikov last contested Rally de Portugal in 2009. Having to devise brand new pacenotes for this year's edition, the event will see Novikov and experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet further strengthen their successful partnership. Ever rising to the challenge, the Muscovite will be out to impress behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Following an impressive showing of speed and maturity at Rally Guanajuato Mexico earlier this month, Tänak will be keen to display much of the same as the Championship returns to Europe. Joined by regular co-driver, Kuldar Sikk, this will be the pairings first outing on the Portuguese stages and Tänak's first venture since 2009.

Tänak will attend the inaugural WRC Fafe Rally Sprint as a precursor to Portugal's round of the WRC on Saturday. Based near the city of Porto, the event is designed to show-case the best of the WRC for fans in the north of the country. Competing alongside the likes of Ford factory drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, the Estonian will be hoping the extra time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC gives him an edge as battles Dani Sordo for seventh in the Drivers' standings.

Making a welcome return to the WRC, Kuipers will be looking to make it into the points as he revisits the Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the first time since November last year. With a strong finish to his 2011 campaign, the Dutchman recorded the best ever result for a Dutch driver in the WRC when he secured fifth place overall at Rallye de France Alsace followed by two top-ten finishes in Spain and GB.

Fresh from victory at the Tank S Rally in his native Holland, Kuipers will be keen to make an impact as he returns to the Algarve for his third assault on the Portuguese stages. With new-for-2012 co-driver Robin Buysmans in the navigator's seat, the duo will be looking for a good result on their debut event together in the world series.

Evgeny Novikov said:
'I have only competed in Portugal once before [in 2009] and this will be my first outing alongside Denis [Giraudet]. We'll have to make brand new pacenotes for this event so we'll be working hard throughout the recce to make sure they are as good as they can be.

'Having said that, I am really looking forward to the rally. For sure it is quite a difficult event with lots of twists and crests, but it is also really good fun. It is difficult to say what position we will be aiming for. We will have to see what our pace is like and if we can find the right set-up in the car, but of course I will try my hardest to secure the very best result.'

Ott Tänak said:
'I'm feeling pretty good ahead of Portugal. We had a really good rally in Mexico so I'm hoping we continue that good form next week. As we have had no pre-event testing we'll take the same approach as we did in Mexico ' take it a little cautiously at first to get the feel of the car and then push a little more if the feeling is good.

'We will be attending the Rally Sprint event on Saturday which should give us some good experience, but more importantly, some extra time in the car ahead of the event. We'll do our best and hopefully we can have a perfect rally. For sure, we'll be looking for another strong points finish.'

Dennis Kuipers said:

'Portugal is a really nice rally. This will be my third time at the event now so I know it quite well and I'm certainly looking forward to it. It is a technical rally which means it is often pretty challenging. The night stages on the first day make the rally even longer than usual and it will be a real test for the drivers.

'I've been watching some In Car footage from the stages, but we have had no specific testing in the lead up to the event. This will be my first time back in a WRC car since November last year so it will be difficult to be straight on the pace we were showing at the end of last year.

'I contested a small rally in Holland last week [Tank S Rally] to get back into the rhythm of competitive driving. We won the event so hopefully that will have been good practice for next week. Of course it is difficult to judge where our pace will be when we return to the WRC, but for sure we will try our best and hopefully we can benefit from our past experience and make it into the top ten.'


Posted: March 26, 2012 12:06 PM

An array of highly talented drivers will take centre stage as the Ford and Pirelli supported FIA WRC Academy embarks on the opening round of the season at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal next week. With national champions, class victors and members of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy all in the mix, this year's Cup is set to thrill and the first victory could be awarded to any of the series' first ten crews.

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe, this year's WRC Academy will once again run identical Ford Fiesta R2s with control tyres from Pirelli. Promoting competitive rallying amongst equal competition, the outright speed and potential of this year's drivers is clear to see and the crews will be out to impress.

With its mix of open roads, hidden crests and narrow twisting sections, Rally de Portugal is one of the most technically challenging on the WRC calendar. Revisiting the popular Super Special at the Praça do Império, Rally de Portugal kicks off in Lisbon city-centre before the WRC Academy crews tackle three back-to-back night stages on their return to the rally's base in the Algarve. Two loops of three stages follow on Friday as the rally returns to the Tavira municipality for the first time since 2007 before returning to last year's format for the remaining three stages on Saturday.

