Rally Portugal is a classic WRC event with technical but relatively smooth and fast roads. Its route has remained quite unchanged in the recent years. This time there’s one half-new forest stage, one reversed one as wel as one new super special with also some shuffling of stages between Saturday and Sunday. In addition, three of the forest stages are single-run.
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There is no rally opening super special this year, in contrast to last year. Thus the Baltar shakedown is all action we’ll get on Thursday. The title has changed from last year but the stage itself is the same as Paredes shakedown last year.
The stage starts – after initial acceleration on tarmac – on angular medium wide forest roads. Midway through a faster undulating passage leads – via a bit of tarmac – onto the Baltar rallycross track with a jump and a couple of long bends, alternating between tarmac and gravel. It is a quite decent shakedown for the event.
The Friday stages have remained unchanged apart from the day closing super special. The forest stages are driven South from Porto, near Coimbra. There is no midday service – only a remote tyre zone – during the 121 km of stages, making it a proper endurance test. Some of 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 has nothing in common with the older Lousã stages of Rally Portugal, which means that it was a completely new stage for 2019. It is pretty narrow, technical and mountainous. 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. Last year the first tarmac corner surprised Sebastien Loeb on the second pass, while leading the rally.
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 Góis has a few rhythm changes during its course. The first 3 km are very narrow, technical and quite rough. Next up is 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, although the route is now quite different than it was decades ago. 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.
SS7 Mortágua 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. In 2021 year Thierry Neuville crashed on this stage while last year Craig Breen went off the road.
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, finally concluding on narrow and technical vineyard roads at 14.3 km.
SSS8 Figueira da Foz is a new super special. A stage with the same title was run as the rally opener in 1997 (with results nullified due to organizer’s mistake breaking Tommi Mäkinen’s car in scrutineering) but this one has nothing in common with it.
In contrast to most Portuguese street stages this one doesn’t have a donut and it’s not driven on cobble stones. Instead, a smooth and very wide tarmac road is used in a two-lane configuration going in both directions, including a very long bend. There’s also a detour into a parking area and going around a roundabout – but not full donut – to go to the second lap. Seems like not the worst super special if not the best either.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally with almost 149 competitive kilometres but still 15 km shorter than last year. Most of the route is familiar, but one stage has not featured on a Saturday in the past years.
The day kicks off with SS9+12 Vieira do Minho, which got a new beginning last year and this year has been extended with 5 km. This extension section was last used in 2016.
The stage starts narrow, sinuous and technical. At 2 km the road becomes faster and a bit wider, but it’s still quite technical between the banks, going also now over blind crests with big boulders on the side of the road. A more sinuous but also wider passage appears at 5 km. At 10.9 km there’s a very fast section partly on tarmac. Once the stage returns to a quite wide gravel road, fast-flowing and technical sections alternate with each other constantly. A spectator friendly jump features at 16.3 km, leading into a double junction turn.
The extended ending begins quite wide and angular, with a more technical passage at 24.4 km leading into a junction turn onto a narrow, Sardinia-like road which is more throughly technical, but not particularly slow.
Next up is 37 km of SS10+13 Amarante, the longest stage of last year and one to contain three paved sections.
The start is medium wide, quite rough and angular. The surface changes into firmer at 3.7 km and the stage becomes more constantly sinuous, but with medium pace. The road narrows at 7.3 km but the stage becomes faster. A short link on wide tarmac at 10.8 km leads onto a narrow and twisty cobblestone section which turns into gravel again at 11.7 km. A hairpin turn at 13.4 km leads into a wider and faster but still technical road containing a cobblestone bridge at 17.1 km.
A twisty but quite wide and smooth tarmac road features at 18.6 km, stretching for 2 km. Another hairpin turn returns the stage onto gravel, now angular with a couple of sinuous passages and some long corners. A short worn tarmac surface appears at 26.7 km, with the road also narrowing a bit. Once the gravel returns at 28 km, there’s a quite fast passage before becoming again angular. The road narrows again at 30.5 km for a while but the final 1.1 km of the stage is thoroughly narrow and technical with some crests.
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.
SS11+14 Felgueiras is the shortest forest stage of the day and has served as a Sunday stage the past two years. 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.
The classic twin-car super special of SSS15 Lousada concludes the day, having previously featured on Friday or Thursday. This was the first ever modern style track-switching twin-car stage to feature in the WRC, back in 1991. It’s also worth mentioning that this stage differs from most other similar stages by including two laps of both tracks in one run.
Sunday features now less stages but more kilometres than before. Only the power stage has remained from last year’s Sunday.
SS16 Paredes is a new stage, but is essentially a longer version of the shakedown. However, it’s interesting with many rhythm and surface changes. Many of the roads haven’t been used before in the rally.
The start of the stage is angular with long straights or flat out passages and frequent square bends or junction turns. Mostly the gravel road is wide and firm but there’s narrower and softer bits at 1 km and 3.5 km, becoming very narrow, soft and more technical at 4 km. A wider, more gravely and flowing section begins at 4.9 km, becoming again narrow and soft for a while at 6.1 km and again at 8.3 km. Technicality increases at 8.8 km with again more narrow bits and tight corners. Finally the stage concludes with the same tarmac and rallycross section as the shakedown.
SS17+19 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.
The start is on a fast but narrow and technical section. Next up is a short tarmac section and then the stage becomes wider and faster with a big jump in the middle. Then a descending technical section takes the stage onto an infamous tarmac double junction, and then another technical section before the final iconic jump.
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 – very similarly to Teemu Suninen last year!
SS18 Cabeceiras de Basto has been traditionally a Saturday stage, now run just once on Sunday, and in the opposite direction to previous years.
The start is on tarmac before turning onto a quite narrow and medium technical gravel road. Already at 1.1 km it becomes wider and more fast-flowing. At 3 km some slightly slower but long and rounded corners start appearing.
A narrower and more technical road is joined at 8 km, leading into a tight hairpin at 11.3 km which takes onto another quite wide and fast-flowing section, with a concrete ditch on the side. A jump will likely feature at 14.5 km, going into a more technical section, also narrower at first. A fast, undulating and wide section starts at 18 km, turning onto a narrower road 700m later. Finally the ending of the stage is more angular.