2016 Maxxis Tyres King of Portugal Race Recap
For its fourth year the King of Portugal, the jewel in the crown of the ULTRA4 Europe calendar, attracted a massive entry of nearly 40 cars, by far the largest ever gathering of the most extreme off-road race cars on this fair continent.
The short but varied prologue threw up its customary spectacle and drama. Belgium’s Axel Burmann continued his incredible run of bad luck grinding to a halt with
transmission failure an oil pressure issue while at the opposite end of the spectrum was Emanual Costa, who played to the crowd by getting some motocross style air on the jumps. It was an incredible performance and one that everyone expected to be repeated out on the first 18km lap through the gorgeous countryside around Vimioso…
But the thing about jumping three metres into the air is that the landings are very hard on the transmission. He led for the first time around the quarry arena but pulled over in the nasty tough Euro4x4Parts rock section when he realised that his buggy was only in three wheel drive. The roadside maintenance to change the driveshaft put him dead last and nearly 2 laps down. Suddenly with the foregone conclusion of another Costa win was gone, the race was wide open, and so was the championship. There was still a lot of race to go though. Marsden is famous for either winning or breaking things beyond repair trying, Montador is making quite a name for himself for coming 2nd, Ciani has never finished an ULTRA4 race and the Azeris are always in the hunt for the furthest travelled with least raced prize… So with nothing to lose he put his foot down. Hard.
At the same place Jim nipped through on the inside of Montador. In normal racing that wouldn’t mean very much. In ULTRA4 it was a split second decision where he managed to spot a better line over the 30 metre long stretch of kitchen utility sized lumps of granite. His new car, a steroid fed evolution of his not too shabby former racer he set off at blistering speed intent on reeling in those ahead who had out-qualified him.
Ciani was fast and was near the lead as he always is when his car is working. But the sway bar broke, then the rear diff, then the steering box… and a wheel rim… and… With Costa parked up it looked a good opportunity for reigning champion Filipe Guimaraes to improve on his unlucky year but a melted belt in the transmission caused reverse gear to fail and no one does a lap of King of Portugal without needing at least a couple of attempts at some of the sections, so he was out first lap. Improving only slightly on their French escapades the Azeris made it a relitively impressive two laps before they managed to beat their car to death. Hydraulic failure put them out before seeing the end of the day. Again. But they repaired it overnight and were back out undeterred for Day 2.
That left Jim out in front in an absolute class of his own and by the close of play after four laps incredibly he had lapped the whole field up to Montador, the friendly Frenchman settling into his customary runners-up position, with some relatively unknown names a little further down the leaderboard.
After qualifying just 15th Ciani’s team mate Enrico Grafas pushed his way up to 3rd but cracked the aluminium oil sump. Unfortunately the repair didn’t hold for Day 2 and getting to the top of JT’s Rock with the oil pressure gauge flashing was the end of his race. Jorge Araujo in his Euro Fighter was 4th and behind in 5th, almost an hour and a half off the lead was local hero Costa… but that was just four apes. With six more to come there was a lot of racing left for Saturday. In ULTRA4 racing nothing can be taken for granted.
JT Taylor, despite his facial hair flouting several EU health and safety in the workplace regulations, never mind the 1963 Geneva Convention on gender equality, was in charge of his own rock. It was the scene of much chaos and helped decimate the field from 24 Unlimited starters down to just 11. Dave Cole, the founder of King of the Hammers and ULTRA4 Racing was shouting and cursing everyone to the seventh generation, so it was nice to see him in such a calm and relaxed mood. From stress and a lack of sleep, Jose Rui, the event director, over the weekend gradually turned more and more into an extra from the Walking Dead but put on an absolutely amazing race.
Saturday dawned clear and bright and Jim led away from the tough quarry section with Montador right behind but by the end of Lap 1 the Frenchman was in the lead, Mr Gigglepin angrily but ineffectively on the horn in his dust. Just a few seconds further back though was a very determined Portuguese driver. He might have the name of a quintessential French porn star and the brand of overpriced coffee but Emanual Costa drives like a person with half an Oedipus complex. He was soon out in a clear physical lead, but surely the gap was too big…
The young Jelle Janssens looked to have made his way through the carnage and attrition to take another 3rd place but got stuck on the Dinosaur Eggs with two laps to go when the bolts of the steering piston bracket sheered off. Fortunately Guimaraes was contemplating the loss of his crown by having a picnic nearby and was on hand to help. He even drove back to the pits to get some spares… and when he got a puncture jogged the last two kilometres. Montador then took the new parts out as an express delivery service. Unfortunately the time lost meant that the podium turned into 6th.
Guimaraes himself, although out on the first day didn’t have a wasted race day. He hung around JT’s Rock watching how some of the other team’s cars performed in the extreme sections, which is not something he normally gets to see. He was also surprised that there were so many spectators as from inside the car he doesn’t notice them. He was most impressed with the Italian cars but his favourite crew were Victor Martins and Adao Pino in their 40 year old BJ Land Cruiser as they were always smiling and laughing.
Beating all expectations of first lap disasters the never say die attitude of the Azeris meant that they re-started but seemed to have learned that the rocks deserve a little more respect and a little less full throttle. JT was watching them and was impressed that each lap they got better at choosing their lines and positioning the car over the bigger rocks… and were noticeably taking their time. They took a very credible 5th and will be a team to watch in the future.
Montador recovered to 4th but on the last step of the podium was the popular Ferdinando Batrolucci, dust-covered face and rather bewildered stare as he climbed out at the finish line an indication of how hard his race was. The first day was spent getting a feeling with the new ORA chassis car and newbie co-driver Gabriele Biaggi, who had never even used a winch before. A fire from an oil pipe broke sending flames up through Gabriele’s legs was a literal baptism of fire. Jim Marsden helped them out a lot and the second day went much better although another competitor using them as a hole filler and driving over the bonnet damaging the front shocks didn’t help. 3rd was totally unexpected for their first event in the car but is hopefully the start of some great success.
Levi Shirley’s old Off Road Armoury Euro Fighter has won many ULTRA4 events but it’s such a big step up from a Land Rover that it took new owner Jorge Araujo a while to learn what it’s limits are. Finding those limits included rolling it three times, although in his defence the difflocks weren’t working so he was having to push to get over some rocks a bit faster than he usually would. He was hoping for a Top 5 result but the runners up spot in the first race he managed to finish was mind-blowing. Once he has got used to the power and the rock crawling capabilities of the car he hopes to be able to challenge Costa… but no one is there yet…
By Saturday’s 2nd lap Costa was ahead, although the time deficit would surely be far too much to overcome, especially against a driver of Marsden’s calibre. But then Jim was missing; a broken prop shaft putting an end to his new car’s first outing. That meant the lead was only half an hour away… Montador, one eye on the win, the other on his championship chances, pushed hard… and maybe pushed a bit too hard as he blew the rear differential. What looked impossible at the start of Day 1, unlikely at the beginning of Day 2, Costa managed to pull off an incredible win to make it three out of three this year. But unlike in France and Italy where he won without even so much as a scratch on the car he had to work for this one. Although we are waiting for official scores, we will say unofficially the top three King of Portugal racers were all powered by Spider 9 axles, news to us that never gets old.
Talk to anyone lucky enough to be sunburnt and covered in dust and they will tell you that this was the best Ultra4 Europe race they have ever seen. King of Portugal has always stood out in the European series but ULTRA4 is most definitely in the ascendency. From Cargo Cult it’s now a worthy branch of the ULTRA4 family tree.
The fourth and final round is in England in two weeks time. We’ll be there!
The King of Portugal is from Portugal.