Returning to the WRC Academy for his second assault on the one-make series, Sweden's Fredrik Åhlin (20) will be looking to improve as he contests Rally de Portugal for the second time alongside co-driver Morten Erik Abrahamsen. Hoping to utilise his knowledge of Saturday's stages, Sweden's youngest ever rally winner will be keen to make an impression.

After contesting the final round of the WRC Academy in its inaugural season, American Chris Duplessis (24) will revisit the series alongside Irishman Karl Atkinson this year. Fresh from his victory with the Ford Fiesta R2 at the 100 Acre Wood Rally last month, the youngster will be looking for another strong performance on his return to European rallying.

New to the WRC Academy in 2012, Elfyn Evans (23) will be eager to show his potential as he embarks on the first round of the season alongside fellow Welshman Andrew Edwards. Evans holds the record for the Ford Fiesta R2 in competition after securing 16th place overall at the 2011 Rallye de France Alsace and will be looking to translate his vast knowledge of the Fiesta into some strong points in Portugal.

After claiming third place overall in last year's WRC Academy, Alastair Fisher (23) is the highest placed returnee to the one-make series. Like Evans, the Northern Irishman will contest the Bulldog Rally of North Wales (as part of the British Rally Championship) this weekend in the Ford Fiesta R2 alongside regular co-driver, Daniel Barritt. The youngster will be hoping the extra competition holds him in good stead as he chases the top-step of the podium in the Algarve.

After taking a class win at Wales Rally GB last year, John MacCrone (22) has already tested his speed on the world stage. Returning to contest a full season in the world series as part of the WRC Academy, the Scotsman is ready and eager to impress alongside fellow countryman, Stuart Loudon.

The brother and sister pairing of Brendan Reeves (23) and Rhianon Smyth also make a welcome return to the WRC Academy for 2012. Finishing fifth in last year's series, and having contested 48 rallies together since 2006, the popular Australian pairing will be hoping their knowledge gives them an edge as they pursue victory in Portugal. As a member of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy, Reeves will be putting all of his training into practice next week.

Eager to make the most of home advantage, João Silva (24) will be looking for a strong result as he competes alongside fellow Portuguese Jose Jañela. The two-time Madeiran Junior Rally Champion has an impressive history at Rally de Portugal having contested the event on two separate occasions and taking the class victory last year.

Returning to the WRC Academy for a second season, Jose Antonio Suárez (20) will be looking to build on the knowledge gained in 2011 as he pursues victory on gravel. Having set consistent top-five times throughout Rally de Portugal last year, the 2010 Junior Spanish Tarmac Rally Champion will be keen to impress on the first test of the year.

Sweden's youngest ever Rally Champion, and a member of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy, Pontus Tidemand (21), also joins the WRC Academy in Portugal. An expert on snow and gravel, the youngster will be eager to show what makes him a national champion as he embarks on his first full campaign on the world stage alongside Norwegian, Stig Rune Skjærmoen.

Finally, fellow FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy driver, Timo Van der Marel (22), makes a return to the series in a second bid for glory. Having taken a number of class victories in his native Holland already this year, and supported by the Dutch Motorsport Federation's (KNAF) young driver initiative, Van der Marel is currently leading Holland's Nissan Cup and will be hoping for further successes at the WRC Academy season opener.

The talent on display will make the 2012 edition of the one-make series one of the most exciting to date. Any of the ten competing crews has a shot at victory at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal next week and the WRC Academy is set to provide some of the most close-fought rallying in the field.

Local Portuguese driver, João Silva, said:
"We are getting closer to Rally de Portugal and I am very excited to start. Debuting in Portugal is really good and I hope to take full advantage of that and set a good pace against the other crews. We won't know how our pace compares until the first day of competition, but for sure we will give it our best!

'This week will be very busy with the recce, testing and all the WRC Academy activities, so we will have to keep focused and work our hardest from the beginning.

'I felt really good at the M-Sport training days, so I hope to feel the same here in Portugal ' which, of course, everyone wants to win.

'I cannot wait to get behind the wheel of the [Ford] Fiesta [R2] and start testing on Wednesday because I haven't driven the car in competition yet ' just a small asphalt test at M-Sport.

'Let the competition begin!"

Securing the final podium spot in last year's series, Alastair Fisher, said:
'This rally has been a long time coming and I cannot wait to be back behind the wheel of a rally car in the WRC! We have been doing a lot of hard work over the winter and I am really looking forward to the competition.

'I will be competing in the Bulldog Rally [part of the British Rally Championship] and hopefully the time in the [Ford] Fiesta [R2] should see us well prepared as we head back to Portugal.

