Rally de Portugal
PWRC preview: Vodafone Rally de Portugal
The Production Car World Rally Championship resumes on Vodafone Rally de Portugal this week with a full complement of drivers set to do battle for the first time in 2011.
Championship regulations require PWRC drivers to nominate six events from a list of seven on which to score points. Portugal and the rounds in Spain and Great Britain later in the season will feature all 18 registered drivers in action at the same time.
And there’s more. As an added boost, the Portuguese organisers have nominated a wildcard entrant to chase PWRC points on the Algarve-based rally in the shape of Ricardo Moura, who will increase the total number of PWRC runners to 19.
Moura, from the Atlantic archipelago of the Azores, is a formidable force on gravel and is set to pose a strong threat to the PWRC regulars in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, the car of choice of title leader Martin Semerad.
The former Pirelli Star Driver holds top spot following the opening event of the season in Sweden in mid-February. But the Czech ace will be one of the first to admit that his tenure at the top of the drivers’ standings is somewhat fortuitous after favourites Patrik Flodin and Anders Grondal both hit trouble on the snow of Scandinavia and failed to score.
Flodin was excluded due to a technical infringement, while Grondal retired when his similar Subaru Impreza’s engine broke. They will both be out for revenge in Portugal.
The Subaru challenge will be strengthened on the Faro-based contest with the addition of Hayden Paddon to the fold. The New Zealander, third in the PWRC standings at his first attempt in 2010, switches from Lancer to Impreza power for this season and is expected to fly in his Symtech Racing-prepared machine.
While Michal Kosciuszko is an unknown quantity in the PWRC, the Pole has extensive experience of world championship rallies after starring in the Junior and Super 2000 world championships in the past. Kosciuszko will drive a Lancer Evolution X prepared by Ralliart Italy, the company responsible for overseeing Armindo Araujo’s back-to-back PWRC titles in 2009 and 2010.
Ukrainian Mitsubishi drivers Yuriy Protasov and Valeriy Gorban both impressed in Sweden and are expected to be among the contenders for points in Portugal, where Peruvian champion Nicolas Fuchs will be looking to build on the podium finish he claimed on round one in his Ralliart Italy-prepared Lancer.
Benito Guerra begins his maiden PWRC campaign and starts the event on the back of an impressive outing on his home round of the WRC in Mexico earlier this month where he finished a strong 11th overall in his Mitsubishi. Rami Jaber, from Palestine, is another driving making his PWRC debut in Portugal.
Harry Hunt will be the lone representative in the Production Car Cup for Drivers of two-wheel-drive machines. The young Briton, a winner of three international rally titles in 2010, will pilot a Citroen DS3 R3.
WRC Academy preview: Vodafone Rally de Portugal
History will be made on Vodafone Rally de Portugal this week when the new-for-2011 FIA WRC Academy breaks cover.
The eagerly anticipated young driver training series, a joint initiative between the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, and WRC promoter North One Sport, replaces the Junior World Rally Championship. But the WRC Academy’s revolutionary format means that this is no straightforward replacement.
Rather than being allowed to pick and choose their cars and teams as was the case with the JWRC, all 20 drivers currently registered for the WRC Academy will do so in identical Ford Fiesta R2s prepared by the British M-Sport organisation from a facility in Krakow, Poland, and run on Pirelli control tyres. This places the onus firmly on driving talent.
After two days of competitive action, drivers will spend the final day of each of the six rounds in a debrief session where they will get the chance to analyse their performances using data and on-board camera footage in order to make any necessary improvements for the next event. Other training days will be arranged during the course of the season with input from WRC legends past and present.
Only drivers born on or after January 1, 1986 are allowed to take part and their experience of world championship rallies must be limited to a handful of events to help create a level playing field among the competitors.
At the end of the season, the WRC Academy champion will be handed a cheque for 500,000 Euros to use in the main WRC the following year.
Fourteen different nationalities will be represented in the WRC Academy this season. However, with entries not closing until the end of March, this number could yet rise.
In terms of drivers, Sweden has the most representatives with three. They are Fredrik Ahlin, Victor Henriksson and Calle Ward who all have experience of driving Fiesta rally cars from previous competition programmes.
Ahlin is one of six Pirelli Star Drivers taking part in the WRC Academy this season after being selected by a panel of experts during an assessment in Spain last October. The scheme, which has been responsible for unearthing several talents, enters its third season this year. Pirelli and the FIA will underwrite his campaign and will do the same for fellow Pirelli Star Drivers Craig Breen (Ireland), Jan Cerny (Czech Republic), Andrea Crugnola (Italy), Brendan Reeves (Australia) and Molly Taylor (Australia).
Spain has two representatives in Jose Suarez and former JWRC campaigner Yeray Lemes, who will travel from the Canary Islands for each round of the series.
The two Estonians on the entry are Miko-Ove Niinemae and Egon Kaur, while Germany can count on Christian Riedemann and Philipp Knof.
Dutchman Timo van der Marel is one of several WRC Academy drivers with backing from his national motorsport federation.
Miguel Baldoni and Sergey Karavakin are the sole Argentinian and Russian representatives respectively, while Alastair Fisher - a multiple Fiesta one-make champion in the past - is the only British driver in action.
Italian Matteo Brunello has some previous WRC knowledge to call on, which isn’t the case for Frenchman Sebastien Chardonnet, who will be making his first start at world level in Portugal.
All WRC Academy drivers will undertake a four-hour test in Portugal tomorrow afternoon before they head to Lisbon on Thursday morning for the opening special stage.
In addition to Portugal, the inaugural WRC Academy will include rounds in Italy, Finland, Germany, France and Great Britain.