The eight-time champion Sébastien Ogier will take his second start of the season for the Toyota Gazoo Racing, replacing Esapekka Lappi in the third Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 machine.
The Frenchman who is joined by co-driver Benjami Veillas, had a very successful Rally1 debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo last time out. Ogier was leading the rally until the penultimate stage where he caught up with a puncture and made so the nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb took the win.
Both Ogier and Loeb are returning back to Portugal this weekend as they are running a part-time program this season.
The five-time rally winner says he is happy to be back in Portugal and says he will face a new challenge of his rally career as he is starting further back in the order for first time in years.
“I’m excited to be back competing in Portugal. I’ve really enjoyed having some time off and now I feel quite fresh coming back. I’m of course happy to see the team has continued winning in the last couple of rallies, and I’m here not only to enjoy it and get some good results for myself but also to help win another manufacturers’ title.” Ogier said.
“Portugal is a special place for me: I have a good connection with the country and the fans and have had some good success there over the years. It will be something different for me to not be starting near the front and hopefully that can be a bit of an advantage if it doesn’t rain. The biggest challenge will be getting back in the rhythm straightaway after only one test day on gravel last week. But at the same time, these cars are new for everyone on gravel, so let’s see what we can do.”
Elfyn Evans: “Portugal is a rally I’ve enjoyed more and more as the years have gone on”
The 2021 Rally de Portugal winner Elfyn Evans and co-driver Scott Martin are hoping to get their luck turned around for this rally as they have had a rollercoaster of a season so far with a lot of up and downs in the three opening rounds.
The British pair is targeting a podium return in Portugal but the first gravel will be difficult to know where they are standing as the gravel is completely new for all in the hybrid rally cars.
Evans is hoping he can hit the ground running in Portugal as the five upcoming rounds in the schedule is all gravel rallies.
“As with a lot of rallies this year, it’s difficult to know how we will fare against the competition in our first event on gravel with the Rally1 cars, but the feeling in testing last week was generally quite positive. Portugal is a rally I’ve enjoyed more and more as the years have gone on, and it was great to win there last year.” Evans said.
“We could definitely do with a strong result on this occasion too and that will be the aim like always. With a run of gravel events coming up, hopefully we can hit the ground running in Portugal and then carry some momentum forwards. If it’s dry then our road position should be favourable, but that’s not an automatic ticket to a good result and there’s still a lot to focus on and to get right in order to make the most of it, especially as everyone tries to get comfortable in these cars.”
Kalle Rovanperä: “The feeling with the new car on gravel has been quite good overall”
Kalle Rovanperä continues to impress all by being the youngest driver to have led the drivers’ championship in WRC. The Finn who is co-driven by the successful Finnish co-driver Jonne Halttunen, has won the two last rounds and the pair is leading by 29 points.
The rally will not be an easy task, Rovanperä will be facing a new challenge too, same as in Croatia he is opening the road on Friday but it will be on gravel for the first time in his career as WRC leader.
Rovanperä says he will try to find a good pace from the beginning and try to focus on bringing important points where he can.
“The feeling with the new car on gravel has been quite good overall, especially in our pre-event test last week with some improvements made from before. Portugal is a rally that I usually like; the stages are nice and technical and there is a great atmosphere. For us, the road-cleaning will probably be the biggest challenge, especially as it’s something quite new for us.” Rovanperä said.
“Friday could be much more important than on other rallies and we will try to be at a good pace straightaway to remain in contention for the rest of the weekend. The key thing in these next rallies will be to just try to keep calm and focus on doing a good job, without taking too much pressure or making mistakes, and keep taking good points where we can.”