The defending P-WRC champion trails Patrik Flodin by seven points in the title reckoning. But with Flodin not having nominated the asphalt event as one of his scoring rounds, Araujo will be looking to take full advantage.
Equipped with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, Araujo is an established Tarmac specialist and won the only sealed-surface round of the season so far in Germany last month. However, the Portuguese will face strong opposition from Hayden Paddon, one of the five Pirelli Star Drivers competing in France, and a surprise title contender.
The New Zealander has been a model of consistency in his first season in the series and, like Araujo, has yet to finish outside of the podium in his Lancer Evolution X. Despite his lack of asphalt experience, the 23-year-old impressed with his pace in Germany and arrives in France determined to fight for P-WRC victory.
“I know it won’t be easy, but I feel we can challenge after the way we were fighting for the win in Germany,” said Paddon. “It was a huge learning experience for me and I worked on trying to learn the balance between carrying the speed and being smooth through the corners - that’s crucial on asphalt and that’s a balance we’re still searching for but here’s more speed to come from me on asphalt. I’m in France to push for the win - it’s coming to the time of the year when championship points are being counted and nothing counts for more than a win.”
Of the other Pirelli Star drivers in action in France, Ott Tanak, from Estonia, is the driver considered most likely to mount a challenge. Although he struggled on Rallye Deutschland, he was untouchable on the high-speed stages in Finland in late July.
Toshi Arai, a two-time P-WRC champion, returns to action following his huge crash on Rally Japan earlier this month. The veteran Japanese required a hospital check-up following the accident but was given the all-clear to tackle his second P-WRC round on asphalt this season in his Subaru Impreza. Arai is three points adrift of Gianluca Linari in the drivers’ standings and has shown in the past that he’s capable of outpacing the Italian.
With Flodin not competing in France, his Uspenskiy Rally Team’s entry has been taken over by 20-year-old British driver Dave Weston Jr, a product of the British motorsport federation’s Team UK training scheme, which is run by former world championship-winning co-driver Robert Reid.
Weston will line up in an Impreza run by the Welsh Ramsport organisation, which has extensive WRC experience.
“With the P-WRC entry we get a higher seeding which puts us in the thick of it in among the other P-WRC drivers, and our aim will be to learn and look at our times compared to theirs to see how I can develop my skills,” said Weston, who is planning to contest the WRC rounds in Spain and Great Britain later this season in preparation for a full P-WRC attack in 2011.
"I know it won't be easy, but I feel we can challenge after the way we were fighting for the win in Germany."