Rally de Portugal
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The Rally de Portugal (formerly: Rallye de Portugal) is a rally competition held in Portugal. First held in 1967, the seventh running of the race, the 7º TAP Rallye de Portugal was the third event in the inaugural FIA World Rally Championship in 1973. The rally remained on the WRC calendar for the next 29 years, and after being dropped for 2002–2006, the event returned to Portugal in 2007. During the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Rally de Portugal was a mixed event between asphalt and gravel. Currently it is an all-gravel event.
Rally de Portugal has been awarded "The Best Rally in the World" five times and in 2000 "The Most Improved Rally of the Year". The most successful driver in the history of the rally is Finland's Markku Alén, who has won the event five times (1975, 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1987).
The Rally of Portugal has an important aspect which once made it so famous or maybe infamous; crowd control. During the 1970s and especially the 1980s, Portugal was known for spectators standing on the roadway even as the cars drove by, often resulting in near-collisions, and finally in the 1986 season a collision between cars and spectators. It was the last year the Group B cars domininated the WRC scene. And it was because of a tragic accident which occurred during the rally that the future of Group B cars came under scrutiny. The final blow came at the Tour de Corse later that year with the death of Henri Toivonen.
In the first section of the rally (Sintra), in the "Lagoa Azul" stage, Portuguese works Ford rally driver Joaquim Santos came over a crest in his RS200 getting too loose through the corner. Santos managed to avoid the crowd on the outside of the corner, but he was not able to avoid the crowd on the inside of the corner. The inevitable happened; the car left the road, plunging right into the crowd, killing three and injuring dozens more. After this accident all works teams withdrew from the rally.
Although it was tragic, it was also a logical result for the irresponsible behaviour of the Portuguese crowd throughout years. Additionally the speed of the Group B cars was a contributing factor. It was not only dangerous for the crowd, but also for the drivers themselves. Former world champion Timo Salonen admitted at the '86 edition that he was scared to run first on the road. Walter Röhrl had his own theory on the crowd situation: "You just have to see the crowd as a wall and not as spectators."
It did not necessarily go any better in following years. At the 1987 edition a privately entered car plunged into the crowd. Luckily enough this only led to minor injuries, but the crowd control was not much improved. It was not until the early 1990s that the Portuguese rally became an example for better crowd control and for being a great rally itself. Crowds were no smaller, but were better-behaved and more aware of the risks involved in spectating.
The last WRC edition of the Portugal rally for five years was run under heavy rain in 2001. It was won by Tommi Mäkinen in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In 2002, it was replaced in favour of Germany's Rallye Deutschland. In 2005, the organizers of the Rally of Portugal announced their intentions to rejoin the WRC, this time switching locations to an area around the Algarve. This means the character of the rally has changed. It is fully driven on gravel these days. This is frowned upon the Portuguese fans, who consider the Algarve stages less exciting, which is also reflected in lower attendance numbers. In 2006, it ran as an official WRC candidate event for the 2007 WRC calendar and was formally incorporated into the 2007 calendar on 5 July 2006. The 2007 Rally Portugal was the fifth round of the season and was won by Citroën Total's Sébastien Loeb.
After a year in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge schedule, the Rally Portugal returned to the WRC calendar for the 2009 season. The competition in the 2009 Rally Portugal was set in the surroundings of Faro, capital of Algarve, on twisty hill sections, with fast blind corners and narrow sections. The first stage in the Estádio Algarve (Algarve Stadium) was won by Henning Solberg, but when the rally really began, Jari-Matti Latvala took the lead. However, he soon suffered a big crash, rolling his Ford Focus WRC 17 times down a steep mountain. The rally was eventually won by Loeb.
- † — Event was shortened after stages were cancelled.
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