The gravel debut of Rally1 cars will happen on Rally Portugal, one of the WRC classics. It’s known for not updating its route every year and such is the case this year when most of the route is identical to last year, with just small changes on one forest stage and the shakedown, as well as addition of a new opening super special. Curiously the three first events of the season didn’t include a super special, but this one will have three separate ones!
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 – which has been reconfigured for this year slightly, making it possibly a bit faster with less tight twists and turns.
This year the rally starts with a new street stage SSS1 Coimbra. It’s quite similar to the Porto street stage with mostly just roundabout donuts, hairpins, junction turns and chicanes. The stage is set in a loop and almost two full laps are completed.
The Friday stages are driven South near Coimbra. There is no midday service – only a remote tyre zone – during the 121 km of stages, making it a proper endurance test for the new Rally1 cars. 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 and are the same as last year.
SS2+5 Lousã is a pretty narrow and technical mountain stage. Last two times it has been clearly the slowest forest stage of the rally and now it’s driven exactly like the two previous years. 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.
SS3+6 Gois has a few rhythm changes during its course. The first 3 km of very narrow, technical and quite rough road were new for last year. 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.
SS4+7 Arganil is a legend of a stage. The beginning after the tarmac start – the old Arganil road – is quite fast but technical. The road is medium wide with jumps in the beginning, after which it gets a bit narrower.
At 3.6 km in there is a turn onto mountain roads which are very technical with little margin for error with ravines, trees and railings close to the road. This section is mostly very narrow, with some medium wide passages mixed in.
At 11.5 km the stage becomes faster with still some technical and narrow places mixed in. The old Arganil road is rejoined at 13.8 km. First there’s a fast passage on a wide section, the rest is more technical with the road getting also narrower at times.
SS8 Mortagua was a new stage for last year, and is driven again only once. It had featured in past decades as Agueira, but not after 2001. Last year Thierry Neuville crashed on this stage.
Most of Mortagua is medium wide on a road that is quite messy with rocks and bits of trees. It’s technical but the pace is mostly quite fast. The stage is punctuated by a narrow and technical passage at 3.2 km, a fast and wide tarmac link at 7.3 km, a spectator-friendly detour onto narrower roads on an open area with tight bends at 10.9 km and finally narrow and technical vineyard roads at 14.3 km.
Friday is concluded with SSS9 Lousada, on a rallycross circuit. 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.
Saturday is another tough test with 165 stage kilometres and the three longest stages of the rally. Needless to say, managing tyres will be important. The stages are the same as last year with just one minor change.
SS10+13 Vieira do Minho has a new beginning for this year. It involves a narrow and sinuous mountainside road which can be seen on the following video. Last year’s route is rejoined at 2 km, 1:55 on the video.
The familiar route proceeds with a slightly wider and straighter road but high banks on both sides makes many corners tightly narrow and tricky. Later the stage opens up for a wider and fast-flowing section with some blind crests and big rocks at the side of the road. At 10.9 km there’s a very fast section partly on tarmac, and after that fast and technical sections alternate until the end.
SS11+14 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.
SS12+15 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 SSS16 Porto – Foz, a 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. The stages are the same as last year.
SS17+20 Felgueiras was a new stage last year. It had been run previously as Santa Quiteria in 1997 and 1998. It’s a quite tricky and technical stage augmented with two tarmac bits at the beginning. The gravel road is mostly medium wide, smooth and cambered, and there’s plenty of altitude differences.
SS18 Montim starts very fast, and then becomes very twisty. Once again this alternation of fast and technical passages continues until the end. One of the technical sections with descending hairpins caught Esapekka Lappi in 2019, making him roll the car.
SS19+21 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.