To be remembered. Baja Portalegre 500 had emotion and uncertainty until the final kilometres, with João Ferreira (23 years old) becoming the youngest ever winner of the Portuguese classic and a FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas event. In bikes, it was the shortest margin of victory in the 36 editions of the ACP event and probably the world off-road race, with António Maio beating Martim Ventura by 0.1s... after 414.21 kilometres!
António Maio couldn't believe it. With his two babies in his arms, in Herdade das Coutadas, one of the emblematic stages of Baja Portalegre 500, the seven-time Portuguese champion received the news that he had just won the bike race for the eighth time, but now... by 0.1s! A few meters away, Martim Ventura was still catching his breath, after a remarkable performance, dedicated to his father, where he attacked like never before to try to 'steal' the victory from one of his childhood idols.
It was Portalegre being Portalegre: emotion and uncertainty until the last metre, until the last drop of sweat and tears. Because the true spirit of the Baja Portalegre 500 goes far beyond winners and losers. It is a microcosm of emotions, made up of the passion of the fans - in their thousands, as always - and the overcoming of the participants, men and women from different generations and backgrounds.
Shortly before, in the Service Park, an SSV driver from Saudi Arabia was already enjoying her debut in Portalegre: "I am loving it! There is a lot of public and here we have several SSV in competition. It seems that this is already part of the culture!", said Mashael Alobaidan, who hopes to be an example for female drivers in her country.
Over 35 years, the Portalegre’s appeal has attracted big names in the motorsport world, on two and four wheels: from Colin McRae to Carlos Sainz, from Stéphane Peterhansel to Ari Vatanen, from Thierry Magnaldi to Richard Sainct, among many others. This year, the Portuguese drivers took the lead and produced new stories, within history. Besides the shortest margin of victory ever in the Baja Portalegre 500, in bikes (read more below), the car race was marked by the victory of the national and European champion João Ferreira who, at the age of 23, became the youngest winner ever of an event of the FIA Bajas World Cup.
The last day of the race started with Yazeed Al-Rajhi reinforcing the lead he already had from the previous day, with the Toyota driver being the fastest in the 204.66 kilometres of SS3. However, João Ferreira was only 4.3s behind the Saudi and kept the pressure on for the fourth and decisive SS. There, heavy rain - with periods of hail - completely changed the profile of the competition. The SSV of the T3 category started to impose the pace and Armindo Araújo became the fastest driver, before a crash left the seven-time Portuguese rally champion out of action. João Dias, the national champion of the category, then became the most serious candidate to the victory - which would be the first of a T3 in the World Cup -, but João Ferreira made a remarkable final step and cancelled the time lost to the Can-Am driver. The young driver from Leiria, navigated by David Monteiro, closes the season with a memorable victory in the ACP race.
"It's an incredible feeling, I can't believe I've managed to win. After the accident we had last week, I didn't believe I could win the race, or that I would be able to keep up with the fastest ones. It was a struggle from the first kilometre, but I am very satisfied. The season was good (in fact, only one victory didn't make the championship) and I want to thank all those who supported us, especially our parents, ARC and X-Raid", said the MINI driver, who then explained the secret of his victory in Portalegre: "The last sector was particularly difficult, because of the rain, which made the surface very treacherous. In the creeks we had some scares, because the car would get stuck crossing the water and that was when João Dias would gain time. Then, in the final part, as it was drier, it was possible to attack. To finish like this is like ‘putting the cherry on top of the cake’", said the young national and European champion.
After 447.62 timed kilometres, João Dias and João Miranda were 21.7s behind the MINI duo, demonstrating the effectiveness of the T3, which are lighter but have a lower top speed than the T1. "The result was spectacular and João Ferreira deserved the victory, I congratulate him. I did what I could. At 60km from the end I knew I was in the lead, but then, as the track had many straights until the end, the handicap of our car, which is limited to 135km/h of top speed, did not allow us to fight on equal terms. Still, I'm happy with the result," pointed out the Can-Am driver.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi was out of the fight for the victory in SS4, with steering problems in his Toyota Hilux T1+, making way for Luís Portela de Morais' podium, with the T3 navigated by Tomás Dantas. Tiago Reis and Valter Cardoso also had a troubled day this Saturday, but the Toyota Hilux duo took the fourth place, ahead of Cristiano de Sousa and Fausto Mota’s Can-Am, which completed the first five.
In the National Event, Filipe Cameirinha and José Marques won, driving a Can-Am, in front of the surprising Sérgio Matos (navigated by Sebastião Dominguez), who took the Mercedes pick-up to the second place, only in his second TT competition.
Maio takes his 8th win by... one-tenth of a second!
Absolutely amazing! By a scarce tenth of a second, António Maio (Yamaha) conquered his 8th victory in Baja Portalegre 500! This happened after 414,21 kilometres of timed courses, with surfaces that alternated between dry and muddy, crossing water courses and the usual difficulties in the tracks of Alto Alentejo. "I'm really happy", said the seven-time national off-road champion. “Making history in Portalegre is very good. I've already lost this race and the championship by one second. Everything has happened to me in this race. So, to win by one-tenth is a victory, even more because I am celebrating 20 years of my career. I want to thank my family, my friends and the sponsors who have accompanied me throughout these 20 years, some of them since forever. But I also want to dedicate this victory to Armindo Neves", a driver who recently passed away in the Africa Eco Race.
