PHOTO: Good pace notes will be important on the “new” Vodafone Rally de Portugal (Rally Portugal pic)
AS drivers and co-drivers completed the pre-event reconnaissance for the 2015 Vodafone Rally de Portugal, they predicted a challenging event made up of enjoyable stages.
The roads making up the first FIA World Rally Championship event to be run in the north of the country in 14 years have differing characteristics, depending on their locations relative to the event base at the Exponor exhibition centre at Matosinhos, on the northern outskirts of Oporto.
Drivers report a mixture of road styles, with fast and open flowing sections combined with tighter and more technical parts, creating a route that puts the emphasis on both experience and accurate pace notes.
Volkswagen Motorsport driver Andreas Mikkelsen said: “The stages are looking in really nice shape. There is some loose on top of some of the roads but of course, you can’t do anything about that.
“They look beautiful and in some places, are really fast. They are very different to those we used in previous years in the south – there is more vegetation here, more ups and down and up near the windmills.”
Hyundai Motorsport driver Thierry Neuville predicted tyre choice could become one of the main talking points over the weekend.
“It’s going to be a tough rally and I think, tyre choice will be tough as well. At the moment, it looks like the soft tyres might work well here but Michelin has nominated the hard tyre, so we might see some strategy as well,” Neuville said.
“I think we might see bigger gaps on Saturday – it looks like the road cleaning is more important on Saturday.
“At the moment, no-one seems to be able to judge how the roads will change between the passes. They look quite compact, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
Pirelli-runner Robert Kubica was also aware that the completely new route would pose a challenge for everyone.
“The stages look really interesting and there are a lot of different characteristics. There are some fast sections and some narrow parts – very narrow. There are some large stones next to the road and some is slippery, some is uphill, some is downhill.
“Some of the roads are open with very good visibility but on others, you need really good pace notes with hidden or tightening corners.”
The action begins in earnest on Thursday morning, local time, as the crews tackle the pre-event shakedown at Parades to the east of Oporto and ending at the Baltar kart circuit.
Then follows the ceremonial start at the foot of the castle at Guimaraes in the afternoon before the single, superspecial stage of the event, at the Lousada rallycross circuit, which begins at 19.00hrs local time.