The history of the Baja Portalegre 500

The Baja of Portalegre was the first cross country event held in Portugal, in June 1987, based in Portalegre city.

In fact, Clube Aventura, headed by José Megre, an ex-Dakar Rally driver, had this event in mind since 1983, but it took him almost four years to materialize the idea, since he had to get the help and authorization from the local authorities. 

As the non competitive cross country events had started in 1982, also organised by Megre and some friends under the banner of Clube Todo-o-Terreno, and as some Portuguese drivers were competing in the Dakar Rally since 1982, (himself one of the works drivers of UMM), Megre had a tremendous success when he launched the first Baja of Portalegre, which was the starting the Cross Country discipline in Portugal.

100 cars and more than 100 bikes entered the first Baja Portalegre, which was run under the name Rali Maratona de Portalegre – sponsored by Finicisa.

The event was run on a circuit of 350 km to be done twice with no stops. Heavy rains and mud made the event a tremendous challenge for drivers, cars and bikes.

The second and third time editions, held the two following years, had the entries doubled and the same mud conditions. On the 4th edition, 250 cars and 450 bikes entered, after a memorable 1989 edition where only 10% of the starters finished!!

Since the first year, the bike race was international and the best riders came to Portalegre. From Serge Bacou, Thierry Charbonnier, Gilles Lalay, Stephane Peterhansel, David Castera, Cyril Esquirol, Richard Sainct, Alain Perez, Thierry Magnaldi, etc.. all have participated in the event.

But only in 1995 and 1996, a foreigner rider won (Richard Sainct and Alain Perez).

The event’s evolution

2023 – For this year's edition, the ingredients remained the same: rain, mud, wind and lots of spectators. October 26, 27 and 28 were marked by emotion to the skin in what was an "old-fashioned Portalegre": a test of strength for the more than 400 competitors who took on the 37th Baja Portalegre 500.

In terms of competition, João Ferreira won his second consecutive victory in cars, now accompanied by Filipe Palmeiro, at the wheel of the Mini JCW Plus in the T1+ category. The former national and European Baja champion, who had arrived in Portugal on the back of a victory in the Morocco Rally in the T4 category, masterfully managed the usual harshness of the Alentejo courses in Saturday's two selective sectors. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, two names that have generated interest and curiosity among the public, made their debut with the Provider Hunter. Although they were unable to reach the podium due to a penalty, they paved the way for Yazeed Al-Rajhi / Timo Gottschalk (Toyota Hilux T1+) and João Dias / João Miranda (Can-Am Maverick X3) to take second and third place respectively.

From four to two wheels, Bruno Santos finally had his place in the sun, ten years after making his Baja debut. The Husqvarna rider, a two-time national TT Rally Raid champion in 2018 and 2019, took the lead about halfway through Saturday's selective sector and gradually widened the gap to his closest rivals. The remaining podium places were taken by André Sérgio (Beta) and Gonçalo Amaral (Honda).

After an illustrious career on motorcycles, Hélder Rodrigues (Can-Am) reached the top step of the SSV podium for the first time. At the same time, João Vale (also at the wheel of a Can-Am) made it two in Portugal with a victory in Quads.

Finally, in the smallest race, it was Domingos Cunha, on a Yamaha, who was fastest, taking his second consecutive victory in the Mini-Baja. Bernardo Caiado (Gas Gas), Manuel Amaral (Yamaha), Luís Rodrigues (KTM) and António Feliciano (Yamaha) rounded off the top five.

2022 – The 36th edition of the Baja Portalegre 500 was the scene of uncertainty right up to the last kilometer, but also of new records that will go down in history. In a year marked by an all-Portuguese podium in cars, João Ferreira was the big star as he became the youngest ever winner of an FIA Bajas World Cup event, aged just 23. The battle for first place was, however, close, with the severe weather conditions dictating the state of the tracks. The difference between the victorious MINI and the Can-Am was just 21.7 seconds, leaving behind the João Dias/João Miranda duo, who took an impressive second place in the end. Luís Portela Morais, navigated by Tomás Neves, profited from Yazeed Al-Rajhi's mechanical problems and managed to secure third place. In the motorcycles, history continues to be written with just one name: António Maio, who won the race for the eighth year, but this time with just a 0.1 second gap to Martim Ventura, in what was the biggest gap ever between the top two finishers in the Baja.