'We were leading the event until the last day when we contested the [FIA WRC] Academy last year, so this year we'll be aiming to do one better. For sure everyone will be pushing for a strong result and a lot of the field will be back for a second time, so it won't be easy, but we will certainly give it our best shot!'

Ford and Solberg grab Fafe glory in perfect Portuguese warm-up

Posted: March 26, 2012 12:04 PM

Ford World Rally Team's Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson chalked up their first victory for the squad today with a stunning performance to triumph in the Fafe Rally Sprint, a warm-up event for next weekend's Rally de Portugal.

Their win could hardly have been closer, as Solberg's Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car edged out world champion Sébastien Loeb by just two hundredths of a second.

Formerly a popular part of the Rally de Portugal route, the 6.34km Fafe gravel speed test east of Porto was resurrected for the first time since it last echoed to the sound of FIA World Rally Championship cars in 2001, after which the rally moved south to its current Algarve base.

Although a non-championship event, the Fafe Rally Sprint attracted 30 entries, among them the Fiesta RS World Rally Cars of Solberg and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila. An estimated 100,000 fans lined the special stage, and they did not go away disappointed.

Although Latvala proved comfortably fastest on the first of three runs through the demanding stage, Solberg's second pass was swifter still, earning the popular Norwegian the right to drive the team's sole Fiesta RS WRC on the third and final test. Whilst disappointed not to make it through himself, Latvala admitted he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

'I loved the character of the stage,' said the 26-year-old Finn. 'I'd only ever seen it on video before, and there were some difficult jumps that made it really spectacular. I don't think I've ever seen so many people on a stage, and you could really sense their enthusiasm. It's a true classic, and I had a lot of fun out there. Of course, I would have liked to be the one doing the last run, but I guess I did two days of testing last week and Petter only one, so this was his payback!'

To add a touch of local flavour, Solberg's two Portuguese mechanics attached a national flag to the roof of the 37-year-old's Fiesta RS WRC for the winner-takes-all run. Following a characteristically effervescent drive, the 2003 world champion flashed across the finish line just ahead of Loeb.

'What an unbelievable stage,' said Solberg. 'There were some really big and difficult jumps, but they only made it even more exciting. We want to take our sport close to the fans, and that is exactly what we did here. This was a team effort and a team victory, for me and for Jari-Matti and for all the guys who did such a good job again with the car. It feels great to win.

'I put on a big attack. There were a lot of people generating a lot of passion, and it was fantastic to be back here again. Fafe is truly a rallying place. I'm very happy, and I hope we can continue this way in the rally. We've taken the first step, and now Jari-Matti and I need to beat everybody else next week, too,' he added.

Rally de Portugal will get underway on Thursday in Lisbon, before competitors head south to Faro via three evening stages in the Alentejo region. They then face three days of challenging gravel speed tests in the Serra do Caldeirão hills above the Algarve, covering a total of 434.77km across 22 stages.

First SWRC Gravel of the Season for Breen

Posted: March 26, 2012 12:03 PM

The Super 2000 World Rally Championship has tasted the tarmac of France and the snow in Sweden already this year and next weekend the series moves to gravel for round three in Portugal.

The one common denominator over those first two rallies, has been Swedish driver P-G Andersson (Proton Motorsport) hitting the front on both. On the Monte it ended prematurely for the Swede on the penultimate evening but on home ground in Sweden he took a convincing win.

Over the opening two rallies Craig has taken a mature approach. Driving with a controlled pace and this decision has rewarded the WRC Academy Champion well as he leads the series by 18 points.

That pattern from Monte Carlo and Sweden is set to broken next weekend as Proton Motorsport have nominated SWRC Portugal as their round to drop. This will leave the door open for current leader to extend his advantage.

For Craig the event will mark the halfway point of the season as he has nominated round 4 in New Zealand as his round to drop so Portugal effectively beckons the season midpoint and the Irish driver will be eager to continue his early form,
"As we head to round three in Portugal and the first gravel event of the year and vital that I keep the run going." said Breen before leaving for the Algarve. "Our win on the Monte was an incredible start and with P-G on home ground for round two we were really fighting for second place. I haven't changed my driving style this year but I do think I'm maturing as a driver. The Monte was a big learning curve and I’m delighted with my early season start."

World Rally Portugal has been a destination of mixed fortunes for Craig over his last two visits. In 2009 Breen took part in the Algarve event competing in the opening round of the FSTi and on his maiden WRC rally the then 19 year-old took top honours. Last season however on the opening round of the WRC Academy Breen gave a dominating performance but was thwarted near the end when he got caught out, going off the road on the final day and out of the rally. Now with a clean slate the academy champion has a great opportunity to extend his advantage at the top of the SWRC standings.

