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First of all, let us explain what we are talking about: at the end of each racing year, the quiet Portuguese village of Fronteira, deep in Alentejo's plains becomes the Mecca of Portuguese (and French) cross-country rally, for a unique event in the Portuguese calendar and one of the few of its kind in Europe: the 24 Hours Off-Road.  
The rules are simple, this event is a 24-hour long endurance race, held on a 17km long dirt track, where the winner is the team who is able to complete more laps. 

In the first editions, the teams where mostly Portuguese, but year after year the French started to discover the event, and after a period when it was French versus Portuguese, at the present days is common to see many teams with driver from both countries. Some other nations are also represented, like last year’s winners from Latvia, but Portugal and France usually dominate the field.

Among the participants there is a huge variety of vehicles used, from the most common T1 and T2 cars we often see in cross-country rallies and bajas all over the world, to the extremely fast light-weight French prototypes that often look more like jet fighters flying low than race cars. But for today, let's forget all of those.

 

24 Hours Race of Fronteira is special, very special. To understand it correctly, you should be there at least once, because we are pretty sure that if we tell you that some of the public's favourite are not among the winners, not even in top 20 you will not believe it... But in fact they are far away,  on the other end of the classifications table. Today we will talk about of these unique machines and teams that like David, year after year they return to Fronteira to face all the Goliaths of Rally-Raid.
 
At first glance, these special cars have no difference to most of the pack: rollbars, bucket-seats and all the remaining mandatory safety features are present; racing tyres are a must; improved headlights for the night period of the race; tuned engine and revised suspension; some mechanical tweaks here and there; some chassis improvements. But then, some differences begin to appear: They aren't built for the overall victory, neither to be the fastest. Their goal is simply to reach the end of the race. The overtaking manoeuvres are such a big problem for them as for the fastest, but the others care with what is in front, they care with what comes behind.

The people from these teams aren't rivals, they are all friends, they enjoy the event together and like anyone else. They all could be in other teams, driving faster race cars, but prefer to be in "Promotion" category. They conquered a special place in the heart of the fans and even with their "racing companions" (they don't have rivals).
Fronteira's race would not be the same without these old glories that make the boldest and craziest of the attempts at every single edition of the race.
 
By this moment you should already have a clue of who we are talking about, so here they are: Peugeot 504, Renault 5 and Datsun SSS. These three are part of a special breed, and everyone knows them. These cars have many things in common despite their huge mechanical differences, but to better understand them all, just a few days they all joined for one of the funniest and most interesting co-drives, and we had the honour to be invited to be there.
 
PEUGEOT 504
The Peugeot 504 is the one we know from longer time, an old partner we have in other projects and that we do support 100%. In 2017, Rally-Raid Network became also partner of this team. It's like one of our most fun relatives, someone we are always happy to see. During the years the Peugeot evolved... but not much. Most of the improvements were introduced to give this old lady some necessary endurance features to face the most laps possible in Fronteira. And if in other cases the teams work hard to remove weight, in this case they had to add in some extra ballast to keep the very light rear end on the road and stop once and for all the happy bouncing and sliding it used to have. Her original engine is not anymore among us, but in a better place. But the replacement engine is almost identical, received some love and care, but nothing special... You will recognize it has a Peugeot 504/505 engine no matter what.

 

Last year the 504 broke her personal record of laps made in Fronteira, making the team proud.  But this car is very temperamental, and in this co-drive she decided only to give a taste of what she can do allowing for just a few rounds on the track before suffering a gearbox failure, something she never ever had in any race or event and preventing more people to try her. We think she wants to stay an old lady with naughty secrets. You know she is not normal... but you can't prove it. Well, we can, because we know her for long.
 
DATSUN SSS
The Datsun SSS follows a similar line of thought, but if the Peugeot is a bit naughty, this old glory has a mean personality. Like that old aunt you have that will scream at you with no apparent reason. The old Japanese car is maybe the fastest of the trio we tested, but please do understand this, being the fastest doesn't mean he is fast, only that has more speed than the other two.

 

A short wheel base, rear wheel drive and engine in front means that once you are going, you hardly lose your smile. In a straight line and on high revs, the engine sounds better than the others, like a proper racing car even making you believe that you are faster than in reality. But then you reach the corners, and a whole new world is present to you. Your aunt starts to scare you off with unexpected slides in all directions except in the right one. When it’s over, you are thinking: "what a hell did just happen there". And again, your aunt, because she is your family, she doesn't wish you anything bad, on the contrary. She is an old lady but kinky and bonkers and wants you to have fun, and however strange it is, you love it and are wishing to repeat all that nonsense over and over again. Could it be because of her Japanese origin? We don't know. 


 
RENAULT 5
Finally, and to end in grace, we return to France: The Renault R5. Front wheel drive makes a difference... A huge difference. The duels of this lady with the two others are legendary, but this one is always more composed, more subtle. This car has a better cornering, more effective and with more traction on difficult conditions than the others. Because it’s the shortest of the three is also the easiest to keep on the right path. The engine is not the original, but it is still and old Renault petrol engine that is living inside the bonnet.  Not as fast in a straight line as the Datsun, it will not scare you on the corners. 

 

But if you think that this team had a more relaxed drive round after round in Fronteira, forget it. This can be our excentric aunt,  that can't even walk like a normal person and is so excentric that once she even showed up dressed like a Zebra. This is an old French car and must behave like an old French car, which was tuned for comfort with a very soft suspension. It wobbles a lot, even in a straight line it does not stand quiet on top of the suspension. More speed, more wobble, and in a second the car can have the suspension all stretch out like in a proper monster truck and in the following one it is scraping the bottom in the stones and gravel of the track like a motorbiker's ass gliding in the tarmac after a fall.  She must be handled with care, because if she gets excited she will surely make some crazy things like she did in last year's race when she forced the team to rebuild the rear suspension after some crazy fun in a jump.
 
Renault 5 and Datsun SSS in "Hot Pursuit"


All these teams preserve something that look like being lost in many of today’s teams: the love for sport. They are not driven by the money or the glory of a podium finish. The friendship among them is contagious and their love for the sport is what keeps them making wild attempts to an event where they simply know that will never end not even near the podium.  Still they gained the love and respect of the crowd and racing companions , and no other team is so well recognised like these guys.

As for us, we loved the afternoon we spent with them, and we can't wait to see them once more at the starting line of the 24 Hours Off-Road Race Vila de Fronteira at the end of 2018. And finally, can we ask you a favour? Could you join us in supporting these teams?
 
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