Craig Breen will be looking to capitalise on P-G Andersson's absence when the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship resumes in Portugal this week.
Swede Andersson trails Irishman Breen by 18 points after two events but hasn’t nominated the Algarve-based contest as one of his seven scoring rounds due to his participation on the clashing opening event of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship season in New Zealand.
Breen, who won his class on the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo but finished second to Andersson in Sweden, said: “Portugal is always a tough event. The introduction of the night stages will be interesting. I got the chance to test at home on a local gravel event at the beginning of the month which included stages in darkness and last weekend I was in Turkey for a gravel test with Castrol Ford Team Turkey so my preparation as gone well.”
Hayden Paddon dominated the Production Car world championship section of Vodafone Rally de Portugal last season. He has labelled this year’s edition as a must-win event following what he considered to be a lacklustre showing on his SWRC debut in Sweden last month.
“This year is not only about winning the championship; it’s also about showcasing our speed - which we did not do in Sweden,” said the New Zealander, whose Skoda Fabia will be armed with an uprated engine in Portugal. “Looking at the event itself, we need to win the SWRC category at minimum.”
WRC Academy preview
Some of the best young rally drivers in the world will be in action when FIA WRC Academy season two gests underway on Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Thursday.
Introduced in 2011 to showcase the sport’s brightest stars by equipping them with identical Ford Fiesta R2s, prepared by M-Sport, and run on control Pirelli tyres, the category is the first step for drivers intent on one day winning the World Rally Championship powered by Nokia.
Held over six rounds of the 2012 WRC season, drivers will also receive extensive training during the course of the year to ensure they are ready to climb to the sport’s highest echelon when the opportunity arises.
This year’s intake features 10 drivers representing seven different nations. They are: Fredrik Ahlin (Sweden), Christopher Duplessis (United States), Elfyn Evans (Great Britain), Alastair Fisher (Great Britain), John MacCrone (Great Britain), Brendan Reeves (Australia), Joao Silva (Portugal), Jose Suarez (Spain), Pontus Tidemand (Sweden) and Timo van der Marel (Netherlands).
Of the 10, only Ahlin, Duplessis, Fisher, Reeves, Suarez and van der Marel have previous WRC Academy experience. Of this six, all but Duplessis - who contested the final round in 2011 - were in action when the series began in Portugal 12 months ago.