Rally Portugal is again based in the southern resort of Faro but the event begins in the capital of Lisbon on Thursday afternoon with the usual ‘Superspecial’. There’s a new feature for this year’s event however as the crews tackle three tests - all run at night and in quick succession - during the 300-kilometre journey back down south to the event HQ in Faro. Friday sees a slightly delayed start owing to the late finish on Thursday night. Day-two has six stages located in the Tavira municipality 30km’s east of Faro, with the first scheduled for a 12 noon start and is dissected with a service back at the Algarve Stadium after the opening of three. The first two tests on Friday could prove very important as both are 25km’s long. Saturday day-three is located just north of the HQ and again entertains six stages. This is where the event begins to bite as all three test are over 22km’s. For the third day in a row Sunday continues the blueprint of a loop of three stages repeated and is located in the Ourique municipality containing the 31 km’s of Santana Serra and the 5 km ‘Power Stage’ of Sambro.

Craig’s biggest challenge apart from the gruelling gravel stages is expected to come from New Zealander, Hayden Paddon. The current production car world rally champion didn’t appear at the Monte and after finishing fourth in Sweden; the Kiwi trails the Tel-Tech Engineering Ford Fiesta driver by 31 points and will be going all out for a top finish in the Algarve.

“Portugal is going to be very important, I decided at the start of the year to not travel to round four in New Zealand so Portugal is the halfway stage for Me.”, said the category leader, “It’s the first gravel event of the year and is always a tough event. The introduction of the night stages will be interesting. I got the chance to test at home on a local gravel event at the beginning of the month which included stages in darkness and last weekend I was in Turkey for a gravel test with Castrol Ford Team Turkey so my preparation as gone well.”

Prodrive targets podium on debut in Portugal

Posted: March 26, 2012 11:39 AM

The Prodrive WRC Team will make its debut at Rally Portugal next week running two MINI John Cooper Works WRCs for Dani Sordo #37 and Patrik Sandell #52.

Dani Sordo’s MINI will feature more than 100 modifications compared to the car that competed at Rally Sweden. The enhancements have all been homologated under FIA regulations. The major developments are a three percent increase in power from the engine; a revised front bumper to improve cooling and the aerodynamic performance; improved Ohlins gravel dampers; and some significant weight savings primarily thanks to the use of a lithium ion battery for the first time.

The new MINI John Cooper Works rally car made its debut at Rally Portugal a year ago in Super Production specification. 2012 will be the debut of the World Rally Car on this event, which will see an extended partnership with BP.

Team principal, Dave Wilcock, believes the team should be targeting a podium finish on this rally. He said:
“The newly homologated parts make a significant improvement to the car and should we run error free, I would certainly hope that Dani could be up there fighting for a podium. However, the competition does have the significant advantage of having already competed on gravel this year in Mexico, but Dani certainly knows the Portuguese event well and has achieved podium finishes here on his last three outings.”

Since Rally Sweden, Dani Sordo has extensively tested the new car and will get further time in the MINI WRC in the run up to the event. Sordo said: “I am really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the MINI. We did our first test in the new car and it felt really really good. The team at Prodrive have done a great job. The new car feels like a big step forward and I could immediately feel the difference. I have been on the podium the last three times I have been at Portugal and I will be fighting hard to get MINI’s first podium on a gravel event.”

Patrik Sandell is competing in the MINI WRC for the second time after his excellent debut at Rally Sweden, where he finished eighth beaten only by more experienced WRC drivers. Sandell said: “Eighth place was a great result for me in Sweden. As the rally went on I got more and more confident in the car and my speed increased. I would like to continue in Portugal where I left off in Sweden and keep improving my pace. I think we can definitely finish in a higher position than before and I will be aiming for a top five finish.”

Former Chilean Formula One driver, Eliseo Salazar, who is competing at Rally Argentina in a MINI WRC, is conducting a two day test in Portugal next week and will then be joining the team for Rally Portugal.

In addition to the two Prodrive WRC Team MINIs, Prodrive will, as normal, also be providing engineering support for the MINI WRCs of Armindo Araujo and Paulo Nobre running with WRC Team MINI Portugal. Armindo debuted the MINI John Cooper Works rally car on his home event last year.

