In front of an enthusiastic crowd of tens of thousands of spectators, Christian Merli and Karl Schagerl dominated the Portuguese round of the FIA European Hill Climb Championship, as they had already made their mark in the opening event in France last April.
Seven months after having hosted and masterfully organised the FIA Hill Climb Masters, Braga once again vibrated to the sound of the engines and the competitors found themselves back on the traditional course of the Rampa da Falperra, with its 5km covered at averages of more than 170 kph as opposed to the 3km used during the Masters.
The route and its length might have been different, but the name of the absolute winner remained the same: gold medallist of last October, Christian Merli (Osella FA30) was once again unbeatable, taking each of the three race heats with great authority. The only drawback of the weekend was a minor accident on Saturday during one practice heat.
Bronze medallist at the Masters, Czech Petr Trnka (Norma M20 FC) is definitely at ease on the fast Braga track. Second in the overall classification and first in the E2-SC Group, he was quite close to Merli's times, conceding less than 2 seconds on the first climb for example. German Alexander Hin (Osella FA30) and Spaniard Joseba Iraola (Nova NP01) also showed some bravery on a course that requires a lot of fortitude and finished respectively 3rd and 4th, separated by less than 4 tenths in the cumulated time of their two best heats. The Czech Milos Benès (Osella FA30) finished 5th, ahead of Spain’s Javier Villa, who once again showed real prowess despite a car (BRC53 Suzuki) that was underpowered compared to the competition. Sébastien Petit (Nova NP01), Michele Fattorini at the wheel of the small Aprilia-powered Wolf Thunder GB08, Jose Correia (Norma M20 FC) and Gonzalo Fernandez (Nova NP03) completed the Top 10.
In Category 1, Sunday started badly for the favourite Karl Schagerl, who hit the barriers in the first race heat. The Austrian managed to repair his Golf Rallye for the two remaining climbs, which he dominated, to get ahead of the Mitsubishi Lancer of Croatian Domagoj Perekovic, who was also relieved to be able to figure in the final classification after his retirement in the first of the three race heats. At the controls of a Mercedes AMG GT4, which she also drives on the circuit, the young Gabriela Correia caused a sensation by reaching the Group 1 podium, with some the benefit of impressive times.
As in France, Tomislav Muhvic (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) took the victory in Group 2, this time against Portuguese driver Vitor Pascoal (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup), while Austrian Christian Schweiger (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII) saw his momentum cut short in practice due to a broken engine.
In Group 3, the duel between Igor Stefanovski (Hyundai i30 TCR) and Antonino Migliuolo (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) continued and once again the Macedonian won. Montenegro's Vasilije Jaksic (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) and Poland's Maciej Serafin (Renault Clio Sport 2.0 16v) won Group 4 and 5 respectively.
The highly anticipated Audi RS5 DTM, which José Antonio Lopez-Fombona debuted in hill climb, has yet to show its full potential, but will perhaps reveal more of itself on May 14 and 15 at the third FIA European Hill Climb Championship round in Al Fito, Spain.