Portugal gears up for WRC golden jubilee fete

M-Sport Poland Ford mechanics assess the damage on McRae’s Ford Fiesta Rally3

M-Sport Poland Ford mechanics assess the damage on McRae’s Ford Fiesta Rally3 car after he dropped out of the Croatia Rally with an oil leak on April 24, 2022. 

Photo credit: Elias Makori | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • 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.

Kenyans McRae Kimathi and Mwangi Kioni will be at the right place at the right time next week for a unique celebration when the biggest ever gathering of FIA World Rally champions takes place to celebrate the WRC’s golden Jubilee.

This is a star-studded festival in Portugal bringing together title-winning drivers, navigators and team managers who will honour the WRC’s 50th season in Matosinhos.

It will be five days of celebrations at Vodafone Rally de Portugal from May 19 to 22.

A fleet 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 days of rallying.

Champion drivers expected to attend are four previous Safari Rally winners Sébastien Ogier, Miki Biasion, Carlos Sainz and Ari Vatanen. They will be joined by Sébastien Loeb, Walter Röhrl, Marcus Grönholm, Petter Solberg and Ott Tänak.

They have won 28 WRC titles between themselves since the introduction of the world series in 1972, the year Hannu Mikkola became the first overseas driver to win the East African Classic Rally. The Safari joined the WRC in 1973.

FIA deputy president for sports Robert Reid, Luis Moya, Christian Geistdörfer, Tiziano Siviero, Timo Rautiainen, Derek Ringer, David Richards and Martin Järveoja are among the co-drivers expected at the fete.

The list is boosted by WRC Ladies’ Cup winners Louise-Aitken-Walker and Isolde Holderied, their co-driver Tina Thörner, and Christine Driano.

The 1983 Safari Rally second runners up Michèle Mouton and Fabrizia Pons, the only female pairing to win a WRC event, will also be present.

Other guests include FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, WRC Promoter managing director Jona Siebel and Carlos Barbosa, president of the 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 who authored the 50th anniversary Safari Rally Book in 2003.

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.

The following day, historic cars will be displayed in the start city of Coimbra.

Demonstration runs will take place through the evening’s super special stage. Röhrl will head a group of cars driven through the fabled Fafe stage on May 22.

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.

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