Rough dirt tracks wind through the rolling hills… and take severe detours through outcrops of massive basalt rocks. Some unimaginable eons ago a volcano spewed out balls of lava that formed what the locals call dinosaur eggs, which are perfect for rock-crawling!
Clouds of dust billowing over the horizon told us that the first cars had been flagged off and soon sounds of angry V8s were echoing across the valley. I sat in the shade with Igor Bozikovic, the boss of the Croatia trophy and chatted about how brutal the sharp rocks looked… but the locals Emanuel Costa and Paulo Candeias, the stars of the prologue in their American buggies, made it look easy. The UK’s Jim Marsden was in close pursuit and according to our informal timing might have actually been in the lead… but he pounded the undertray on the stones so loudly that it made us both cringe.
Then the usual chaos ensued as the less capable vehicles started tackling the tough hill and made a rock and dust spitting traffic jam. After breaking the steering on the prologue America’s Levy Shirley had to find a way passed all the cross-axled, slow-winching back markers… and somehow he did, even though he’d lost the use of low-box. The only way up the climbs was flat out and amazingly, despite the thick dust he managed to finish the two loops of Leg 1 in 3rd place.
Not managing to get to the end of the first leg though was one of the pre-event favourites, Jim Marsden, who broke another front radius arm. There were a few minutes of discussion about what could be done but they couldn’t have been any further than the campsite. A few phone calls to the pit crew and it was decided that there was nothing they could do…
At the end of the first leg it was obvious that the local Portuguese teams were in a class over their own. The UK’s Chris Abel in his D&G buggy couldn’t believe the times, some 35 minutes faster!
Two-time King of the Valleys winner Axel Burmann came with high hopes but they all evaporated when the transfer box linkage broke near the start. It took an hour to fix using pieces from the fire extinguisher. “We got going again and had no problem after that. The rock sections were awesome, I loved them. But the Portuguese guys were incredibly fast. At one point they lapped me. I followed them to a corner but by the time I got around they were gone!”
Another pre-event favourite was Jaap Betsema in his mighty D&G buggy but a broken propshaft put pay to his hopes… but not many people had trouble-free runs! After his amazing drive through the field to 3rd Levi Shirley ran into a problem on the dinosaur eggs. “We ate a lot of dirt,” smiled co-driver Terry L Madden. “But it is definitely a legitimate Ultra4 race. But our problem was because we had no low box, so we had no control on the rocks.” Bouncing too fast over the dinosaur eggs caused the car to tip on its side and only the spectators could put it to right. “We hit the Spidertrax axles hard today. With no low gears they took a lot of abuse! Another great thing about this race is the town of Vimiosa itself. It’s really unlike anywhere else we’ve raced and the people have really welcomed us with open arms. Amazing!”
Another top runner who hit trouble was Chris Abel. At the end of the 4 laps he was too dehydrated to speak… much like his car. Co-driver Dieter Duyschaever of D&G Tuning told me what happened. “We were in 3rd but with all the dust and grass in the radiator the engine started overheating. Stopping to let the car cool down is a horrible way to loose time as all you can do is sit and watch the other cars passing… But we loved the course!”
Also seeing temperatures up in the red was Rob Butler. “We were running so hot that the engine is rattling now. But apart from that we had a great race. We got stuck in traffic a bit but the only mistake we made is not filling up with fuel after the first lap. On steep climbs near the end of the second lap the engine was cutting out and my co-driver had to stick his hand in the tank to rearrange the pickup line! The Portuguese guys were bloody fast though!”
The stars of the show were undoubtedly the local duo of Paulo Candeias and Emanuel Costa as they were in a class of their own all day. The pair often race together in the Portuguese national off-road championship so there’s a real rivalry but Paulo wanted to point out that this was the fist time he’d raced his Jimmy’s buggy before. “The weight, power, balance and handling are all different… but maybe I will go to King of the Hammers because although Emanual has more experience in Portugal we’ll be more even in America!”
But with a commanding victory that seemed likely from the prologue was Costa. “We put a lot into this event, checking that everything was in the best condition and the race didn’t go so well actually. We got a puncture in the first 30 minutes and another near the end of the stage so we were quite nervous. But we’ve always wanted to do King of the Hammers, so the fact that it came to Portugal is great but it feels amazing that we’ll be racing in America next year!”
First prize is 5000 euros cash and free shipping to America to tale part in the one and only King of the Hammers!
The dust is settling, the sun is settling and the wine is flowing. The inaugural King of Portugal might have had a few teething problems but it was an outstanding success. Next year though the foreign teams will really need to up their game to compete with the Portuguese, especially as next year Costa will have experience in the mother event!