Citroen sees No.5 in Portugal
ONE MORE, PLEASE: Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and team mate Mikko Hirvonen hope to put their WRC DS3s on the podium in Portugal this weekend.
LISBON, Portugal - Citroen's all-conquering French driver Sebastien Loeb will line up today for the WRC Rally of Portugal in search of his third win of the 2012 season and his 70th overall.
Rarely has one man dominated his sport to such an extent as this eight-times champion who, with wins in the season-opening rally in Monte Carlo and Mexico, leads the 2012 standings by 16 points from his new team mate, Mikko Hirvonen.
Citroen is gunning for its fifth consecutive victory on the gravel of Portugal; despite the pace shown by arch-rival Ford this term Loeb is optimistic.
PREPARATIONS GONE WELL
He reflected: "In Mexico we saw that our rivals had made a significant step forward performance-wise at an event where they had not previously done that well. If the same is true in Portugal, we're going to have a very close fight on our hands.
"As far as we're concerned, our preparations for this rally have gone well. Our DS3 WRC has been quick on all surfaces since the start of the season and I think it will be no different in Portugal."
Hirvonen has elected to go first in the opening night stage from Lisbon after taking third in Wednesday's qualifying run.
In contrast Ford ace Jari-Matti Latvala, successful in the second rally of the year in Sweden, chose to start 17th after having first pick when emerging quickest in the qualifying session.
Explaining the gamble, the Finn said: "We're counting more on the cleaning effect, that it will be cleaner with more grip. The organisers have promised there is no dust on the (night) stages so we are also counting on that and the information in our team that we are confident the cleaning effect is bigger than the dust problem."
Hirvonen is happy to be able to lead the field into battle.
Latvala's fellow Finn said: "Maybe there's dust, maybe not. Even if there's dust or rain it's better to be first car on the road.
"The road cleaning might be a problem but there are only three short stages and if we lose something with that it shouldn't be too much and we should be able to fight back."
Hirvonen echoed Loeb's optimistic mood for Portugal but added: "It's going to be interesting where we are against the Fords. We spoke about it together as a team and, as you can see, Sebastien took the second place so that was our goal."
This fourth leg of the 13-race season will have three night stages on a route which has as its hub Faro, the capital of the Algarve region in the south of the country.