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Rally-Raid Portugal 2024: The waiting is over!

Rally-Raid Portugal 2024: The waiting is over!

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The attention of much of the world that follows the W2RC championship turns this week to Portugal and Spain, hosts of the new championship race, the bp Ultimate Portugal Rally-Raid. The headquarters of the race will be in the town of Grândola, just a few kilometres to the south of Lisbon in the heart of the Alentejo region and also a short distance from the fabulous beaches of the Atlantic coast.

Although this race is the big new addition to the W2RC calendar, replacing the Rally of Andalusia, it's really a "homecoming.". The more attentive will remember other events, as it largely recaptures what was once the Bajas 1000 and the Transibérico Rally of the 80s and 90s of the last century and the first decade of the 21st century. It's true that times have changed, the rules have changed, and even the landscape has changed a little.  Since then, Portugal has been filled with fences and enclosures, many roads have been cut off, and passage has been forbidden in many places simply "because,"  without any objective reason. Nevertheless, all the essentials are present: the sandy areas of Grandola, the technical and fast tracks of Ribatejo, and the novelty of the beautiful tracks of Spanish Extremadura( which is nothing new as the Transibérico also visited visiting Spain).

As it was spring, we were expecting temperatures in the 20's and 30's, sunshine, and a green landscape that can only be found in this part of the peninsula at this time of year. We were expecting that the biggest setback for the riders would be the dust. With such a large caravan of competitors, dust would certainly be a factor to consider and one of the main difficulties of the race, but the rain gods decided otherwise. Winter bid Portugal farewell in an unusual way. It extended into spring with consecutive days of heavy rain, wind and even snow in the northernmost regions. We're almost back in December. It seems, and we stress it, that the bad weather is giving way, with rain forecast only for Saturday in Portugal, when the riders will be in Spain. However, the race has changed: the dusty areas are now muddy areas, where before there was nothing, we now have holes with water, and rivers that were dry or almost dry are now flowing normally. This has already forced some changes to the stages. It has also forced the organisation to take measures to ensure that the race can take place normally.

We are locals in the region where this race will take place, we know the area and the roads very well, and all we can say is: "It's going to be a fantastic race". That's our humble opinion. But if we had it before, it's even stronger now with the current conditions. The bp Ultimate Rally-Raid Portugal 2024 will certainly be one of the most competitive, if not the most interesting, of the season. The track conditions are now in stark contrast to the sandy deserts that hosted the first races of the year. Fast tracks, trees including many cork oaks—Portugal's national tree,  and plenty of water and mud that have replaced the dunes, mountains, and rocks of the previous rallies of the current season.
This means that it's all mixed up and complicated for everyone, and no one has an advantage, not even the locals. If you look at the previous sentences, you'll say that the Portuguese riders and drivers have an advantage because of the nature of the terrain and their knowledge of it. But look a little closer: Portugal is famous for having the best championship in the world, but also for the fact that its races are impeccably marked, almost to the millimetre. Every bend, every obstacle, and every danger are listed in the road book, but also marked on the ground with signs, ribbons, arrows, and coloured patches. These markings do not exist in the W2RC. This makes life very difficult for drivers and navigators who only race in Portugal. The situation is just the opposite for foreigners, who are much more used to the rules, but in a terrain that has nothing to do with the great desert marathons, and with dozens and dozens of kilometres full of traps that require constant attention.
And that's what's great: we don't see any special favorites; nobody stands to gain. There are many that we can consider favorites, but honestly, none of them can reclaim this title just for himself. The rally organised by the ACP could even give some drivers we haven't heard much about a chance to shine. casting a shadow over the big stars of the W2RC.

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--Lucas Moraes Toyota Hilux--

As far as the Car category is concerned, the arms race is full on and really impressive due to the presence of a very strong contingent of cars and drivers: a quick look at the list of entrants shows us an overwhelming presence of drivers with Toyota Hilux from several different generations, but specially many driving the newest  T1+. Yazzed Al-Rajhi will be the best known and certainly a tough opponent, but Toyota is also bringing Brazilian Lucas Moraes, who we believe is more familiar with the type of terrain the race will cross and, given his speed, a strong contender for the top spots. The list of international names is long, and many of them are very fast riders capable of good results.  As for the local drivers,  even if their names aren't familiar to you,  they are ready to fight in almost equal terms: Tiago Reis and João Ramos, who are also in the T1+ category, will certainly be among the best. João Ramos is recognised as one of Portugal's most spectacular drivers and the passage of his "black lady" doesn't leave anyone indifferent, only sometimes he is a little too "fast" and gets into trouble. If he can control himself a little, the foreigners better watch out, because he'll overtake them. Tiago Reis on the other hand, has a remarkable efficiency in exchange for his exuberance on the track, he has a good knowledge of the terrain, and for him, this race will just be "a bit longer.".
X-Raid is also bringing several Mini's to Portugal, with the focus of attentions landing on the Spaniard Carlos Sainz, winner of the last Dakar. Despite being a veteran, he doesn't seem to have lost any of his qualities and is looking forward to more victories. But we would also like to draw your attention to the name of João Ferreira. This Portuguese driver may be young, but he is a very competent driver, fast, and reliable, and he will definitely look to prove himself in his home country. The duo of Vaidotas Zala / Paulo Fiuza is another Mini driver to watch out for, because if the Lithuanian driver is considered to be very fast, his navigator is considered to be one of the best in Portugal.
Prodrive has a smaller entourage, with only three cars entered... but what three. Nasser Al-Attiyah and the Brazilians Marcos Baumgart and Cristian Baumgart. Nasser needs no introduction. His qualities are well known, and he knows the Portuguese tracks well, so he is one of the main contenders for victory. The Baumgart brothers, on the other hand, may go unnoticed by some of the readers, but let us tell you that they are two great drivers, very fast, not afraid to take risks, and who have already enjoyed a successful career. The Portuguese drivers know exactly what we are talking abour, still remembering when Brazilians landed from a "parachute" into the Reguengos de Monsaraz  race and won. This was in one of the country's most iconic races and in a championship recognised as one of the strongest in the world, so for someone to come and leave such a strong impression, they must be good.
The South African manufacturer, Red Lined, has also entered a number of its vehicles in the race. Among the highlights are the new REVO T1+, one of which will be driven by the young Aliyyah Koloc for the Buggyra Racing Team and the other by Stefan Carmans.