Fisher targets strong start in Portugal

Posted: March 26, 2012 11:28 AM

Alastair Fisher will be out for revenge when the second FIA WRC Academy season gets underway on Rally of Portugal this week (29-31 March). One year ago Alastair was heading for victory in the world championship support category on the demanding Portuguese gravel stages when a late crash relegated him to fifth position.

Twelve months on and Fisher plans to banish those painful memories and capitalise on the experience he has gained through competing in the WRC Academy in 2011 to launch a renewed title bid this year.

“I’ve learned so much from being part of the FIA WRC Academy and I’m confident I can put in a solid performance and push for a strong result this week,” said Fisher, from Trillick in County Tyrone. “I’ve improved vastly as a rally driver since the beginning of last year thanks to the advice and training I’ve received. I’ve worked very hard on my personal preparation over the winter break.”

Fisher arrived in Portugal yesterday (Sunday), less than 24 hours after competing on the International Rally of North Wales at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R2, similar to the one he uses as standard in the WRC Academy.

On that event, a fire caused by a punctured fuel tank on stage three forced his early exit, although both Fisher and co-driver Daniel Barritt escaped without injury.

“The stages in Wales were in great shape and for once the weather was more like what we’ll experience in Portugal,” said Fisher. “The rally didn’t go to plan but it gave me a chance to refine my pacenotes with Daniel my co-driver and get some time in the car ahead of Portugal.”

This year’s WRC Academy features six rounds in Portugal, Greece, Finland, Germany, France and Spain with drivers counting their five best scores. Competitors use identical Fiesta R2 rally cars run on Pirelli control tyres. Fisher is being billed as one of the favourites for the title after finishing third overall in 2011.

Fisher’s WRC Academy campaign has been made possible by the support of Modern Tyre Service, GR White and Son Electrical Contracts, TBC Motability Conversions, Armagh City Hotel, Pacenotes Rally Magazine, Jennings Fuels and Sport Northern Ireland.

Q&A: Alastair Fisher

What made you chose the FIA WRC Academy for a second season?
“The competition is close, the cars are identical and it’s a great way to build experience of six world championship rallies and measure yourself against other young drivers from around the world.”

How have you prepared for your second year in the WRC Academy?
“I’ve trained very hard over the winter break aiming to be in the best shape I can be for the new season. I’ve also done a few practice rallies on gravel to get myself ready.”

What can you achieve in the WRC Academy Cup this season?
“I’m confident I have the ability to lift the title, I need to concentrate fully and take nothing for granted. I’m just going to be 100 per cent focused and do the best job that I can.”

In a recent feature, Autosport magazine selected you as one of 10 drivers with the potential to make it big in the sport. What did this mean to you?
“Any recognition always gives you a big boost but to see my name included among a strong list of drivers when you know there is a lot of talent out there means a lot.”


Posted: March 23, 2012 11:19 AM

Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini produced their best performance in the WRC last time out, claiming sixth position at Rally Mexico. The Qatar World Rally Team crew start the Portuguese round hoping to build on that result and their growing experience. Similarly, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior World Rally Team) will be hoping to convert their undoubted pace into a first points finish.

Like the Citroën Total World Rally Team drivers, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville will be taking part in this Saturday’s “Fafe Rally Sprint”, held on the legendary stage around Porto. The event will serve as “luxury” appetizer for Rally de Portugal, which is due to start at Thursday lunchtime in Lisbon. The rest of the event will be held in the Algarve region, to the south of the country.

The second event of the season to be held on gravel, the road surfaces featured on Rally de Portugal are very different to those encountered in Mexico. The stages will be held on roads in the mountains of the Faro region, at lower altitudes than in Mexico, meaning the engines will be able to operate at full power. The Portugal stages are renowned for their technical difficulty, featuring many jumps and blind corners hidden by vegetation, as well as frequent grip changes which only serve to highlight the balancing skills of the drivers! With nineteen World Rally Cars taking part in this, the fourth round of the season, it is likely there will be a good scrap on each stage.

Sixth at Rally Mexico, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini came through their first test on gravel with flying colours. In his second rally in a World Rally Car, the Qatari was able to let his driving do the talking:
“Most of all, I am pleased to have completed three days of racing without making any mistakes. What I need the most now is to rack up miles on the road to adapt to the demands of the car. I will be starting Rally de Portugal better equipped to do well.

This first gravel rally helped me to learn a lot about the handling of the DS3 WRC. I am going to try and do better, i.e. narrow the gap between me and the top drivers. It’s a big challenge but it’s an exciting one, and I am very determined to get there.”

