Six Ford Fiesta Super 2000 cars will make their way to Portugal next week where four of the crews will take part in the fifth round of the Super World Rally Championship category (S-WRC). Series leader, Spaniard Xevi Pons, will aim to hold onto his current lead but will face tough challenge, especially from Finnish Jari Ketomaa who won his first S-WRC round in New Zealand earlier this month.
This year’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal is in its 44th year and is renowned for warm sunny weather, making it a hotspot for rally fans from all over the world. Spectator numbers are expected to be high and the super special stages and service park will be based in the Algarve Stadium just north of the regional capital, Faro.
The previous WRC round in New Zealand saw a clean sweep of podium finishes for the Fiesta S2000s in the S-WRC category with Jari Ketomaa beating stiff competition from Xevi Pons, Martin Prokop and Janne Tuohini. The Fiesta S2000 has now won the opening three rounds of the category and Pons continues to lead the championship overall.
Seven Ford Fiesta S2000 crews will tackle 355.32km of competitive distance over 18 testing stages and with mild weather expected next week, the stages should be dry and provide all S-WRC competitors with a level playing field.
This will be the first all-gravel event on European soil and the event will test its competitors with the fast, hard-packed surfaces. Forecast weather conditions are set for sunshine, with blue skies but the warm climate could prove difficult for the S-WRC drivers as temperatures inside their Fiesta S2000 cars could reach levels of over 40 degrees Celsius.
The four-day event will officially begin with a drivers’ parade at the Algarve football stadium on the Thursday evening followed by a short 2.03km tarmac Super Special Stage where crews will compete side-by-side. The newly constructed stadium has a seating capacity of over 20,000 so large crowds are expected to attend the exciting opening stage.
There will be a few tweaks to this year’s stages as they feature some new starts or finishes, but the main difference from 2009 will be the day’s opening Santa Clara stage (SS2 and SS6), which is now run in reverse. The final day of Rally de Portugal is the shortest and will feature four all-gravel stages, with the only difference to last year’s route being on the Felizes 21.28km stage (SS14 and SS16) which has a new 3.11km finish. The S-WRC round will finish with another stage round the 2.03km tarmac stage round the Algarve Stadium.
Xevi Pons said:
“For me, this is the first time I have been at Rally de Portugal. It is a new rally for me but in 2007, I did do a recce of some of the stages so I know what to expect a little. I think it will be a very difficult rally – the stages are narrow with several crests. Even though this event will not be easy, I am still feeling confident. I feel like I have been improving after each rally and when I compare how I felt in the car when I competed in Mexico at the start of the year, there is a huge difference. I look forward to next week.”
Bernardo Sousa said:
“Rally de Portugal has always been hard for me as there is added pressure because it is our home rally. For me, all the rallies are the same in that I aim to get to the finish. This will be a hard round because I will be competing in the Portugese National Rally too – every day you get a score, so I cannot take any risks which could result in a retirement. I think this rally has some of the most beautiful stages in the championship as it has a little bit of everything. It will be a very hard rally for everyone but it is really important that I do well in this so I will push my hardest.”
Janne Tuohini said:
“I competed in Rally Portugal in 2006 and ended up finishing second overall so it was a good rally for me. I didn’t manage to get any points in Jordan or New Zealand as I had some problems with the car and the stages so it is very important that I can do better in Portugal next week. The M-Sport team have been working very hard to get my car sorted for the rally next week as it’s been such a tight turn around between New Zealand and Portugal but everything is on track so that is good. This time I really hope we can win.”
Jari Ketomaa said:
“Portugal is a new rally for me so I don’t know what to expect from the stages. But I have seen footage on the TV from previous year and it doesn’t look too bad and the roads seem like they are quite wide some of the time. If the roads remain dry then I will be able to pick up my speed on some of the sections. I plan to take the rally step by step – I will see what the competition and pace is like from the beginning and then I will decide the best strategy but as always I will fight from the start.”
Dennis Kuipers said:
“This will be my second time in Portugal and I am looking forward to going back again this year. We had a few technical problems last year so we only completed two days but I am happy to have completed some of the stages so they will not all be new to me. The stages in Portugal are not easy – there are a lot of corners which makes it very difficult to get a good rhythm going. We might also have problems with the dust as I think it has been very dry out there recently.”
M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Vodafone Rally de Portugal has been the most popular event in the S-WRC category this season – it will be an interesting round to see what will happen with so many talented drivers. We were delighted with the Ford Fiesta S2000 clean sweep podium finish in New Zealand so I really hope there will be a similar end result in the Algarve. There is little doubt that it will be another exciting round for the S-WRC competitors.”