The idea of having the Iberian Supercars Endurance sister series, Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade (CPV), in Vila Real street circuit quickly makes car fans' hearts beat faster. But what makes the glimpse of the most important Portuguese national competition machines in the Transmontano circuit a mythical event that creates a real pilgrimage beyond Marão every year?
We spoke with some of the participants to try to understand.
In fact, there are many reasons that make the 'Bila' weekend special, starting with its history.
The races arrived in Vila Real almost one hundred years ago, more specifically in 1931 when a group of local men, led by Aureliano de Almeida Barrigas and Manuel Lopes Barrigas, with the support of the local town council, put into practice the dream they had been exploring for some years.
Since then, racing has been a constant in the city of Trás-os-Montes, although with some hiatuses due to global political issues, such as World War II, or local issues. This year marks the fifty-second edition of the event, with the CPV being a constant presence and regularly its headliner.
The races have been embraced by the local population who, over the years and with successive visits, have become profoundly knowledgeable about motor racing, showing an eagerness to know everything that goes on during the race weekend. This interest is catalysed by the proximity with the cars and drivers of the CPV, and it is normal that at night, after a day of track racing, the locals go by the paddock and pits to see closely the machines and the men that during the day were pushed to the limit in the demanding streets of Vila Real.
The enthusiasm of the public is keenly felt by the drivers, such as Damian Hirst, who made his debut in the race last year driving a Tockwith Motorsport Ginetta G50. "Vila Real for me was an exciting series of firsts all thrown into a fantastic and enjoyable weekend,” said the British driver. This was my first race abroad so it already differs and tops other racing events I've had the opportunity to race in. On top of this, it was my first true GT race, first time on slicks and my first street race - what more could I ask for? Vila Real gives a superb mix of beautiful cars, beautiful weather and a stunning location”, said the British driver.
Damian Hirst added, “for me, the opportunity to race with one of the biggest teams in UK Motorsport (Tockwith Motorsport) partnering Jemma Moore, the 2021 GTC class champion. Taking on some of the best Spain and Portugal have to offer was one not to miss. There was a huge sense of fan presence which created an incredibly uplifting atmosphere, the locals welcomed the race weekend into Vila Real and supported each and every one of us. From both a team viewpoint and organisation perspective, nothing was too much trouble”.
Besides the atmosphere, the track is also very particular, given its high-speed, city nature.Throughout its history, Vila Real has had three different versions, being the current one, which debuted in 2007, the shortest, but maintaining the characteristics of its predecessors, which demanded speed, courage and precision from the drivers.
Pedro Salvador, a multi-winner on the streets of 'Bila', is an unconditional fan of the circuit in Vila Real, pointing, however, to its selectivity, as last year he could once again confirm driving a McLaren 570S GT4.
“Vila Real has a unique track! It is a high-speed track between barriers, which requires a lot from the drivers. I like the track very much and I had good results there numerous times, which allows me to look at the circuit with great affection. A lot of people talk about the Descida de Mateus as one of the areas they like the most, and indeed it is an exciting area with a very fast left. However, for me, the part I like the most is the climb to Mateus, when you enter the old circuit. I think it's the area where the rider can make the most difference and I like it a lot. But the whole circuit is challenging and demands a lot from the riders! Whenever I can I participate in the race, since it is an exciting event”, explained the Speedy Motorsport team principal, that this year will run a BMW M4 GT4 for José Carlos Pires and Francisco Abreu.
Considering the environment and the demands of the Vila Real Circuit, winning or reaching the podium in the most important competition of our country offers a unique feeling to those who have the luck and the skill to do so.
Daniel Teixeira, the CPV TCR class Vice-Champion and TCR Supercars Endurance Champion, is no stranger to standing on the winners' podium. He emphasises the sensations he experienced before the large crowd that is always present at the event.
"Getting on the podium is significant for any driver, especially in an event of the magnitude of the Vila Real Circuit. Whether it's the challenge posed by the urban track, or the atmosphere created by the crowd throughout the weekend, standing on the podium in Vila Real is always a remarkable moment for any driver. For me, even more emblematic than the podium itself, is the victory lap, as it's when we feel the warmth and support of the thousands of spectators lining the circuit. It's a special moment that no driver ever forgets", says the JT59 Racing Team Cupra TCR driver.
The 52nd running of the Circuito Internacional de Vila Real will take place on 14-16 July. As usual, a large audience is expected to gather and enthusiastically cheer for the intense battles on the circuit, making it the most important race circuit event in Portugal.