Despite the professionalism and ability in series such as the World Rally Championship, the majority of rally drivers across the world can be considered amateur pilots who compete in their spare time mainly for enjoyment.
They tend to come from all walks of life, be they electricians, farmers, doctors, mechanics or even those with a job already within motorsport.
Not many of these drivers though can claim to have won domestic soccer titles in a variety of countries and even a European trophy, managing players like Gareth Bale, Didier Drogba, ‘Hulk’ and Romelu Lukaku.
Step forward André Villas-Boas. Professional soccer coach: part-time rally raid and rally driver. A part-time driver who will, however, compete against the world’s best rally drivers in two weeks’ time on Rally Portugal in the WRC.
While your typical soccer manager may enjoy a spot of golf, Villas-Boas prefers to don the crash helmet and race against the clock.
“Everything started, as I think with every other boy, from your father who used to take me to Estoril to see the Formula 1 [Portuguese] Grand Prix and also to Rally Portugal,” Villas-Boas tells DirtFish.
“We are speaking when I was five so in 1983, 1984 we started going to rallies and Formula 1. Eventually when I grew up I started going on my own with friends.”
One of those friends was Gonçalo Magalhães – a man whose motorsport passion has become incredibly relevant today.
“Since a little boy we started going on the train, took the train from Porto to Lisbon and we went to watch everything from testing to the races, me and him all the time,” Villas-Boas continues.
“He is actually my co-driver, we were school friends since a long time. This way you can understand how unprofessional we are!”
Villas-Boas’s motorsport connections stretch further though. The former Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham, Zenit and Marseille manager grew up with “football within the family” because “we are all Porto fans, a bit obsessed”. But his uncle competed on two Dakar Rallies in 1982 and 1984 and was a pioneer of Portuguese off-road racing.
“It was really bred within the family,” says Villas-Boas, “and this is why the passion still grows and now every time I’m out of football I occupy my time with racing.”
Villas-Boas has been out of a job in soccer since leaving French club Marseille in February and, true to his word, has increased his motorsport participation since. Competing with the Sports & You team in a Citroën C3 Rally2, Villas-Boas scored 10th overall on Rali Vieira do Minho in April.
It was a performance that impressed team boss and friend José Pedro Fontes – himself a rally regular and a two-time Portuguese champion.
“I’ve known André [since] a long time ago,” explains Fontes. “We were born in the same city Porto, we have the same passion for FC Porto, the football club. Recently we started to speak more about the passion of André with motorsport, as André loves motorsport as you know.
“For me André’s pace was not a surprise because when I saw him first driving the rally car last year I understood immediately he has the talent to work and to improve and to have a good performance.
“André in his free time is often connected with motorsport so it’s not new for him, but it was very impressive, the first test. When he can achieve the pace he achieved in some stages it was a very good surprise to everybody in Portugal and I think he was the star of the rally.”
While, as Fontes rightly points out, the concept of motorsport and off-road racing isn’t new to Villas-Boas, rallying very much is. Rali Vieira do Minho was the first time the 43-year-old ever competed on a rally. His previous motorsport adventures have been rooted in rally raid – most notably on the 2018 Dakar Rally (pictured above).
Despite driving a competitive Toyota Hilux for the Overdrive team, Villas-Boas’s event ended early as he broke his back on the fourth stage. He describes the affair as “sad”, believing his lack of familiarity with the dunes – after testing on similar terrain in an SSV class car and not the Toyota he would compete in – led to his mistake.
“[On] shakedown to the Dakar I was already going through experiences that I had never had before,” he says.
Explaining his rather painful retirement, he adds: “We had just finished the off-road section and we were going into sand and we were looking for the waypoint.
“And we looked at the dune and it looked like a dune that was going to the top. Before it actually had a drop, so we went into the drop, fell 60 meters and touched the nose without rolling the car neither to one side or the other so this impact is what caught us and I broke my back and had to be evacuated.
“So it was a bit sad because it was only one more day of dunes which was the fifth stage and we would go into Bolivia and it would be easier. We would go into WRC stages and I have a little bit more experience in that.”