Forced to retire after day one of the rally whilst they were in contention for a place on the podium, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul were less fortunate in Mexico. After rejoining under Rally2 rules, the Belgian crew continued their race in committed fashion, going on to set good times on the Sunday.
“This weekend was a very useful learning experience for us. I was surprised to be challenging the leaders right at the start of the rally,” recalled Thierry. “When I rejoined the rally, it was in the role of sweeper, as I was first out on the road. That is part of the learning process and I think it was beneficial for me to have had to learn how to control the car when the conditions were particularly slippery. I hope I can once again challenge for a top 5 place in Portugal. But before being able to think about a points finish, we’ll need to start by qualifying well, and then staying on the road to avoid having to rejoin under Rally2 regulations. As always, I’ll be able to call upon the experience of the team.”

A DS3 WRC is also entered for the Peter Van Merksteijn Jr./Eddy Chevaillier crew. The Dutch driver, who will be competing in his second rally of the season after Sweden, has already taken part in Rally de Portugal on two previous occasions.

Citroën Total World Rally Team- FROM FAFE TO LOULÉ, VIA LISBON

Posted: March 23, 2012 11:15 AM

Round four of this year‘s WRC, Rally de Portugal is one of the season’s most popular events. A three-time winner of the event, Citroën Total World Rally Team will be looking to secure another victory here with its crews. Thanks to wins in Monte-Carlo and Mexico, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena start the Portuguese round as leaders of the Drivers’ World Championship standings. Runner-up in the last two rallies and second in the overall rankings, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will be looking to underline their growing confidence in the DS3 WRC.

The spiritual coming together between the Portuguese fans and the WRC crews will start this Saturday 24 March, with a “Rally Sprint” organised close to Porto on a stage made famous by the Fafe jump. Two Citroën DS3 WRCs will be shared by the four Citroën Racing crews: Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen, Nasser Al- Attiyah/Giovanni Bernacchini and Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul.

Reconnaissance for the rally will begin on Monday in the Algarve, and the qualifying stage is due to be held on Wednesday morning. The Rally de Portugal will get start from Lisbon at lunchtime on Thursday. Day one will include a street stage in the capital, followed by three timed stages on gravel run in the evening. The rest of the weekend has a more conventional look to it, with three legs run on a clover-shaped route in the mountains of the Loulé region. After Mexico, Rally de Portugal is this season’s second gravel rally. As the rally will be held on lower altitude roads than in Central America, drivers will be able to call upon all of the power offered by their 1.6-litre turbocharged direct injection engines.

“This is the first rally where we will really be able to gauge the relative strengths of the crews,” assessed Sébastien Loeb. “In Mexico, we saw that our rivals had made a significant step forward performance-wise at an event where they had not previously done that well. If the same is true in Portugal, then we're going to have a very close fight on our hands! As far as we’re concerned, our preparations for this rally have gone well. Our DS3 WRC has been quick on all surfaces since the start of the season and I think it will be no different in Portugal.”

Fourth in Monte-Carlo and runner-up in Sweden and Mexico, Mikko Hirvonen now lies second overall in the Drivers' World Championship, 16 points behind his team-mate. The Finn feels he is making progress in the DS3 WRC at each rally.
“I feel confident for this rally. In Mexico, I managed to set some good times and was neck and neck with Seb on day one. I still have to work on adapting my driving style to the DS3 WRC,” admitted the Finn. “I tend to push too hard and end up getting the car too sideways. The engineers even said they were considering removing the handbrake! When I drive like that, I note that my times aren’t so good. So I need to work on that, but I think I’ll be even better in Portugal.”

By ensuring both cars finished the first three rallies of the season, Citroën Total World Rally Team has built up a healthy 38-point lead in the Manufacturers’ World Championship. Citroën will be looking to sustain its early season momentum at an event that it has won for the last three years.


You are taking part in the “Fafe Rally Sprint” near Porto, this Saturday. How important is this event for you?
“I don’t know the famous Fafe stage, as the Portugal rally hasn’t gone through the Porto region since 2001. It’s great to go and see the many fans in the region, but I’d have preferred it if these stages had been included in the rally, as opposed to a stand-alone, promotional event which has no real sporting value. But anyway, I think it’ll be a very interesting new experience.”

Like last year, the rally is due to start on Wednesday with a street stage in Lisbon. And then in the evening, there are three night stages run on gravel. That sounds like one hell of a start!
“I think it’s good that the first day has been made into a proper leg. More so than elsewhere, it will be tricky to choose the right starting position. At night, kicked-up dust can stay in the air for ages. In conditions like that, is it better to have to sweep the loose gravel but enjoy decent visibility or have a clean racing line but run the risk of having to drive through dust clouds? Setting a good time in the qualifying stage won’t be enough. We’ll also need to analyse the weather conditions very carefully to make the right choice. One thing is for certain, however: an ‘average’ time and an ‘average’ starting position of around 7th or 8th place would be a pretty disastrous solution all round!”

