The title-chasing gladiators have sampled snow, ice and asphalt so far. Now Vodafone Rally de Portugal (19 - 22 May) provides the opportunity to get down and dirty in the dust, rocks and heat on a surface which makes up the majority of the 13-round series.
Portugal has on many occasions kicked-off the WRC’s gravel fixtures. The Iberian Peninsula has developed into one of the championship’s classic locations since the country helped launch the championship in 1973 and this is the first of five consecutive dirt road encounters.
Once again it is based in the north-west city of Matosinhos, just north of the great port wine-producing city of Porto, and follows a virtually identical route to last year.
Video: Vodafone Rally de Portugal route
After Thursday night’s start ceremony in Coimbra, the country’s fourth largest city and former capital, the action begins immediately with a 2.82km street stage there – the only new test of the weekend.
The going gets tougher on Friday morning with double passes of Lousã (12.03km), Góis (19.33km) and the classic Arganil (18.72km), separated by a tyre fitting zone in Arganil itself.
The leg ends with a single run through Mortágua (18.15km) and a spectacular side-by-side super special stage at the fan-favourite Lousada rallycross circuit (3.36km).
It adds up to almost 122km of competition. With no service allowed until competitors return to Matosinhos in the evening, except for running repairs by the crews themselves using tools carried in their cars, mechanical issues could prove costly.
Saturday is daunting. Almost half the rally’s competitive distance is packed into two identical loops of three speed tests in the Cabreira Mountains, north-east of Matosinhos.
Drivers face double runs through Vieira do Minho (21.57km), Cabeceiras de Basto (22.03km) and Amarante (37.24km), the longest test of the weekend. The loops are split by service and a coastal street stage in Porto Foz (3.30km) closes the leg after almost 165km of action.
Sunday’s itinerary is all about the extraordinary Fafe, its big jump before the finish and its crowds.
Five tests clustered around the town begin with Felgueiras (8.91km). Montim (8.69km) and Fafe (11.18km) are next up before second passes through Felgueiras and Fafe, the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage offering all-important bonus points.
The 21 stages cover 338.34km in a route of 1522.89km before Sunday afternoon’s finish in Matosinhos.
• 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