Image: Jean-Claude Andruet at Rallye Monte-Carlo, 1973
The biggest ever gathering of FIA World Rally champions will celebrate the series’ half-century at a star-studded festival in Portugal next week.
Title-winning drivers, co-drivers and team managers will honour the WRC’s 50th season in Matosinhos during five days of celebrations at Vodafone Rally de Portugal (19 - 22 May), this year’s fourth round.
A host of historic cars will be displayed in the Exponor service park and fans will have a rare chance to see many in demonstration runs through special stages on all four rally days. Champion drivers due to attend are Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier, Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Miki Biasion, Carlos Sainz, Marcus Grönholm, Petter Solberg and Ott Tänak. Between them they have amassed 28 titles.
FIA deputy president for sport Robert Reid, Luis Moya, Christian Geistdörfer, Tiziano Siviero, Timo Rautiainen, Derek Ringer, David Richards and Martin Järveoja are among the co-drivers due to appear. The list is boosted by WRC Ladies’ Cup winners Louise-Aitken-Walker and Isolde Holderied, their co-driver Tina Thörner, and Christine Driano. Michèle Mouton and Fabrizia Pons, the only female pairing to win a WRC event outright, will also be present.
Other guests include FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, WRC Promoter managing director Jona Siebel and Carlos Barbosa, president of rally organiser Automóvel Club de Portugal.
Nearly 30 classic cars will chart the WRC’s history. They include an Alpine A110, the model which won the first WRC round at Rallye Monte-Carlo in the hands of Jean-Claude Andruet. Also participating are fire-breathing Group B monsters including Audi Quattro S1, A1 and A2 models, and a Lancia Delta S4. Other favourites include a Lancia Stratos, Ford Escort RS1800 and Opel Ascona 400, alongside the more recent Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i20. Many are provided by the Slowly Sideways group, the organisation headed by WRC photographer Reinhard Klein.
The WRC was launched in 1973 and 35 countries have staged rounds since. Portugal was a host in the inaugural season and this year’s event marks the championship’s 619th round.
The celebrations kick off with a gala dinner in the service park on Wednesday 18 May. More than 200 WRC luminaries will attend.
On Thursday afternoon, historic cars will be displayed in the start city of Coimbra. Demonstration runs will take place through the evening’s super special stage. Further displays and parades will take place at Lousada on Friday evening and Saturday night’s Porto-Foz street stage.
Röhrl will head a group of cars driven through Sunday’s fabled Fafe stage between the two competitive passes. Fafe graced Portugal’s fixture in 1973 and the Pedra Sentada jump is among the championship’s most popular spectacles. The celebration is organised by championship commercial rights holder WRC Promoter and motorsport’s governing body, the FIA.
“Everyone has their own memories of the thrills, spills and excitement from the WRC and this is a marvellous one-off opportunity for those who have helped make the championship so special,” said WRC Promoter managing director Jona Siebel.
“The list of WRC greats coming to Portugal, both human and mechanical, is mouth-watering and a reminder of what a wonderful sport we have the great fortune to be involved in.
But this is also for the fans. The sights and sounds of great cars from yesteryear being driven through the stages will evoke spine-tingling memories from those watching roadside.”
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said: “Since its inaugural season in 1973, the FIA World Rally Championship has delivered spectacular action for global audiences. It has featured the most iconic cars, historic locations and legendary drivers and co-drivers who have secured a special place in the annals of motorsport.
“The FIA has continuously driven evolution in a sporting and technical sense: this year is no exception as the WRC ushers in hybrid technology, sustainable fuel and advanced safety measures.
“As the championship enters its 50th year, it’s time to reflect on those remarkable accomplishments, celebrate past and present champions and look ahead to a bright future. I look forward to the upcoming festivities at Rally de Portugal, where the legends will be reunited.”