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WRC Rally Portugal

Evans: WRC Portugal victory not impossible despite road position

World Rally Championship leader Elfyn Evans believes victory is not impossible in Portugal this weekend despite the disadvantage of starting first on the rough gravel roads.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Evans arrives in Portugal sharing the championship lead with his part-time Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier after claiming an emotional first win for 18 months on Croatia's asphalt roads last month.

The victory resulted in the Welshman leaping up the championship standings that are the closest since 2001, with five drivers covered by 11 points. However, Evans now faces the prospect of cleaning the roads in Portugal, which will reduce his chances of challenging for victory.

Last year, team-mate Kalle Rovanpera was able to buck the trend and win from first on the road, but the Finn was helped by wet weather arriving midway through the rally. While it is widely expected that this year's event will be totally dry, Evans believes a victory is still possible.

The Toyota driver started the rally on the front foot by topping the times in today's shakedown, edging Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi by 0.1s.

"I wouldn't say victory is impossible, for sure a dry gravel rally is always very difficult," Evans, who won the 2021 edition of the rally, told Motorsport.com.

"We have to be focussed on doing a good job and you never know what can happen. Last year on Friday there were a lot of casualties but of course Kalle put himself in a great position to fight on Saturday and do something similar.

"If we can be in the mix on Friday night then you can be in the mix on Saturday and of course we know how critical these Fridays are to be in the mix.

"Every rally is a good chance to bag good points but of course we seem to have gone okay in the past. It is just about seeing how things go and managing the road position.

When asked about the fear of not scoring well given how tight the championship is, he replied: "You have to put that [fear] to the back of your mind as it is so early in the season. You have to concentrate on doing the best job you can. It is far too early to be thinking about conservatively scoring points."

Neuville feeling pressure to avenge Croatia crash

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville has admitted he is feeling under pressure to perform in Portugal after crashing from the lead in Croatia last month.

The Belgian sits fifth in the championship standings, 11 points shy of Evans after missing out on recording a first victory for Hyundai last time out.

"I think we have a bit more pressure this weekend than our rivals due to the fact that we missed out on a great opportunity in Croatia," said Neuville, who was eighth fastest on shakedown.

"On the other hand, I mean we have to see the outcome of this weekend but if we can still have a good road position in Sardinia it's helpful as well and then I think Kenya, if you can start first it's fine and then Estonia obviously it's better to be behind but Finland again it's a mix.

"So I think we have to target those three events to get slowly to the front, after Sardinia."

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Neuville believes the Portugal gravel stages have been over-prepared in places ahead of this weekend's rally.

"To be very honest with you, the profile is nice, for sure like always, but again and every year we say it, the organisers and probably the local communities have done a huge job on the stages which is I would say somehow nice but on the other hand they prepare the stages too well," he added.

"It's flat, there is a lot of added gravel, very compacted, but the stages get wider and wider every year so it loses a little bit this natural feeling when you have a stage, which looks a bit like a snowplough has gone through.

"It's every year a bit more but this year, I talked to the other drivers and they had the same feeling that some parts are like one, two metres wider."

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