WRC A FULL 2016
Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team back in action with Meeke, Lefebvre and Al Qassimi.
13 May, 2016
Three months after Rally Sweden, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT returns to action in the World Rally Championship. At Rally de Portugal, Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau and Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson will once again enjoy the magnificent gravel stages in the Porto region.
Part of the World Rally Championship when it began in 1973, Rally de Portugal quickly established itself as one of the legendary rounds, thanks both to the beauty of its stages and the enthusiasm of the fans. Since the rally returned to the Porto region last year, the Fafe stage has become one of the icons of the WRC. On Sunday morning, thousands of fans are expected to gather near to the famous jump to cheer as every crew comes through!
For the Abu Dhabi Total WRT, this rally will be its first gravel round of the season. Up against drivers and teams that have acclimatised to gravel in Mexico and Argentina, the crews will have a tough job on their hands, even though they will enjoy a good starting position for the first two legs.
Although he has been away from competitive action, no one could accuse Kris Meeke of not keeping busy. The Citroën Racing driver took part in recce at the overseas rounds but has above all been busy with the start of development work on the World Rally Car he will be driving in 2017. Following seven days of testing in a significantly more powerful and efficient car, Kris will have to start by finding his bearings again. Fourth here in 2015, he will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for a podium spot, as he was in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
The WRC break was even longer for Stéphane Lefebvre, who only competed at Monte-Carlo. The young Frenchman has kept himself busy, indulging his passion for driving in a Citroën Visa 1000 Piste, a 125cc gearbox KZ kart and especially a Citroën C4 WRC. Competing in the Rallye des Causses, the opening round of the French Gravel Rally Championship, Stéphane and his co-driver Gabin Moreau took overall victory in style, claiming a clean sweep of stage wins! Fifth in the WRC2 category at the 2015 Rally de Portugal, Stéphane will be able to use his knowledge of the course to target a significant result.
Meanwhile, since Rally Sweden, Khalid Al Qassimi has finished seventh in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. After this rewarding experience, Sheikh Khalid will also need to find his bearings again on the fast Portuguese stages. He’ll be looking to make full use of his knowledge of the event– at which he appeared last year – to do just that.
Kris Meeke (#7): “I’m pleased to be back in a competitive environment. I was starting to miss it! I really like Rally de Portugal. Last year, we all had to get to grips with the new course, with some very enjoyable roads. I was challenging for the lead for a good part of the race, before finishing fourth overall. I also remember the enthusiasm and passion of the fans. The people of Northern Portugal love motorsport and especially rallying. You very quickly understand that this place is part of WRC folklore. The organisers did an incredible job in keeping the passion of the fans in check and the safety conditions were excellent. This year, the first challenge for me will be to get back into the swing of things with the car. The test session planned for Sunday should help me in that respect. As regards the rally itself, obviously I hope to be fighting at the front, but you have to be realistic. We still have a good car, but there are no more upgrades, whereas our rivals are still working hard to improve. I’ll be aiming to have an error-free rally and we’ll see where that puts us in the final standings. I know my starting position should help me. That’s just the way the regulations work, but it shouldn’t really bother anyone given that I’m not fighting for the championship this year.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (#8): “I have good memories of racing in Portugal. In 2014, when the rally was still held in the Algarve, I won the round in the FIA Junior WRC. Last year, I finished in the top five of the WRC2. I like the stages in the North, they are a lot less rough and more enjoyable to drive. Obviously, Rally de Portugal wouldn’t be the same without the friendly and knowledgeable crowds. You get the same kind of enthusiasm and excitement as in Argentina and it’s even more motivating! I have to say it seems like an eternity since Monte-Carlo! Fortunately, Gabin and I have been busier over the last few weeks: we won a round of the French Gravel Rally Championship – our first overall win together – in a Citroën C4 WRC and we also took part in our first day of testing in the 2017 World Rally Car. We’re now focussed on securing the best possible result at this rally. But with such a strong field, it’s difficult to set ourselves a specific target!”
Khalid Al-Qassimi (#14): “It’s good to be back in Portugal and see all these rally-mad fans. I can still remember the huge numbers of people that watched the Fafe stage last year! It was an incredible feeling to drive in this atmosphere. This year, the stages are the same and I hope to enjoy myself. It’s nonetheless seven months since I last competed on gravel in the WRC, as my last race was back at Rally de España. I think it’ll be difficult but we’ll do our very best to find the right feeling. Lastly, I would like to wish Kris and Stéphane all the best for this weekend.”
Thursday, 19 May: shakedown at Paredes from 7.30am to 11.30am, then ceremonial start in Guimarães at 6.10pm.
Parc ferme from 8pm following the opening 3.36km stage.
Friday, 20 May: start from Matosinhos at 7.50am.
Finish in Matosinhos from 8.49pm following eight stages covering a total of 132.04km.
Saturday, 21 May: start from Matosinhos at 8.05am.
Finish in Matosinhos from 8.14pm following six stages covering a total of 165.28km.
Sunday, 22 May: start from Matosinhos at 5.15am.
Overall finish in Matosinhos from 2.10pm following four stages covering a total of 67.32km.
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