Portugal is undoubedly a rally-mad nation. Finding old photos and videos of the long-time World Rally Championship staple without walls of fans either side of the gravel roads is a hard ask. Yet, against the backdrop of the nation’s unquestionable thirst for rally, Portugal is still waiting for its first WRC title contender.
Portugal does boast a single WRC rally winner. But there would be little fanfare at home for one of their countrymen standing on the top step of the podium. Joaquim Moutinho’s 13-minute win over countryman Carlos Bica was subdued, coming three days after tragedy had struck the nation’s WRC encounter in 1986.
Moutinho was an entirely respectable driver, but the chances of him guiding his rear-wheel-drive Renault 5 Turbo to victory were enhanced considerably when Audi, Ford, Lancia, Peugeot and Austin Rover withdrew their Group B entries in the wake of the Joaquim Santos crash that claimed four spectators’ lives in Sintra.
In its formative years – when the TAP Rally was only open to employees of the sponsoring national airline – Portuguese drivers enjoyed regular success. But when the rally went international from 1967, the competition went up a level. José Albino won the first international, but only a year later the foreign drivers came to the fore, as Brit Tony Fall took the honours.
Before Mountinho’s 1986 win, Francisco Romãozinho (Citroën DS 21) was the last Portuguese to take victory on the country’s biggest rally in 1969 – and that only came after defending winner Fall was excluded for giving his wife a lift to the finish in his Lancia Fulvia.
Since 1986, only two drivers have won at home and succeeded on the world stage: Rui Madeira and Armindo Araújo.
Madeira drove a Toyota Celica GT-Four to victory in 1996 when Portugal was rotated and only a round of the 2-Litre World Cup. The year prior to that, he’d clinched Group N success aboard a Mitsubishi Lancer in Portugal, Spain, Corsica and on the RAC Rally in Britain.
Araújo cut his teeth in Citroëns and won Rally Portugal in 2003 and 2004 at the wheel of a Saxo kit car. He’d switched to a Lancer for his third and final win in 2006 – all events when the rally was in its WRC wilderness years.
Come 2009 he’d be on the top step of the Portugal podium at international level, albeit not for overall honours. Now piloting a production-spec Lancer Evo IX, Araújo scored PWRC class victory by over a minute.
By 2011 and 2012 Araújo was a WRC regular, running a Motorsport Italia-prepared Mini John Cooper Works WRC. A regular top‑10 threat in those two years, he lost his WRC seat in 2013, but came back to win the Portuguese title in a Hyundai i20 R5 in 2018.
Elsewhere in the WRC and international rallying, there have been selected programmes for Miguel Campos – a double PWRC class winner on home soil – Bruno Magalhães and Bernardo Sousa.
One Portuguese driver worthy of a mention has to be the big-hearted António Pinto dos Santos, who, with the backing of the mayor of Arganil, drove 10 WRC rounds in four years aboard a Renault 4L. A very well used 4L at that: it had 100,000 miles on the clock when it started its first event.
What Portugal lacks in competing crews, it more than makes up for in terms of engineering brains and administrative WRC brawn.
Beyond the likes of Rally Portugal mastermind César Torres, the WRC’s teams remain packed with brilliant Portuguese such as engineers Rui Soares, José Azevedo, Marco Moreiras, Rui Cabeda, Miguel Cunha, Bernardo Fernandes and Valter Ribeiro, to name but a few.
And, of course, we shouldn’t forget Portugal’s most famous PR genius, Hyundai Motorsport’s Nicoletta Russo, and ace snapper André Lavadinho.