Great Britain and Ireland are well represented on this weekend’s Rally Portugal, the fourth round of the World Rally Championship.
Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin lead the British crews, starting third on the road in their Toyota Yaris WRC. Josh McErlean represents the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy in WRC 3 while fellow academy member William Creighton continues his Junior WRC campaign. Junior WRC is led by Jon Armstrong after his impressive Croatia Rally win in April.
After narrowly missing out to Sebastien Ogier on Croatia Rally’s edge-of-your-seat Power Stage, Evans and Martin continue their title charge 10 points behind their championship-leading team-mate.
Rally Portugal is the WRC’s first gravel rally since Rally Italy seven months ago. Evans struggled to match the pace of his title contenders that time around, however, a month earlier he reigned supreme on Rally Turkey’s rough and rugged terrain.
If the Welshman can find his form on gravel it will do wonders for his championship ambitions with four consecutive gravel events next on the WRC calendar.
Gus Greensmith starts his second rally with Northern Irish co-driver Chris Patterson this weekend. M-Sport’s young English driver is aiming for a top five finish in Portugal. It’s the first WRC event he has experience of in a World Rally Car.
There were signs of promise in Croatia with Patterson’s experience guiding him through the new asphalt event. Hydraulic failure slowed their progress and it was Greensmith’s debuting team-mate Adrien Fourmaux who stole the headlines.
With Fourmaux driving M-Sport’s second World Rally Car again in Portugal, Greensmith will not want to be overshadowed by the Frenchman for a second rally in a row.
It seems an age since Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston was in action beside Oliver Solberg. Of course the former missed out on his World Rally Car debut with Solberg in Arctic Rally Finland.
Rally Portugal is the Hyundai pair’s first point-scoring round of WRC 2. The Rally2 series is extremely competitive this year with Esapekka Lappi, Mads Ostberg, and Teemu Suninen among the list of WRC 2 entries for Portugal.
Solberg and Johnston have the talent to get right in the mix and they will follow Portugal up by stepping into WRC machinery for Rally Italy in June.
England’s Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock arrive in Porto hoping to build on their fifth-placed WRC 3 finish on Croatia Rally. The 2019 European Rally Champions warmed up for Portugal with a podium finish on the Terras d’Aboboreira Rally two and a half weeks ago.
Seat-time breeds confidence and Ingram will want to start making an impact on WRC’s Rally2 timesheets as he beds himself into his Skoda Fabia.
Josh McErlean makes his first WRC 3 appearance of the year on Rally Portugal. Ireland’s Billy Coleman Award winner used the same Portuguese national event as Ingram to prepare for the world championship rally.
Partnered once again by Keaton Williams, McErlean is keen to get as much experience under his belt as possible.
“Coming back to the WRC will be a great marker for me to see how I’ve improved over the last six months in confidence and experience,” said McErlean. “I’m very eager to see how we get on against the regular WRC contenders.”
The Junior WRC got off to a thrilling start in Croatia as Jon Armstrong controlled an impressive victory alongside Phil Hall. The early lead was fought between Raul Badiu, Sami Pajari, and Martin Koci before Lauri Joona and Martins Sesks pushed Armstrong through the second half of the event.
Portugal is notoriously difficult for the front-wheel-drive crews so speed will be approached with caution as they know contact with the wrong stone could bring their rally to an early end.
William Creighton and Liam Regan continue their debut Junior WRC campaign benefitting from the experience gained from Croatia. The Motorsport Ireland crew enter a rally double-header; they will compete on the first round of the British Rally Championship just seven days after leaving Portugal.
“I feel much more comfortable heading to Portugal as now I have an idea of what to expect from WRC rounds,” explained Creighton, “how to get the most from the team and clearly how to get the most from myself as a driver.
“The confidence is there, and I realise that finishing these events, especially when there are only five rounds, is vital.
“We will be choosing which stages to show our pace on whilst managing the car throughout each day.”
While not registered in the WRC, Pauric Duffy and Jeff Case won’t miss the chance to join the Philip Case Rally Sport fold this weekend. Portugal will be their second rally of the year in the PCRS prepared Hyundai i20 R5.
Photos courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool, Hyundai, and Junior WRC