The ability to choose tyres comes back into play at this rally for the gravel sections. You must be pleased after having requested this on many occasions…
“Yes, because the old rules jeopardised our safety. I remember having driven on muddy stages with hard tyres - it was terrifying! In addition to the 40 ‘hard’ Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, we can use up to 10 soft tyres. If it doesn’t rain, these extra tyres will be redundant. But if it does rain, they will enable us to avoid taking any unnecessary risks to stay on the road.”

Algarve adventure awaits Ford's pacy duo in Portugal

Posted: March 23, 2012 10:59 AM

Ford World Rally Team takes on next week's FIA World Rally Championship encounter in Portugal intent on carrying forward the form displayed in Mexico earlier this month. Its Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car topped the speed test rankings after stepping up its dirt road pace and winning exactly half the special stages at the North American fixture.

Rally de Portugal (29 March - 1 April) is regarded as the most technically difficult gravel round of the season as narrow tracks, blind crests and trees and stones lining the roadside leave no room for error. Organisers have made this year's rally even tougher by introducing new roads, night-time competition and extending the competitive distance by almost 13 per cent.

Given Mexico's standing as a specialist event due to altitude, Portugal represents the first traditional gravel rally of the kind which comprise the bulk of the championship. It is regarded as the truest form guideline so far, and offers Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson the opportunity to lay down a marker for the six loose-surface rounds to come.

After being a regular fixture since the WRC was launched in 1973, Rally de Portugal dropped out of the series in 2002. It was reborn in 2007 with a new home in the Algarve holiday region on the south coast and has quickly developed into one of the most popular rounds.

This fourth round of the season is based on the edge of Faro, with most of the competition in the hills above the town, mixing fast, open roads with technical sections on hard, abrasive tracks. Thursday afternoon's start ceremony is in Lisbon, after which drivers tackle three tests in darkness which have been planned on higher, open ground to combat the threat of hanging dust in the still evening air.

'We prepared for the night stages by driving in the dark at our test this week,' said Latvala. 'I drove 48km on Wednesday and that really helped for what could be a crucial part of the rally. It depends on the weather, but hanging dust could be an issue and three-minute intervals between cars may not be enough to allow it to clear. It's on the limit, and the organisers may have to consider four minutes.

'It's difficult to say now if we should be first in the start order, or brave enough to run further back. First would ensure a clear run, but the disadvantage would be the slippery loose gravel on the road surface which would be cleared if we start lower down. The important thing is to ensure we do well in qualifying so we're in a position to make that choice. Then it's in our own hands.

'It's hard to follow the rhythm of the roads in Portugal. There are many new roads in Friday's leg so we must concentrate hard when making our pace notes in the recce. I had a fantastic feeling with the car in Mexico. It was disappointing not to finish, and that's brought a little more pressure, but the confidence gained from our speed is a real boost for the gravel rounds to come,' added Latvala.

Twenty-six-year-old Latvala has a best result of third last year from his four starts in Portugal, while Solberg's best result is second when the rally was held in the Algarve for the first time in 2007.

'Portugal is a good rally and I'm hungry for success there,' said the 37-year-old Norwegian. 'I'm third in the drivers' championship so I feel positive and I had a good test in Portugal this week. I drove for 220km and made a few more improvements to the set-up of my car. I know from the last round that the Fiesta RS WRC is fast on gravel, so hopefully these improvements will make it even better.

'It's a long rally and I want to be a little calmer at the beginning than I was in Mexico. I made a couple of early mistakes there and I don't want to repeat that, so it's important I don't try to achieve too much too soon. There's plenty of kilometres in which to make my move without trying to do it in the first 40km,' he added.

