Ford World Rally Team driver Jari-Matti Latvala says qualifying will be more important than ever for next week's Rally of Portugal, with the Finn adding dust is a major cause for concern for the event.
For the first time since it was re-introduced into the World Rally Championship – after a six-year absence – in 2007, the Rally of Portugal will include night stages. The crews will contest three stages totalling 21 miles next Thursday evening, following a stage through the streets of Portugal's capital city Lisbon.
The World Rally Championship drivers are concerned about the potential dust problem in what is a notoriously dry part of the country, having been angered by the use of a dark stage on the Acropolis Rally last year, where the dust was a significant issue.
Latvala said: "It depends on the weather, but hanging dust could be an issue and three-minute intervals between cars may not be enough to allow it [the dust] to clear. It's on the limit, and the organizers may have to consider four minutes."
The Finn said the perfect place on the road was hard to gauge, and that a strong run in qualifying – which runs on Wednesday morning instead of Thursday – was therefore important due to the movement of cars up to Lisbon for SS1.
"It's difficult to say now if we should be first in the start order, or brave enough to run further back," Latvala added. "First would ensure a clear run, but the disadvantage would be the slippery loose gravel on the road surface which would be cleared if we start lower down.
"The important thing is to ensure we do well in qualifying so we're in a position to make that choice. Then it's in our own hands."
Latvala and his teammate Petter Solberg both tested their Ford Fiesta RS WRCs in the dark this week. The Rally Sweden winner said: "I drove 48km on Wednesday and that really helped for what could be a crucial part of the rally."
Latvala will be looking to get his title tilt back on track in the Algarve next week, having crashed out of two of the first three WRC rounds of the season.