30 Mar 09
And here's what the drivers themselves reckon...
Car 61: Nicos Thomas/Stephane Prevot
Nicos Thomas said: "I can't wait to get started now. I have been looking forward to Portugal for so long. I did the Cyprus Rally in my own car, which was good for some practice ahead of the first Pirelli drive. But my home round of the World Rally Championship didn't work out quite so well. I was sick during the rally, which is not good. And on the first day I couldn't find the right way with the gravel tyres on the asphalt roads. Then, on the second day, we had a problem with the relay going to the fuel pumps, which caused the car to stop. This wasn't the kind of practice we'd been looking for! I am really happy to say, however, that wherever I am driving in the world this year, we will always be remembering Cyprus, as I am now backed by the government; you will see the Cyprus Tourism logo on my car and my overalls.
"As well as driving in Cyprus, I've been working more in the gym and trying to find out some more about Portugal. I never competed there before, but I have been watching some of the films and hearing about what a great country Portugal is for rallying and for the fans. I am so excited about getting there. It could be quite a difficult event for me to go to, given that I have never driven there, but this is where I am sure my co-driver Stéphane [Prévot] will help me - he has a lot of experience everywhere!"
Car 62: Jon Williams/George Gwynn
Jon Williams said: "After the training and testing we did in Scotland and Italy, my plan had been to stay with my co-driver George Gwynn in Britain. We had this plan to go and do some practicing with pace notes and things like that - I also wanted to get some driver tuition to help me get used to driving a Group N car. But, the sponsorship I needed to do this didn't come through, which meant I had to go back home to South Africa. I had to work to try and earn some extra cash.
"Not being in the car or making notes with George is certainly going to make Portugal quite a tough event, but then I've had to work hard all the way through my career, so I'm not expecting anything to be easy. Having said that, I'm flying out of South Africa to drive for the FIA and Pirelli team on the Rally de Portugal for free - that's an amazing opportunity for me! As for the event itself, I want to push on and set some good times, but it's going to depend on how I feel in the car. I need to get comfortable and confident early on. I have six chances to show what I'm capable of this year and I don't intend to waste a single one of them."
Car 63: Jarkko Nikara/Jarkko Kalliolepo
Jarkko Nikara said: "I have been busy working in the forest before Portugal - but also I have done some driving as well. We did drive the Lancer Evolution X in Italy for some kilometres, but I knew it was important for me to come home and stay driving. I have my own Lancer Evolution IX here in Finland, so I drove two rallies. I did the second round of the Finnish Championship in Mikkeli. I finished second on that event after a very interesting battle. After that, I did a smaller rally last week, where I was driving the zero car. Both of these have helped me to try and stay sharp for Portugal.
"I need to find the right set-up for the car quickly in Portugal. I noticed when I tested the car in Italy it was quite a different feeling from what I had known. When I get comfortable, then I will start to push. Of course, I want to be fastest of the Pirelli Star Drivers; that is what I want to do all of the time this year. I have never competed in Portugal before, so I don't know too much about the roads or about the rally, but I like fast stages and technical stages, so I'm sure there will be something to suit me."