Baja Portalegre 500 enters the decisive day with Al-Rajhi in front

during the 2022 Baja Portalegre 500, 6th round of the 2022 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, from October 27 to 29, 2022 in Portalegre, Portugal - Photo Paulo Maria / DPPI

The first competitive day of the 36th Baja Portalegre 500 ended with the Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota) as leader in cars. The Portuguese drivers, led by João Ferreira (MINI), are fighting for the victory in the ACP event, where António Maio (bikes), Luís Fernandes (quads) and João Monteiro (SSV) also lead their respective categories. Rain forecast for tomorrow may reinforce (even more) the competitive interest.

After the crowd that attended the starting ceremony, yesterday, in the centre of Portalegre, the first stage of the Baja Portalegre 500 once again had thousands of spectators, throughout the 63.32 kilometres of timed courses this Friday.

The competition started with the usual morning Qualifying Stage, at Herdade das Coutadas, raced by over 400 competitors of 22 nationalities. In the cars, Miguel Barbosa and Hugo Magalhães were the first leaders of the race, in the debut of the Toyota Hilux T1+ with which Nasser Al-Attiyah became Rally-Raids World Champion. However, Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz imposed their speed on the 59.61 kilometres of Selective Sector 2, also driving one of the newest Toyotas built by Overdrive. « Everything is going well, and we are really enjoying the race, both because of the courses and the spectators. In fact, I haven’t seen so many spectators since the Dakar in Argentina. There are really many motorsport fans in this region and that is really good for us », underlined the Saudi driver.

The national champion in title and winner of the FIA Bajas European Cup, young João Ferreira and navigator David Monteiro are the runners-up, putting the MINI JCW in the fight for victory. « The day went well. The courses were very technical and fast, but we didn’t make any mistakes. We must not forget that the race is long and that a lot can happen », said the young driver from Leiria.

João Ferreira finished the first day 52.5s behind Al-Rajhi, with Miguel Barbosa in third in the overall classification, 1m09s behind the Saudi pilot. Lourenço Rosa and Joaquim Dias, who were the first on the road during the afternoon Selective Sector, placed their Hilux T1+ in fourth place, while João Dias and João Miranda close the top 5 in the overall classification, with the Can-Am of the T3 category.

In the National Event, Amândio Alves and Nuno Sousa were the fastest in the Prologue, with their Mercedes Cattiva Proto, but then Filipe Cameirinha and José Marques took the lead of the overall classification during the Selective Sector. The Can-Am duo is 2m06s ahead of Nuno Tordo and Nuno Batalha (Nissan Navara) and 2m09s ahead of Lino Carapeta and Rui António (Range Rover Evoque).

António Maio leads in bikes
In the bike race, André Sérgio (Yamaha) started out as the fastest in the 3.71 kilometers of the Qualifying Special, but in the Selective Sector 2 (59.6 km), António Maio (Yamaha) took the lead in the general classification and affirmed the candidacy for an eighth victory in Portalegre. « I’ve been setting a strong pace, but above all, safely. The surface is spectacular, and the bike was also perfect, so I had a first day as planned, without mishaps or mistakes. It’s been excellent training for Dakar and it’s been a few years since we had such a long race, so I want to enjoy it. »

Martim Ventura was just behind the seven-time national champion, a mere 3.5 seconds behind Maio, but a two-minute penalty relegated him to fourth place. Thus, António Maio starts tomorrow 27.7 seconds ahead of Gustavo Gaudêncio (Honda) and 1m27.5 seconds ahead of Miguel Castro (KTM), with Tomás Clemente (Gas Gas) completing the first five, just behind Martim Ventura.

Vasco Severino (Yamaha) leads the Promotion/Hobby category, while Domingos da Cunha (Yamaha) is the first classified in the Mini Baja, leading the promising group of young pilots, aged between 10 and 16 years old.

Luís Fernandes leads the Quads
In Quads, João Vale and Luís Fernandes (both on Yamaha) started, in the Qualifying Special, a duel that lasted until the afternoon. If João Vale opened the day as the fastest, in the 59.6km of Selective Sector 2, it was Luís Fernandes who prevailed, with an advantage of about 0.5s per kilometre over his opponent. « It was a good day, despite some exaggerations. I came off the road sometimes and the bike also started to fail in the final stage of the sector, due to the water. But I’m going to tomorrow’s stage with the same pace », confessed Luís Fernandes. The two pilots ended the day separated by 26,1s, which means a lively fight for the more than 300 kilometers of tomorrow’s course.

Despite the initial disadvantage, pilots like Fábio Ferreira, Rafael Carvalho and Flávio Gonçalves may still interfere in the fight for the victory, being currently in the front quintet.

Balance in SSV
The SSV were synonymous with spectacle and competitiveness on the first day of Baja Portalegre 500. Only 43.9s separated the first five classified at the end of the 63.32 kilometres of timed courses this Friday, with surfaces that alternated between dry and muddy, crossing water courses and the usual difficulties in the Alto Alentejo trails. João Monteiro starts tomorrow 5,7s ahead to Pedro Santinho Mendes, 7,4s over Roberto Borrego, 40,1s over Roberto Guerreiro (winner of last year’s edition), and 43,9 seconds over Luís Cidade. « We set a good pace. It was a pity we caught Pedro (Grancha) at kilometre 30. It wasn’t his fault, but we were more than 10km behind him because the Stella didn’t work. The margin in the lead is not very big, but it was a good start, » said the leader.

Despite the length – and toughness – of tomorrow’s stage, the winner of the Baja Portalegre 500 should come out of this quintet.

Decisive stage with rain
Tomorrow, the car competitors will compete in a morning Selective Sector with 179.64 timed kilometres and later, the decisive afternoon Selective Sector with 204.66 timed kilometres. The bikes, quads and SSV competitors, on the other hand, will have only one Selective Sector, 350.89 kilometres long. And with the strong probability of rain, from the end of the morning, the ACP race promises excitement until the last kilometre.

Standings Baja Portalegre 500 – Stage 1
1º Yazeed Al-Rajhi / Dirk Von Zitzewitz (Toyota), 43m43,4s
2º João Ferreira / David Monteiro (MINI), at 52,5s
3º Miguel Barbosa / Hugo Magalhães (Toyota), at 1m09,5s
4º Lourenço Rosa / Joaquim Dias (Toyota), at 1m21,9s
5º João Dias / João Miranda (Can Am), at 1m44,5s

1º António Maio (Yamaha), 46m44s
2º Gustavo Gaudêncio (Honda), at 27,7s
3º Miguel Castro (KTM), at 1m27,5s
4º Martim Ventura (Yamaha), at 2m10,2s
5º Tomás Gonçalves (Gas Gas), at 2m23,8s

1º Luís Fernandes (Yamaha), 49m05,5s
2º João Vale (Yamaha), at 26,1s
3º Fábio Ferreira (ATV), at 1m54,7s
4º Rafael Carvalho (Yamaha), at 2m22,1s
5º Flávio Gonçalves (Yamaha), at 2m35,0s

1º João Monteiro (Can Am Maverick X3), 47m44,5s
2º Pedro Santinho Mendes (Maverick Can Am), at 5,7s
3º Roberto Borrego ((Can Am Maverick X3), at 7,4s
4º Gonçalo Guerreiro (Bombardier Can Am RXS), at 40,1s
5º Luís Cidade (Can Am Maverick XRS), at 43,9s