Rally sport really took off in Portugal in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, the Automóvel Club de Portugal (ACP) held the former TAP Rally for the first time, the predecessor of today’s Portugal Rally. Six years later, the event was part of the newly established World Rally Championship. The Portugal tour initially took in virtually the entire country. People from Porto to Lisbon took to the streets to follow the rally up-close and turn the special stages into party zones. We call to mind the world-famous ‘Fafe’ jump, which used to attract several thousand people.
The Portugal Rally provided the backdrop for one of the greatest duels in rally history. Ford entered four Escort RS1800s; Fiat three 131 Abarths. All the vehicles had top-class drivers with Hannu Mikkola, Björn Waldegård, Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Ari Vatanen on one side and Markku Alén, Sandro Munari and Walter Röhrl on the other. Over the course of five days, the leadership changed back and forth 12 times between these drivers! Alén only took the top spot in the very last stage (!) as Mikkola suffered tyre damage. With five victories, Alén remains the record winner in Portugal to this day.
This is the stuff that legends are made of: the 1980 Portugal Rally, last stage. Both Fiat drivers Walter Röhrl and Markku Alén were battling it out for victory and honour. Then came the Arganil special stage with 42.15 kilometres in thick fog. Röhrl was expecting these conditions. He had trained at night for the stage and compiled especially detailed notes. In addition, he called upon his photographic memory. All of this led to a performance that was out of this world, the famous ‘foggy drive of Arganil’. Röhrl was almost five minutes faster than all of his rivals over the 42.15 kilometres! He won the rally with a lead of almost 15 minutes.
The 1986 Portugal Rally was one of the darkest chapters in the history of the sport. During the first special stage, the Portuguese driver Joaquim Santos left the road in his Ford RS200, fatally injuring three spectators. In the wake of this tragedy came the famous ‘drivers’ strike’. Due to insufficient precautions taken by the organiser to ensure the safety of spectators, the drivers of all the works teams refused to play any further part in the event. As such, the rally continued solely with private teams. Local matador Joaquim Moutinho (Renault 5 Turbo) was ultimately declared the unhappy winner.
Jubilation for Colin McRae and Subaru; frustration for Carlos Sainz and Toyota: the Spaniard missed out on victory at the end of the 1998 Portugal Rally by just 2.1 seconds, the closest result in the history of the world championship. Initially falling behind due to braking problems, the Toyota driver launched a furious pursuit of those in front of him – despite having big visibility problems due to the dust – which would have seen him rewarded with victory by a hair’s breadth. Colin McRae considered himself to be virtually safe, but a sickly engine ultimately gave him cause to tremble: ‘We thought that we would stay in front of Sainz, but he kept on getting faster towards the end. We did win, but we could only drive as fast as the circumstances would allow.’
In 2001, the Portugal Rally was held for the last time in the north of the country. When the time came for the farewell, the heavens opened. The rally was in the grip of rain, fog and sludge. Four special stages had to be called off due to impassable roads. Just 24 of the 94 participants reached the finish line of the rally; such a high retirement rate hadn’t been seen since the 1970s or the Safari Rally. Incidentally, Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi Lancer) stumbled his way most successfully through the dark, winning the rally ahead of Carlos Sainz (Ford Focus).
Champagne corks eventually went flying in the Algarve, when Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia won the 2013 Rally Portugal. It was the third consecutive win for the French duo. Their teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila put in an impressive performance too, finishing in third place to make it onto the winners’ rostrum for the first time in the 2013 season.
However, the fourth event of the season was anything but a walk in the park: both of the Polo R WRC vehicles suddenly began to experience problems with their drive technologies on the final day of the rally, causing the win which appeared to already be in the bag to begin to slip out of reach. But fortunately, the team mechanics were soon able to fix the problems – allowing the drivers to secure their spots on the rostrum at the end of the rally.