WRC

Portugal Preview and Team Notes

1999 Rally De Portugal Official Site: http://www.tap-rallyedeportugal.pt Round 4 of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship 20-24 March ------------------------------------------------------------ Introduction: Welcome to the 4th round of the...

1999 Rally De Portugal Official Site: http://www.tap-rallyedeportugal.pt Round 4 of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship 20-24 March

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Introduction:

Welcome to the 4th round of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship, the 32nd Rallye De Portugal.

The rally season so far has extended from Monte Carlo to Sweden and to Kenya, each a very specialised event. Rallye De Portugal is the 'first event of the rest of the season'. It is not a specialised event and the results often give a good inidcation of just how competitive teams and cars are against each other. Also, unlike the Safari where consistency is the key, drivers in Portugal will be flat out from start to finish.

The route this year has under gone significant changes. The rally conforms to the 'clover leaf' format which has been introduced at several events and it means that for the first time in the rally's history, the start, rest halts and the finish are in the same town. Stages also moved further to the north to Spainish borders and the traditional super special at Lousada has been replaced with a new figure-of-eight super special at Baltar, just to the east of Porto.

Portugal also sees the welcome return of Skoda and Hyundai.

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Ford Martini team aims to build on McRae's win

After their emphatic victory on Kenya's Safari Rally last month, Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lead the Ford Martini World Rally team into action in Portugal next week with a new outlook on their FIA World Rally Championship season.

Fought out in front of wildly enthusiastic fans, many of whom cross the border from Spain, the rally is always regarded as a true indicator of form for the season ahead after the unique challenges posed by the vastly different conditions of the opening three rounds.

"Another top three finish is definitely a possibility but the question is whether we have the edge to fight for victory just yet on a sprint-type gravel rally. The car is still heavier than we would like but that's something that the team is working hard to sort out. This rally has a mixture of rough and smooth roads but we know from our experiences in Kenya that the Focus can take the rough sections without a problem," added McRae.

His team-mate in Portugal will again be Norway's Petter Solberg, replacing the injured Thomas Rådstrom whose recovery from last month's broken leg has been so good that he is scheduled to test a Ford Focus this week in Portugal. Solberg, who drove magnificently in Kenya to finish fifth on only his fourth World Championship rally, will be accompanied by regular co-driver Phil Mills after benefiting enormously from the experience of three-times Safari Rally winning co-driver Fred Gallagher in Kenya.

"This should be easier for me than Kenya - but not much!" said the 24-year-old Scandinavian. "I've never even been to Portugal before and my only experience of the rally is watching a video of last year's event on television last week. I won't take any chances, just try to learn the nature of the roads and judge my pace accordingly.

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Advanced technology boosts Toyota Castrol Team

The Rallye de Portugal (21-24 March) could well see a change in fortune for many of the leading crews contesting the FIA World Rally Championship. The opening three very specialised events were a lottery where fortune favoured the brave, but Portugal represents the first true gravel test of the season and a real indication of competitiveness.

Of the leading entrants, Carlos Sainz has the edge on experience. He and co-driver Luis Moya have tackled the event 11 times, netting four podium finishes including victories in 1991 and 1995. Last year the Spaniards were pipped at the post by Colin McRae; lingering dust hampered their charge on the final stage and they missed out on victory by the closest-ever margin in a quarter-century of special stage World Championship rallying.

"Portugal was my first World Championship event and I have very good memories from that," said Carlos. "Because the location is close to Spain, there is a lot of support and so I enjoy and like it a lot. There are a few new stages this year, most of which are man-made and I don't know, but there are lots of different types of conditions - sandy, smooth, rough and rocky - and you have to be quick everywhere and have a car that is good in all the conditions. I know it has been raining a lot recently and this can change things very quickly. Depending on whether it is wet, damp or dry, positions on the road can make a difference and, as I know from last year, so can the dust if the gaps are not big enough. It is important that we try to be in front in Portugal; although the Championship is long, the sooner we are leading the better."

Portugal is one of only a handful of events team-mate and former World Champion Didier Auriol has yet to win. Three second positions (1990, 1991 and 1994) stand him in good stead and he and co-driver Denis Giraudet will be keener than ever to lay claim on the ten points that could give them the lead in the Championship after only four rallies.

"I have always come second here, never yet won," said Didier. "Maybe this year! I like the rally and the stages, and I have had some good fights in the past, especially with Carlos, but I suppose I have not been so lucky. There is a real mix of stages, but you have to be fast everywhere -- it's maximum attack always because the sections are not very long.

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MITSUBISHI AIMS TO INCREASE WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD ON RALLY OF PORTUGAL

Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart intends to capitalise on its flying start to the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship season on the fourth round, the Rally of Portugal. Its all-Finnish team consists of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for triple World Champion Tommi Makiinen and a Mitsubishi Carisma GT for rising star Marcus Gronholm.

"It's important, because it's really the first normal event of the season. It's really the first rally where your car has to be set up for the best performance possible - the suspension and everything. The stages are not so easy. It can be very difficult to find the right line on narrow roads with bushes at the side. You have to trust your pace notes," Makinen said.

Freddy Loix will not be competing in this year's Portugal Rally. Following his accident on the Safari Rally, Belgian doctors have advised him to rest for four weeks. His fitness for Catalunya will be assessed at that time. Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen are standing in for Freddy Loix, but although this will be their first rally in a Mitsubishi Carisma GT, the young Finnish crew have a formidable international reputation and led in Portugal last year.