And speaking of records, there were still others in the Quads. João Vale won his first race, after a lively fight for victory between Yamaha rider Luís Fernandes. In SSV, Gonçalo Guerreiro won for the second year running, a success that enabled him to take the title of national champion. Behind were João Monteiro/Nuno Morais and Marco Pereira/Eurico Adão in third place on the podium.

2021  A Baja essentially marked by rain motivated the almost 400 competitors to a competition based on overcoming and resilience. In the end, this was a year of first victories, but also of setting new records: Krzysztof Holowczyc climbed to the top of the podium for the third time in Autos; António Maio for the seventh time in Motorcycles; Luís Fernandes, in Quads, and Gonçalo Guerreiro, in SSV, conquered the first victory of their careers in this year's edition. It is also important to highlight the FIA Bajas Cross-Country World Cup titles, won by the Portuguese brothers Alexandre and Pedro Ré (Category T4), as well as by Bianchi Prata (Veterans/Moto). In another historic year, the 35th Baja Portalegre 500 once again reinforced its prestige and its international dimension as one of the most challenging races in the world.

2020  A totally atypical year, with the Covid-19 global pandemic dictating many limitations and obligations, among them the prohibition of the public, who complied and did not attend for the first time; the need for a negative test for all those involved; and also a very strong storm which caused significant cuts in the total distance of the race given the state of the ground. Bernhard Ten Brinke was the strongest in the Autos category with a Toyota Hilux Overdrive. In the Motorcycles, Sebastian Bühler did the hattrick, once more with another bike. This time with a Hero 450 Rally. A result that earned him the victory in the FIM World Cup. In Quads, Roberto Borrego's exit to the SSV (where he was third), left the door open to Ruben Alexandre's (Yamaha YZF 450R) victory. It was the fulfilment of a dream for the 20-year-old from Crato. In SSVs, triumph for João Dias (Can-Am Maverick X3), who won the National title and the FIM World Cup. The other titles decided were the National Car titles, with Miguel Barbosa winning the eighth crown of his career, and the Motorcycle title, with António Maio taking the best.

2019  In a decisive race, Orlando Terranova triumphed with a Mini JCW Rally and guaranteed the conquest of the FIA Bajas World Cup. In the Motorcycles, Sebastian Bühler did the double, this time with a Husqvarna FC 450, while in the Quads, Roberto Borrego won for the 8th time. The Yamaha YZF 450R rider broke his own record, with eight wins, the last five in a row, raising the bar a little bit higher for those who want to surpass him in terms of triumphs in any of the categories that are part of the race. In SSVs, new year, new winner, with Pedro Carvalho and André Guerreiro, in Can-Am Maverick X3, taking the best.

2018  A year in which Nani Roma returned to the mythical Alentejo race to win his first car race, driving a Mini JCW Rally, in what was the final preparation for another participation in the Dakar. In the Motorbikes, also a debutant winner, with Sebastian Bühler climbing to the top of the podium with Yamaha. Meanwhile, in the Quads, Roberto Borrego signed his fourth consecutive victory in the race, and the seventh of his career to become the most successful driver ever in Portalegre. In the SSVs, which lined up at Baja Portalegre 500 for the second time after the category was created in 2017, victory for Marco Pereira and Eurico Adão, with a Can-Am Maverick X3).

2017 – Another event with several record braking performances. Ricardo Porém beat his own record by winning his fourth back to back Baja Portalegre 500. Adding to that, he also secured the National Championship title. On Bikes, António Maio entred the “Culb of the Six” by winning the Automóvel Club de Portugal’s event for the sixth time, just like Mário Patrão and Roberto Borrego, which also achieved his sixth Quad win in 2017, his second hat-trick at the Baja. Ruben Faria, participating for the first time on the SSV, won the even.

2016 – An historical year for the Baja Portalegre 500 with the celebration of the 30th edition. A year in which Ricardo Porém managed his third consecutive win, a first on the Baja’s history, while Nuno Matos secured the National Championship title. Luís Oliveira was the winner amongst Bikes, while António Maio secured the National Championship title despite a broken collarbone 10 km after the start. Roberto Borrego was the fastest Quad rider, while João Silva and Marco Silva won the UTV/Buggy.

2015 – Ricardo Porém got his second win at the Baja Portalegre 500, but the National Championship went to Miguel Barbosa, second at last year’s event. João Ramos was third, while on the T2 Edgar Condenso was the winner, with the Championship going to César Sequeira. Luís Oliveira won amongst the Bikes, ending an 11-year tradition of victories for either António Maio (5 wins) or Mário Patrão (6). Roberto Borrego won the Quads, with João Dias triumphing on the UTV and Daniel Russo winning the Buggies.