Although a tenth of a second prevented the debut in the highest place on the podium, Martim Ventura (Yamaha), the brilliant runner-up, could not hide contradictory emotions: "I don't know what to say... I have to be happy with the rhythm and for showing that I am capable in the coming years. Yesterday, I was the fastest on the track clearly, but I got a two-minute penalty... It is what it is, but I am proud to be here competing against Maio, who I´ve been following since I was seven or eight years old. Ten years ago I never thought that this could happen, but I worked hard and for a tenth I didn't make it. But we're going to be here next year and we'll see what happens."
A duel between two extraordinary drivers, from different generations, who entered the history of Baja Portalegre 500 with the smallest difference registered between the two first classified.
The lowest place on the podium was occupied by Gustavo Gaudêncio (Honda), while Miguel Castro (KTM) and Daniel Jordão (Husqvarna) closed the front quintet.
João Vale's winning debut
Also in Quads, two riders fought, from the first kilometre, in a lively fight for victory. After having been the fastest in the “Prologue”, João Vale (Yamaha) entered today's "special" with a very strong pace, which allowed him to regain the lead and to maintain, throughout the more than 300 kilometres of the course, a relatively comfortable advantage over Luís Fernandes (Yamaha). In the end, the driver couldn't hide his emotion for his debut on the top of the podium: "My team and I had been trying to win for some time. It wasn't the first, and it wasn't the second, but as the saying goes, three's a charm. We were intelligent, the strongest and it was really an extraordinary season", in a reference to the fact that he added the national title to his victory in Baja Portalegre 500, in the same season.
Victim of an uncooperative engine in some phases of the race and of a fall, Luís Fernandes (Yamaha) was the second classified, while Filipe Silva (Suzuki) was the one who climbed to the lowest place on the podium. Fernando Cardoso and Rafael Carvalho (both on Yamaha) completed the top five.
Gonçalo Guerreiro becomes champion for the second time
For the second year in a row, Gonçalo Guerreiro, with Fernando Mendes as navigator, conquered the victory at Baja Portalegre 500 in the SSV category. A success that allowed him to become national champion. Two reasons strong enough to justify being one of the most emotional in the final control, but with other emotions in the mix: "I don't know what to say. I'm happy, but it was a difficult race. I dedicate this victory and the title... to my grandmother, who passed away recently."
The duo João Monteiro/Nuno Morais was the main opponent. "We started badly, then came to attack, but 15 kilometres from the end a belt broke. It's inglorious, but that's how it is, that's racing", said the driver. In the immediate places were classified Marco Pereira/Eurico Adão, Ricardo Sousa/Jorge Brandão and Ruben Rodrigues/Rui Paulo, who closed the front quintet.
Roberto Borrego, the championship leader at the start of the Baja Portalegre 500, also deserves a mention, but today he was withdrawn from the discussion of the top places due to technical problems. The ninth place was not enough to prevent Gonçalo Guerreiro from reaching the title.
Results - Baja Portalegre 500
1º João Ferreira / David Monteiro (MINI), 5h43m56,6s
2º João Dias / João Miranda (Can Am), a 21,7s
3º Luís Portela de Morais/Tomás Neves (OT3 OT3), a 4m26,6s
4º Tiago Reis/Valter Cardoso (Toyota), a 14m30,9
5º Cristiano Batista/Fausto Mota (BRP Can Am Maverick), a16m29,4s
1º António Maio (Yamaha), 5h07m53,1s
2º Martim Ventura (Yamaha), a 0,1s
3º Gustavo Gaudêncio (Honda), a 7m28,5s
4º Miguel Castro (KTM), a 11m30,1s
5º Daniel Jordão (Husqvarna), a 13m39,3s
1º João Vale (Yamaha), 5h43m08,6
2º Luís Fernandes (Yamaha), a 3m24,4s
3º Filipe Silva (Suzuki), a 18m08,4
4º Fernando Cardoso (Yamaha), a 18m38,4s
5º Rafael Carvalho (Yamaha), a 19m59,9s
1º Gonçalo Guerreiro/Fernando Mendes (Bombardier Can Am RXS), 5h29m21s
2º João Monteiro/Nuno Morais (Can Am Maverick X3), a 4m04,2s
3º Marco Pereira/Eurico Adão (Can Am Maverick XRS), a 11m28,1s
4º Ricardo Sousa/Jorge Brandão (BRP Can Am X3), a 13m47s
5º André Carita (Can Am X3), a 14m03,5s
1º Domingos da Cunha (Yamaha), 1h06m54s
2º Miguel Ferreira (Yamaha), a 1m53s
3º António Feliciano (Yamaha), a 3m03,9s
4º Luís Brandão (KTM), a 5m30,7s
5º Martim Caetano (Yamaha), a 6m40,5s
Complete results: https://bit.ly/3FsAI9g