After visiting Cyprus during its previous round, the World Rally Championship heads to Portugal for the fourth event of the season. The first pure gravel rally of the 2009 season, the Vodafone Rally de Portugal was an IRC event last year, but has returned to the WRC calendar in 2009.
One of the world of rallying's classic fixtures, the Rally Portugal has been the scene of some of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport.
The Vodafone Rally de Portugal returned to the WRC in 2007 in the Algarve region in the south. The event takes place in the hills above the town blending fast, open roads with more technical sections on hard, abrasive gravel roads.
Undefeated so far in 2009 Sebastien Loeb will be looking to build on his streak. For teammate Dani Sordo, the proximity of Spain will be an additional source of motivation.
As the current WRC points leader Sebastien Loeb will be starting first on day one, he is ideally positioned to comment on the road conditions.
"The stages this year are very good," he said. "They are wider than two years ago and a little harder so hopefully, they will not be so rough. They are also quite difficult, with lots of blind crests and corners, which make it very challenging and good fun to drive," he continued. "I hope for a good fight here this weekend and that I am not at too great a disadvantage running first on the road."
The Ford team enters the Vodafone Rally de Portugal with a revised engine for their Ford Focus.
The newly-homologated power plant available to drivers Mikko Hirvonen and teammate Jari-Matti Latvala includes an electric water pump and a lightweight flywheel. The drivers have reported an improvement in engine performance from the upgrades during a comprehensive testing program
"The engine upgrades are another step forward," said Hirvonen. "Although the nature of the regulations means huge steps forward are impossible to achieve, there is more power and a bit more response and that will all help."
This event also hosts the return of former Champion, Marcus Gronholm, to WRC competition driving a Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRC2008. This will mark 25 years of WRC competition for Prodrive.
More than 52 percent of this year’s stags are new, including two all-new stage venues. The drivers will tackle 18 stages in total with a competitive distance of 361.36 km. The rally will be based at Estadio Algarve which will host the service park. The stadium complex is also the site of a Super Special Stage that will be run at the start of the event on Thursday and closes the rally on Sunday afternoon.
Photo and Quotes Courtesy of: WRC, Citroen Sport, Ford World Rally Team
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