My Rally Portugal Expectations

Round seven of the WRC calendar begins this week on the gravel of Portugal. It can be a punishing rally for the machines and many drivers have had spectacular accidents in the past. This year sees a return to historic stages on Friday meaning new pace notes required for all on the important opening day. I’m not finding it easy to make a podium and winning prediction.

This rally has now passed – read the Rally Portugal Pace Analysis

It’s looking to be warm and dry all this week and all weekend. That means the stages should be dusty, loose and favour the later runners. But the Friday is only 30% of the total distance, the lowest percentage for a Friday so far this season. Saturday can still see change right across the leader board, and not necessarily via retirements.

Quick pivot of retirements by reason and manufacturer so far in 2019. It’s true an accident could cause mechanical failure and vice-versa.

Retirements are one thing I will predict though I cannot answer precisely who. Could we see another Toyota component failure? 3 of their 4 retirements this season have been mechanical. Note that on Friday there is no midday service. Looking back to Rally Portugal 2018, Ott Tanak didn’t even complete a proper stage whilst JM Latvala had to restart after suffering suspension damage.

So far M-Sport are leading the count on ‘accident’ labelled retirements from only two drivers. They are the team looking for wins not points. I don’t like or want to wish it on them, only making that point.

Don’t miss a detailed look at the route, the maps, and bookmark this link for the official announcements.

Sebastien Ogier

Seb’s Friday expectations must be to get through intact knowing others will have problems. If he can finish the day 5th or 6th, and within reasonable time, he will have a better start position across the weekend with which to push on towards the podium. He should be impressive under circumstance but I still easily expect Tanak and Neuville to out-rank him by the end. Third overall would be a great result but relies on a little bit of bad luck for others. I believe that luck will come and he is also my favourite for max Power Stage points on Sunday, unless he is in a fight in the morning stages.

Ott Tanak

I advised in my Rally Argentina predictions to ‘bet your house on it’. Then his car failed and dumped him out the rally. This time I would advise a more affordable bet. He will doubtlessly be up there on Friday within a sniff of the lead as he generally dismisses road order theory in fantastic fashion but I don’t think he will be winning multiple stages. Ott doesn’t set out to finish anything other than first and this could be his undoing. If he pushes he may force the failure of the car. I’m 50:50 on whether to pick him.

Thierry Neuville

As long as he doesn’t fear getting back in the car after that monster roll in Chile, I would certainly place Thierry on the podium. The car is running well, he has good history here and has the best road order of the three heroes. He may not be first on Friday evening but this won’t matter for he will be in an even better position to attack Saturday’s kilometres. And his class should show above whoever it is. However he might not feel in a winning mode. He knows you don’t have to push to win here, and could he prefer safe runner up points over a win? One thing to note is Neuville still has the best median Rally Time Rating, even after Tanak blitzed Chile. Also consider this assertion by World Rally Blog.

Kris Meeke

I’ve said before that you could put Kris alonside the top 3 to win any particular stage on the calendar. He, or more likely he and his car, don’t seem to have the endurance for a 300-350km rally at winning pace. Still the only driver to have completed every KM this season but the roll in Chile suggests taking it easy is not his intention. The car and his history in Portugal aren’t nudging him towards my picks. I would put money on him, but only on broken rims and punctures. All being well however I would place him 4th with a handful of stage wins.

Elfyn Evans

I predict another solid drive from Evans but not a win. On 2 of 3 gravel events this season he has gained position thanks to others falling out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and is good reason to pick him! The profile of the stages where his best performances were though, including that of his Fiesta, are not typical of those found in Portugal. Overall anywhere between third to sixth, dependant on how many, and crucially who, retire.

Sebastien Loeb

For my Corsica picks, I wrote Loeb off and with good reason. Then came Chile and a drive mostly worthy of a win albeit at the wrong end of the rally. He was better prepared than most for the unknown roads in Chile which could be reproduced on Friday in Portugal. He also had to learn the car on gravel quickly in Chile, but those roads and conditions aren’t the same in Portugal. I expect better results than the tarmac and snow events he did, but not so well as Chile. Midfield territory and a possible battle with Evans and Meeke.

Esapekka Lappi

I sincerely hope Lappi can get a grip on these roads, kick-starting some confidence, belief and harmony with the car. Also giving us an overdue battle with the rest of the field. In Argentina he binned it when he began to drop too much time. In Chile he finished safely but dropped too much time on where he wants to be. He could attack on Friday and risk an off, or play safe and rely on others to drop. I hope he does the first, and that his car responds to him. Realistically though, and going off precedent, I expect a low finish.

Jari-Matti Latvala

A perfectly capable driver yet still the most ‘unlucky’ driver. He has lost 35 points this season to retirements according to xC rules. Is there something in his driving style or attack that forces these injuries on the car? As mentioned above, I expect a Toyota to fail, and it is usually JML’s. And as also mentioned in previous posts, JML can take a minor driving mistake and let it define his rally. He will be glad that the two runnings of Gaia were cancelled should he find himself with damage late on Saturday again. That could be a sign! Keep it neat, focus and there could be anything up to a win here, else it could be outside the points, again.

Teemu Suninen

Probably to be expected by many, Teemu is the most off-the-pace by median average over all rallies so far in 2019. Yes he podiumed here last year but there were seven significant retirements. I wouldn’t go in to Portugal expecting a repeat of that. He still needs to firstly finish and gain the experience but I’d like to see him up the ante a little. My prediction: last of those who didn’t retire.

Dani Sordo

Dani runs well in Portugal, in fact he runs well most anywhere nowadays. Aided by good road order we should expect to see 2 or 3 stage wins over Friday and solid times on the others. In Mexico he was storming until being let down by an alternator/battery issue. In Corsica he also had a good run until it faded away, and that seems to be typical of Dani’s rallies in his part-time era. I expect him to be topping the board on Friday, having a good Saturday morning before something fades away. He’ll probably tell us something is not right with the car. 4th-6th.

My Rally de Portugal Predictions

I have to say I am least confident about this rally then any other so far this season.

Podium Prediction

Also my top 5 call for

  • 1st – Thierry Neuville
  • 2nd – Ott Tanak
  • 3rd – Elfyn Evans
  • 4th – Seb Ogier
  • 5th – Dani Sordo

Early Power Stage Call

  • 1st – Sebastien Ogier
  • 2nd – Kris Meeke
  • 3rd – Ott Tanak
  • 4th – Esapekka Lappi
  • 5th – Sebastien Loeb

Who makes my Team?

Team at

  • Two top 3 drivers
  • One part-season driver
  • 3x WRC2 Support

Who is my money on?

Awaiting odds.

Disagree? Have I missed something? Am I just completely wrong? Let me know @WRCStan

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