Rally de Portugal
WRC makes huge impact with Lisbon street stage
The FIA World Rally Championship underlined its huge public appeal when it brought the streets of the Portuguese capital Lisbon to a standstill for the opening stage of Vodafone Rally de Portugal this afternoon (Thursday).
An estimated 40,000 fans flocked to Belem, the riverside area of Lisbon south west of the city centre, where a temporary 3.27-kilometre course had been constructed around the Belem cultural area, which includes the historic Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Drivers used golf buggies to recce the stage in the morning before they took part in a parade and an autograph signing session. They then tackled the stage against the clock in groups of three or two depending on their priority status, leaving the stage start in reverse order and in regular intervals in a pursuit-style format.
The closing 30 minutes of the stage, which was won by factory Ford Fiesta driver Mikko Hirvonen from world champion Sebastien Loeb, were shown live on Portuguese television channel RTP2. It was the first time in 37 years that the country’s world championship qualifier had visited Lisbon.
“The rally’s day out in the capital allowed people, who would otherwise not see the event, to watch our cars competing,” said Hirvonen. “It was great to see so many fans enjoying the action.”
Loeb added: “It was a nice atmosphere with a lot of people and it’s been a very good day. It was not an easy stage and we really had to push.”
Armindo Araujo, who was the fastest Portuguese driver through the stage in his MINI John Cooper Works, said: “The people of Portugal love rallies and motorsport. It has been very special to be here and to get such incredible support.”
Simon Long, the CEO of WRC Promoter North One Sport, declared the stage a huge success, adding: “It’s essential that we take rallying to the people and where better than a capital city such as Lisbon. The organisers deserve great credit for the effort they put into creating such a spectacular show and it’s something we’d like to replicate on other rounds of the championship.”
The Lisbon superspecial was the first of 17 stages on Vodafone Rally de Portugal, round three of the 13-round season. The action resumes on Friday morning on the challenging gravel roads of the Algarve.