After Rally Mexico just under than two weeks ago, the Volkswagen Motorsport WRC factory team is in for another challenging gravel event at the Rally de Portugal which runs from March 29 until April 1.
The fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship is regarded as a tough test for the teams' equipment and their drivers, French duo Sebastien Ogier (with co-driver Julien Ingrassia) and the young Dutch driver Kevin Abbring (with his Belgian co-driver Frederic Miclotte.)
"We're pleased to return to Portugal - we know Lisbon and the Algarve region very well from our runs with the Race Touareg at the Dakar Rally," said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen.
"While our expectations are certainly high after three consecutive S2000 class wins, we're not driving for victory but want to gather as much experience as possible in the WRC," he continued, explaining that the team intended to do this "by fielding our two Fabia S2000 cars of the Group's Skoda brand. This serves to prepare our whole team for the 2013 season when we'll start to run with the new Polo R WRC."
At the 46th running of the tradition-steeped Portugal Rally 22 special stages (SS) covering around 435 timed kilometres are awaiting the drivers. After a spectacular spectator stage in Lisbon at the beginning of the event, 2012 is bringing an important change with the three night stages being held on Thursday for the first time, three night stages will be held on Thursday.
Due to the dusty and rough Algarve tracks tyre wear plays an important role. In Portugal, tyre wear is amongst the highest in the season, difficult conditions that well suit Sebastien Ogier who is regarded as a specialist: in 2010, he scored his first ever victory at a WRC round in Portugal and last year the Frenchman was again unbeatable.
"After two victories in the past years I'm obviously pleased to return to Portugal," says Ogier. "The rally suits me well and I enjoy driving here. But it's also clear that with our S2000 car we won't be in contention for overall victory this time but working on our future.
"For us, it's still about preparing the whole team as best we can for the debut of the Polo R WRC," he added. "Besides the rallies we're running an intensive test programme with the Polo, most recently on tarmac in Spain."
Ogier's team-mate Kevin Abbring has previously celebrated successes in the Algarve region as well. The Dutchman, who as a Volkswagen Junior is part of the team and during the season takes turns in the cockpit with the Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, achieved a second place in the Junior WRC (JWRC) and a victory at the tradition-steeped rally.