The first steps into the unknown are the most terrifying for those making them, but most entertaining for those watching them.
This week will provide the first clues as to which team, and indeed driver, is where on the gravel in the World Rally Championship in the new hybrid Rally1 generation.
And what a place for the next run of events to kick off! Portugal is a classic of the world championship calendar and has often thrown up some unpredictable results with six different winners in the last six editions.
Will a new winner be crowned in 2022, or will a returning name be etched onto the winners’ trophy?
Here’s DirtFish’s form guide to Rally Portugal 2022:
#1 Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-1st-4th
Best Portugal result: 1st (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017)
The number one is back. Sébastien Ogier is back. And for the first time in 12 years, he will line up to the first stage on Friday all the way down in eighth on the road.
Ogier has long given his WRC rivals nightmares, but this must be terrifying the living daylights out of the rest. A driver with such an affinity with Rally Portugal in such a strong starting position, likely equipped with a good car and with a massive point to prove having swept the road clear for so many years… Ogier is a big favorite for victory this week.
The handicap comes in the form of relevant seat time. While the majority of his rivals have been rallying in Sweden and Croatia (and even on other national events too in some cases) Ogier has been racing in the World Endurance Championship and, as a result, has only had one day of gravel running in a GR Yaris Rally1.
But this is the eight-time World Rally champion we’re talking about. Any rust that may be lying around will be kicked off rather quickly.
#6 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-3rd-4th
Best Portugal result: 2nd (2021)
Dani Sordo’s first event in a Rally1 car comes at a (purposefully) perfect time, on one of his favorite rallies in Portugal. But better yet, given he’s naturally not registered a single championship point yet he’ll start all the way down in 12th on Friday.
If the weather stays dry – which it is believed to – that puts Sordo in the best position possible. Hyundai’s secret weapon indeed.
Sordo really has nothing to lose. All he’s being employed to do is bring Hyundai manufacturer points and given the remarkable consistency he has established during his part-time WRC career that is almost a given. He just needs to make sure he gets on top of the new Rally1 car quickly to feature in the fight.
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 47th-DNF-68th
Best Portugal result: 9th / 1st WRC2 (2019)
That recent run of results hardly suggests that Pierre-Louis Loubet is destined for success on Rally Portugal does it? But there were signs in Croatia that the driver Loubet proved he can be in 2019 – when he won the WRC2 title – is finally returning.
His event was wrecked by three punctures in two stages, but the pace and assurity behind the wheel of an M-Sport Ford looked far stronger than it did bolted into a 2C Hyundai.
Starting all the way down in 11th on the first day this weekend, Loubet has a big opportunity ahead of him. And it’s a nice play to have it as Portugal has historically been one of Loubet’s stronger WRC rounds.
What can we expect? A podium finish is fairly unlikely, but a top 10 is a minimum and if those around him get a bit carried away and he can keep his nose clean, why can’t Loubet grab a career best top six result?
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-20th-DNF
Best Portugal result: 1st (2019)
A dark horse for victory? Quite possibly given he’s in not too poor a place on the road (fifth) and isn’t coming in with the watching world fixated on his every move like the two Sébastien are. And all of that is before you factor in Tänak’s Portuguese form.
Victory in 2019 for Toyota was impressive – and tactical given he slowed across the finish line to ensure he scored sufficient powerstage points not to lead the championship into Sardinia – and he was leading the way quite comfortably last year too before his Hyundai’s rear suspension gave up.
He’s finally sorted out his WRC form with a strong drive to second place last time out in Croatia, the 2019 world championship now just needs to hope the “big job” he said Hyundai had to do in gravel testing has been done effectively and allows him to fight.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-2nd-6th
Best Portugal result: 1st (2018)
Another forgotten driver in the quest for victory this weekend but one with quite a tricky job to do.
Thierry Neuville doesn’t have it as tough as Kalle Rovanperä who’ll be first onto the stages, but as second car in his situation is only marginally better. And given the sizable gap to Rovanperä ahead in the championship and Craig Breen behind, the story could be similar in Sardinia a fortnight later too.
But if 2022 has proved anything so far about Neuville it’s that he’s doggedly determined. He simply refuses to give up – we saw that in both Croatia on his way to a trouble third and also the Monte – and it’s that tenacity alone that means Neuville simply can’t be discounted.
Neuville would surely bite your hand off if he was offered a repeat result from Croatia in Portugal, but he must surely be keen to do everything he can to have a far cleaner rally this time around.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-DNF-DNF
Best Portugal result: 6th (2021)
Make no bones about it, Adrien Fourmaux needs a result this weekend. And by that we don’t mean a strong finish, we mean any finish. Second on the non-championship Rally of Nations Guanajuato aside, 2022 has been simply wretched for the promising Frenchman.
M-Sport Ford’s patience will only last so long if Fourmaux can’t begin to produce. In fact, it almost did run out as he was threatened with the prospect of not going to Portugal after another crash in Croatia last month.
