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GP Week : 13-Oct-2009
IT took a while coming but finally it happened. Following a final decision by the FIA how to handle a difficult problem posed by his closest rival, Nasser Al Attiyah, on the Acropolis Rally four months previously, it is now clear that 32 year-old Armindo Araujo goes to the final round of the 2009 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship with an unbeatable points total. Welcome Armindo Araujo to motorsport's Hall of Fame! This world title is Portugal's most important success in rallying, following Rui Madeira's Production Car Cup title in 1995. For Armindo himself this has been the latest achievement in a career which has run uncannily to schedule... Armindo started motorsport in enduro and off road motorcycle sport, turning to rallying, first at the wheel of a Renault Clio, then with a Citroen in 2000, when he won a national young drivers' challenge that year. He then won a Citroen driver's challenge in Portugal in 2001, in 2002 when he turned to drive a Saxo KC and won the national two-wheel drive championship category. In 2003 and 2004 he won the national rally title in Group N. In 2005 and 2006 he won the national title outright, then moved on in 2007 to his current challenge - the Production Car World Rally Championship. Life has been a non- stop endeavor for the driver from Santo Tirso, a town near Porto in northern Portugal. "I started to go rallying because rallying came to me! There was a major national rally which started in our home town and there was a special stage right by our house. "Winning the PCWRC title is a dream come true for me. I started this PCWRC project three years ago. I told all my sponsors that I would need three years to achieve the title and finally to win the title is a big honour for me. "Now I am starting new projects for 2010. I think the new World Cup for Super 2000 cars will be a good opportunity for me but we are currently checking with all the teams what will be the best way to proceed." When it seemed that the PCWRC title was going to come to Portugal, there was a remarkable fever in Portugese motorsport: "My sponsors prepared a big presentation on TV, in newspapers and magazines and there was a big reception in the airport when we got back from Australia, when it seemed we had provisionally won the title. It is unusual for Portuguese drivers to succeed like we have done. Carlos Sousa won the 2003 Off Road World Cup and in 1995 Rui Madeira won the FIA's Group N Cup as well. And, something I expect you will notice ... we are all Mitsubishi drivers!" Delays have recently been part of the story of Armindo's recent rally life. It took two months before the FIA convened a meeting of the stewards of the Acropolis Rally to give an initial ruling, and another two months before the question of Nasser Al Attiyah's engine was finally resolved and Armindo could safely call himself a world champion. It was 18 months ago when he was first seen with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, yet all his successes in the PCWRC this year have been gained at the wheel of an Evo IX. Only last month did Armindo finally rally an Evo X, and only on the Rally GB will he make his debut in the PCWRC with one of these cars. Was this only because he was concerned about the reliability of the Evo X cars? "Although my world championship team is Ralliart Italy, I started one national rally (the asphalt Centro de Portugal Rally) with a Spanish prepared Evo X and we finished second overall behind a Super 2000 car, and more than one minute in front of the nearest orthodox Group N car. "I think the Evo X is a very good car and is capable of winning the PCWRC series against other orthodox Group N cars, but it is very difficult for normal Group N cars to fight against Super 2000s, maybe impossible. "That is why I am currently checking out the chances of rallying a Super 2000 car in 2010. I am very happy with the way things went with Ralliart Italy, the team has supported me a lot, providing a lot of chances to test, and have given me a free-of-charge chance to compete in Rally GB. Ralliart Italia is a very good team for Mitsubishis." Rally GB is an ideal chance for Armindo to rally the Evo X at world level which other than with the Pirelli Star Driver team cars has not happened a lot so far. The team is obliged to compete on this event to honour championship commitments, but in fact Armindo has already competed in his sixth PCWRC event this season and will therefore not have the chance to score points PCWRC in Britain. Armindo's most important supporters are Galp, the Portuguese fuel and lubricants company, also TMN mobile phones and MCA construction company -- operating in Africa and Portugal, and they are working together to see where Armindo's career now turns: "My ambition is to compete again in the World Rally Championship next year in the Super 2000 Cup. I went to the Catalunya Rally to have meetings with interested parties to check good opportunities for my career, even though I still did not know at that time if the FIA would confirm my title". What car would be the best? "For sure it should be good next year for Skoda. The Skoda is a very good car now, maybe the best, Peugeot goes well on the IRC but maybe more difficult for the WRC, and of course the Fords are coming. If I cannot arrange a Super 2000 then we will go ahead with an Evo X Group N car". WRC FEATURE >>Meet the latest champ 34