Neuville: Experience key for Portugal

Thierry Neuville at Rally de Portugal in 2022

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville says he expects next week’s Rally de Portugal to be one of the most straightforward events on the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship calendar.

The Belgian – who currently sits fifth in the drivers’ standings on 58 points, 11 shy of current leader and eight-time World Champion Sebastien Ogier – is still searching for his first victory after four rounds aboard the i20 N Rally1.

His one and only success on Portugal’s country gravel roads came back in 2018, with the 34-year-old scoring consecutive runner-up results either side of that in 2017 and 2019.

When it returned to the calendar two years later, he crashed out and blamed the error on “too optimistic” a pace note. He fared better on his last visit, however, coming home fifth despite the wheel on his supermini coming off during a liaison section on the opening day.

Despite his love-hate relationship with the event, Neuville says past experiences leave him well placed to boost not only his own title ambitions with a perfect score, but those of Hyundai Motorsport as well.

“It is easier to prepare for a rally where you know what is coming, especially with years of experience – we’ve had dry and very hot conditions, but also faced cold and rain there too,” said Neuville, who will benefit from the road cleaning effect being the fifth car on the road.

“Often, you have done most of the stages both ways and many times. However, even the rallies we know well always have new elements, which requires a lot of preparation and work ahead of the event.

“We need to know what awaits us, exactly where we are going and most of the time, we need to have this before the pre-event test to make it as efficient as possible. “[But] I do expect Portugal to be one of the easier gravel rallies we will go to this year.”

As well as the familiarity of the Matosinhos-based meeting, he is also looking forward to the warm welcome teams and crews are guaranteed to receive from Portugal’s army of passionate motorsport followers.

“The atmosphere first and foremost really stands out, there is always a huge amount of spectators,” he added. “We have the iconic Fafe jump, some really sandy roads, hard-based stages around Amarante, and it’s great to have so many enthusiastic fans there with us.”

Rally de Portugal begins with shakedown next Thursday with Friday comprising eight special stages. Saturday is the longest day of the rally in length and duration at 148.69km, before four speed tests cap off the action on Sunday, two of which take crews through the famous ‘Fafe’ area.

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