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GP Week : Issue 39
>>WRCPREVIEW tables on gravel? U NDER the FIA’s event rotation system the Rally of Portugal was not run as a world event in 2008, instead run as an IRC series qualifier, with a series of guest drivers in support. The 2009 event will again be run in the regions of Alentejo and Algarve in the south of the country, with considerable detailed change to the routes used in the past two years. In addition to the full world series, it counts for both the Junior and the Production car series, and also for two other major series – the Fiesta Sport Trophy International and the first of six prize drive events under the 2008 Pirelli Star Driver scheme. Who should win? Normally the all-gravel surfaces mean this should be a Ford event, if the superhuman capabilities of the Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb can be forgotten for a moment. Loeb comes to Portugal with a maximum, 30 points, from the first three events in the series. Hanging on in the battle continues to be the incredibly reliable Mikko Hirvonen who is eight points adrift. Hirvonen has finished his last 34 World Championship rallies and scored makes championship points every time, and drivers’ championship points on 33 occasions. In the Makes series BP Ford are 16 points behind Citroen Total. Will Loeb make this four in a row? With all three days on loose gravel roads, the thought of starting first car the road is daunting, though, if it is wet, it could be an advantage. Rally fans will be delighted to hear that Marcus Gronholm is back again – for this event at least! For the Finn this is an event which, even in his two years as world champion, he never won. He has a Subaru Impreza S14 from Prodrive and the car will be run alongside the similar car of the Norwegian Adapta team for Mads Ostberg. Even without ultimate success on this event, Marcus enjoys Portugal, running as zero car driver on the IRC event last year. For Portuguese fans the fight for the top local driver is expected to be between Armindo Araujo and Bruno Magalhaes. Araujo, who lies second in the PCWRC, still drives an Evo IX and his primary concern will be his PCWRC rival Patrik Sandell. Sandell has won both PCWRC events this year and now stands seven points in front of Araujo. “My great disappointment”, Armindo has told his team,”is that Sandell has nominated exactly the same six rallies in the championship as me. I have got to beat him every time!”JWRC Championship leader Martin Prokop is entered instead in the PCWRC category while the second driver in the series, Aaron Burkart, is absent altogether this time. The series is sure to liven up with the recent homologation of performance parts available for the Renault Clio R3 cars, which are expected radically to close the gap between the R3 and the Citroen and Renault Super 1600 models. Seen for the first time together will be the five Pirelli Star Drivers, selected from various regions round the world last year. This will be the first of six events they will enter, part of the Pirelli support programme for the championship. Their identical yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evox X cars will all be prepared and run by Ralliart Italia, who are also running the Evo IX of Araujo. 47