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JUNIOR WRC PREVIEW, RALLY DE PORTUGAL

Having tackled snow and asphalt, the FIA Junior World Rally Championship crews will have another new experience next week as they take on the gravel stages of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

Equipped with identical one-litre EcoBoost Ford Fiesta R2s prepared by M-Sport Poland and fitted with Pirelli’s SCORPION tyres, the rival crews will have to master the art of loose-surface rallying.

At Rally Sweden, the series witnessed the battle of the Swedes. At the Tour de Corse, it was the battle of the Frenchmen. In Portugal, the jury is out and a number of crews all have their sights firmly fixed on victory.

Thanks to his maiden win in Sweden and an improved display on asphalt, Dennis Rådström continues to lead the championship with a slender one-point advantage over Tour de Corse winner Jean-Baptiste Franceschi. Both drivers are accustomed to gravel and keen to secure a strong result for the championship this week.

But they’ll have to keep one eye behind as well as ahead – Emil Bergkvist and Terry Folb not far away and both more than capable of securing a strong result on gravel. Both Bergkvist and Folb will have new co-drivers for this week’s event – and will be hoping to seal their new partnerships with the taste of champagne.

With creditable results on snow and asphalt, Callum Devine will be looking to hone his loose-surface skills, whilst Julius Tannert is eager to reignite his championship hopes – using his experience of other gravel rallies to challenge for the top results.

More accustomed to competing on gravel, Ken Torn, Enrico Fernandez and David Holder will all be looking to make their mark on the championship, whilst Bugra Banaz and Tom Williams will also be keen to put their past gravel experience to good use.

Having started his rallying career in the United Kingdom, Umberto Accornero will be looking to use his past gravel experience to full effect, as will Luca Bottarelli who has some knowledge of gravel rallying back home in Italy.

It’s been a season of firsts for Enrico Oldrati who had contested just one rally before making his international debut in Sweden. But the Italian has proved a quick learner and will be keen for more of the same when he experiences gravel rallying for the first time in Portugal.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship Manager, Maciej Woda, said:

“Perhaps unsurprisingly we had home victories in Sweden and Corsica, but this one really is anyone’s for the taking. There’ll be no home advantage and I’m looking forward to seeing who best handles the challenge.

“Competing on gravel for the first time this season, we could see some new names top the time sheets and it’s a chance for those more accustomed to this surface to prove their potential.

“With the Fiesta R2 and Pirelli’s SCORPION tyres, our crews have everything they need to succeed. We’ve seen some extremely close-fought competition already, and I’m looking forward to seeing who will be challenging for the top results this week.”

 

DRIVER QUOTES

Dennis Rådström said:

“I’m looking forward to this one and think it will be a nice challenge. Gravel is fun to drive, and Portugal seems to be a great rally with a fantastic atmosphere.

“We’ve had a good test before this event and feel well prepared with the pacenotes. We’ve spent many hours watching onboards and on our physical training. We have also been driving our own Fiesta R2 on a gravel round of the Norwegian Rally Championship.”

Jean-Baptiste Franceschi said:

“I’m feeling really good ahead of the first gravel rally. I love gravel and can’t wait to start this amazing event. I’m feeling fairly confident, but this will be my first time in Portugal and I know that it is a very difficult rally.

“We will have to stay focused as I know there will be a big fight for the top positions. Almost everyone has experience on gravel and I’ve been doing some testing in Spain to get prepared. I really want to do my best and score the maximum points I can.”

Emil Bergkvist said:

“I have a good feeling for this event and a new co-driver as Joakim Sjöberg will be back calling the notes for me. I have done this rally before and I really like it. I want to win this one but I know the competition will be strong so let’s see what we can do.”

Terry Folb said:

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been on gravel and I’m very happy to be back competing on this surface. I have done this rally twice before and I really like the stages. I have good experience, and hope to fight for the top positions.

“To prepare, I completed a test in Spain with my new co-driver Kevin Bronner. It was an opportunity to find a good set-up and get used to driving on gravel again – and I hope that will help us this week.”

Callum Devine said:

“Gravel isn’t my strongest surface, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve only contested a handful of gravel events in my career, but I hope to get on the pace as soon as possible and find my feet amongst the other competitors. The plan is to stay clear of trouble, and hopefully that will bring us a good result at the end of the rally.”

