After positive testing sessions last week, Elfyn Evans is hoping for a repeat of his victory in Portugal last year when the FIA World Rally Championship returns this weekend.
Evans’ Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team is preparing to enter a key phase of the championship at the Rally de Portugal on 19-22 May, the first gravel event for the GR YARIS Rally1.
The team has enjoyed a strong start to the new hybrid Rally1 era of the WRC, with Kalle Rovanperä impressively winning two of the first three rounds on snow and asphalt to lead the drivers’ championship by 29 points while TGR heads the manufacturers’ standings by 42 points.
Portugal, though, represents the first of five consecutive rounds on gravel and a new challenge for the latest generation of cars.
Rovanperä faces a new challenge too, tasked with sweeping the road on Friday on gravel for the first time in his career as WRC leader.
Team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans will have more favourable road positions, sitting eighth and ninth respectively in the standings.
Evans will target a podium return on an event he won in 2021 while Ogier – making his second WRC appearance of the season – has five victories in Portugal, a joint record.
Dolgellau’s Evans said: “As with a lot of rallies this year, it’s difficult to know how we will fare against the competition in our first event on gravel with the Rally1 cars, but the feeling in testing last week was generally quite positive.
“Portugal is a rally I’ve enjoyed more and more as the years have gone on, and it was great to win there last year.
“We could definitely do with a strong result on this occasion too and that will be the aim like always.
“With a run of gravel events coming up, hopefully we can hit the ground running in Portugal and then carry some momentum forwards.
“If it’s dry then our road position should be favourable, but that’s not an automatic ticket to a good result and there’s still a lot to focus on and to get right in order to make the most of it, especially as everyone tries to get comfortable in these cars.”
The rally is based around the city of Porto with the service park located in nearby Matosinhos, and the stages attract large numbers of passionate fans.
The roads are fast but technical, with a surface that is usually soft and sandy at first but often becomes rocky and rutted for the second pass.
As in 2021, Coimbra once again hosts the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, and this time it’s combined with a new super special stage on the city streets to kick-start the competitive action.
Crews will stay overnight before tackling a trio of tests around Arganil, where there will be a tyre fitting zone before the same stages are then repeated in the afternoon.
An additional test at Mortágua follows, and the Lousada super special rounds out the day upon returning north.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, featuring 164.98 competitive kilometres.
It starts with two tests in the Cabreira mountains before Amarante, the longest stage of 2022 so far at 37.24km.
Following mid-day service, all three are repeated before another street stage alongside the mouth of the Douro river.
Five stages bring the rally to a close on Sunday, centered around two passes of the famous Fafe test – the latter serving as the Power Stage finale.
Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said: “So far, we have been very competitive with the GR YARIS Rally1 on asphalt and snow across the first three rallies of the season.
“Portugal will be the first of three difficult rallies on gravel in just over five weeks and it will be very interesting to see the level of the different teams and cars.
“With so much of the season driven on gravel, it’s very important to be competitive on this surface, and providing our drivers with a reliable car will also have to be a big focus across these next events.
“In Portugal, when it’s dry there’s a lot of loose gravel on top of the surface and this makes it very difficult for the first car on the road.
“This difficult task will be a new experience for Kalle on Friday, but we know that he’ll be able to keep his cool even if he’s losing time.
“On the other hand, we will have good starting positions with Elfyn and Seb and they should both have a strong possibility to fight for the victory.”
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