It’s the nature of the sport – you can be fast and competitive and in a great car, but all it takes is a split second of concentration lapse and you clip a rock and send your “million dollar” car tumbling down the hill. On three WRC events held so far this year we had fair share of drama and bitter disappointments for some, and well deserved victories for others. And the forth round promises even more of that.
Rally de Portugal takes place over the last weekend in March and traditionally challenges crews with the complex mix of stages and varying road types. In Mexico crews had a chance to taste the gravel for the first time this year, and as usual road starting position played it’s part (together with some weird people planting rocks on the road and throwing stones on cars). But in Portugal crews will get to taste a rather notorious combination of night driving and gravel stages in one.
I covered this topic already in separate article. There is high possibility that some of the crews might decide to gamble and opt for higher vs. lower starting positions for gravel stages, all based on the results of the qualifying stage. It all comes down to the amount of dust cars will kicking up and if winds will be strong enough to clear the track out between the two cars. And the three night stages, while short, might be one of the deciding factors in decision making process on what starting position to pick. Go too low and risk being stuck in the dust, struggling to see the road. Go too high and you’ll be slipping and sweeping on untouched loose gravel.
Several drivers expressed their concern over the decision to go with night gravel stage combination, but organisers insist everything is going to be just okay, claiming stages are short enough. Well, with 10, 14 and 11 kilometers respectively yes, they’re short by WRC standards, but thats over 30 kilometers of flat out racing in the night on gravel. Concentration will be put to big test here.
Rally Portugal will start on Thursday with now traditional superspecial stage on the streets of Lisbon before the crews make their way towards the night battlefield. Second day will see them covering following six stages, same amount as on Saturday and Sunday. In total, Rally Portugal will cover over 1564 kilometers with 434.77 kilometers of special stages. And as Sunday is once again more than just one or two short stages, crews will have to balance their energy and stamina to reach the finish.
Also in need of balancing will be the tyre wear, and as we saw in Mexico 2012 rubber is pretty tender at times so it will be interesting to see who will be pushing hard right from the start and who will play it more carefully. There are no marathon stages in Portugal, but the overall length of the itinerary, and the fact that even the liasion section on Thursday is over 300 kilometers long, it’s not hard to grasp the necessity to keep it clean, tidy and clever out there.