The World Rally Championship is returning to European soil this weekend with the Rally de Portugal. Based in the town of Matosinhos, to the north of Porto, and with the 19 special stages taking place across the north of the country this 368km gravel event promises to be a big test for all the entered teams.
And there will be plenty of ŠKODA Fabia R5s testing themselves, as our ŠKODA Motorsport pairings of Swedes Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson and Czechs Jan Kopecký/Pavel Dresler are joined by no fewer than eight other Fabia R5 cars on the entry list.
The Finish pairing of Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula won the WRC2 class classification at the Rally Guanajuato México by more than 20 minutes in their last runout (title photo above). They are back in the Team Oreca colours for this event and will be hoping to continue their good form.
“We still need to make a couple of adjustments for asphalt and I have to get used to the car, but it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever driven on gravel. It’s a solid car which allows no time for rest, you just have to be fast. I’m convinced that there’ll be lots of fighting in the lead,” said Teemu Suninen. “I want to keep improving, not making one single mistake while driving and scoring as many points as possible in the FIA WRC2 classification.”
Peruvian driver Nicolás Fuchs is making his first European start of the season alongside Argentinian co-driver Fernando Mussano. They have shone in their first two WRC2 events this year finishing fourth in the WRC2 standings in Mexico before winning the WRC2 class at the Rally Argentina by more than four and a half minutes.
“Our objective in Mexico was to get to know the car and test it out,” said Nicolás Fuchs. “Then in Argentina it was to know when to hold back and when to keep pushing. Now Portugal is a dream I want to see come true. In spite of the high number of participants, many of whom live and train here throughout the year, we must focus on narrowing the gap with Suninen. I still think we can be the surprise element in this rally.”
Qatari driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and his Irish co-driver Killian Duffy also performed well in their last WRC rally, finishing third in the WRC2 standings at the Rally Argentina. After following that up with a second place overall at the Jordan Rally in the MERC, they will be keen to keep their good form going in Portugal.
“We are looking very much forward to Portugal and the close competition in WRC2,” said Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari ahead of the rally. “We are fighting for the maximum points and we hope to finish in the Top 5 after our recent podiums in Argentina and Jordan.”
The Australian pairing of Scott Pedder/Dale Moscatt will be starting their first event in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 prepared and run by Autotek Motorsport team. Having driven this rally last year, they are confident of a strong performance this year despite the new car.
“This year Dale and I return with the knowledge of the events, especially Portugal, and while we’ll be in a new car with the ŠKODA, it’s going to be very similar to the one we drove last year, so I’m comfortable it won’t be such a new challenge,” said Scott Pedder. “I’m far more confident we’ll start Portugal this year with a strong setup of the car, and then we’ll refine it more as the rally progresses.”
For The Ptock team, the Polish pairing of Hubert Ptaszek/Maciej Szczepaniak come into this rally off the back of a mixed start in the ŠKODA Fabia R5. Ptaszek ended up seventh in the WRC2 standings in Monte Carlo, but didn’t finish in Sweden and will be looking for improvements this time round.
Meanwhile, Belgian duo Ghislain de Mevius/Johan Jalet will be starting their first WRC event in a BMA-prepared ŠKODA Fabia R5 for the Icepol Racing team. After a solid sixth place finish in their only test event prior to this one, the Rallye Terre des Causses in France, the young Belgian will also be looking to make an impression at this rally.
Julien Maurin/Olivier Ural did even better at the Rallye Terre des Causses with a third place overall. After failing to finish his only WRC2 start to date in Monte Carlo, they will be looking to make an impression on what is their favoured surface here in Portugal.
And last but by no means least come the Portuguese pairing of Miguel Campos/Carlos Magalhães. They have had two third placed finishes in the Portuguese Rally Championship this season and will be hoping to put home advantage to good use in this event.