PREVIEW: 2019 Rally Portugal – Tight at the Top as the Championship Hits the Midway Stage

by Steven Batey

The 2019 FIA World Rally Championship heads towards its halfway stage this weekend with round seven, Rally Portugal.

A revised route sees a total of 18 stages with over 300km of stage miles across three days including a completely new line-up to Friday’s action which features stages around the area of Arganil for the first time since 2001.

The championship returns to Europe after a South American double header in Argentina and Chile with three drivers battling at the top of the standings.

Sébastien Ogier is the man out in front, albeit by just ten points after another strong performance on the championships newest event last time out as the defending champion continues his pursuit for a seventh consecutive title.

He leads the championship despite demanding that the French manufacturer continues to develop and upgrade the C3 WRC as soon as possible.

Neuville crashed out of Rally Chile in spectacular fashion. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

Second going to Portugal is winner in Chile Ott Tänak, who has a slender two point margin over Thierry Neuville, with the Belgian looking to fight back after his mammoth accident last time out.

His Hyundai team have made a significant change to its driver line-up between Chile and Portugal, with Team Principal Albera Adarma revealing Sébastien Loeb will continue alongside Neuville and Dani Sordo in favour of Andreas Mikkelsen who drops out for a second time so far this season.

The move comes after the nine-time champions fine third place finish in Chile on his first gravel appearance for the team. Loeb is someone to keep a close eye on this weekend, especially given his more favourable road position compared to drivers such as Ogier, Tanak and Neuville.

Loeb continues this weekend after a strong podium finish in Chile. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

Both Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans have had solid starts to the season and are separated by just one point going into the event this weekend – the Welshman will be hoping for another fine result after taking second here last year.

M-Sport will run three cars for the first time since Rally Sweden in Portugal with Gus Greensmith making his WRC debut in the third Ford Fiesta WRC and could add more WRC events to his schedule after this weekend.

He competes the line-up alongside Evans and Teemu Suninen, with the Finn looking to continue his consistent form from recent events.

Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile will both be aiming for a strong result this weekend after tough starts to the season in the second Citroen and final Toyota Yaris respectively on the entry list.

WRC2/WRC2 PRO – Defending Champion Kopecký Returns

Kalle Rovanperä won in Chile in WRC2 PRO. Photo Credit; Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

WRC2 PRO this weekend has a total of four entries, with winner in Chile Kalle Rovanperä again going up against rival Mads Østberg.

The young Finn has a new car at his disposal this weekend, with Skoda opting to give the new Fabia R5 EVO its world debut with 2018 WRC2 champion Jan Kopecký also driving a new version of the car as he returns to the championship for the first time this season.

With series leader Greensmith entering the WRC this weekend, it also gives Łukasz Pieniążek a chance to score vital championship points, with the Pole completing the PRO line-up for this weekend.

Guerra Jr leads WRC2 going into Portugal. Photo Credit; Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool

WRC2 meanwhile sees a mammoth 23 car entry, which includes championship leader Benito Guerra Jr and fresh from claiming his second win in a current-generation WRC car last weekend in Finland on the Riihimäki Rally, Takamoto Katsuta.

Other front running drivers also enter in Portugal including Nikolay Gryazin, Alberto Heller, Jari Huttunen and Rhys Yates.

 

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