Where has the year gone? It seems mere weeks since we were excitedly arriving in Monza, wondering what the new FIA WTCC season would bring. Now, we’re at the end of the European campaign and soon, teams will wave goodbye to their cars, seeing them only occasionally until they arrive back at base some time after Christmas.
Fittingly, Portugal – and more fittingly still Porto – provide the venue for the leaving party. Porto grew in stature in parallel with Portugal’s sea-faring prowess, the fortified wine from the Douro region being a favourite aboard ship, as it would survive the conditions better than normal wines.
The sea-faring commences next week for the WTCC cars and their attendant packages of spare parts, as they head to the Americas and then on to the Far East, much as the great explorers did over 300 years ago. But before that, we have a street-race, by the seaside, to contemplate.
Porto established itself immediately as a firm favourite in the WTCC. There’s something just so right about racing touring cars on the same streets that their road-going cousins use every other weekend of the year. They seem perfectly at home on the streets, their size and scale seems in proportion to the houses and street furniture they tear past.
With the guaranteed warm welcome from organisers, fans and the city as a whole, it’s no surprise that the Circuito da Boavista brings out the best in people. It brings out the best in the racing too, the tight confines and unforgiving concrete walls ensuring that everyone has to be at their very best if they want to survive, never mind make progress.
In its first career, as a Grand Prix circuit – yes, they held the Portuguese F1 GP here twice – it looked only a little different. The layout looped around the park (as it does now), ran along the sea-front Esplanada do Rio de Janeiro (as it does now) and then the drivers tore up the Avenida da Boavista (as they do now).
Admittedly, nowadays they don’t have to contend with tram-lines in the road (although the old turning circle on the front is still there) and the surface was somewhat less smooth than nowadays, thanks to the cobblestones but star of the 1958 race Stirling Moss and 1960 winner Jack Brabham would immediately recognise the place.
They’d recognise the challenge faced by the drivers too. In their days, it was trees protected (if that’s the word) by straw bales, now it’s concrete walls and wire fences to contain the accidents but the essentials remain. Street racing is the ultimate distillation of the driver’s art. No mistakes, no excuses. Get it wrong and there’s no tarmac run-off, no grassy areas – just a hefty impact with an unyielding wall. It focuses the mind incredibly!
So, let’s raise a glass (although maybe not one of those €100 glasses of Port) to our intrepid drivers and enjoy the final hurrah in Europe. Next time we see the cars in action, we’ll be in very different surroundings, in Argentina.