This was the first time that the 26-year old Irish driver had ever returned to a round of the FIA WRC, having made his series debut in Portugal last year. Torrential rain during the recce made the fast and twisty gravel mountain roads in the Algarve region extremely slippery. As conditions dried out during the four-day event, the road surface changed from muddy and wet, to dry and dusty from one corner to another, making the notoriously tricky gravel event even more of a challenge.
Co-driven by Stuart Loudon, Robert’s first gravel event since last November’s Wales Rally GB started well, as his tactics of keeping clean and fast lines paid dividends. Another good run on Day 3 saw Robert move up two places to 7th even after surviving a huge fifth gear sideways moment, when the rear of his Tunnock’s car stepped out of line on a narrow mountain ridge.
The three stages on the final Day 4 were the trickiest of all, with mud, deep puddles and slippery sections, with the team making up another place in the CA1 Sport-run Fiesta R5.
Afterwards Robert said: “I’m very pleased to have finished sixth in Portugal. We haven’t done a gravel rally in five months, so it’s understandable that we weren’t able to challenge for a podium finish this time. 20 cars started in WRC-2 and the calibre of drivers, in terms of both speed and gravel experience, was very high, so we’re happy enough with what we achieved this weekend.”
“Rally Portugal is a very difficult and technical event, the conditions throughout were very tricky, with patches of mud and puddles that were trying their best to throw you off the road, so I’m pleased nothing caught us out.
“It was also good to have a battle on the final day with Al-Kuwari, because it kept everything really interesting – and I was very pleased to finish ahead of him.”
Stuart added: “We’ve completed all the stages, had no real dramas and gained a lot of experience, so it’s been another really productive World Championship rally for us. Having totally different conditions to what they were on the recce made this year’s Rally Portugal a real challenge, and right up until the end the changing road surface was catching people out.
“We’ve come over blind crests and it’s been a dry road ahead and then we’ve come over the next crest and it’s all mud and water in front of us, and that’s made this event extremely challenging. Rob has done a great job reading the road all weekend and a fantastic job to bring the car home in one piece.”