Volkswagen Magazine

Sport

Friends of the race.

Eruptions of dust and noise, long days at the course. According to fans of the World Rally Championship, that’s not misery but the opposite – a dream come true. What drives racing fans? We asked them – at the Rally Portugal.

Text Alexander Langer
Photos Lara Jacinto (18), Volkswagen Motorsport (5)
No one is too young for the WRC: Vera da Silva Pereira and daughter Francesca (eleven months) at the Rally de Portugal.

First, chaos. Second, precision. You can often hear the two contradictory terms when asking spectators at the course in Baião, northern Portugal what fascinates them most about the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).

Chaos: The raw power on display, the billowing clouds of dust, the roar of engines heralding the cars’ approach from afar. Precision: The enviable ability with which the drivers and co-drivers master the course at top speeds, like surgeons with a scalpel. 

Around 30,000 people have come to the Portuguese round of this year’s World Rally Championship (which concludes in Australia in November 2016). They are cheering on stage winner Sébastien Ogier (Volkswagen) and enjoying the contrasts.

An event that provides such a broad range of fascination naturally has a thoroughly mixed international fan following: young and old, groups and individuals, boisterous extremists and quieter devotees. The WRC has a thousand faces – at least in the morning. After that, they soon disappear behind a thick layer of dust.

Andreas Mikkelsen (start number 9) swept into second place for Volkswagen Motorsport in Portugal.

Today Tiago is allowed to talk incessantly about Latvala.

THE FAN AND THE PATIENT OBSERVER Their agreement is very simple. Today Tiago Machado can talk about rally magician Jari-Matti Latvala as much as he likes. His girlfriend Patricia Honteiro officially says that’s fine – “as long as he keeps quiet about it for the rest of the year.” That’s difficult, as Tiago works as a car engineer and is therefore pretty close to the subject. During the racing season he generally spends the weekends in front of the television and follows the rallies – usually with his friends who “are always hanging around him,” as Honteiro puts it, while he shrugs his shoulders and grins. “Races like this one always inspire me. I love cars more than anything else.” Another outgrowth of Machado’s enthusiasm is that he plans to take a trip with Honteiro to Finland – to Jari-Matti Latvala’s native country, for a WRC event, of course. Honteiro nods. The prospect of a real trip far, far away to the completely un-Portugal-like Nordic country seems to sound like a pretty attractive idea. A car zips past, you can’t see through the brown wall of dust. “Was that Latvala?” Honteiro asks. Machado blinks in the dust. The car is long gone. He shrugs his shoulders.

Whoever wants the best spot along the course must spend the night on-site – in a tent.
Around 100,000 spectators came to the Rally de Portugal – some boisterous, others relaxed.

»I want to see as much as I can here

THE SAVOURER In the face of the raw thunder of engines, can you savour rallies, like a painting, or a ballet? Not half! Cristóbal Rey, 23, from Galicia in Spain, is standing alone in the wind. He usually installs alarm systems, but today he has his hands in his pocket, his gaze directed toward the Portuguese hinterland. He acknowledges every car that zips by with a brief nod. Every car? “Well, especially the Polo. I am a true fan of that car. I drive one myself.” He raises his jacket as proof, revealing a blue T-shirt with ”Polo” printed on it in large letters, complete with a sketch of the car. Then he turns back to the race course. “I only got today off,” he says, sounding slightly apologetic. “I want to get as much out of the race as I can.” He has to drive back this evening, up the coast to Spain. With a heart full of racing poetry.

Francesca enjoys the rally with earphones.


THE RACING MUM “Last year my husband and I were here, too, but only the two of us,” says Vera da Silva Pereira from Porto. She was “very, very pregnant” at the time. Today daughter Francesca is 11 months old – and appears to be enjoying her first race, thanks to elegant ear protectors, while dad waves from the course edge. They left a location some way north of Porto before dawn in order to grab a good spot; there’s no way the father will leave his 40 centimetres of fence space even for a moment. “This is the first trip that we have all taken together as a family. And I usually would have read up on the field of drivers beforehand,” says the mum, who has been interested in all kinds of motorsports for 20 years. Her favourite is Formula 1, and she has even driven to the Nürburgring to see a race. “But this year I just didn’t get around to picking out a favourite in advance.” She smiles at her child. “This year I simply had other things to do.”

THE BIKER CREW “Everything gets harder as you grow older,” says Alexandre Carvalhais (the one with the sunglasses). The entrepreneur from Felgueiras has finally managed to get the lads from his motorcycle club together for an outing –and they are actually quite happy about it, even a little grateful. They are all over 40, have family, jobs, hardly any free time. Carvalhais had to check “thousands of calendars against one another. It used to be simpler. When we were young we just got together and drove off somewhere.” As already noted, the lads are actually quite grateful. “We get together so rarely,” they all say. But? Lots of laughter, headshaking. “But then he wants us to look at cars – of all things!” they exclaim. Carvalhais smiles and explains: “We are genuine bikers. Some of us took part in the Paris-Dakar Rally, and did the whole course from start to finish.” Are they having fun watching the cars anyway? The answer comes with an exchange of high fives, loud laughter and a couple of half hugs. “When we get together, we always have a great time!”

