It’s their first gravel round of the season. Meeke and his teammates will have the benefit of a good starting position today and tomorrow. Fourth in last year’s event in Portugal Meeke should be in competitive mode. He said: “I’m pleased to be back in a competitive environment. I was starting to miss it. I like Rally de Portugal. Last year, we all had to get to grips with the new course, with some enjoyable roads. I was challenging for the lead for a good part before finishing fourth.”
The remaining cars will be driven by Stephane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi, who has Antrim’s Chris Patterson calling the notes. In their most recent test of Citroen’s 2017 World Rally Car, Meeke and Lefebvre racked up the miles during four days in Portugal and the Algarve where the conditions - rain, hail, fog and occasional sunshine – allowed them test different set-ups and scenarios.
Meanwhile, Argentina winner Haydon Paddon (Hyundai i20) will be full of confidence in Portugal but admitted he has still a lot of work to do to become a regular challenger to series leader and champion Sebastien Ogier (VW Polo WRC).
Elfyn Evans heads a strong entry in the WRC 2 category where he enjoys a 20-point series lead. Northern Ireland Jon Armstrong (Ford Fiesta R2) and his Killarney co-driver Noel O’Sullivan also compete. The rally is based in Matosinhos, near Porto, with eight stages today, six tomorrow and four Sunday.
On the domestic front, champion Damian Toner (Escort) leads the sixth plus entry for tomorrow’s Loughgall Country Park Rally in Armagh. Opposition includes former winners Keith White and Davy Armstrong along with Mervyn Wedlock, all in Ford Escorts. Trevor Wilson and debutant Fintan McGrady, also in Escorts, round out the top six. The first of the day’s six tarmac stages starts at 9.30am.
Elsewhere, the Naylor Engineering National Hillclimb & Sprint continues with a double header (rounds 3 and 4) at Clohamon near Bunclody tomorrow and Sunday, both at 11.30am. There is also a double-header in the Munster Autotest Championship with rounds at the Bandon Co-Op complex in Kilbrogan tomorrow at 3.00pm and Sunday at 11am. The events double as rounds of the Carbery Plastics Skibbereen & District Car Championship.
Former National champion Peadar Hurson is set to debut an S12B Subaru WR in next week’s Hotel Kilmore Cavan Rally, the fourth round of the Triton Showers National Championship.