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GP Week : Issue 56
While drivers move their cars in every direction in Finland, their colleagues in Madeira do their best to keep their wheels firmly on the ground. The Madeira Rally, run in the popular Atlantic tourist island, is not so well known and needs a guide. Meet Bernardo Sousa, regular driver for two years in the PCWRC category and lifelong island resident. “I come from Madeira, and the time of the rally is one of the best times of the year to come here,” he says. “Everyone on the island enjoys the rally and makes visitors welcome. The roads are wonderful. Since I started competing in rallies in the world championship, I believe that the quality of the rally roads on this island are among the best tarmac stages in the world. “Madeira has everything; altitude, good quality smooth asphalt, and a mix of fast and slow corners, which means it is hard to choose a good compromise set-up. And if you have the time, the views everywhere in the island are fantastic as well. “This rally has its own challenges. The weather, though usually wonderful, can suddenly be different on the other side of the island. That creates uncertainty for rally drivers choosing their tyres. “The main technical challenge of Madeira, however, is always the brakes. With so many downhill stretches of road you always have your foot on the brake pedal. I myself had a big accident on the 2007 rally because I completely lost my brakes. It is an awful feeling when you need the brakes and find they are not there ... Psychologically you always want to touch the brake pedal unnecessarily, just to check they are there ¬–¬ and that only makes things worse! It is not a good place for drivers who use their left foot for braking.” World Rally Cars are not allowed on this event, so the top cars in Madeira will be the Super 2000 or full Group N cars. “For sure, the Super 2000 cars have an advantage over the normal Group N because the brakes are better and the cars are much lighter,” adds Sousa. “Super 2000s are proper racing cars. Everything is built for performance, so you can really drive them flat-out. Super 2000s are for sure more competitive on asphalt, especially in Madeira. “I think the favourite driver for this event will be Giandomenico Basso, but I predict Freddy Loix should also go well. It is a pity the Skodas will not be there this time. The only regret is that traditionally our rally is the same weekend as Finland. I think this clash is unfortunate for both rallies, for drivers, for spectators and for fans.” Like last week in Bulgaria, this year’s Madeira Rally is very significant. The organisers Club Sports Madeira celebrate the 100th anniversary, and this is the 50th anniversary of the rally. The rally was first run in 1959, and fast established itself as a very tough 24 hour virtually nonstop event, largely over rough pave roads, and always at high average speeds. In one year only one crew reached the finish, and that was under suspicion that certain extra penalties incurred by the surviving crew had conveniently been forgotten. The event first qualified for the European championship in 1979 and from 1983 onwards it carried the maximum possible FIA coefficient. The first few years saw victory for Portuguese drivers, and the first successful foreigner was Jean-Pierre Nicolas in 1967 – the man who is now a sporting director of the IRC series. In those days he drove a Renault 8 Gordini.