Michèle Mouton believes the decision to move this week’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal (21-24 May) back to the north of the country will help to reignite the nation’s passion for its WRC round.
The gravel event has been held in the southern Algarve region for the last 10 years but it will start from the new host town of Matosinhos, close to Porto, this time around.
Mouton, the only woman so far to win at WRC level, has fond memories of rallying in the north of Portugal as it was the scene of her second WRC triumph in 1982 when she and co-driver Fabrizia Pons guided their Audi Quattro to victory.
“For me, the home of rally in Portugal is the north. And I think it’s the same for the Portuguese,” explained Mouton, who is now the FIA's WRC Manager. “There is a lot of passion for the rally and that’s not what we have seen in the south. The event there was very good but I think the passion for the sport is in the north.
“I’m sure the fans are happy that the rally is back. I have been one of the people pushing the organisers hard to move from the south to the north and to go back to the event’s heritage.”
This week’s rally will be a fresh challenge for all of the WRC crews. The only road that may be familiar to some is a section of the Fafe stage, used for the annual Fafe Rally Sprint – a traditional warm up to the main WRC event.
Mouton said: “These will be new stages for everybody and that will make it exciting. It adds an extra element of uncertainty to the competition. If you don't know the road, it creates more surprises.”
The new rally will be markedly different from the endurance-style event that Mouton won 23 years ago, but she is expecting the enthusiasm from the fans at the side of the stages to be just as passionate – and channeled in a controlled way.
“I hope the drivers will enjoy the stages, and I am sure they will have the support of the spectators – even if today it is impossible to accept the same numbers by the stages. Organisers have worked very hard on spectator safety. They have set up clear areas, and told spectators that the rally's future is up to them,” she said.