Julius Tannert said:

“I’m really looking forward to competing on gravel again. After the snow in Sweden and Tarmac in Corsica it will be nice to face a new challenge this week. After last year, I’m feeling comfortable on gravel and it’s a surface I now really enjoy.

“This will be my first time in Portugal so we will need to learn the stages and try and keep up with the guys who know them already. We want to fight for the podium and score important points for the championship. I’m sure the rally will be difficult, but I am looking forward to it.”

Ken Torn said:

“I have been driving on gravel for years and have gained a lot of experience. This is the surface that suits me best so I am looking forward to this rally. The competition will be really strong, so our main goal is to gain as much experience as possible and hopefully fight for the top positions.

“To prepare ourselves for this event, we completed some tests on gravel and also competed at a local gravel rally in Estonia last weekend.”

Luca Bottarelli said:

“I don’t have a lot of experience on gravel so it will be interesting to see how it goes – but I can’t wait to get started. We contested a gravel rally in Italy to get a feel for the surface. Our goal is to get as much experience as possible and improve stage by stage.”

Emilio Fernández said:

“I’m very excited about this first gravel event because, at home in Chile, we only have gravel rallies! This surface suits me a lot and I plan to give my very best in hope of a good result. We contested a gravel rally in Chile as preparation, and I’ve also been focused on my physical preparation and watching onboard videos from previous years.”

Bugra Banaz said:

“I’m very excited for this event. Gravel is my preferred surface so we come to Portugal in hope of a strong result. My main goal is to finish the rally and get all of the kilometres under my belt. After that, it would be great to secure a top-five finish. We’ve had a good test and I’ve been watching some onboard videos from previous years so I feel ready and prepared for the fight.”

David Holder said:

“I’m really excited to finally get on a surface we know well. The last two events have been really tough, and I’m sure Portugal will be no different, but at least we are familiar with gravel.

“We’re targeting a top-five finish, but I have no previous experience of this event and know how strong the competition will be. We’ll focus on enjoying this event as much as possible and if we can secure a strong result at the end that would be great.

“We’ve just completed a local rally in New Zealand. The roads are very different to Portugal, but it was still good preparation – just what we needed to learn more about the Fiesta R2 on this surface.”

Tom Williams said:

“I can’t wait for next week. I was brought up on gravel and it’s my most familiar surface. There will still be lots to learn as Portugal is very different to the other gravel events I’ve contested. Again, we’ll just be looking to get as much seat time as we can and learn as much as possible.

“I’ve been doing a lot more training so as to be prepared for the heat in Portugal and I have also contested a smaller gravel event in preparation. Hopefully we can show an improved performance and get hold of some valuable points.”

Enrico Oldrati said:

“I have been doing a lot of training since the previous rounds and I’m very excited about my first race on gravel. Already I can say that it is my favorite surface. Like always, I’ll try to keep on pace with the other drivers and get as much experience as possible – this is the most important thing for me.”

Umberto Accornero said:

“I don’t have a lot of experience on gravel, but I am determined to do well and excited to see what we can do. Our goal remains the same as on all events – to continue to improve and continue to reduce the gap to the leaders. Since Corsica I looked back over all the onboards to analyse where we lost time, and I hope that helps me this week.”

 

RALLY DE PORTUGAL ENTRIES:

61 Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson
62 Jean-Baptiste Franceschi / Romain Courbon
63 Emil Bergkvist / Joakim Sjöberg
64 Terry Folb / Kevin Bronner
65 Callum Devine / Brian Hoy
66 Julius Tannert / Jürgen Heigl
67 Ken Torn / Kuldar Sikk
68 Luca Bottarelli / Manuel Fenoli
69 Emilio Fernández / Joaquin Riquelme
70 Bugra Banaz / Burak Erdener
71 David Holder / Jason Farmer
72 Tom Williams / Phil Hall
73 Enrico Oldrati / Danilo Fappani
74 Umberto Accornero / Barone Maurizio

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS:

1. Dennis Rådström - 46
2. Jean-Baptiste Franceschi - 45
3. Emil Bergkvist - 38
4. Terry Folb - 30
5. Callum Devine - 18
6. Julius Tannert - 17
7. Ken Torn - 12
8. Luca Bottarelli - 11
9. Emilio Fernández - 8
9. Bugra Banaz - 4
11. David Holder - 2
12. Tom Williams - 1