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GP Week : Issue 146
PORTUGAL, GRAVEL, NIGHT-TIME ... FUN! This weekend’s Vodafone Rally of Portugal (29 March-1 April) will be round four of the 2012 World Rally Championship and brings the series to its first gravel event in Europe – with an extended schedule. Once again based in Algarve, the event’s home since 2005, the rally lasts seven days instead of the usual six. Recce is held on the Monday and Tuesday, 43km of stages will be run on the Thursday, followed by three long days after that. Like last year the official start is in Lisbon, with a three-lap asphalt stage round a course in the Placa Imperio, before moving southwards for the rest of the event. This year’s extended format means the automatic reverse running order rules will be applied on three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The three controversial night gravel stages to be held on the Thursday evening are still expected to be dry and dusty, so the Qualifying Stage on the Wednesday morning will be critically important. The driver who choses to run first car on the road on the night stages can expect to gain an almost insurmountable advantage. News from the teams centres on Mini, following recent homologation of a raft of technical changes to the cars. Patrik Sandell drives the private Prodrive number two car as teammate to Dani Sodo. Over at Ford, Matthew Wilson is still unfit and his Go Fast teammate Henning Solberg is still uncertain whether his car is to start. There is one new Fiesta WRC driver lined up for the former Mini WRC driver Daniel Oliveira, competing in a Manfred Stohl prepared car. The Brazilian has already covered over 200km in testing in Austria, without problem. At the top end of the sport, 19 World Rally Cars are entered, of which nine are eligible to score Manufacturer team points. At the other end this is the opening round for the WRC Academy, which currently numbers 11 crews due to start. Entries closed with 57 crews listed, four of them competing as part of the novel Rally Class project. These are Andis Nieksan from Latvia, Ricardo Trivino from Mexico, Yuriy Protasov from Ukraine and Rifat Sungkar from Indonesia. This is a competition run by the Symtech company in Belgium in which identical Subaru Group N cars are leased at a fixed cost to contest six WRC rounds in Europe, with the best performing driver winning a sponsored drive on five WRC events in a Subaru R4 car in 2013. Once again a weekend charged with excitement is promised, not the least being the emotive memories that 30 years ago, when Michele Mouton, now the FIA’s WRC Manager, won the rally in an Audi Quattro, the second of her four momentous victories. After his dramatic exit in Mexico, Jari-Matti will be looking for a strong finish 15 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: WRC >>> news