Approaching the rally in a different bout of form, you’d point to Fourmaux’s starting position of 10th as one that should allow him to challenge, but ironically that’s the last thing Malcolm Wilson and Richard Millener will want to see from him.
Fourmaux must get through Friday, keep his head on Saturday and bring it home on Sunday to pick up whatever points he can and finally get his career back onto a positive trajectory.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-4th-8th
Best Portugal result: 4th (2021)
It’s been a quieter start to 2022 than his eye-catching run at the beginning of the 2021 season, but Takamoto Katsuta still heads to Portugal in decent shape.
He was quick to admit that he struggled with the extra demanding conditions in Croatia when it rained, but Katsuta was sounding confident about his feeling with the Yaris on gravel when he spoke to DirtFish after the rally.
Given the quality of this year’s entry, it will be a tough ask for Katsuta to make a big impression this weekend but realistically all he needs to do is avoid mistakes and keep chipping away at his driving to close his ultimate pace to the leaders. Expect a silently effective run to a rather handsome position.
#19 Sébastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-3rd-6th
Best Portugal result: 1st (2007, 2009)
It’s hard to improve on perfection, so it would’ve been entirely forgivable had Sébastien Loeb elected to not push for more WRC outings this year after his stunning victory on the Monte Carlo Rally.
But it speaks for Loeb’s desire to compete and his appreciation of M-Sport Ford’s Puma Rally1 that he’s pushed for more. However the pressure on his and Isabelle Galmiche’s shoulders is considerably higher than it was four months ago as they’ve now got a 100% record to protect.
Can they do it, can Loeb possibly win? It would be foolish to write him off, but it’s clear the task will be tougher this time than it was on the Monte – not least because his Friday starting position of fourth is far less advantageous than the likes of Ogier has.
But what a story it would be if Loeb could score yet another WRC victory 10 years on from his supposed retirement from rallying.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-DNF-21st
Best Portugal result: 1st (2021)
Last year’s winner Elfyn Evans finds himself in a theoretically strong position to double up in 2022 – and boy would he benefit from such a lift.
This year has so far been one to forget for the supposed championship favorite. While fifth on last month’s Croatia Rally represented the Toyota driver’s first significant points of the season, his deficit to his championship-leading team-mate grew to a whopping 59 points.
Evans must forget about the championship now and simply focus on maximizing each individual rally – an approach he usually adopts anyway in all fairness. Victory in Portugal is the perfect way to relaunch his year, and on the face of it his chances seem favorable with a good road position (ninth) and a clear affinity for the rally.
But can he get the better of the returning team-mate that’s edged him to the last two WRC titles?
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th-36th-3rd
Best Portugal result: 5th (2017)
Bad form, not quite, but Craig Breen isn’t speeding into Rally Portugal week on the same high in which he ended his Hyundai career in 2021 and began the M-Sport chapter back in January.
Breen could be in for a challenging rally too given he starts up in third on the road on Friday and hasn’t competed on Rally Portugal since 2018.
But the 32-year-old has spoken of his confidence in the Puma Rally1 from testing in gravel and will be more than up for a scrap this week as he continues to search for his breakthrough WRC win.
Limiting the damage done by his road position on Friday will be key to Breen’s weekend, but rest assured if he’s within a sniff of the podium he’ll be flat to the square right to achieve it.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 15th-5th-5th
Best Portugal result: 5th (2021)
Never has Gus Greensmith started a WRC rally in such a strong position. He loves Portugal, loves his Puma Rally1, has a good strong road position of seventh and is free of any responsibility to score points for M-Sport Ford – all he has to worry about his himself.
And all he will be happy with is a podium.
Greensmith set himself two key pre-season targets: to get a stage win and to reach the podium. The stage win was ticked off at round one, but the rostrum finish still eludes him. Theoretically, Greensmith won’t have a better opportunity to settle that score than this week.
With six previous starts in Portugal it’s the rally he’s got the most experience of, and with a string of good times last year it’s one of his best too. He just has to live up to the potential and overcome some massive names with equally good start positions if he’s to get the job done.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-1st-4th
Best Portugal result: 6th / 1st WRC2 Pro (2019)
We’ve saved the best until last, right? That’s certainly what the current points table would suggest as Kalle Rovanperä is comfortably clear out front after the first three rounds.
But, as we’ve already outlined on DirtFish this week, Portugal could be Rovanperä’s biggest challenge yet. He’s never had to lead a dry, gravel rally from the front anymore and he’s been launched into the deep end – doing so with 11 top class rivals in the fray including the men responsible for winning every world title since 2003.
But Rovanperä is a freak of nature – usual convention and logic doesn’t necessarily apply to him. It won’t be easy, and truthfully Rovanperä doesn’t even really need a podium in Portugal to keep his championship challenge on the right road, but if anyone can overcome the disadvantage he has this week it’s him.