WRC stars take on Portuguese warm-up

The town of Amarante will enjoy a WRC dress rehearsal this week as stars flock to Rali Terras d'Aboboreira

Meeke Portugal

What’s better than one Rally Portugal in a season? Exactly… two. Granted, this weekend’s Rali Terras d’Aboboreira might not be blessed with the full complement of World Rally Championship stars, but there’s a Rally1 car and a big bunch of Rally2 heroes out to keep some of the world’s most fervent fans on their toes through Friday and Saturday.

Saturday’s stages offer a real insight into what sits in wait at the fifth round of the World Rally Championship, running on roads around Amarante, very much in the heartland of next month’s WRC round.

The 67-mile event starts on Friday evening with two stages, before the bulk of the action runs the following day.

Topping the bill is Hyundai’s Dani Sordo, who will drive an i20 N Rally1 in the Rali Terras d’Aboboreira Extra event. Sordo finished second in Portugal last year, and will be making his first WRC appearance since Rally Japan at the end of 2023.

While it will be a good opportunity for Sordo to reacclimatize himself with a Rally1 car, he won’t complete the full 67 miles, as the extra event skips the two runs through the 14-mile Amarante stage on Saturday.

While Sordo will be grabbing the fans’ attention in Rally1 machinery, there could be an intense battle between the WRC2 crews entered in the Portuguese championship.

Rali Terras d’Aboboreira is the third round of the Portuguese national championship, so Kris Meeke should lead the main field away in a Team Hyundai Portugal i20 N Rally2. The Northern Irishman suffered a shakedown shunt and will be hoping the team can rebuild the car in time for Friday afternoon’s start.

The remainder of the top 10 is made up of local crews, and there is no shortage of talent on show. Armindo Araújo starts behind Meeke in a Skoda Fabia RS Rally2, having finished second to the Irish driver on the first two rounds of this year’s championship. The two-time Production WRC title winner has seven Portuguese titles to his name as well.

Sordo Portugal

Coming from just across the border, Dani Sordo is always among the most popular drivers in Portugal. This weekend will be no different

Araújo will be looking to push Meeke all the way before they do battle again at Rally Portugal two weeks later. Another local driver competing at both events is reigning Portuguese champion and Meeke’s Hyundai Portugal team-mate Ricardo Teodósio.

Croatia Rally WRC2 winner Nikolay Gryazin is present but starts behind his team-mate Yohan Rossel. Both will be looking to get useful gravel mileage in the bag to build on their solid start on asphalt this season.

Jan Solans is pedaling the sole Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 on the entry list. The 2019 Junior WRC champion has returned to WRC2 in 2024 and will be looking to build an understanding of the car on European gravel.

Having parted company with M-Sport at the end of 2023, Pierre-Louis Loubet will make only his second appearance of 2024. Now driving a Toksport Skoda Fabia, the French driver won the Qatar International Rally earlier this year and will make his first WRC2 start of 2024 at Rally Portugal. He will no doubt be looking to maximize his opportunities on the roads around Amarante.

Yohan Rossel

Citroën's C3 WRC has flown on the early asphalt rounds of this year's WRC. Will it be the same story on the Portuguese dirt this week?

Another driver making his first WRC2 appearance in Portugal and warming up this weekend is Ireland’s Josh McErlean. The 2019 British junior champion has campaigned a Hyundai i20 for the last four seasons but, like Fourmaux, switched to a Toksport-run Skoda for 2024.

Finally, WRC2 regular Marco Bulacia, who took third place on the Portuguese national championship opener at Rali Serras de Fafe back in February, will also undertake his pre-Rally Portugal preparations this weekend. The Bolivian, who has competed almost exclusively in a Fabia for the past three seasons, has switched to a Citröen C3 for 2024.

Perhaps crucially, the top three WRC2 finishers from Rally Portugal last year – Gus Greensmith, Oliver Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen – are not present. Those competing this weekend will have to wait to see how they stack up against 2023 winner Greensmith and WRC2 points leader Solberg, who lost his chance to win the event after being penalized for performing some unauthorized donuts during the Lousada stage.