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Cross-Country - João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro earn hard-fought victory in mini JCW Rally Plus at Portugal's 37th Baja Portalegre 500

  • Al-Attiyah and Baumel crowned FIA World Baja Cup champions before the start

The Portuguese crew of defending champion João Ferreira and his co-driver Filipe Palmeiro earned a hard-fought victory in the rain-soaked 37th Baja Portalegre 500, the sixth and penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.

Driving an X-raid-built Mini JCW Rally Plus, the duo hit the front with the fastest time in the mud and standing water of the third stage on Saturday morning and pressed on through the weather-shortened final test to secure victory by 2min 21.6sec.

Ferreira said: “The conditions were super difficult and we managed to finish after a little touch to a tree on the last stage on the front. We managed to win the rally from Nasser, even without his penalisation, and that is the most important part.”

Following the cancellation of the Jordan Baja for geopolitical reasons, the format of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas was modified so that the five best scores counted from seven rounds (instead of six from eight) and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel were duly crowned champions before the start after entering events before Portugal with Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing.

In Portugal, Al-Attiyah drove a BRX Prodrive Hunter for the first time entered under the Nasser Racing banner. He made the perfect start by winning the short 3.71km Prologue stage from local driver Luis Portela and Sweden’s Mattias Ekström and recorded the third quickest time in SS2 to settle into third place behind the South Racing Can-Ams of Ekström and Adam Thomelius.

The Qatari lost some time with a minor wiper issue on stage three but finished second to Ferreira and trailed the Portuguese by 64.7 seconds heading to the final stage. But Baja Portalegre officials penalised the Qatari by 20 minutes for not pulling over to let the Portuguese pass on three alleged occasions and he plummeted to 18th overall before recovering to hold 12th at the finish.

Al-Attiyah later protested the penalties and two of the three blocking infringements were cancelled with only three minutes of time penalties imposed, lifting the Qatari back to fifth overall.

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi teamed up with German navigator Timo Gottschalk to claim second in his Toyota Hilux and now sees himself in a potential four-way fight with Ferreira, team-mate Juan Cruz Yacopini and Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc for the runner-up spot in the championship behind Al-Attiyah.

The Saudi said: “The organiser did a great job. The weather was here, like always, muddy and slippery and rain, but we are here. It was a big fight but we got second place. I liked it very much.”

Santag Racing’s João Dias/João Miranda and Armindo Araújo/Luis Ramalho enjoyed an excellent second day’s action in the mud and water and the two Portuguese crews finished third and fourth, with Miguel Barbosa/Paulo Fiúza (Toyota Hilux) slipping from fourth to seventh on the final stage.

Sixty vehicles were granted a start in the FIA event. They comprised of 19 T1 and T1+ machines, three T2 series production cross-country vehicles, 29 entered in the T3 section, eight in T4 and one running in what will become the T3.U category in 2024.

T3 success for Dias in Portugal: Al-Thefiri edges closer to title

The excellent overall results for João Dias and Armindo Araújo enabled them to secure the top two places in the T3 category, Dias finishing 33.9 seconds in front of his fellow countryman, despite Armindo setting the overall fastest time on the last stage to confirm the Portuguese T3 title.  

Alexandre Pinto and Bernardo Oliveira initially secured a clean sweep of the T3 podium places for Portuguese crews in their South Racing-built Can-Am Maverick X3. They were classified third in T3 and sixth overall before being disqualified at post-event scrutineering for presenting an underweight fire extinguisher.

The Swedish South Racing Can-Am Team duo of Adam Thomelius and Mattias Ekström delivered two stunning individual performances to claim the quickest and second fastest times in the general classification after SS2 and take the T3 and overall leads into the night halt. They eventually reached the finish in third and fourth in T3 and sixth and eighth overall.

Meshari Al-Thefiri managed to edge further away from closest rival Otavio Sousa Leite in the duel for the FIA title for T3 lightweight prototype cross-country machines. The Kuwaiti overcame steering rack and drive shaft issues on his SRT Can-Am to finish sixth in the category. Sousa Leite lost around an hour and a half with a broken drive shaft on stage two and the South Racing man was then awarded an additional 45 minutes of time penalties. He finished 17th in T3.

Fernando Alvarez’s challenge for the title wilted after he retired his South Racing Can-Am with suspension damage following a collision with a tree on the second stage. Luis Portela suffered power steering issues on his G Rally Team OT3 after finishing second overall in the Prologue stage and was holding fifth after day one. He retired close to the finish of SS3.

Mathieu Serradori and Loïc Minaudier gave the new Apache APH-01 an encouraging debut, although the hybrid machine was not classified in the FIA rankings and stopped on the final stage. It will be eligible for the T3.U category for Light Prototypes with hybrid or electric power from the start of the 2024 season.

Cristiano De Sousa Batista confirms FIA T4 title

Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista and Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto were crowned FIA T4 champions before the event had even started. Rival French driver Jeremie Warnia did not enter in Portugal without support for a new engine for his Xtremeplus Polaris and the Brazilian was able to secure the title in his absence.

De Sousa dominated the category in his South Racing Can-Am to claim his fourth win of the season, a second successive title and ninth in the general classification.

Spaniards Carlos Vento and Carlos Moreno retired their Can-Am from second place with damaged front suspension before the final stage and that opened the door for fellow countrymen Alexander Toril and Pedro Lopez to snatch the runners-up spot.

Frenchman Sean Haran teamed up with Briton Martin Hales to round off the podium places in a Polaris RXR Pro R. A mud-soaked Ricardo Ramilo looked set for fifth, despite finishing the third stage with no windscreen wipers after collecting an earlier puncture. But he retired on the final test. The South Racing Can-Am Team had already won the T4 Teams’ title.

The FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas concludes in Dubai on November 10th-12th.

37th Baja Portalegre 500 – final result (top 15):

1. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Mini JCW Rally Plus                                                         4hr 54min 16.3sec

2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive                                            4hr 56min 37.9sec

3. João Dias (PRT)/João Miranda (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                                        4hr 56min 55.4sec

4. Armindo Araújo (PRT)/Luis Ramalho (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                             4hr 57min 29.3sec

5. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) BRX Prodrive Hunter                                                    4hr 58min 42.8sec

6. Adam Thomelius (SWE)/Oscar Andersson (SWE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                    5hr 00min 30.4sec           

7. Miguel Barbosa (PRT)/Paulo Fiúza (PRT) Toyota Hilux                                                                                        5hr 01min 58.8sec

8. Mattias Ekström (SWE)/François Cazalet (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                      5hr 04min 54.6sec

9. Cristiano de Sousa Batista (BRA)/Robledo Nicoletti (BRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4)         5hr 07min 36.2sec

10. Pedro Carvalho (PRT)/Romeu Martins (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                         5hr 08min 07.5sec

11. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                           5hr 12min 35.1sec

12. Alexandre Ré (PRT)/João Pedro Ré (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                              5hr 16min 47.9sec

13. Paulo Rodrigues (PRT)/Miguel António (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)                                       5hr 17min 43.9sec

14. Alexandre Franco (PRT)/Rui Franco (PRT) Mercedes 350 D (T1)                                                                      5hr 18min 21.8sec

15. Nuno Madeira (PRT)/José Janela (PRT) Ford Ranger (T1)                                                               5hr 19min 26.0sec

T1+ unless stated