A win for Thierry Neuville in Portugal could move him top of the championship.
The Hyundai Motorsport driver has surged back into FIA World Rally Championship contention after misery on the opening rounds in Monte-Carlo and Sweden when he twice crashed out of the lead.
Having collected just eight points from those two rounds, the Belgian heads to Vodafone Rally de Portugal [18 – 21 May] as the man to beat after a dramatic turnaround in fortunes.
A podium in Mexico was followed by back-to-back wins in Corsica and Argentina, and Neuville, just 18 points behind M-Sport’s championship leader Sébastien Ogier, is determined to keep a cool head.
“We are still on a high after the results of Corsica and Argentina. At the same time, we know we have to stay focused and concentrated on our job because the championship is incredibly close,’ the i20 Coupe driver said.
“We can take nothing for granted. Rally Portugal in its current format is still a bit of a new one for us, having only been in the north of the country for the last two seasons. It is quite a tricky event, but I am looking forward to it. I am sure that with this new car and with the confidence we have, we can be fast.”
Neuville will have to be fast if he is to beat Ogier on an event the Frenchman has won four times. Another win this weekend would pull Ogier level with Markku Alén who won a record five times.
“Portugal is an event that I look forward to every year. Julien [co-driver Ingrassia] and I have had a lot of success there and it was where we took our first victory so it holds a lot of special memories,” Ogier said.
“We will push the limits to challenge for the win. Opening the road on the first day will probably make it harder for us, but we come to Portugal with high objectives and a focus on increasing our championship lead once again.”
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Vodafone Rally de Portugal is based in Matosinhos, near Porto, in the north of the country, and features classic stages on sandy and rocky roads.
The rally begins on Thursday evening and concludes on Sunday afternoon after 19 stages and 349.17 competitive kilometres.