The unexpected element affecting Rally Portugal preparation

Portugal is the first gravel event of the new Rally1 era, but teams have had their build-up impacted by cold weather

Kalle Rovanpera

This month’s Rally Portugal is a big milestone in the Rally1 era. For the first time, these recently launched hybrid rally cars will take on a pure gravel event.

It’s a hugely important marker not only because it’s the first gravel rally of the new technical regulation set but also due to the proportion of gravel in the World Rally Championship calendar: seven out of 13 rounds are on the slippery stuff.

But both Toyota and Hyundai have been hamstrung by the same issue: snow.

The next two rounds might be happening in the Mediterranean climates of Portugal and Sardinia. but any hope of clocking some extra gravel testing at their designated test sites in central Finland has been ruined by the white stuff.


Toyota’s four days of pre-event testing in Portugal, along with a Sardinia test that Takamoto Katsuta has already completed, is all the running the team is getting to prepare for the GR Yaris Rally1’s gravel debut.

“We’ve had so much snow this year and I think now we still have snow in the forest in Finland. So, it will be quite late in May when the roads are dry,” team principal Jari-Matti Latvala told DirtFish.

“That test [in Portugal] is going to be very important now when we go first time to the gravel.

“[We are] lucky we’re not developing the new car now. If this situation had happened last year, we’d have been in trouble actually.”

It’s not just a problem of snow sitting on the road either. It goes beyond that.

Getting the snowplough out and clearing the loose stuff away won’t suddenly make Toyota’s designated test road suitable for gravel development work, as its technical director Tom Fowler explains:

“Before I left from home to come to Croatia, my garden was still with one meter of snow, still digging ourselves out the driveway at the moment,” said Fowler.

Gus Greensmith

“So the test stages, because they’re used they are defrosted in terms of snow; in terms of underground ice base they’re still frozen, so it would be studded tires conditions which obviously is not much use for us at the moment.

“I think the road won’t be in a condition to use until probably the end of May. It’s been a very particular winter this year; we had a lot of snow and also the temperature has been rising up and down which lets the moisture into the ground and freezes it.

“It’s actually the ideal conditions to have a winter rally.”

Alas, Rally Sweden comes around only once per year. Those four days in Portugal are likely to be the most critical pre-event testing days of the entire season.