The two Sébastiens are back in action and back ready to pick up where they left off in the French Alps. Back in January it was M-Sport Ford star Loeb who took the honours, but the odds look to be stacked more in favour of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally rival on Europe’s west coast.
Loeb is, of course, no stranger to success in Portugal, but his wins came in the country’s south, when the rally was based in Faro rather than Matosinhos. He has markedly less experience than Ogier on the world-famous roads in the Porto region. In fact, he’s started Rally de Portugal only six times, in comparison to Ogier’s dozen appearances.
Added to that, the nine-time champion will be running fourth on the road on the opening day next week. If the weather remains warm, Loeb will be part of a road-cleaning process which will help Ogier, whose Toyota is a further four cars back.
Top 5 reasons to watch Vodafone Rally de Portugal
But he’s still Sébastien Loeb. When he landed Monte-Carlo with just a handful of days between completing Dakar and starting the WRC season opener, he wasn’t given much of a hope of challenging for victory in the mountains he made his own. The fact that he was starting his first-ever WRC round without Daniel Elena and with Isabelle Galmiche alongside added further fuel to fire speculation that a top-six finish would be a good result.
Instead, they started and remained very much at the sharp end to lift a famous win.
Loeb’s experience is as vast as his pace is potentially rally winning, but Ogier looks to hold the aces here. He’s celebrated victory in Matosinhos previously and has much more recent and relevant experience.
The main thing is that they’re both in town. An Ogier-Loeb scrap always adds needle to an event. The pair have history and, while they’re mates, they’re still utterly determined to put one over on each other. And the rest of the field.
As if Portugal’s not going to be exciting enough, with a 21-year-old Finn flying the flag for Toyota Gazoo Racing at the top of the table and the best of the rest chasing down the ice cool Kalle Rovanperä.
The WRC’s gravel season is almost upon us and the scene is set for a Portuguese thriller.
• Full coverage from Vodafone Rally de Portugal will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park