Since that event three years ago, Villas-Boas has kept his hand in with more rally raid events including the Merzouga Rally, Rally of Morocco and some national championship events in Portugal.
But his entry into Rally Portugal brings his motorsport exploits right back into the spotlight. Having now had his first taste of rallying, Villas-Boas admits it is “very, very different” to what he is used to.
“In rally raid you are able to make mistakes and lose five minutes, 10 minutes and it happens to everybody. A puncture or you’re lost and everybody loses 10 minutes, 20 minutes or whatever,” Villas-Boas explains.
“In rally nobody gets lost, and everything is up to the second so it is really about how fast you are. And because we are really amateur, we just go for the fun of it. Of course there is a competitive nature within me, that bothers me in some way because I don’t want to be looking stupid but the fact is we are really, really amateur.
If you ask me can he be world champion? I think he’s too old to be. But if you ask me if he has the potential to win more amateur rallies, I think he has the potentialJosé Pedro Fontes on André Villas-Boas
“We are just two friends that have time now to enjoy and we are using this experience, these lifetime experiences.”
Reflecting on his first competitive rally, he adds with a chuckle: “Basically it was nine WRC2 cars, we were always ninth! But one of the stages we managed to be sixth which was one stage that went very, very well for us.
“On one of the stages I let the car shut down. It was a hairpin, I went to the hairpin in third gear and it was actually a first-gear hairpin so when I wanted to accelerate I was in third gear and the car just shut down. And I couldn’t restart the car so we lost 15 seconds there and that ninth place so we finished 10th overall.
“To be able to tell you that I improved is difficult because it goes so fast so whenever I’m off track or whenever something unpredictable is about to happen, I can be off balance and lose the momentum or be out of the corner in the wrong place.
“What I learned is that pacenotes are really important. In rally raid we drive just by seeing and OK, sometimes we have the road book, but most of the time we are driving from whatever comes to face us. In rallies, no, there is a corner, there is an angle and there is a speed so very different. We need to evolve also on this.”
Villas-Boas is no stranger to evolution, progression and development though given his career has been forged in helping teams win soccer matches, something that any fan or player knows requires an eagerness to adapt and improve. Fontes noticed that in Villas-Boas as early as the first test.
“Our engineer has a great experience and he loves to try and help the drivers so we are trying to help him and like you can imagine, a person like André he loves to understand everything and he’s very, very open to teaching because he tries to give his players the same approach,” says Fontes.
“For us it’s fantastic to exchange ideas with a guy who has so much experience in other sports because we can share the experience of different sports and try to be more competitive.
“André was very, very open to listening and we tried to do our best to teach him and coach him the best we can.
“It’s very good for our sport, our passion to have people like André involved in our sport,” adds Fontes. “And for us as a company, because André is a big star in football we have the attention of the media when he races and other types of media who usually don’t follow the rallies.
“So I think the rally fans and the rally people must be really grateful for André to join our world and to promote motorsport with the passion he has, so it’s very good for us and also very good for the sport.”
How far could he go if he chose to pursue it on a more permanent basis? “It’s very early to think about that and to be clear we never discussed about that,” Fontes says.
“André wants to be part of motorsport because it’s one of his passions. I think we need to see what the level he wants to do it at is.
“If you ask me can he be world champion? I think he’s too old to be. But if you ask me if he has the potential to win more amateur rallies, I think he has the potential.”
Villas-Boas has a more important objective to accomplish though. Of course he enjoys competing in motorsport, but he doesn’t want to do it just for himself. Instead, he is seeking to help others too.
That’s where Race for Good comes in. Villas-Boas is a patron of three charities – Laureus Sport Foundation, APPACDM and Ace Africa – and is striving to promote them through rallying and what he calls the Race for Good “movement”.
Subsequently, his C3 Rally2 as well as Eric Camilli’s in WRC2 will adorn branding in Portugal. Soon, Race for Good will be its own association that will be able to collate donations to all three causes that mean a lot to Villas-Boas.
The message has already been spread in the WRC, with Camilli’s drive to third in WRC2 on the Monte Carlo Rally completed in a Citroën covered in Ace Africa stickers (pictured above).
