Germany-based South Racing enjoyed a superb two days of competition in the 30th Baja Portalegre, with Spaniard Xavier Pons leading the team’s seven-car line-up home in a superb second overall at the finish in eastern Portugal on Saturday afternoon.
South Racing entered three DMAS Ford Rangers and four Toyota Hiluxes in the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and the team was rewarded for its largest ever entry in a round of the prestigious FIA series with second, 10th, 12th, 13th, 17th and 31st places in the overall standings.
Spaniard Xavier Pons and his new navigator Ruben Garcia carried out an excellent pre-Dakar shakedown test to top the team’s finishing positions with the runner-up spot in the Esponsorama-backed DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger, 4min 52sec behind three-time race winner Ricardo Pórem of Portugal.
The Portuguese pairing of Alexandre and Pedro Ré made an impressive return to top-flight competition in the second Primus Victoria-backed DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger and reached the NERPOR finish in 10th position.
The four South Racing-run Toyota Hiluxes all ran well on the demanding special stages. The Brazilian duo of Sylvio Barros and Rafael Capoani topped the quartet in a superb 12th place in the iCarros-supported car.
Spaniard Fernando Alvarez and Argentinean Luciano Genonni were the fourth of the South Racing cars to finish in 13th place in the Conarpesa-backed Toyota.
The second all-Brazilian crew of Marcos Moraes and Fabio Pedrosa were classified in 17th in the Dunas Sertões Toyota after losing several places in the overall standings midway through the final stage with brake issues.
Bolivian driver Rodrigo Gutierrez delivered a solid performance on his South Racing debut to finish 31st with fellow countryman Juan Pablo Vargas in the Toyosa/La Belgica car after losing an hour on the third stage with a broken drive shaft and two punctures.
Czech driver Petr Hozák and Slovakian navigator Marek Sykora guided the third Giraffe Facility-sponsored DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger into eighth overall after three of the four stages before he damaged a broken windscreen wiper blade in a water splash and it was not possible for the crew to continue and they withdrew from the race.
“Seven cars was the largest team we have ever fielded on a round of the FIA World Cup and to bring six to the finish with Xavier in second place overall behind the driver who has won the event for the previous two years was a tremendous achievement,” said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham. “Of course it would have been nice to bring home all seven.
“This was a great test for everyone involved in the team and a massive confidence boost for everyone before the Dakar. Now we have a just a few weeks to prepare for the Dakar and one test beforehand.”
Action got underway with a super special stage of 5.62km on Friday morning at Coutades and local driver Miguel Barbosa clocked the target time of 4min 42.62sec. Pons was the quickest of the DMAS South Racing Ford Rangers in fourth position in a time of 4min 45.16sec and Hozák and Ré and settled into 13th and 17th places.
The four South Racing Toyotas of Moraes, Gutierrez, Barros and Alvarez held 14th, 18th 21st and 28th overall.
A longer second stage of 83.94km was next on the cards at Ponte de Sor and the septet of South Racing-entered cars all safely reached the overnight halt, with the second fastest time for Pons earning the Spaniard third overall behind Porém and Barbosa.
Ré and Barros were also classified in the top 10 and Hozák, Moraes, Alvarez and Gutierrez reached the night halt in 16th, 17th, 20th and 28th overall, with the occasional puncture the only reason for delays.
The meat of the action took place over two selective sections of 171.47km and 211.94km on Saturday. Pons and Porém became embroiled in a fascinating tussle for supremacy through the opening stage and swapped virtual fastest times at the checkpoints. Pons eventually reached the finish in second position to displace Barbosa and move into a similar position in the overall standings.
Barros, Hozák, and Ré also finished the stage strongly and reached the service point in seventh, eighth and 11th overall. Alvarez, Moraes, Gutierrez were 14th, 15th and 43rd after the Bolivian lost over an hour on the stage with a broken drive shaft and two flat tyres.
The final Crato stage of 211.94km was crucial. Pons began the special 3min 47sec behind the race leader and was a mere four seconds behind the Portuguese through PC2, after 48.02km. Pons remained 26 seconds behind Porém after 101km and went on to reach the stage finish in fourth position to confirm the runner-up spot in the overall standings behind the defending champion.
Hozák was sidelined with a damaged wiper blade, but Ré, Barros, Alvarez, Moraes and Gutierrez safely negotiated the final kilometres to finish 10th, 12th, 13th, 17t hand 31st.
2016 Baja Portalegre 500– final positions after SS4:
1. Ricardo Porém (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Mini All4 Racing 5hr 38min 16sec
2. Xavier Pons (ESP)/Ruben Garcia (ESP) DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger 5hr 43min 08sec
3. Nuno Matos (PRT)/Filipe Serra (PRT) Opel Mokka Proto 5h 43min 49sec
4. Alejandro Martins (PRT)/José Marques (PRT) Toyota Hilux 5h 44min 32sec
5. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5h 46min 45sec
6. João Ramos (PRT)/.Vitor Jesus (PRT) Toyota Hilux 5h 47min 07sec
7. Boris Gadasin (RUS)/Dmitry Pavlov (RUS) G-Force Proto NL 5h 56min 05sec
8. Miguel Campos (PRT)/Mario Castro (PRT) Toyota Hilux 5h 59min 47sec
9. Andrey Novikov (RUS)/Vladimir Novikov (RUS) G-Force Proto NL 6h 01min 39sec
10. Alexandre Ré (PRT)/Pedro Ré (PRT) DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger 6hr 06min 34sec
12. Sylvio Barros (BRA)/Rafael Capoani (BRA) South Racing Toyota Hilux 6hr 11min 48sec
13. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Luciano Gennoni (ARG) South Racing Toyota Hilux 6hr 15min 08sec
17. Marcos Moraes (BRA)/Fabio Pedrosa (BRA) South Racing Toyota Hilux 6hr 38min 15sec
31. Rodrigo Gutierrez (BOL)/Juan Pablo Vargas (BOL) South Racing Toyota Hilux 8hr 17min 43sec