Wondering what all the fuss is about Arganil? It’s just a road, just a stage, right? Wrong. It’s about a legend. A legend created in a Fiat. In the fog.
Let’s rewind to the 1980 Rallye de Portugal Vinho do Porto. A pair of factory 131 Abarths were entered for Markku Alén and Walter Röhrl.
The Finn, with three Portugal wins under his belt, was favourite and led early on, but only for one stage. Bernard Darniche and Ari Vatanen also led until a blown headgasket ruled out the Lancia Stratos and the Ford Escort RS1800 went off the road. Then it was all the Fiats.
“I was new to the Fiat team at that time,” said Röhrl. “And Alén, well he was Mr Portugal, he had won many times and was always pushing on this rally – this time it was the same. We were 10min ahead of the next car, but Markku was still pushing.
“I came out of one stage and my service car came up the road and crashed into my car. It was bad. The wheels were not straight. But then we came to Arganil…”
Röhrl (pictured during his kater years at Audi) had done his homework on the 44km stage (shortened to 14.44km on this week’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal). He had been out and about, talked to the locals and talked about the weather.
“I knew the fog was coming,” he said, “so I practised this stage more than any other. Normally I do the recce two or three times, but this one I did five times. I knew it well.”
So well, in fact, he was able to lie on his hotel bed, shut his eyes, start his stopwatch and drive the stage in his mind.
“When I opened my eyes, I was at the finish of the stage,” he said. “I stopped the watch and the time was nearly the same as what I did. I was 3m48s faster than anybody else.
“On the start line, I told Christian [Geistdörfer, co-driver] to tighten his belts. I said I wanted to make everybody else give in their driving licence at the end of this stage. I wanted to beat them all.” He did just that.
And he did it by learning the corners and the straights by heart for 44km. Doing that meant he wasn’t reliant on any points of reference shrouded by the mist and fog.
“It was like I could see straight through the fog,” he said. “This showed how important the preparation is. You take confidence from preparation and you take your courage from confidence.”
And that is why Arganil means so much to the event once known as the Port Wine Rally.