Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini produced their best performance in the WRC to date last time out when they claimed sixth position at Rally Mexico - and Citroën's Qatar World Rally Team crew heads into this weekend's Portuguese round hoping to build on that result and add to their growing experience.
"I am pleased to have completed three days of racing without making any mistakes, said Al-Attiyah looking back at his Mexican adventure. "What I need the most now is to rack up miles on the road to adapt to the demands of the car. I will be starting Rally de Portugal better equipped to do well."
He was quick to point out that the previous race had taught him a great deal, as well as delivering sixth place.
"[Mexico] helped me to learn a lot about the handling of the DS3 WRC," he said. "I am going to try and do better, i.e. narrow the gap between me and the top drivers. It's a big challenge but it's an exciting one, and I am very determined to get there.”
Similarly, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul will be hoping to convert their undoubted pace in Mexico for the Citroën Junior World Rally Team into better outcome in Portugal, after they were forced to retire after day one of the previous rally while in contention for a podium position.
"[Mexico] was a very useful learning experience for us. I was surprised to be challenging the leaders right at the start of the rally,” recalled Neuville. “When I rejoined the rally it was in the role of sweeper, as I was first out on the road. That is part of the learning process and I think it was beneficial for me to have had to learn how to control the car when the conditions were particularly slippery."
Now Neuville hopes to put those lessons to good use as he heads to the Algarve, which hosts the fourth round of the 2012 WRC season.
"I hope I can once again challenge for a top 5 place in Portugal," he said. "But before being able to think about a points finish, we'll need to start by qualifying well, and then staying on the road to avoid having to rejoin under Rally2 regulations. As always, I'll be able to call upon the experience of the team.”
A DS3 WRC is also entered for the Peter Van Merksteijn Jr./Eddy Chevaillier crew. The Dutch driver, who will be competing in his second rally of the season after Sweden, has already taken part in Rally de Portugal on two previous occasions.
Despite being the second gravel event of the year, the road surfaces featured on Rally de Portugal are very different to those encountered in Mexico. The stages will be held on roads in the mountains of the Faro region, at lower altitudes than in Mexico, meaning the engines will be able to operate at full power.
The Portugal stages are renowned for their technical difficulty, featuring many jumps and blind corners hidden by vegetation, as well as frequent grip changes which highlight the balancing skills of the drivers; and with nineteen World Rally Cars taking part, it is likely there will be a good scrap on each stage.