Robert makes first WRC return at Rally Portugal
March 28, 2014 by Paul Evans
Robert Barrable made his FIA World Rally Championship debut 12 months ago on the 2013 Rally of Portugal – so for the first time in his career, the 26-year old Dublin driver will be returning to familiar territory next weekend and, armed with experience, will be looking for another strong points-scoring result in his Tunnock’s World Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5.
Robert finished an excellent 2nd in WRC-2 and 11th overall in Portugal last year – driving a hired Fiesta S2000, having just sold his trusty ŠKODA Fabia S2000. It led on to his first WRC rally programme with the brand new Fiesta R5, with another excellent podium finish in Spain and solid points-scoring finishes in Finland and France to follow.
After his first full season in the CA1 Sport-run Tunnock’s Fiesta R5, Robert and co-driver Stuart Loudon now return to Portugal, having already scored WRC-2 points this year with 3rd on Rallye Monte Carlo.
And, for the first time, Robert has personal reference to some of the stages he’s most looking forward to returning to – like the tight and twisty Santana de Serra (a stage Robert remembers well, as he passed the stranded Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans in there last year) and the Almodôvar test (which this year runs as two separate stages, not the one long 32.5 mile / 52.3km stage Robert enjoyed the most). Existing pace notes will be of an advantage, as the Portuguese roads switch between fast and open to narrow and twisty, with many blind crests making it extremely difficult to find a rhythm.
Twenty WRC-2 cars have been entered for Rally Portugal – 16 are Ford Fiestas, and include drivers such as Fredrik Åhlin, Pontus Tidemand, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Jari Ketomaa, Yuriy Protasov, Karl Kruuda and Marty McCormack. There are three Mitsubishi Lancers (driven by Massimiliano Rendina, Marco Vallario and Juan Carlos Alonso) and a Mini driven by Valeriy Gorban.
Robert: “This year’s Rally Portugal will be the first time I’ve ever returned to a round of the World Rally Championship, so I’m hoping that the general rule that it’s easier to contest an event for the second time actually comes true! Although we started off a little nervously last year, we got into our stride well, really enjoyed the stages and ended up with a good result. We’ve got a bit of a feel for the Portuguese terrain, and with much of the stages the same as before, it will be a rare opportunity to fine tune the pace notes we already have, rather than do what we normally have to do on a WRC recce and start writing them on a clean piece of paper.
“The WRC-2 entry list this year is spectacular, so it’s going to be a very difficult event to score a good result on. We’ll be keen to reach the end without too many problems, as we have the Circuit of Ireland less than two weeks later, but we’ll certainly be going to Portugal and giving it our best shot. If we can mix it with the top WRC-2 runners and score more championship points, then we’ll be happy enough.”
Stuart: “In Portugal we have twenty crews entered in WRC-2 and the strength in depth is incredible. However, we will go there with the same head as we used last year; settle into our own pace, don’t move away from being neat and tidy and the result will come. Portugal is such a technical event with so many hazards at the side of the road that can break suspension or steering you really need to be tidy. This is where having done the rally last year will help. On the recce we can double-check the amendments we made twelve months ago and ensure whether we really do need to caution that area, or perhaps we can tackle it a bit quicker. We have to be careful as we really don’t want to end up having to use Rally2 to get a finish.
“The strength in depth in the WRC-2 field in Portugal has not been seen before. If we could get into the top five that would be a great result, but we saw last year that the stages are unforgiving to any errors and maybe we can come away from this my third time at the rally with a top three. No matter what, we will be trying our hardest come the start.”
This year’s Rally Portugal is once again based in Faro, with the centralised service park located at the Algarve Stadium. The event starts to the north in Estoril on Thursday 3 April, with the opening stage held at Praco do Imperio, in the shadow of the Jerónimos Monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Thereafter the fourth round of the WRC follows a more familiar format, with three days of competition held on technically demanding gravel roads in the Baixo Alentejo and Serra do Caldeirão hills north of Faro. SS16 is the concluding Power Stage on Sunday (6 April), before the Stadium finish ceremony just after midday.