WRC 2 spotlight falls on Skoda in Portugal
Czech manufacturer returns to WRC with new Fabia
Here are our recce highlights:
1) More asphalt than you might imagine...
Portugal is a gravel rally, but many of the stages contain asphalt sections too. Most start on asphalt - to avoid the cars churning up the surface - before they dart off onto gravel. After that, stages often hop back onto tar for junctions or short linking sections between more gravel roads. The majority of the asphalt links are less than 200 metres long, but the longest is 1.5km - and that features a cobbled section too. The picture below shows the event's most famous stretch of asphalt on the approach to Sunday's Fafe hairpin (SS14/SS16).
2) The Fafe jump
One of the most famous jumps in the WRC, and part of the only stage some drivers have driven before at the Fafe Rally Sprint. It's a natural jump, and because the take-off is nice and smooth it can be taken almost flat-out. There were some huge flights here at the Rally Sprint, but it remains to be seen if drivers will be so bold when there are championship points at stake. Of concern will be the tightening right-hand corner 150 metres after the landing. Also of note are the 19 wind turbines along the stage. When we drove the recce one of the turbine blades cast a shadow over the crest, which made it tricky to pick out.
3) A sandy surface
In general, Portugal's northern stages are sandy-based with a layer of loose gravel on top. The section pictured below is fairly typical. The thickness of the top layer varies, but is at its deepest and loosest on Friday's Viana do Castelo (SS4/SS7). In places the road surface is similar to Argentina, so we can expect ruts to appear.
Portugal's northern stages have more climbs and descents than those in the south, and Saturday's Marao stage (SS9/SS12) pictured below is a good example. The opening 11 kilometres are a steady climb on a road cut into the side of the hillside, winding high above stunning countryside. This will be a real test of engine power. The second half of the stage is the inevitable descent to the finish and a stern test of brakes.
5) Argentine boulders?
It might look like a section of El Condor, but this boulder fest is actually a section of Saturday's Marao (SS9 / SS12). At the 15.5km point, the stage winds for 2km through an area scattered with huge rocks. The rocks get closest to the narrow road in the last 30 - 40 metres, where this picture was taken.
6) A Scottish tribute
Colin McRae won the 1998 and 1999 editions of Rally de Portugal, and the approach to the Fafe hairpin sports a huge Saltire, the national flag of Scotland, in tribute to his 'flat out' mantra. Like us, Kris Meeke, who last week tackled the McRae Rally Challenge in Scotland, stopped here to take a picture during the recce.