Team News
* Michelin's Latitude Cross gravel tyre will be used by the Ford drivers and will be available primarily in hard compound. However, new for 2012 regulations mean that for the first time drivers will also have a small allocation of soft compound rubber available if conditions are wet and muddy. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the tyres and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Eight privately-entered Fiesta RS WRCs supplement the official cars. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk and Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet are nominated by M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, which has also entered Dennis Kuipers / Robin Buysmans. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson are entered by Adapta World Rally Team, while Brazil World Rally Team makes its Ford debut with Daniel Oliveira / Carlos Magalhães at the wheel. Martin Prokop / Zden'k Hr'za will drive the Czech Ford National Team car, while the Fiesta RS WRC numbers will be completed by Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor and Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg.
* The rally marks the third round of the SWRC support series and Craig Breen / Gareth Roberts top the standings in a Ford Fiesta S2000. It is also the opening round of the FIA WRC Academy, the sport's training programme for young drivers, which is supported by Ford and promoted by M-Sport. Ten drivers will tackle three days of competition in Ford Fiesta R2 cars.
* Both Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg will compete in the WRC Fafe Rally Sprint in Portugal on Saturday afternoon (24 March) at the wheel of Fiesta RS WRCs. This appetiser for the rally will be broadcast live on Portuguese television and the 30 entrants will tackle three passes over a 6.34km section of the iconic Fafe stage, near Porto. The much-photographed jump, which attracted massive crowds when the stage was used in the world championship rally, will feature in Saturday's sprint.

Rally Route
Although the route covers familiar territory in the Serra do Caldeirão hills above the Algarve, more than 25 per cent has not been used before and almost 36 per cent is new from 2011. Estádio Algarve, built on the edge of Faro for the 2004 European Soccer Championships, is again the base and hosts the single service park. Thursday's start ceremony and opening speed test is 300km north alongside Lisbon's Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before drivers return to Faro via three night-time tests in the Alentejo region. Friday's action north-east of Faro provides most of the new roads. The last two days, held further north, are virtually unchanged from last year, except for Sunday's short Sambro test. The second pass forms the Power Stage, with bonus points on offer for the fastest three drivers. Competitors tackle 22 stages and 434.77km in a route of 1564.26km.

Seeded Entry List

Posted: March 14, 2012 2:09 PM

Prodrive boosts performance of MINI WRC

Posted: March 9, 2012 1:34 PM

At Rally Portugal this month the Prodrive WRC Team will introduce more than 100 modifications to improve the performance of the MINI John Cooper Works WRC. The enhancements are being homologated under the FIA regulations and will be available to fit to all MINI WRCs.
Prodrive has been running a development programme on the MINI WRC since October last year, using data it has gathered from running its own cars and a further dozen customer MINIs in championships across Europe and the Middle East.

A major focus has been development of the 1.6 litre turbo engine, with a result that the newly homologated engine has a three per cent increase in peak power. To achieve this, Prodrive has redesigned the induction system with a new restrictor and restrictor feed, while the engine cooling system has been made more efficient, with the introduction of an electrically-operated water pump, which not only reduces parasitic losses, but enables the engine temperature to be more accurately controlled and in turn the knock control optimised. Without a belt-driven water pump the alternator has been moved and the whole area around the drive belt made more robust, with a shorter drive belt which is simpler to change. With all these modifications, the engine management system software and associated electronics have been upgraded with optimised fail safe modes and enhanced driver and co-driver in-car displays.

The only visual change to the MINI WRC is the front bumper, which has been remodelled using CFD to improve engine cooling and the car’s aerodynamic performance. The new front splitter design allows the car to run at lower ride heights on rough gravel surfaces, reducing airflow under the car and increasing front-end downforce.

Prodrive has worked with suspension partner, Ohlins, to improve the performance of its dampers on rough surfaces with the new units giving the car greater stability and traction while running on gravel. The team has also developed a heavy duty suspension package specifically for use on very rough events like Greece.

For the first time, a lithium-ion battery can be run on the MINI. This not only gives a significant weight saving of more than 7 kg over the lead-acid battery it replaces, but has a 20 stage kilometre life in the event of an alternator or drive-belt failure, compared to just 2 km previously. Through further modifications on the car including a new manufacturing process for the construction of the carbon fibre rear wing, Prodrive has managed to reduce the base weight of the MINI WRC by 10kg, which allows more ballast to be strategically placed to improve the balance of the car.

Prodrive WRC Team drivers, Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo, shared four days in southern Spain last week testing the new car and according to team principal, Dave Wilcock, the improvements were very noticeable. He said:
“Both drivers were really pleased with the developments and could feel the increase in performance both directly from the engine and in the dynamic behaviour of the car over the rough stages. This is a significant step forward for the MINI WRC, but our development work hasn’t stopped and the engineering team are already looking at the next set of improvements for later this year.”

The Prodrive WRC Team will next compete at Rally Portugal on 29 March – 1 April with Dani Sordo and Patrik Sandell.

Event Website / Details / Rally Guide

Posted: February 22, 2012 12:01 PM

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