 

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In the former T3 and T4, now Challenger and SSV, the situation is a bit like that of the cars, with the foreigners having an advantage due to the navigation rules, and the locals having an advantage due to their knowledge of the terrain. But in these two categories we believe that the advantage is clearly on the side of the locals. Portugal currently has two very strong SSV championships, one that takes place in the along side the cars races, racing according to FIA rules, and another that takes place alongside the motorcycle races and with different rules, and where most of the drivers who currently race in the cars come from. In the local championships, the battles for victory are epic, with several drivers always fighting each other, and in some cases achieving results on the track capable of fighting for overall victory. The foreigners do have a chance, and a strong one at that, but they won't have a minute's rest.
Among the competitors in the Challenger category, we'll find Sebastien Loeb at the wheel of a champion Taurus, who has left the wheel of his Hunter to make his debut in the Challenger category. He doesn't lack speed, but it remains to be seen whether he's adapted to his car and driving without glass in the middle of so much water. The Frenchman will be joined by Rokas Baciuska (Can-Am) Austin Jones (Can-Am), Cristina Gutierrez (Taurus) or Ghislain De Mevius (OT3), all contenders for the top spots.
But Portugal is also fielding some of its best, both from the SSV and car championships, and we can expect a fierce battle that will only enhance the W2RC. Ricardo Porém (Can-Am), Armindo Araujo (Can-Am), Miguel Barbosa (Taurus), João Dias (Can-Am) and Luis Portela de Morais (OT3) are just some of those who will give the outsiders a break.
However, the mathematics of navigation come into play once again. The Portuguese have experience and knowledge of the terrain on their side, while the foreigners know better how to navigate and comply with the roadbook.
In the SSVs, Portugal has a theoretical advantage, as the competent list of foreign riders, including Yasir Saeidan (Can-Am), Claude Fournier (Can-Am) and Reinaldo Varela (Can-Am), doesn't seem to be strong enough to take on João Monteiro (Can-Am) or Gonçalo Guerreiro (Polaris), among others.

 

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Photo from Honda's official press release

In the Moto category, it's very difficult to predict who will be the best. The experience of many of the riders, their ability to adapt to the terrain, and the structure that supports them are all important factors. All eyes will naturally be on the factory teams. Honda in particular will be represented by Adrien Van Beveren, Pablo Quintanilla, Tosha Schareina and Skyler Howes. Sherco will be represented by Lorenzo Santolino and Harith Noah. And last but not least, Hero with Ross Branch and Sebastian Buhler. It is the young Buhler that we would like to draw your attention to: This young rider was one of the driving forces behind the championships and trophies held in Portugal for years before joining the official Hero team. The track conditions are to his liking and he already has experience of the W2RC, knowing how to navigate, and this makes him, in our opinion one of the strong candidates for victory.
The "home team" is also well represented, with reigning Portuguese champion Bruno Santos (Husqvarna), multiple times Portuguese champion António Maio (Yamaha) and youngsters Martin Ventura (Husqvarna) and the brothers Gonçalo and Salvador Amaral. Everyone's level of experience is very different, but especially the first three are very fast. Their experience in this type of terrain will be very important, as the navigation will be different and more difficult than what they are used to.

The quads will be dominated by riders from outside Portugal, because, although there is a strong contingent of quads in the country, their sporting ambitions don't include international careers, and even the Portuguese championship is often put on the back burner, with riders focusing on other competition formats. Predicting the future is difficult, but Juraj Varga and Manuel Andujar are likely to be among the riders to watch.

Going back to the beginning of this article, we are facing a very demanding sporting challenge in a landscape that is very different from the deserts we are used to in the W2RC. Portugal has experienced a particularly rainy spring, which has changed the tracks and added a different level of difficulty. The usual math has been thrown out the window, and there's a chance for lesser-known drivers to shine if they can overcome the complications the track will throw at them.

And now, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

 

Photos: Rally-Raid Network / ImagensDesportivas   and others

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As a service to the sport we all love and follow, Rally-Raid Network posts numerous media releases from a wide variety of sources on our website. Due to the large number, and some times short time available, it is nearly impossible to review each public release. These articles are written by reporters or press officers who work for various organizers, teams, drivers, riders, and other parties, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Rally-Raid Network.