Championship regulations require PWRC drivers to nominate six events from a list of seven on which to score points. Portugal and the rounds in Spain and Great Britain later in the season will feature all 18 registered drivers in action at the same time.
And there’s more. As an added boost, the Portuguese organisers have nominated a wildcard entrant to chase PWRC points on the Algarve-based rally in the shape of Ricardo Moura, who will increase the total number of PWRC runners to 19.
Moura, from the Atlantic archipelago of the Azores, is a formidable force on gravel and is set to pose a strong threat to the PWRC regulars in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, the car of choice of title leader Martin Semerad.
The former Pirelli Star Driver holds top spot following the opening event of the season in Sweden in mid-February. But the Czech ace will be one of the first to admit that his tenure at the top of the drivers’ standings is somewhat fortuitous after favourites Patrik Flodin and Anders Grondal both hit trouble on the snow of Scandinavia and failed to score.
Flodin was excluded due to a technical infringement, while Grondal retired when his similar Subaru Impreza’s engine broke. They will both be out for revenge in Portugal.
The Subaru challenge will be strengthened on the Faro-based contest with the addition of Hayden Paddon to the fold. The New Zealander, third in the PWRC standings at his first attempt in 2010, switches from Lancer to Impreza power for this season and is expected to fly in his Symtech Racing-prepared machine.
While Michal Kosciuszko is an unknown quantity in the PWRC, the Pole has extensive experience of world championship rallies after starring in the Junior and Super 2000 world championships in the past. Kosciuszko will drive a Lancer Evolution X prepared by Ralliart Italy, the company responsible for overseeing Armindo Araujo’s back-to-back PWRC titles in 2009 and 2010.
Ukrainian Mitsubishi drivers Yuriy Protasov and Valeriy Gorban both impressed in Sweden and are expected to be among the contenders for points in Portugal, where Peruvian champion Nicolas Fuchs will be looking to build on the podium finish he claimed on round one in his Ralliart Italy-prepared Lancer.
Benito Guerra begins his maiden PWRC campaign and starts the event on the back of an impressive outing on his home round of the WRC in Mexico earlier this month where he finished a strong 11th overall in his Mitsubishi. Rami Jaber, from Palestine, is another driving making his PWRC debut in Portugal.
Harry Hunt will be the lone representative in the Production Car Cup for Drivers of two-wheel-drive machines. The young Briton, a winner of three international rally titles in 2010, will pilot a Citroen DS3 R3.