Tasty barbequed food and white wine in plastic cups: the unofficial WRC menu in Portugal is unbeatable.

Four hours of driving from Asturia? No big deal.

THE EXPERT “I was one of the first Spaniards to get the new version of the Scirocco in 2008,” Oscar Fernandez says with pride. Into the ground behind him, the test driver has rammed the flag of Asturia – the province in northern Spain he started out from in the early morning for the four-hour drive to Baião. He planned the drive meticulously with friends beforehand, he points to all the canned goods that he is carrying in the luggage next to him. “I prepared everything at home: spaghetti, sandwiches, even pizza, though I don’t know yet how I’m going to heat it up.” Perhaps because it is the first time he has left Spain and isn’t familiar with the cuisine of the neighbouring country? He laughs: “Maybe, completely subconsciously. But I don’t want to spend more money here than is absolutely necessary, I’d rather invest it in my car.” He is also going to spend the night in his car. In the Scirocco? “Definitely not, it’s too good for that. I borrowed a mate’s old Jetta.”

»The start of the season is our biggest month.«

THE PARTY BRIGADE “The start of the season is always our biggest month,” says Rui Pedro Fernandes (centre, green pullover). The start of the rally season? “That, too. For us, though, it is more the start of everything to do with festivals. The party kickoff.” Fernandes and his friends are in their early 30s, some of them still students, some working – a colourful group who come together from all over Portugal. To them, the Baião race is the starting signal for a summer full of weekends: huge discos on Ibiza, electro clubs in Berlin, hanging out on the beach and partying in Barcelona. And – just like now – camping and freezing in the rainy Portuguese heartland. “The cheap flights make it possible,” says Fernandes. “Not all of us manage to make all of the trips. But missing Baião is simply not an option. The atmosphere here is fantastic. No one wants to pass it up – no matter the weather.” Only one question remains: What’s with the Union Jack? Rui turns serious: it is a homage to the late British rally driver Colin McRae. “The man is simply a legend.”

Camping under the Portuguese banner: Most of the rally away fans have travelled to Porto from within their own country.
There is no Portuguese driver in the field – but that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm at all.

Volkswagen and the WRC

The FIA World Rally Championship is the crown jewel of motorsport. In 2016, the series is taking place for the 44th time – with Volkswagen as the defending champion of multiple titles. Sébastien Ogier was World Champion with the Polo R WRC in 2013, 2014 and 2015; Volkswagen Motorsport took first place in the manufacturers’ championship.

Defending the title in 2016 is a particular challenge for Volkswagen. Ogier has to go first in the race on the first two days of each rally, and that's a big disadvantage on the gravel courses of Mexico, Argentina and Sardinia, and especially at the Rally Poland, which was literally inundated with mud at the beginning of July. Nevertheless, Ogier has a commanding lead at the halfway stage of the championship – leading two other Volkswagen drivers, Andreas Mikkelsen (ranked second) and Jari-Matti Latvala (ranked fourth). The title will be decided at the upcoming asphalt races in Germany (August), China (September) and Corsica (October), then in Spain and Wales (both in October) before the final race in Australia (18–20 November).

More on the WRC at

»He has been taking me to every race since we got married.«


DIE CAMPER „Die Mütze? Die stellt eine alte portugiesische Redensart dar“, sagt Inez Fernandes Garcia. Sie ist Portugiesischlehrerin in einem Ort nördlich von Porto. Das Sprichwort besagt im übertragenen Sinn so etwas wie Hals- und Beinbruch, die legendäre, leicht fatalistische Wird-schon-schiefgehen-Haltung, auf der die Rallye-Welt mitsamt ihrer Last-minute-Improvisation aufzubauen scheint. Seit 30 Jahren sind sie und João miteinander verheiratet. „Seitdem nimmt er mich zu allen Rennen mit – zumindest kommt es mir so vor!“, lacht sie. „Aber eigentlich, muss ich zugeben, macht es mir auch jedes Mal wieder Spaß. Man bekommt viel von der Natur hier mit, und die ist ja wirklich atemberaubend.“ Inez zeigt auf im Nebel versteckte Hügel und felsige, zerklüftete Hänge. Ab und zu, wenn sie nicht wie dieses Mal über Nacht im Zelt bleiben, nehmen sie dann auch ihre Tochter mit, die mittlerweile im Teenageralter ist. João, Ingenieur, tiefenentspannt, lächelt weise und freut sich übers motorisierte Ehe- und Familienglück. Wird nicht schiefgehen!