Rain, mud, a huge crowd, but also a lot of emotion in the discussion of the top places in the different categories. Basically, “an old-fashioned Portalegre”, a test of resilience for the more than 400 competitors who faced the 37th edition of the Baja Portalegre 500. In the end, a second consecutive victory for the young Portuguese driver João Ferreira (Mini) in Cars, while Bruno Santos (Bikes), João Vale (Quads), Hélder Rodrigues (SSV) and Domingos Cunha (Mini Baja) triumphed in their respective categories.
"An incredible race, with fantastic stages through the mud, and a truly astounding number of spectators!" These were the words of the renowned Swedish ace Mattias Ekström, a first-timer at the Baja Portalegre 500, known for being a two-time DTM champion, World Rallycross champion, and Dakar stage winner. His words are a testament to the overwhelming success and uniqueness of the Automóvel Club de Portugal's event. Despite a weekend marked by challenging weather conditions that flooded several portions of the course and resulted in the shortening of the last selective sector on Saturday, the Baja Portalegre 500 once again solidified its position as one of the most grueling and emblematic international off-road races.
In the realm of sports, João Ferreira clinched his second consecutive victory in the car race. Accompanied by the experienced Filipe Palmeiro and steering the Mini JCW Plus in the T1+ category, the former national and European Baja champion managed the grueling course masterfully and led the race in both of Saturday's selective sectors. Speaking at the finish line, João Ferreira expressed, "It's an incredible feeling. We knew before the race that we'd be competing against the reigning World Champion (Note: Al-Attiyah) and the runner-up (Note: Al-Rajhi). We gave our all in challenging conditions, amid abundant water and mud. Winning in Portalegre is always particularly special, especially under these conditions and with this level of competition."
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, making their debut with the Prodrive Hunter, incurred a 20-minute penalty in the morning sector for obstructing João Ferreira's Mini. This penalty opened the door for Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk (Toyota Hilux T1+), who secured second place in the provisional overall standings. The Saudi driver expressed his contentment, "This race in Portugal is never easy. There are numerous spectators along the route, it's incredible, and the organization does an excellent job. It's genuinely enjoyable to race here."
Al-Attiyah appealed the 20-minute penalty, which could potentially enable him to improve upon his 12th place finish. João Dias and João Miranda (Can-Am Maverick X3) replicated their podium finish from 2022, securing third place just 17 seconds behind Al-Rajhi's Toyota. They are likely to confirm their title as T3 national champions. Armindo Araújo and Luís Ramalho, the fastest in Selective Sector 4 with another Can-Am from the Santag team, came very close to securing an overall podium in fourth place. The top five was completed by another Can-Am in the T3 category, piloted by Alexandre Pinto and Bernardo Oliveira. Brazilian Cristiano Batista, guided by Robledo Nicoletti, clinched victory in T4 with his Can-Am, while Alexandre and Rui Franco managed the same feat in T1, despite encountering turbo issues with their Mercedes 350D.
Tomás Gameiro and António Saraiva triumphed in T2 with their Toyota LC200, and Ricardo Sousa secured the top spot in the CNTT race with a Can-Am navigated by Jorge Brandão. Sérgio Matos and Sebastião Dominguez repeated their victory in the National Event, driving a Mercedes-Benz pick-up.
Bruno Santos wins for the first time in Portalegre
Ten years after making his debut in the event, Bruno Santos has been consecrated on the top step of the Baja Portalegre 500 podium. The Husqvarna rider, a two-time national TT Rally Raid champion in 2018 and 2019, started today in third position, but when he took the lead about halfway through the Selective Sector, he gradually widened the gap to his closest rivals. In the end, he was 2m44s ahead of the second-placed driver. "I made very few mistakes and rode very cautiously, as I didn't set out to give everything in Portalegre. As I have to be ready for the Dakar, I was very afraid of suffering an injury, but as the race progressed, and with António Maio's difficulties, I saw that I had an opportunity and I took it," said Bruno Santos.
The remaining podium places were taken by André Sérgio (Beta) and Gonçalo Amaral (Honda), while Tomás Dias (Fantic) and João Duarte (Honda) closed out the front quintet. It should be noted that António Maio, the national TT champion and eight-time winner in Portalegre, came 19th due to a leak in the petrol pipe of his Yamaha.
Hélder Rodrigues triumphs in SSV
After an illustrious career on motorbikes, Hélder Rodrigues (Can-Am) is also making waves on SSVs, having been the strongest in Portalegre, his first victory in this category. "This means a lot to me. After a tough year, winning here is very special. The car was impeccable, I had no punctures and in the final part I had to manage to overtake the 4 bikes." In the provisional final classification, João Monteiro (Can-Am) was second and, with this result, will be the new national champion, while Pedro Santinho Mendes (Can-Am) finished in third place, after having taken the lead in the race.
João Vale dominates in the Quads
For the second year running, João Vale (Can-Am) dominated the Quads at the Baja Portalegre 500, with the Santo Tirso driver laying down the law right from the prologue. "A great victory! At kilometre 40 we suffered some bad luck when we ran out of brakes at the front. I thought it wouldn't be possible, but mission accomplished and congratulations to the team," emphasised João Vale.
Tomás Paulo (Yamaha) was second, 2m57.9s behind the leader, while Flávio Gonçalves, Filipe Silva and Rodrigo Alves (all on Yamaha) closed out the front quintet.
With a dramatic finish, after being towed for more than 80 kilometres by teammate Tiago Teixeira, Rafael Carvalho came to the end very emotional, at a time when he was arguing for the title of national champion. "There are no words to describe it. This is undoubtedly the spirit of the Baja," the 21-year-old said tearfully, in one of the most striking images of this year's edition. Although the classification is still provisional, Luís Fernandes (Yamaha) should be the new SSV national champion.
Young Domingos Cunha wins the Mini Baja national championship
Aged between nine and 16, the young Mini Baja drivers were real heroes in Portalegre, given the rain and the road conditions they had to face. In the end, Domingos Cunha (Yamaha) won his second consecutive race in Portalegre, a result that enabled him to become the national youth champion. "It was a great race, with a spectacular course. The surfaces were a bit rougher after the cars had passed, but it was always fun from start to finish and I achieved my goal," said Domingos Cunha.
Bernardo Caiado (Gas Gas), Manuel Amaral (Yamaha), Luís Rodrigues (KTM) and António Feliciano (Yamaha) rounded off the top five, but the former was proud to have won the Novice class and become national champion. Francisco Porto Nunes (Yamaha) won the Children's class and celebrated his championship title in the best way possible.
In a competition featuring almost six dozen participants in the Promo & Hobby categories, the victories were claimed by Luís Rodrigues (Hobby Motos), Frederico Ribeirinho (Hobby Quads), Gita Gomes (Hobby SSV), Duarte Pereira (Open Moto), António Coimbra (Open SSV), Tiago Ferreira (Maxi Baja), Francisco Jacinto (Maxi Baja S1), and João Rebelo (Maxi Baja V2).