The Subaru World Rally Team heads back to Europe for round five of the World Rally Championship, Rally de Portugal, which is back on the calendar after a break of six years. The rally, which starts next Thursday, will be the team's second ...
The Subaru World Rally Team heads back to Europe for round five of the World Rally Championship, Rally de Portugal, which is back on the calendar after a break of six years.
The rally, which starts next Thursday, will be the team's second event with the latest Subaru Impreza WRC2007 rally car. The car made a strong debut in Mexico earlier this month: Petter Solberg/Phil Mills led convincingly on the opening day, while Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall finished a solid fifth. With the WRC2007 having shown great potential on gravel special stages, the team heads to the loose-surface roads of southern Portugal with the aim of achieving strong points finishes for both drivers.
Rally de Portugal was first included on the WRC calendar in 1973, but took a break after the 2001 running of the event. Non-championship trials in 2005 and 2006 were observed by the sport's governing body, the FIA, and the rally was promoted back to the schedule for this year. The 'old' WRC event used to be based in the north of the country, but now it is in the south, and the special stages will be unfamiliar to both Subaru World Rally Team crews until they drive them for the first time during their route reconnaissance next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The service area is at the Algarve Stadium, a spectacular sports venue not far from the city of Faro, on the south coast. For the competitive sections of the event, the crews will travel into the hills of the Algarve, a popular destination for tourists and golf enthusiasts, and also head north across the border into a province known as Baixo Alentejo, famed for vast, undulating plains which are home to much of the country's agriculture industry.
In general, the roads which make up the special stages for this event have a smooth topping of gravel but a very compact, hard base. This means that if it rains, the roads could become very slippery. There are some narrow mountain tracks included in the route, but fast sections are predominant and the average speed is likely to be very high, particularly on the first day of the event. As well as the 16 gravel stages, the rally starts and finishes with a fan-friendly Superspecial inside the Algarve Stadium. More than 20,000 spectators are expected at the events, which will run to a head-to-head format
The rally opens with the Algarve Stadium Superspecial at 1800hrs on Thursday 29 March, and the competitive action ends in the same location on Sunday 1 April, with the final stage due to start at 1345hrs. In total, the rally route covers 1008.70km, which includes 357.10km of special stages and 651.60km of road sections.
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two examples of the new Impreza WRC2007 for Rally de Portugal. As usual, Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, while Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall will be in car number eight. Petter and Phil contested Rally de Portugal in 2001, when it was last a WRC round, but back then the event was based in Santa Maria de Feira, in the north of the country. The Subaru World Rally Team has a history of success on the event and has won three times, with Carlos Sainz triumphing in 1995, Colin McRae in 1998 and Richard Burns in 2000.
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: "The entire team was very pleased with the performance of the new car on its first event in Mexico. Since that rally we have been working on some small details to further improve the car for Portugal. Our target for this rally is to get both Petter and Chris in the top five and, if all goes well, to challenge for a place on the podium. We're looking forward to this new event. The fact that the stages are unfamiliar for everyone will certainly level the playing field. Similarly, none of our rivals have any prior experience of competing with BFGoodrich tyres on the Portuguese stages, so tyre choice could have an influence on the result of the rally. This will almost certainly be the case if we get changeable weather, as some forecasts suggest we might at some point during the week."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "Although the rally has never been based in this area, we know roughly what to expect. Leg one is very fast and flowing, with some wide roads that have a hard-packed base. Leg two is going to be very demanding; there are a lot of narrow sections that could cut up quite badly. The first stage of leg two (Silves/Ourique) is 30km in length and will be a very important stage. It starts off very fast for 12km, but then gets twisty, rough and hilly. It will be very tough and I think the second leg, and that stage in particular, will be crucial to the outcome of the rally. There are more than 20 World Rally Cars on this event. If it is dry, a lot of road-cleaning will occur on day one, and the number of WR Cars also means that competition for points will be fierce throughout the order."
Petter Solberg: "After the performance of the team in Mexico I'm really looking forward to Portugal. The rally is new for everybody and I'm interested to see how competitive we are. The development of the new Impreza has continued since Mexico, so we will see if we can be even faster than we were there. It's true that we don't know the stages, no-one does, but we will do everything we can to prepare and I'm confident that it will be a very positive event for us."
Chris Atkinson: "It will be interesting to apply what we learnt in Mexico to this event. Together with the engineers we've put a strong package together and we're confident our new approach will work well in Portugal. It will take a little bit more testing to get the car onto top form, but we have some good ideas following the work we did in Mexico. It is still early days for the new car and everything so far has been quite encouraging. On the gravel roads of Portugal we might benefit from an advantageous road position, although that might work against us if it rains. When we're faced with a totally new rally there is nothing we can do to prepare apart from try to write the best pace notes we can during the recce. It's an unknown for everyone."
Between the rallies
It's been a mixture of work and play for our drivers since the last WRC event. After Rally Mexico finished on Sunday 11 March, Petter Solberg embarked on a two-day promotional visit during which he traveled to Mexico City and Puebla. After a brief rest in Monaco, he flew to the UK to attend the handover of the Subaru Impreza RB320, the limited-edition road car produced in memory of former World Rally Champion Richard Burns. Chris Atkinson exchanged the heat of Mexico for the snow of the French Alps, where he went snowboarding with some Australian friends, before returning to Monaco for some fitness training and preparation for Portugal.