View from the service park

After the rain, the cloud, the low cloud and the mist of south America came the sunshine and scorching temperatures of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.

And one man’s pace matched the blistering heat which baked the roads near Matosinhos. That man? Ott Tänak. Obviously.

Just south of Coimbra, the location for Thursday night’s ceremonial start, sits a place called Nazaré. Right on the coast, Nazaré is famous for some of the biggest waves in the world, where surfers regularly find themselves carving down 20m swells.

That’s where Tänak sits right now. Right on the crest of a very big wave.

There were a couple of wobbles, caused by brake and damper issues on Saturday, but, crucially, the Toyota man kept his composure and rode the wave out to score a superb third win of the season.

The Estonian’s success went down well. The Portuguese love a hard charger and few, if any, are charging as hard as he and Martin Järveoja right now.

To find out what being a fan at Vodafone Rally de Portugal is all about, there’s only one place to go: Fafe. And there’s only one place in Fafe to go: the second of two big jumps, the famous one.

Actually, that’s not true. The jump is hugely spectacular and, as Gus Greensmith will testify, it can bring its fair share of drama. But shortly before that comes a run down the hill to a square left onto asphalt, followed by a hairpin right back onto dirt.

As ever, the crowds in Portugal were huge throughout the weekend

This section is always packed as well. And, even in the middle of winter, this stretch of road is forever remembered for the rally, with a vast Scottish saltire painted across both lanes of asphalt bearing testament to the local’s love of their biggest hero, Colin McRae.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with teenage Portuguese fans who talk with such passion and emotion of the Scotsman’s greatest moments was a humbling experience.

But the talking stops and the cheering starts once the cars are coming through. And the biggest cheer is saved for Tänak. These people are educated in rallying and their knowledge and understanding of where Toyota’s star is at right now is fascinating.

Fafe’s always great, but what made this year’s event even more special was the trip down south to the roads around Arganil. talked about a very special event for Walter Röhrl in 1980 and being in that place and seeing the unbelievable reception (a reception which included countless painted signs reading ‘Thanks WRC for coming back’) for the rally, on liaison sections as well as in the stages, was an insight into how much the sport means in this part of the world.

And then, when the sport’s done, there’s always the fish.

If you haven’t been to this part of the world, you must. Walking through the back streets of Matosinhos smelling, tasting and ultimately eating fish barbecued outside is one of the season’s gastronomic delights.


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