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After months of preparations, today marks the start of Baja Portalegre, last round of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and also of several championships and trophies that are raced in Portugal, the host country of the race.  
Today the teams will have to overcome the necessary technical and administrative checks that precede any race.  In the evening, all 450 teams will line up in the downtown of Portalegre for the ceremonial start, a special moment where the fans have a chance to have a closer contact with their idols.

The “Baja effect” on the city is unparalleled in the European rounds on the FIA World Cup.  Maybe Teruel, the host town of Baja Aragon in Spain could come close in the effects the race has on the town.  “Baja Portalegre” is the biggest event of all year by any measures for the capital of the Alto Alentejo region and for the small towns and villages that receive the race, either with public areas, assistance points or that just make part of the itinerary. After just a few years, the race became an icon of this region, and people often call the race by just the name of their city.  José Megre and Clube Aventura, the organising pioneers of this race knew that they had struck gold, creating an event that rapidly got in to the normal yearly routine of the region.

This year the race celebrates 30 years, with the 31st edition of the Baja.  The success of the race and what it means for the Portuguese teams is still huge, and we can see it in the endless entry list containing 450 teams where the where the locals dominate by a large margin. 
Of course, especially in car category, the race has many  foreign competitors who come because they love this event and particularly enjoy the atmosphere of this event, where there is real competition on the track.  No “big star” or big team is big enough to say that can come, see, and win like the Romans said: "veni vidi vici".  In the car category, the level of several of the top Portuguese teams can be compared to many of the international teams, and they will sell the win to any foreigners at a pretty high value.  Even the fastest of the world must be prepared to sweat and work hard, or they will find their way to the podium extremely complicated.
With no “big international stars” present, the race still has plenty of fast teams in all classes. And there is no shortage of interest.  A short run for the paddock allow us to see almost all top international cars of our times, and some more of the same level that only race in Portugal – in total 105 cars are present, from the fastest to some of the slowest of this sport, but all living their dream of racing in Baja Portalegre.
For our readers, who never had the chance to visit Baja Portalegre, we advise you to go there at least once: no other Baja is like this one, and we are sure you will be surprised


Luis Oliveira, will try to win 3rd time in a row in 2017.

Switching for the motorbikes categories, the “Baja Effect” is also very present and alive. This is the most important event of the season, where everybody wants to race. And if they don't race, they still come to assist. New or old, expert or amateur, with serious ambitions or just racing for the “fun” of racing, the entry list is amazing.  In total, on two wheels, around 200 racers made their entry.  85 of them are in the main race, and the remaining in the several promotional categories that have a shorter route.  
In all these years of “Portalegre” only two foreigners were able to grab the victory: Richard Sainct and Alain Perez, in 1995 and 1996. All the other editions were won by local riders, that keep coming in large numbers year after year. They know the region, the terrain pretty well, know what is needed to be successful, and are prepared to suffer, even in the worst conditions imaginable, with cold and rain. Not this year though, with 31ºC and sun expected for all days.  One of the local heros, Luis Oliveira, will try to win the event for the third time in a row.  But just because he had won the past two editions, this doesn't mean an easy ride in the park, especially because two very familiar names for the local crowd are also on the list: they are Mário Patrão and António Maio. These for sure are not names that most of our international readers know, but the people from Portugal know that these two simply dominated Baja Portalegre in the last ten years or so.  Fearless, extremely fast, with very good bikes these two are regular candidates for the victory, allowing from time to time someone to come close or win the race.  And we must not forget about a rising star named Sebastian Buhler, actually sharing the championship lead with Antonio Maio. But at least the first ten are world class riders, capable to battle for the top of the classification with anyone.  Maybe, the extremely high level of the event is something that prevents the foreigners to come in bigger numbers.


"Beto" Borrego is the favourite in the quads

In the quad category, the story of the bikes repeats itself. The local competition is so strong that it doesn't leave any margin for foreigners to shine. There are a few riders from Spain present, completing the list of 41 quads.  Unfortunately, the quad category is disappearing, with the numbers decreasing year by year, but that doesn't mean it is “uninteresting”. On the contrary, these small four-wheel vehicles race through the Alentejo forest at unbelievable speed, providing a very interesting race to follow for the public.  In the entry list there is a name that casts a shadow over all the others: Roberto Borrego is one of the bigger stars in the category, another regular candidate for the win. And this year his main rival is out, due to an injury during training, that leaves the road a little bit easier for him. But being one of the fastest is not enough to guarantee the victory, he will have to deal with a pack of also very fast and determined riders who fight as hard as they can to grab the victory.


Stephane Peterhansel is by far the biggest international star in the SSV category,  but we will find very hard to reach the top of the podium and shine.

Finally, we should speak about the brightest category of our times: the SSV.  Portalegre will receive 95 of these machines.  Yes, you read it correctly: 95! In Portugal the SSV live in a golden era, simply exploding in numbers. There are a handful of details that lead to this situation, but maybe the most important is related with the regulations.  The Portuguese SSV championship is raced under the rules of the local bike federation, not according the cars or FIA rules. This makes life much easier for the teams, including a much lower cost of racing.  We must also make notice of the huge leap forward the SSVs has made in the past years, from a point where they were almost like a slug for something compared canon bullet.  Where the SSVs share the rout with the cars, many times the SSVs are almost as fast as the top cars or even faster.  In “Portalegre”, their route is not the same, with different special stages, so it can't be directly compared.
This race is a Portuguese affair, and few foreigners are brave enough to come and face the endless entry list full of lightning fast local aces. Still, there is one special driver who is fearless enough to say “present” and reclaim for him a share of the attentions. This driver is Stephane Peterhansel.  Leaving the Peugeot 3008DKR stopped in his garage, the Frenchman come to Portugal to drive a Yamaha YZX and face the competition. A good result is expected from him, and by good result we mean a top 10.  A victory by him, with is amazing experience is something close to unexpected, but still not impossible.
Polaris, Can-Am and Yamaha make the bulk of the entry list in SSV category. And among these we find a lot of fast and experienced drivers, that if we mention them here, we must mention 20 or 30 names at least. Some even come from the cars like Peterhansel.

At the moment, the town of Portalegre is living the high season, with the “Baja Effect” being noticed everywhere.  It was already stronger, especially in the ‘90s, but it's true that it lived also much worse times than now.  Baja Portalegre is growing again year after year, with the organisers struggling to overcome some obstacles that were not here ten or twenty years ago.  To be able to produce such an amazing event is a real achievement, that those being present will really enjoy and those absent will miss in the same measure.

Tomorrow, the race starts.  In the morning the traditional prologue, and in the afternoon the first real stage.  The main adversary this year will be the dust and the heat, unusual conditions for a race usually run in rain and mud.

You can follow all the events here, or in our sister site in www.todoterreno.pt.  Pictures will be available for download at www.imagensdesportivas.com

For us, we wish to all the ones that are in Portalegre an outstanding race, and the victory to the best.