Rally Portugal is one of the classics of WRC. Like many events, it was cancelled last year because of COVID-19, but the 2020 route will be used this year with small updates. Portugal can be classified as a technical, hot and dusty gravel rally, but it’s the fastest and one of the smoothest out of the category. This is the first WRC gravel rally since Sardegna 2020, which was more than seven months ago!
Many stages of Rally Portugal have their start line on tarmac, and the Paredes shakedown is no exception. Most of the stage is still driven on gravel, with both fast and technical sections. After another short tarmac section, the stage concludes on the Baltar rallycross circuit.
The Friday stages are driven South near Coimbra, with no midday service but only a remote tyre zone. The stages are longer than the ones on Sunday, but shorter than the Saturday stages. These stages were an integral part of the Rally Portugal route before 2001, but they were absent on the first years of the Porto-based Rally Portugal’s return 2015-2018. All these stages start with a bit of tarmac.
SS1+4 Lousã is a pretty narrow and technical mountain stage, likely the slowest non-super-special of the whole rally. It’s driven exactly like last year. The road is softer at first, becoming harder at the top of the hill. The downhill part is very twisty with numerous hairpins, with a wider but softer road. At the end it gets again a bit narrower.
SS2+5 Gois has a few rhythm changes during its course. The first 3 km are new for this year, a twisty climb. It joins the 2019 stage on a long straight, followed by a twisty technical section. The pace increases again at 6.3 km on medium wide roads through open hills and partly burned forest. From 11 km onwards the stage becomes slower and more technical, also partly narrower. The last 3.5 km are particularly twisty and soft but also quite wide.
SS3+6 Arganil is a legend of a stage. The beginning is quite fast-flowing and has some jumps. In 2019 the stage turned onto smaller roads at 1.5 km, extending now on it until 3.6 km, where it turns back onto smaller roads, rejoining the 2019 stage at 6.2 km. This mountain road is very technical with little margin for error with ravines, trees and railings close to the road. At 11.5 km the stage becomes faster with still some technical and narrow places mixed in.
SS7 Mortagua is a new stage, and is driven only once. It has featured before in Rally Portugal as Agueira, but not after 2001. It seems like a quite fast stage with only a handful of tight corners. There’s also a short bit of tarmac at 7 km into the stage.
Friday is concluded with SSS8 Lousada. It was the first ever twin-car super special ran in the WRC back in 1991. It’s one of my favourite super specials and I included it in my “Perfect Rally” on wrc.com. This will also be the first super special to be run in the WRC since Rally Estonia.
Saturday is a tough day with 165 stage kilometres and the three longest stages of the rally. Needless to say, managing tyres will be important.
SS9+12 Vieira do Minho starts with narrow tricky sections between high banks, but opens up for a wider and fast-flowing section with some blind crests and big rocks at the side of the road. At 4 km there is a revised route on a spectator area, involving now a hairpin turn. At 9.8 km there’s a very fast section partly on tarmac, after that fast and technical sections alternate until the end.
SS10+13 Cabeceiras de Basto starts quite fast and becomes then more technical. Similar alternation continues throughout the stage, but some of the roads are very coarse or rough. Elfyn Evans and Mads Østberg went slightly off on this stage in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
SS11+14 Amarante is the longest stage of the rally, and also one of the toughest with multiple rhythm and surface changes. The stage also contains some of the most technical and rough parts of the rally, especially at the very end of the stage.
However, the most notable thing about this stage are the three tarmac sections. The first one is a short, narrow and quite twisty cobblestone part, whereas the second one is similar to Terra Alta in Catalunya with its wide and smooth surface. And finally near the end of the stage there’s a mountain road with a worn tarmac surface.
In 2017 this stage denied Ott Tänak of his maiden win, as he damaged the rear suspension while leading.
The following year Kris Meeke had a horrifying crash into the trees on this stage, ending his career as a Citroen works driver.
Before the night service there’s SSS15 Porto – Foz, a new street stage at the sea shore. The stage is set in a 1.1 km loop with two donuts, and one complete run includes three laps on the stage. The trickiness of this stage is that the tyres on the cars will be very worn at this point, having done roughly 80 km of gravel stages already!
Sunday packs in five short stages, making up almost 50 km. Again all the stages start on tarmac.
SS16+19 Felgueiras is a new stage for the current drivers. It has been run previously as Santa Quiteria in 1997 and 1998.
The stage starts on a paved section in a park, but after a pair of tight turns it turns onto a narrow gravel road which goes steeply downhill and becomes technical. At 1.6 km there’s a short bit on tarmac involving three slight junction turns. The following gravel road is mostly fast, with only a handful of tight corners spread around the stage, most occurring during the last 2 km. However, the narrowness of the road and the banks on the sides make even slighter corners more tricky and technical.
SS17 Montim is driven only once this year. It starts very fast, and then becomes very twisty. After this fast and technical passages alternate with each other. One of the technical sections with descending hairpins caught Esapekka Lappi in 2019, making his roll the car.
SS18+20 Fafe is an iconic stage, recognized best for its big jump at the end, as well as the junctions on and off tarmac just before it. It’s mostly a narrow but fast stage, and there are actually three bits of tarmac on it.
In 2019 Fafe caused big drama with all of Sebastien Loeb, Esapekka Lappi and Kris Meeke wrecking their cars during the two runs of the stage. If that was not enough, Gus Greensmith’s steering broke just before the jump, resulting in a crash landing.
And of course we can not forget the WRC2 action in 2017, when Quentin Gilbert rolled his car by the front on the big jump. However, a bigger impact was Andreas Mikkelsen rolling the car and losing the WRC2 win on the final stage.
Road conditions and starting order
Rally Portugal has a definite cleaning effect especially on the first runs. However, the road will likely be rocky and rough on the second passes. It’s also worth mentioning that Sebastien Ogier won the rally first on the road in 2017. He will be first on the road this year as well, followed by his championship rivals Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo is only having his second start of the season, so he will start at the back of the WRC pack. We could also see dust being an issue in dry conditions, especially on the morning runs.