WRC Ogier looks to extend WRC leadby by beating Alen's record in Portugal
For immediate release
Wednesday, May 29th, 2019
OGIER LOOKS TO EXTEND WRC LEAD BY
BEATING ALÉN’S RECORD IN PORTUGAL
MATOSINHOS (PORTUGAL): Six-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier may well break a long-standing record at this weekend’s 53rd Vodafone Rally of Portugal if he can take a sixth win and extend his lead in the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Frenchman currently leads the Drivers’ Championship by 10 points from Estonian rival Ott Tänak and knows that he would break legendary Finn Markku Alén’s record of five victories in Portugal if he was to secure a sixth win on Sunday afternoon and extend his series lead.
Ogier was triumphant in Portugal in 2010 (his first WRC win), 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017, but an early accident in 2018 left the door open for Thierry Neuville to take his and Hyundai’s first victory in Portugal. Another year has passed in the life of the WRC, but the same three-way fight for the championship is developing between Ogier, Tänak and Neuville.
Citroën has an impressive record in Portugal, stretching back to pre-WRC days, and is tied with Lancia on eight outright wins apiece. The factory team will be calling upon all Ogier’s guile and experience to boost their tally of points in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The French operation is currently third, sixth points adrift of the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team and 35 behind the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team.
With Ogier’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi low on confidence and in need of a boost himself, Portugal is a crucial challenge for the Versailles-based team, especially with Ogier running first on the road on Friday and likely to carry out stage sweeping duties. Lappi made his World Rally Car debut in Portugal in 2017 and arrives in Matosinhos fresh from a two-day team test in Sardinia.
Ogier said: “We had a good day of testing and now we need to take that into competitive conditions. Portugal is a rally that I have always liked. I’m well aware that leading the championship again isn’t going to make life easier for us. It we are to score heavily here, we’ll need to manage running first on the road as best as we can on Friday’s new opening leg.”
Tänak’s recent win in Chile has rekindled the Estonian’s title challenge and the Toyota Yaris WRC driver will be aiming to close the 10-point gap at the top of the championship and pull further clear of third-placed Neuville. Lappi finished fifth and was the best of the Toyota drivers in 2018, but his switch to Citroën this year sees Kris Meeke come on board with Toyota alongside Tänak and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Both Meeke and Latvala have experienced the winning feeling in Portugal: Latvala claimed the top step of the podium in 2015, when the rally moved back to the north of the country after running from an Algarve base between 2007 and 2014. The winner of 18 WRC rallies also secured a pair of third-placed finishes in 2011 and 2013, while Meeke was triumphant in 2016.
Toyota last tasted victory in Portugal with Didier Auriol in 2002 when it was not a round of the WRC, but team principal Tommi Mäkinen has tasted personal glory here on two occasions in the past.
Neuville’s title dream suffered a dramatic setback with his spectacular crash in Chile, but the Belgian has recovered from that ordeal and is determined to bounce back with a second successive win in Portugal. He has a more favourable starting position than his two title rivals on Friday and showed in 2017 with second place and with the win in 2018 that the Hyundai i20 WRC has what it takes to win on Portuguese gravel.
After a recent test in Sardinia with gravel note co-driver Julien Vial standing in for co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, the Belgian said: “We jumped in the car and immediately the feeling was there, like it was on the last two events. We also managed to improve the car for Portugal and now I am looking forward to this one.”
The Korean manufacturer is currently enjoying a 29-point lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship and team principal Andrea Adamo welcomes Spaniard Dani Sordo back to the line-up for Portugal alongside nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb, the Frenchman replacing Andreas Mikkelsen at the 11th hour.
Sordo has finished third overall on four occasions in Portugal (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2017) and will have a point to prove on his fourth WRC start of the season.
Loeb moved up from 10th to sixth in the Drivers’ Championship after his podium finish in Chile and the two-time Portugal winner has been recruited to score as many Manufacturers’ points for Hyundai as possible. The speed at which the Frenchman acclimatised to the i20 in Chile was particularly impressive and the veteran of 79 WRC wins could mount a serious challenge for outright victory from a favourable starting position on Friday.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is currently a distant fourth in the Manufacturers’ contest with drivers Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen holding fifth and 10th places in the Drivers’ standings. The last outing in Chile was particularly encouraging for both drivers and Evans could have been even higher in the series rankings had a flat tyre not deprived him of outright victory on the final stage in Corsica.
Development work is ongoing with the Ford Fiesta WRC and the duo did finish second and third overall behind Neuville in Portugal in 2018. England’s Gus Greensmith joins the Welshman and the Finn to drive a third Fiesta this weekend – the entry marking Greensmith’s debut in a World Rally Car in the WRC.
The traditional 4.6km Shakedown stage at Paredes gets the competitive action underway on Thursday morning, with Priority 1 drivers on the track between 08.00hrs and 11.30hrs.
P2 and Non-Priority crews will then take their turn on the special before the event heads to the Porta Férrea area of the city of Coimbra for the ceremonial start on Thursday evening from 19.00hrs.
2019 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 6:
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 122pts
2. Ott Tänak (EST) 112pts
3. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 110pts
4. Kris Meeke (GBR) 56pts
5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 55pts
6. Sébastien Loeb (FRA) 39pts
7. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) 36pts
8. Esapekka Lappi (FIN) 34pts
9. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) 32pts
10. Teemu Suninen (FIN) 20pts
11. Dani Sordo (ESP) 26pts
2019 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers – positions after round 6:
1. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 178pts
2. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 149pts
3. Citroën Total WRT 143pts
4. M-Sport Ford WRT 100pts
For further media information:
Miguel Fonseca, National Rally Press Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Lluisa Torras, International Media Relations, email: email@example.com, Mobile: +34 629 924073.