Rally de Portugal – Integral Part of WRC Since The Beginning
Rally de Portugal (or just simply Rally Portugal) is a gravel rally event in Portugal which is an integral part of the World Rally Championship since the inauguration of the championship in 1973.
The first edition of Rallye de Portugal took place in 1967 and the seventh edition was included into the first WRC season. The event was out of WRC for just five seasons between 2002 and 2006, returning in 2007 and staying as a part of the championship until today.
Rally de Portugal has been voted as ‘The Best Rally in the World’ five times. In 2000, it was awarded as ‘The Most Improved Rally of the Year’. Up to 2017, the record holders with five victories are Finnish rally legend Markku Alen and the French rally ace Sebastien Ogier.
Automovel Club de Portugal organized the first rally in 1967
The Automovel Club de Portugal (ACP), founded in 1903, organized the first international rally event in 1967, named the Rallye Internacional TAP. The first ever winner was the Portuguese driver Jose Eduardo Carpinteiro Albino in the #34 Renault 8 Gordini. Next year, two British drivers climbed to the top steps of a podium – Tony Fall won the event in a Lancia Fulvia HF ahead of Paddy Hopkirk in a BMC Cooper S 1300.
In 1969, the Portuguese driver Francisco Romaozinho was the winner and then a domination of foreigners started. The winners in the next three editions were Simo Lampinen, Jean-Pierre Nicolas (with Jean Todt as a navigator) and Achim Warmbold.
A part of the inaugural World Rally Championship in 1973
Until 1973, the TAP Rallye de Portugal established itself as one of the most popular European rallies and, when the World Rally Championship was formed in 1973, it was included into a calendar together with twelve other rallies in Europe, Africa and the US.
In that time, Rallye de Portugal was the mixed event, with stages both on gravel and asphalt. Unlike previous editions, which took place in October, the 7th edition was held in March 1973, as the third round of the World Rally Championship.
Markku Alen’s first win in 1975, fifth win in 1987
The first winner of the Portuguese WRC round was Jean-Luc Therier in an Alpine Renault A110 1800. In 1974, due to the oil crisis, the WRC calendar was reduced to eight events and Portugal hosted the opening round. The winner was Raffaele Pinto in a Fiat 124 Abarth Rallye.
Markku Alen finished third in 1974 and then, a year later, he won for the first time in Portugal, driving a Fiat Abarth 124 Rally. He was the winner three times in 1977, 1978 and 1981 in a Fiat 131 Abarth. His fifth win came in 1987 in a Lancia Delta HF 4WD.
Big names on the list of winners
Other winners in that period were Sandro Munari (1976, Lancia Stratos HF), Hannu Mikkola (1979, Ford Escort RS 1800) or Walter Röhrl (1980, Fiat 131 Abarth). In the Group B era, Michele Mouton took the victory in an Audi Quattro in 1982. Hannu Mikkola then won two times in 1983 and 1984, driving an Audi Quattro. In 1985, Timo Salonen was a winner in a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16.
The last and controversial rally in the Group B era was in 1986. The Portuguese driver Joaquim Moutinho won in a Renault 5 Turbo after factory teams withdrew from the event following a fatal accident with three dead spectators.
Crazy times of crazy crowd
The 1986 accident brings us to the most known characteristic of Rally de Portugal – crazy spectators. For many years, the Portuguese event was famous (or maybe infamous) because of an uncontrolled crowd. The safety standards in that time obviously were different than today and the rally events were going on despite spectators standings on the road or very close to the road.
When the superstrong and superfast Group B cars came, the situation with uncontrolled crowd became extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, it resulted in a fatal accident at 1986 Rallye de Portugal. The Portuguese driver Joaquim Santos plunged into the crowd with Ford RS200 during the Lagoa Azul stage on the first day, killing three men and injuring thirty. After that accident, all works teams withdrew from the rally.
In 1987, the first season without Group B cars, another accident happened when Portuguese driver hit spectators with Toyota Corolla. Fortunately, nobody has been killed. It took few more years to convert crazy spectators into the proper rally fans who would not jeopardize their and others safety.
Several multiple winners in the 1990s
During the 1990s, the winners were Carlos Sainz (1991, 1995), Juha Kankkunen (1992, 1994), Francois Delecour (1993), Rui Madeira (1996), Tommi Mäkinen (1997) and Colin McRae (1998, 1999). Richard Burns has won in 2000 and then Tommi Mäkinen one more time in 2001.
Non-WRC event from 2002 to 2006
In 2002, there was no place for Rally de Portugal on the WRC calendar for the first time since the formation of the championship. The rally counted for the Portuguese championship but there were many foreign drivers. Didier Auriol took the win in a Toyota Corolla WRC.
Return to the WRC as gravel rally in 2007
The efforts of the Portuguese organizers to bring back WRC paid off in 2007 when Rally Portugal has been included into the WRC calendar again. It was a kind of a new rally because the change was made from mixed event to gravel rally and a new location in Algarve region in southern Portugal has been chosen.
The first winner in a new era was Sebastien Loeb in a Citroen C4 WRC. Due to the rotation system, the rally was a part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2008, with Luca Rossetti as a winner, and then again as the WRC event in 2009.
Five wins for Sebastien Ogier
Sebastien Loeb clinched one more victory in 2009 in a Citroen C4 WRC and then his younger teammate Sebastien Ogier became the winner of Rally de Portugal for the first time in 2010. It was his maiden WRC victory in a career. He won again in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017, taking the spot next to Markku Alen as a record-holder with five wins.
Back to the north of Portugal in 2015
In the meantime, in 2015, the rally has been moved again to the original area in the north of Portugal near Porto. Since then, the Fafe special stage is again an integral part of the event and it became one of the most popular rally stages in entire championship.
The 50th edition was held in 2016, celebrating half of the century of one of the most popular rally events in the world.