Rally Portugal: Musings After Leg 1

Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Ola Fløene (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC (2015) WRC Rally Portugal 2015

Road sweeping:
After the roughness of Rally Argentina negated some of the road sweeping effects, those issues came right back to the forefront on Leg 1 of Portugal. It was interesting to hear how the different drivers reacted to it. I hate to pick on Sebastien Ogier too much, but lets be honest, he has developed a bit of a reputation for whinging about road order, and today was no different. When you contrasted his reactions to those of Mads Ostberg who was running second on the road, I was a little annoyed to listen to Seb’s interviews. Mads was very determined and philosophical about the situation while Ogier continued to complain. Yes, he was at a disadvantage, but at some point, you just have to put your head down and do the best job you can. Road sweeping is a necessary evil in rallying, and this is nothing new. Ogier will no doubt be hurt by the fact that there were no major retirements on Leg 1 that will run in front of him tomorrow under Rally 2, but with the best car in the field, I think that he should still be able to salvage a good finish.

Forest Fires?
So far this year, we have seen stages canceled for spectator issues, submerged cars, and forest fires??? This certainly was a twist to Rally Portugal that I wasn’t expecting. Is this the WRC’s new strategy to attract the “Gymkhana” fanbase looking for more flashy action? On his interview at the end of SS2, Mads Ostberg was pretty amazed by the scene unfolding in front of him describing it as looking “like a movie set.” That is one onboard video that I can’t wait to watch once it is uploaded onto WRC+! In all seriousness though, respect and best wishes to those who are out there working hard to contain the blazes to keep the rally mostly on track today. Here’s to hoping that the fires don’t get in the way of Leg 2, but most importantly that everyone in the area remains safe tonight.

Is this Latvala’s turning point?
After a fairly disastrous start to the season, I had begun to doubt Jari-Matti’s mental fortitude. Yes, there is no doubt that the road order is certainly helping him out today. However, the ability to capitalize on opportunities is just as important as outright speed, and so far Latvala has been making the most of his situation this weekend. If you listen to the stage-end interviews though, you can tell that his confidence is still very fragile. He certainly has a long way to go if he is going to turn his season around this weekend. I’ll be honest, I’m not a believer yet… we’ll see after the end of Leg 2.

It was fascinating to listen to the chess match of tyre choice unfolding during the second loop of stages. Unfortunately SS5 was canceled due to the forest fire situation, and this made the tyre choice a bit easier for the top teams. They knew they could take a few more chances by selecting the soft compound since there were fewer competitive km’s to complete. Despite this, as the cars filed into the finish control of SS7, Colin Clark on WRC radio was describing tyres that looked more like racing slicks than rally tyres. It wasn’t terribly hot today at only 21 degrees, but apparently the roads became very abrasive on the second run through. It will be really interesting to see how the tyres hold up tomorrow with the longer competitive distance than Leg 1.

Interesting stages:
I’ve never been much of a fan of Portugal since it returned to the WRC. For me, it was just another European gravel rally that lacked character. I’m pleased to say that the move to the roads in the north have remedied this a little bit. While waiting during the delay caused by the cancellation of SS5, I played around on Google Street View to get a bit of an idea of the landscape of the rally area. I have to say that some of the views overlooking the ocean are quite amazing. Check out this picture tweeted by Molly Taylor at the end of SS3. In addition, the stages seem a bit more flowing than the rough roads of Mexico and Argentina. However, what has fascinated me the most was how much the character of the roads changed between the first and second runs. The soft road surface got pretty chewed up during the morning loop and this seemed to surprise quite a few of the drivers on the second run through. This will be an interesting story to play out on Leg 2 as punctures might change the complexion of this rally.