Thursday | 26 May 2022

View from the service park: Portugal

I have to bow to Julian Porter’s Portuguese wisdom when it comes to Fafe. I thought I’d seen it all. I hadn’t.

For years, any pilgrimage to Fafe has always been to one place for me: the final jump. It had to be. The sense of occasion and the action has always been extraordinary. 

Last Sunday, getting to the jump was going to be a bit more complicated, so the decision was made to head north-east of the town to find a place called Confurco.

Every other day of the week, Confurco is a simple junction of the N311 with the road that heads across the top of the hills to Calvário. It’s a nice place, but can be a touch weather-beaten – hence the prevalence of wind turbines.

But one day a year – two if you include the Rally Serras de Fafe – this junction is at the centre of every rally fan’s universe. On Sunday, it was the centre of mine.

Ultimately, the atmosphere I thought couldn’t be beaten by the second of the two famous Fafe jumps was at least equalled, if not marginally edged out of the top spot.

What you have at Confurco is a natural bowl. The cars come down the hill opposite you, through a square left onto the Tarmac, up the road and square right back onto the gravel which tightens into a hairpin. 

If you’ve got the boot and the bottle, you can tip it in on the handbrake and thrill the watching thousands with a big drift through the corner. Kalle and co. are the masters of that. They have both.

Further down the field is where the real entertainment comes as drivers' imagination and determination overtakes the capabilities of their machinery. Spins become donuts become more donuts. The crowd goes wild. Then the weather comes in, the rain lands, the road gets even more slippery and the action gets even better.

Portuguese fans are a hardy bunch, well aware that life on mainland Europe’s westernmost coast can take a turn wet and windy once in a while. They’re ready. Jackets are donned, with the umbrella saved to keep the fire in and the sausages cooking.

Yep, Julian’s right. The amphitheatre atmosphere afforded by the WRC’s most famous gravel-Tarmac-gravel junction tops anything else. I’m booking my seat for next season right now.

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