The best entry of the season – in both quality and quantity – lines up in the WRC 2 category at Rally de Portugal.
Twenty crews have entered the year’s second gravel encounter, some having already made their mark in the points at previous events and many making their season debut.
Topping the championship and looking for a third victory in four rounds is Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov (pictured). After wins in Monte-Carlo and Mexico, the Ford Fiesta R5 driver has a 16 point lead over Lorenzo Bertelli, who competes here but has not nominated the rally as a scoring round.
Karl Kruuda, who edged out Jari Ketomaa to claim a dramatic last stage win in Sweden, returns in a Fiesta S2000 and the 21-year-old Estonian says his target is to chase points rather than aim for a repeat victory. Ketomaa is also back and should feature strongly in his Fiesta R5.
Robert Barrable, second in the category last year on his WRC debut, and Fredrik Ahlin will hope to improve on sixth and seventh respectively in the championship. Nicolas Fuchs comes to Portugal on the back of victory at Rally Villa Carlos Paz, the opening round of the Argentine National Rally Championship.
Several drivers making their season debuts could make an instant impact. Swede Pontus Tidemand steps up to WRC 2 after winning last year’s JWRC, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah brings several years’ experience in World Rally Cars with manufacturer teams and Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa will benefit from local knowledge.
Martin Kangur has started only four WRC rounds but is highly regarded in his native Estonia, while 2013 WRC 2 runner-up Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari also returns.
Max Rendina, who lies fourth in the category, may find himself outgunned by the R5 cars, but will aim to strengthen his lead in the Production Car Cup within WRC 2. His rivals are Juan Carlos Alonso and Marco Vallario, and all are in Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X cars.