Sebastien Ogier narrowly leads the 2014 World Rally Championship. File photo: Ben Stansall

Lisbon, Portugal - Portugal's picturesque Algarve tourist region forms the backdrop for the fourth leg of the world rally championship with world champion Sebastien Ogier defending a wafer thin lead in the drivers' standings.

Ogier was a winner last time out in Mexico and the Frenchman sets off from Lisbon on Thursday three points clear of his Volkswagen Polo teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.

Ogier has fond memories of the Rally of Portugal, one of the founding events in the inaugural 1973 world rally championship, for it was here that he opened his WRC account back in 2010.

And he did it in style, beating his then Citroen colleague and reigning champion Sebastien Loeb.

This weekend's rally is regarded as one of the toughest legs of the season, the gravel surface stretching drivers and cars to the limit.

And the weather, as Ogier acknowledged, can play a vital role.

“The Rally Portugal certainly has two faces: when it is dry, the surface is very hard and offers a lot of grip,” he told the sport's official website,

“When it rains, the ground becomes very soft and muddy, giving you very little traction.

“I normally much prefer it when it is dry. However, we are first onto the route this time, so a little rain on the first day would not be bad for us.”

Latvala chased home Ogier in Mexico, and the Finn arrives in Portugal his confidence high after winning on the snow and ice in Sweden.

And he is desperate to put some gloss on his poor record in Portugal, he was lucky to walk away from a dreadful crash in 2009

when his car rolled 17 times down a hillside.

He led in 2012 before careering off the road in testing weather - a broken drive shaft robbed him of second place 12 months ago.

Speaking after rain washed out Tuesday's opening day of 'recce' runs Latvala said: “The rain will definitely harm the roads, which is a shame as they appear to be in very good condition.

“The organisers have done a lot of work on them. But we know that once the rain stops, the roads dry out very quickly so I hope that we will have a dry weekend for the rally.”