Round five of the 2023 World Rally Championship kickstarts an important run of seven gravel rallies in a row, starting with this week’s Rally Portugal.
Often touted as the ‘real’ start to the season thanks to the unique characteristics of the events that precede it, Portugal is always a hugely intriguing affair.
This year, with the championship as tantalizingly tight as it is, it’s certainly poised to live up to that billing.
Here’s all the key information you need ahead of Rally Portugal 2023:
Total 87 crews
8 Rally1 crews
44 WRC2 crews
2 WRC3 crews
Just eight hybrid machines will start the first European gravel round of the season.
Hyundai will return to running three cars after dropping to two in Croatia, fielding i20 N Rally1s for Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo.
Toyota will also bring three GR Yaris Rally1s to Matosinhos, running championship leader Elfyn Evans, world champion Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta who starts just his second event in the manufacturer-nominated car in the absence of Sébastien Ogier.
As always, M-Sport is represented by Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Gus Greensmith, Oliver Solberg, Teemu Suninen, Andreas Mikkelsen, Adrien Fourmaux, Yohan Rossel, Kris Meeke… the battle to win WRC2 this week is set to be sensational!
Rossel, despite being the only one of this expected leading group never to drive for a WRC team, is arguably the favorite as the current championship leader and winner in Portugal last time out.
But if he, or anybody else, is going to win, they’ll have their work cut out.
Oliver Solberg has proved to be the fastest Rally2 driver through the early phases of this season, but Gus Greensmith loves Portugal – it’s his favorite rally on the calendar!
Adrien Fourmaux is in a nice vein of form and his Ford Fiesta Rally2 is improving, Teemu Suninen is a real dark horse and what can Kris Meeke do on his first WRC rally in over three years? The Portuguese championship is his main aim, but don’t for one second think he won’t also want to score well in WRC2.
But perhaps the one they still all have to beat is Mikkelsen. He may not have competed since that difficult Acropolis Rally appearance in September, but even without the tag of ‘reigning champion’ the Norwegian is still seen by many as the benchmark in this class.
Nineteen stages over three days make up this year’s Rally Portugal.
There’s no Thursday evening superspecial for the first time in many years, so action begins in earnest on Friday with three mid-length stages – Lousã, Góis and Arganil – in the first loop.
With no service break (just a remote tire fitting zone instead) there’s no respite as the same three stages are then repeated in the afternoon but with the addition of a single run through the Mortágua test.
After a regroup, the Figueira da Foz superspecial brings the curtain down on a long and punishing opening leg.
Day two is simpler in terms of its itinerary, but the stages are longer. At 16.5 miles Vieira do Minho is a stern challenge, but right after is the longest stage of the event, Amarante, at 23 miles.
The 5.4-mile Felgueiras concludes the loop in the morning, while in the afternoon another superspecial, Lousada, brings the curtain down on the day.
Sunday is a four-stage affair but veers away from the traditional cloverleaf format. The famous Fafe stage, which will run as the event-closing powerstage, is run twice but both Paredes and Cabeceiras de Basto will run just once throughout the day.
The latter could provide a sting in the tail as comfortably the longest stage of Sunday, twice the length of the rest.