All the heavyweight contenders in WRC 2 face each other for the first time at this week’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal (18 - 21 May).
The Iberian dirt road encounter is one of three compulsory rounds for the WRC’s principal support category – Germany and Britain are the others – and brings those drivers serious about mounting a title challenge in direct opposition.
Skoda Motorsport has won all five rounds so far with its Fabia R5. Both points leader Pontus Tidemand, with victories to his name in Sweden, Mexico and Argentina, and Andreas Mikkelsen, who won in Monte-Carlo and Corsica, are present for a first head-to-head.
Swede Tidemand is 25 points clear of his Norwegian colleague and has no concerns about taking the fight to the man who finished second overall 12 months ago. “I want to get as many points as possible in order to increase my lead in WRC 2,” he said.
Chasing the Scandinavian pair are M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 duo Eric Camilli and Teemu Suninen. Camilli is third in the standings after four scoring rounds but his Finnish team-mate is better placed, just one position and 10 points behind after only two nominated rallies.
Portugal marks the WRC 2 debut of the latest evolution Fiesta R5 which includes significant engine upgrades. In addition to Camilli and Suninen, Pierre-Louis Loubet, Gus Greensmith and Pedro Heller will have the new version at their disposal.
Benito Guerra scored solidly at the long-haul rounds in Mexico and Argentina in his Fabia R5 and holds fifth in the points ahead of his first European outing of the season.
Yohan Rossel and Simone Tempestini, both driving Citroën’s DS 3 R5, and Quentin Gilbert took good points in their single appearances and can leap up the standings with strong results. Gilbert switches to a Fabia R5, having started the year in a Fiesta R5.
Max Vatanen claims the first of two prize drives from 2016’s Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy, Japanese duo Hiroki Arai and Takamoto Katsuta return in Tommi Mäkinen Racing Fiesta R5s and Italian Fabio Andolfi wheels out his Hyundai i20 R5.