Wednesday | 18 May 2016

Recce notes: Vodafone Rally de Portugal

Vodafone Rally de Portugal made a popular return to classic stages around Matosinhos in 2015 and it remains there this year with an almost identical route.

We got an insight into the condition of the stages and the challenges they will pose when we joined the WRC TV crew for their camera location recce on Monday and Tuesday. Here’s what caught our eye:

A damp-ish route
Recent heavy rain has left the stages damp in places (main picture). Despite the rain, the roads are in great condition. Organisers have worked hard to prepare them and we passed several graders and rollers making finishing touches. With a generally hard, clay base, the surface shouldn't cut up too much. On top, there's not a lot of loose gravel around, which should please those drivers at the head of the field. If it rains - and that looks unlikely this week - the surface will quickly become extremely slippery.

A foggy start
This week's weather forecast features plenty of sunshine, at least until Friday, but on the recce some stages were shrouded in fog. The picture below was taken on Friday's SS4/7 (Viana do Castelo). We drove through at 1000hrs and the sun had cleared most of the mist away by 1100hrs, which is when the stage will run on Friday. We encountered a few isolated fog patches in the afternoon too.

Argentina-like rocks
We found this boulder field at the 15.5km point of Saturday's SS11/14 Marao. It's part of a 1km twisty and tight section that contrasts with the generally open and high-speed rest of the stage. Ignore the tightrope stretched between the two rocks - it was part of a TV advertisement film shoot that was happening during the recce.

The Fafe landing
We had to stop and take a good look here - it's probably the most iconic section of the route. This is the second and final jump on Sunday's decisive SS17/19 Fafe test, about 300 metres before the end. Hayden Paddon reckons it's one of just a few jumps in the WRC that he can't take flat-out. Getting the car lined up correctly on the approach is key - and not easy when you can't see the landing zone.

Iconic viewing
Located 9.2km into Sunday's Fafe is another Portugal classic, when the gravel stage joins an asphalt link road for a few hundred metres before darting back onto gravel. There will be thousands of spectators here on Sunday and there is evidence of them already. A massive Saltire has been painted on the road in memory of former rally winner Colin McRae.

Breathtaking views
Hillside roads and spectacular views are a classic feature of the Portuguese round and Saturday's SS11/14 Marao is a great example. The opening section is a steep climb with a rock face on the right and a drop to the left. Later - at 8.5km below - the drop is on the right. Armco barriers offer some protection on corners.

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