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Cross-Country - Al-Attiyah tops 37th Baja Portalegre field on 1st appearance in BRX Prodrive Hunter


FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, round 6 of 8 - 37th Baja Portalegre 500 (October 26-28)

Following the cancellation of the Jordan Baja, this week’s 37th Baja Portalegre 500 will be the sixth and penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas. 

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the clear favourite to claim the Drivers’ Championship title to add to his second successive triumph in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) and the Qatari heads an impressive FIA field of 67 vehicles. Twenty-one will compete in the T1 and T1+ sections, there are three entries in T2 for series production cross-country machines, 35 in T3 and eight in T4. 

Al-Attiyah arrives in Portugal with an advantage of 70 points over former Toyota team-mate and rival Yazeed Al-Rajhi in the points’ standings. The Qatari was a late entry for the event in Portugal and will drive a BRX Prodrive Hunter for the first time after making the switch from Toyota Gazoo Racing after the recent Rally of Morocco. Al-Rajhi and co-driver Timo Gottschalk crew their usual Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. 

João Ferreira won the event last year alongside David Monteiro in an X-raid Mini JCR Rally and the Portuguese, who holds joint fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, returns to defend his title this season with Filipe Palmeiro in an X-raid Mini JCW Rally Plus. Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc and Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini are third and fourth in the standings but have not made the trip to Portugal.

Overdrive Racing will be hoping to keep the X-Raid Mini JCW Team at bay in the duel for the Teams’ Championship. The two are currently separated by 17 points.

Main competition for the regular FIA World Cup contingent comes from a strong Portuguese line-up that includes Tiago Reis, João Ramos, Francisco Barreto and João Ramos in four Toyota Hiluxes, Nuno Madeira in a Ford Ranger and Maria Gameiro at the wheel of a Mini JCW Rally. 

With just two rounds of the series to run in Portugal and Dubai, Meshari Al-Thefiri holds a slender seven-point lead in the T3 section for lightweight prototype cross-country machines. The Kuwaiti’s nearest challenger is Otavio Sousa Leite of Brazil, although the South Racing Can-Am Team duo of Fernando Alvarez and Dania Akeel are still in with a shout of lifting the title and hold third and fourth in the championship standings. 

João Dias teamed up with João Miranda to finish second overall and first in T3 last season and the duo head a strong Santag Racing Can-Am line-up that includes Mavericks for Armindo Araújo, Paulo Rodrigues and Eduardo Mota. Ricardo Porém is a four-time outright winner of Baja Portalegre and he also drives a Can-Am in the T3 category. 

Also in T3, South Racing has entered additional Can-Ams for regular Team Audi Sport driver Mattias Ekström, Helder Oliveira, Alexandre Ré and Adam Thomelius. Egidijus Valaiša wheels out an SRT-run Can-Am and Luis Portela represents the G Rally Team amongst the 37-car T3 field.

Dakar and W2RC regular Mathieu Serradori switches from a Century CR6 to tackle the Portuguese event in a new Apache APH-01. Partnered by Loic Minaudier, Serradori will give the Apache its first competitive appearance. The hybrid machine is powered by both an electric and a three-cylinder Peugeot engine and is built from flax fibre. For 2024, the machine will qualify for the T3.U category for Light Prototypes with hybrid or electric power. 

Cristiano De Sousa Batista tops the FIA World Cup’s T4 standings by 38 points from the absent Jeremie Warnia. A useful finish over the weekend will be enough to confirm the title following the loss of the final round in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at the end of November. The Brazilian finished fifth overall in Portugal last year. 

The South Racing Can-Am Team already holds an unassailable advantage over the FN Speed Team in the T4 Teams category. 

Spaniards Ricardo Ramilo and Pau Navarro are third and fourth in the rankings but only Ramilo has made the trip to Portugal, where he faces further competition from Francisco Rodriguez (Yamaha), Sean Haran (Polaris) and Can-Ams in the hands of João Paula, Alexander Toril, Carlos Vento and Severino Gallini. 

Action gets underway with a 3.71km Prologue at Coutadas on Friday (October 27). This will decide the running order for the afternoon’s 65.52km stage. 

The majority of the action takes place on Saturday (October 28) with two passes through a demanding 180km stage along narrow rural Portuguese tracks, where inclement weather conditions can completely alter the nature of the terrain. 

37th Baja Portalegre 500 – leading entries (top 10):
200. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND), BRX Prodrive Hunter
201. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU), Toyota Hilux Overdrive
202. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT), Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus    
203. Tiago Reis (PRT)/Valter Cardosa (PRT), Toyota Hilux
204. Francisco Barreto (PRT)/Carlos Silva (PRT), Toyota Hilux
205. Ronald Schoolderman (NLD)/Mark Salomons (NLD), Mitsubishi ASX
206. João Ramos (PRT)/João Carvalho (PRT), Toyota Hilux
207. Nuno Madeira (PRT)/José Janela (PRT), Ford Ranger 
208. Miguel Casaca (PRT)/João Luis (PRT), Volkswagen Amarok
209. Jorge Cardoso (PRT)/Rui Marques (PRT), Mercedes A140 Proto

Timetable of events

Thursday, October 26 
Administration checks, NERPOR          07.30-16.00
Scrutineering checks, NERPOR             09.00-18.00
Press conference, Jardim do Tarro – Portalegre    21.00hrs
Ceremonial start, Jardim do Tarro – Portalegre    21.30hrs 
Friday, October 27  
SS1 Prologue (3.71km)                11.00hrs
SS2 (65.52km)                    14.30hrs
Saturday, October 28 
SS3 180.00km                     07.50hrs
SS4 180.00km                     13.30hrs
Podium ceremony, NERPOR            17.00hrs
Post-event press conference, NERPOR        18.00hrs