But back in January, Villas-Boas noticed that “in terms of donation it doesn’t raise enough”, so “I understand that I needed to create the movement, create the foundation and do more fundraising events which can be events, memorabilia, automobilia, things like this”.
“It all started in the Dakar when I started selling my spaces basically,” he explains. “Fortunately football has allowed me to race without the need for funding, [so] I decided to take my car decorated with these associations and started the movement Race for Good.
This year will be basically to raise the brand a little bit in motorsport to eventually in the future have more fundraising which is the ultimate objective.André Villas-Boas on Race for Good's aims
“One [association] is very famous, everybody knows it, it’s Laureus because Laureus of course gives the World Sport Awards and they have their foundation which finances over 150 projects in the world,” Villas-Boas adds on what each of the three associations strives to achieve.
“One is for mentally disabled citizens. Why? Because when I grew up we lived in front of this residential space that they use, so for years and years throughout my childhood when I went to take the bus to school I passed through the institution.
“I think it was about nine years I saw these kids grow and the trouble that they go through in their life and the lack of support, access, funding. There is one for every district in Portugal so the one that I am an ambassador of is the one in Porto. So I do a lot of funding over there and the kids really mean a lot to me.
“The last association, Ace Africa, is UK-based. It’s an association that has projects in Kenya and Tanzania for self-sustainability. So basically they go into the small communities in Kenya and Tanzania and help in health, medicine, education the best way they can so that small communities become self-sustainable.”
Momentum behind Race for Good is growing, with the requirements already put to government in order to establish it as a foundation in its own right. Villas-Boas hopes to establish it to such a point where it becomes synonymous with motorsport.
“Eventually my objective is to reach the interest of WRC and the FIA and link Race for Good to full mobility be it motorsport, electric, marathons, cycling so everything that involves mobility,” he says.
“And I tell you why: because we are in the middle of joining an association that protects the motory disabled citizens: people on wheelchairs, accidents or born tetraplegic.
“This way, because there are plenty of accidents in motorsport, people that unfortunately become tetraplegic raise the importance and awareness for people that are suffering through this.
“This year will be basically to raise the brand a little bit in motorsport, eventually in the future have more fundraising which is the ultimate objective.”
Sports & You has already begun supporting Villas-Boas’s mission with stickers on all 17 Peugeot 208 Rally4s that contested the opening round of the Peugeot Rally Cup Iberica – a series run by the team – last weekend.
Spreading this message while also enjoying time behind the wheel, indulging in his passion, is the perfect combination for Villas-Boas, who describes his motivation to compete as “self-inflicted” as “I want to wake up to race”, in contrast to his main role as a “leader” where he goes “through a lot of moments where you have to motivate individuals”.
Comparing soccer and rallying, Villas-Boas says rallying is “much more friendly” unlike soccer where “there’s rivalries, there is competition, there is of course spying, knowing about your opponent, there is mind games so there is a bit more animosity and negativity”.
Looking more specifically to his next challenge, Rally Portugal later this month, Villas-Boas openly admits he is “very excited” but is wary that “rally is hard”.
“It’s hard because it’s up to the second and OK we finished 10th [on our first rally] but we were close to smashing the car two or three times,” he elaborates.
“Of course it’s normal for rally drivers when they smash it because they go over their limits. Me as an amateur sometimes you go over your limits or you don’t know your limits and you make mistakes.
“I hope that [I’ll be] taking it easy but also being competitive, just to take the name of the institutions to the end of the rally would be a great achievement.
“After the WRC, I am crazy to do the Silk Way [rally raid] but it’s 11 days and my wife might not like it! But I have a big passion for Russia, I coached in Russia for two and a half years and I really want to be near Lake Baikal and then go into Mongolia. So eventually if I find [another soccer] club this will be impossible of course because pre-season starts in June.
“[As for the] WRC, other than Portugal I don’t think so because it is really hard. It’s really fast, really hard and I think rally raid is more my scene because the unexpected is accepted, and me as an amateur there is a lot of expected things that happen!
“So let’s see.”