"This is a very good opportunity for me. I have been doing a lot of testing lately, so it will be great to be driving in a rally again, especially in a car like the Mitsubishi. I will be driving in Portugal to help Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart, not to do my own thing," Gronholm promised.

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Subaru World Rally Team

The fourth rally in the World Championship returns the teams to a more predictable competition environment after the snow and ice of Monte Carlo and Sweden, and the extremely specialised conditions of the Safari Rally. The event is a great yardstick for the form for the remainder of the year, and despite the adventures of the opening three rounds of the year, most drivers look forward to returning to the more predictable surface conditions of gravel and soft sand. The short stages in Portugal, and the return to a more familiar surface often means that this can be one of the most hotly contested events of the year.

Richard Burns "The Subaru is the car for Portugal. After our test, I can confidently say that in the rough, power-sapping terrain that typifies Portugal, we will be the pick of the bunch""Aside from being confident in the capabilities of the car, both Sweden and Safari have given me enormous amounts of satisfaction bench-marking myself against my team-mates, so there is no reason why we couldn't start with a win as a realistic ambition"

Juha Kankkunen "Everything bodes well for here, and I am sure that this time it will run our way - remember, Subaru has a strong record in Portugal and the Impreza is the most technologically advanced car in the field. I have also won here twice, so I hope the combination will be unbeatable!"

Bruno Thiry "I reckon the season starts here. And it is a good time to start the real part of the season, because as we say, after the rain comes the sunshine, so I think it is just the time for us to perform well"

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Seat Sport

The Rally of Portugal is relatively new to both SEAT drivers, as between them, Rovanpera and Liatti have only done the event three times. Liatti's co-driver, Carlo Cassina, is a past winner, however, having guided Miki Biasion to glory in 1988.

"Having only done this rally once before, I don't really know the stages very well. It will be important for us to have a good recce and make good pace notes, because, for sure, other drivers know the stages a lot better than me. Last year we finished the rally in 6th position, after a big battle with Vatanen and Kankkunen . On my first attempt at the rally I was happy with my performance and hopefully this year we can achieve an ever better result" said Liatti.

Rovanpera and co-driver Risto Pietilainen aim to celebrate their first anniversary in style, for it was on last year's Rally of Portugal that they teamed up for the first time. "Portugal has not been the luckiest rally for me in the past, but this year I am confident things will be better", said Rovanpera. "The SEAT WRC works very well on gravel and I believe we will finish the rally in a very strong position. The SEAT WRC is a well-balanced car, with chassis and suspension working very well. That is important on the twisty sections and we also have a very powerful engine, ideal for the faster sections. I'm certainly looking forward to the rally and confident we will score good result"

In addition to the two SEAT WRCs, the young Spanish driver Salvador Cañellas and co-driver Carlos del Barrio will drive an Ibiza Kit Car in the 2-litre category.

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SKODA HEADS FOR PORTUGAL OCTAVIA WRC READY FOR ACTION

Skoda Motorsport is back in top class international action this weekend when two of its exciting new Octavia WRCs contest the Rally of Portugal (21-24 March). The Portuguese event is the second of seven 1999 WRC rounds being tackled by Skoda Auto in what's the ambitious Czech company's first season of rallying among the sport's elite.

The renowned Armin Schwarz joins forces with fellow German Manfred Hiemer in the leading entry while Emil Triner and Milos Hulka make their debut in the second Octavia WRC. Schwarz, of course, is a proven winner at the sport's highest level but for team-mate Triner this will be his first competitive outing behind the wheel of the dramatic turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Octavia WRC.

"The team has made big progress with Octavia especially on its overall reliability and the finalisation of various suspension set-ups," says the 35-year old Schwarz who regularly was clocking up more than 100kms of competitive driving per day during the latest French test.

"Every time I drive the car it just gets better and better," he continues. "So much so that I'm now looking forward to Portugal even though I realise it will again be a huge challenge for us all at Skoda as this new Octavia WRC programme is still very much in its infancy."

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Hyundai team optimistic for first anniversary celebrations

Hyundai Motor Sport World Rally Team heads to this weeks Tap-Rallye de Portugal in optimistic mood on the anniversary of their debut in the World Rally Championship.

It's a year since the Korean manufacturer committed to the Two-Litre Cup for manufacturera (Formula 2) and the 1999 Portuguese Rally offers the best opportunity for the teams long deserved maiden victory

However, more than 500 kilometres have been covered testing on gravel since Sweden and both drivers are increasingly happy with the car and are looking forward to the Portuguese event, despite its harsh nature "Portugal is a difficuit rally because Its so hard on the cers," said Kenneth Eriksson. "But I did two days testing without a single problem. I was lucky in that I had one wet and one dry day, so we were able to try out various tyres to suit the conditions, Michelin sent us some really good tyres to test, so its up to us to make the right choices on the event I'm really optomistic."

"Cynan 'Dusty' Rhodes" <cynan@harvestroad.com.au>

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Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Armin Schwarz , Timo Rautiainen , Thomas Radstrom , Juha Kankkunen , Kenneth Eriksson , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Risto Pietilainen , Denis Giraudet , Carlos del Barrio , Carlo Cassina , Milos Hulka