2014 – Ricardo Porém took his first win at the Baja Portalegre 500, which represented also winning the National Championship. Meanwhile. Vladimir Vasilyev was six, taking the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies title. On two wheels, Mário Patrão took his six win, and the National title, while João Lopes was the best amongst the UTV, with Ricardo Carvalho winning on Quads and Bruno Martins on Buggy.

2013 – Krysztof Holowczyc won the Baja Portalegre 500 for the second time, taking also the FIA Cup. Martin Kaczmarski made a 1-2 for Poland, with Pedro Grancha completing the rostrum. Mário Patrão won amongst Bikes, while Andrá Carita was the best in the Quads with Nuno Tavares taking the win on the UTV and Bruno Martins on Buggies.

2012 – Miroslava Zapetal was the winner, ahead of Rui Sousa and Boris Gadasin. António Maio was the winner amongst Bikes, with Rui Serpa and Mário Ferreira triumphing on Buggies, Roberto Borrego on Quads and Dadid Além on UTV.

2011 - More than 600 competitors for the Silver Anniversary of the event. After a sensational drive on the last SS, Filipe Campos won the car category, in front of Helder Oliveira and Miguel Barbosa. With this win, Campos became the most successful driver of event ranking. António Maio was first in the bikes, Roberto Borrego won the quad class, Jorge Monteiro topped the UTC category and Porelo brothers were fastest in the Buggy class.

2010 - Kryzstof Holowczyc in the FIA International Cup for Bajas, and Filipe Campos, for the Portuguese Championship, turn out to be the drivers with greater reason to celebrate at the end of the 24th edition of the Baja BP Ultimate Portalegre 500, running under difficult weather conditions, with rain making the task even tougher for competitors. The Polish driver also secured the win overall, ensuring its first success in Portugal. António Maio won the bike category.

2009 - Fourth victory to Filipe Campos (auto) and Mário Patrão (bike)

2008 - 144 Bikes and 90 cars at the start. The brand new Pajero Racing Lancer with Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottet wins in its first race. In the motorbikes the local “hero” Antonio Maio wins again.

2007 - Portalegre saw for the third time, Miguel Barbosa and Miguel Ramalho claim victory. In the motorbikes the local António Maio wins.

2006 - 211 bikes and 114 cars at the start. Marc Blazquez dominate the race. Only in the first leg Miguel Barbosa fight for the win, but he had to stop due to a puncture. 3rd was Alexandre Ré – with the new Nissan Pathfinder. Between the bikes, Mario Patrão won and Luis Engeitado was the fastest of the quad squad.

2005 - 201 bikes and 133 cars at the start and a great entry from factory’s teams, VW with Carlos Sainz (first cross country race), Bruno Saby, Jutta Kleinschmidt and Mark Miller, and Mitsubishi, with Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka. Under some heavy rain there was a great race between Sainz, Kleinschmidt and Alphand, and the winner was the Mitsubishi of Alphand.

2004 - Colin McRae made his first race with his new Nissan Pick Up, entered by Nismo.

2003 - Porta da Ravessa wine gives way to a new wine: Anta da Serra, of the same company, took the name of the event.

2002 - As a FIA Baja Cup event, the race is re-entered the National Championship, as a “Joker” event. National TV Station RTP was granted the exclusive TV rights of the event.

2001 - A third special stage was introduced for the cars, ran Sunday morning. The event is candidate of the FIA Cup of Bajas.

2000 - The event did not count for the National Championship due to the TV rights exclusive with SIC Television.

1999 - Baja Porta da Ravessa 500 / Portalegre – A new sponsor again and until this date. The Adega Cooperativa do Redondo, producer of some of the best Alentejo Wines (Porta da Ravessa), became the main sponsor. For the first time this event was ran on two special stages for cars.

1997 - 11th Baja Galp 500 Portalegre – The event gets a news sponsor and, due to heavy rain, was shortened to 200 Kms. The main National TV Network – SIC, started a 5 years strong coverage of the event.

1990 - On the bikes, the race changed to one driver per bike. Entries rose to 250 cars and 450 bikes and an identical figure was reached on the following three years!

1989 - The event is run on a single lap of 500 km, under the name – 500 km Cerveja Sagres Portalegre.

1988 - Second edition with 2 laps on a 400 km itinerary (800 Km Finicisa – Portalegre)

1987 - First edition of the event under the name Rali Maratona de Portalegre Finicisa. With 2 laps on 350 km itinerary.

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