The Rally de Portugal marked the return of the World Rally Championship (WRC) to Europe, and reminded everyone of just what they had been missing with some scintillating rallying on display. Nowhere was this truer than in the WRC2 category, which was dominated by ŠKODA Fabia R5 cars, which filled five of the top six places.
It was the ŠKODA Motorsport pairing of Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson who ran out as the eventual winners ahead of the Peruvian driver Nicolás Fuchs and his Argentinian co-driver Fernando Mussano, also in a Fabia R5 (title photo above). Fuchs actually had the lead for a short time after a puncture on special stage 14 saw Tidemand fall back. But he fought back quickly and Fuchs, who was under little pressure from behind, drove cautiously on the final day to consolidate second place in the event and his second place overall in the WRC2 standings.
“Today I am happy for the team, Fernando and myself because the car is really working for us this year and we are getting great results and scoring good points,” said Nicolás Fuchs at the finish. “I am now really looking forward to the Rally Sardinia, an event I like which is very technical, very long and one where any mistake can be expensive.”
Behind them the Australian pairing of Scott Pedder/Dale Moscatt drove a fantastic rally, in what was their debut event in a ŠKODA Fabia R5. They had a close battle with the Norwegian driver Marius Aasen for the final podium place and actually held third spot going into the final special stage after driving superbly to recover from their own puncture on day two. But a spin in the final stage saw them eventually miss out on third place by just 0.2 seconds.
Speaking afterwards, Scott Pedder was positive but understandably disappointed: “It’s disappointing for sure, but I come away from Portugal with so many positives. Now I know that I can push and be as fast as any of the top drivers in this category in the world!”
There were also ŠKODA Fabia R5s in fifth and sixth places, with the Belgian pairing of Ghislain de Mevius/Johan Jalet, driving for the Icepol Racing team, securing a splendid sixth place in what was also their first WRC2 event in a ŠKODA Fabia R5.
They finished just behind the local team of Miguel Campos/Carlos Magalhães, who made the most of home advantage to claim fifth place in the WRC2 standings. Portuguese driver felt that mistakes with the cars settings on the final day potentially cost him a place on the podium. “I am extremely pleased with the fifth place result, but think I could have done a little better,” said Miguel Campos at the finish. “On the last day the car’s set-up should have been softer and so we weren’t as effective as I would have liked, but the final result made all the effort worthwhile.”
Further down the field, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari/Killian Duffy came home in eighth place for the Culture & Sport Qatar Rally Team ahead of the other ŠKODA Motorsport team of Czech duo Jan Kopecký/Pavel Dresler in tenth position, with Julien Maurin and co-driver Olivier Ural coming home thirteenth after suffering a puncture.
“After the puncture, we decided to focus on finding the best settings,” explained Julien Maurin. “We tried to improve the car in different conditions with a more-or-less hard track. This work on the set-up will hopefully serve us well for the future. Now we’ll go to the next event and hope to show our true level of competitiveness.”
Meanwhile the Finnish pairing of Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula were disappointed to have wound up out of the points in sixteenth place, especially after winning the Rally Guanajuato México and clocking several fastest times in this event but also encountered some problems.
“We are happy with our pace with five fastest times,” commented Teemu Suninen afterwards. “We are learning the car more and more and feeling good, but there is still scope for improvement. Portugal is always tough and we have missed out on big points, but we have gained good experience. The team also did a great job so we are looking forward to the next rally.”
Just two of the eleven ŠKODA Fabia R5s, which had started the Rally de Portugal failed to finish: those of the Portuguese pairing of Diogo Salvi/Paulo Babo, and Hubert Ptaszek with the Team Ptock’s car, which was forced out following an injury to co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak.
The best wishes of all at ŠKODA Motorsport go to him for a speedy recovery and we also look forward to the next round of the WRC2 championship, the Rally Italia Sardinia, which will take place from 9th to 12th June.
See also the ŠKODA Customer Teams photo gallery from the Rally de Portugal.