João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro claimed a narrow and hard-fought victory in Portugal’s Baja TT Sharish Reguengos Mourão, the penultimate fourth round of the 2023 FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The Mini JCW Rally Plus crew were pushed for the majority of the 373.64 competitive kilometres on the three-day event by their fellow Portuguese crew of Tiago Reis and Valter Cardoso in an Overdrive Racing-supported Toyota Hilux. The two teams were separated by a mere four seconds at the end of the first stage and victory on the last timed test enabled Ferreira to eventually seal the win by 1min 07.3sec.
Ferreira said: “We managed to finish the final day without any problems, apart from a windscreen again. The track was tough. It was the second time we passed over it. We pushed hard after the neutralisation and managed to win. The car from X-raid is getting better and better and we had a great battle all weekend with the Toyota.”
In the absence of the series-leading Polish duo of Krzysztof Holowczyc and Lukasz Kurzeja, the result means that Reis and Cardoso leap into contention in both the Drivers’ and Co-drivers’ Championships with one round to run. Ferreira and Palmeiro will also be eyeing titles on what promises to be a thrilling showdown in Turkey next month.
João Ramos and Jorge Carvalho overcame a two-minute speeding penalty to recover and seal the final podium place in the second of the Overdrive Racing-supported Toyotas.
They managed to overhaul the T3 category-winning Santag Racing Can-Am Maverick crew of João Dias and João Miranda, but Dias’s consolation for finishing fourth was valuable points in both the overall and FIA T3 championships.
Belgian racer Ghislain de Mevius was co-driven by Johan Jalet and the final T3 stage winner guided his G Rally Team OT3 to eighth overall, third in his category and remains in contention for the overall title himself after suffering a puncture and a broken wheel on stage one.
Alejandro Martins and José Marques rounded off the top five in a Mini JCW Rally and Miguel Barbosa and Tomás Neves recovered from eight minutes of time penalties to narrowly beat T3 runners-up Armindo Araújo and Luis Ramalho to sixth place.
Nuno Madeira and José Janela guided their Ford Ranger to ninth and the FIA T4 category-winning duo of Fidel Castillo Ruiz and Marc Solá rounded off the top 10. Pau Navarro finished second in the T4 category and 12th overall in his FN Speed Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo and now faces the prospect of a three-way fight with Castillo Ruiz and Miguel Angel Valero for the title.
The latter climbed from fourth to third in the category after a protest for a wheel hub irregularity against rival Can-Am driver Sérgio Vitorino was upheld by event stewards late on Sunday evening.
Alessandro Bellini Trivini arrived in Portugal with an 11-point cushion over Fernando Barreiros in the FIA T2 category for series production cross-country machines. But, the Mitsubishi driver suffered heavy time penalties that pushed him down to second in the category behind the triumphant Isuzu D-Max crew of Fernando Barreiros and Carlos Silva. The two drivers will decide the outcome of the championship at the final round next month.
Fifty-one crews were permitted to start the event, consisting of six T1+ cars, 16 T1, 16 T3, 10 T4 and three T2 machines.
Action got underway on Friday afternoon with a Prologue stage of 7.30km, near Mourão, and Ferreira earned the early bragging rights in his Mini JCW Rally Plus by setting the fastest time of 5min 21.5sec.
That was sufficient for the Portuguese to beat Reis to the win by just 1.7 seconds. Reis’s Toyota team-mate Barbosa came home in third and fourth-placed Pedro Carvalho topped the T3 times in his Can-Am Maverick X3. Amerigo Ventura was classified in 27th overall and was quickest in the FIA T4 section in his Quaddy Racing Yamaha.
The first of two runs through a varied selective section of 183.17km was staged on Saturday afternoon between Mourão and Redondo.
Ferreira managed to fend off a fierce challenge from Reis to win the stage by just 2.3 seconds and extend his lead to four, despite a collision with a tree that damaged his windscreen. The duo were the class of the field, with Barbosa and Ramos finishing in a distant third and fourth. Dias won the T3 stage to move in front of Carvalho in the class rankings after his rival lost front-wheel drive after 40km and subsequent time in tight corners for the remainder of the stage.
Castillo Ruiz moved to the top of the T4 standings after Ventura stopped early in the stage and lost around 20 minutes when an engine oil cap fell off and the crew discovered no oil in the Yamaha’s engine. They were not able to continue.
Several competitors were later handed time penalties for minor speeding offences, with Barbosa hit with a six-minute speeding penalty and an additional two minutes for a route infringement that dropped the Portuguese to eighth overall.
The stage was repeated on Sunday and, despite staying within 1.8 seconds of Ferreira through 60.86km of the stage, Reis slipped back over the closing kilometres to finish 1min 07.3sec behind the triumphant Mini driver in the overall standings. Ramos overhauled Dias to snatch third and Barbosa climbed to sixth.
The FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas concludes with Baja Troia Türkiye on October 20th-22nd.