The first competitive day of the Baja Portalegre 500 showcased why the Automóvel Clube de Portugal (ACP) event is one of the most spectacular and challenging on the international off-road calendar: a vast crowd that didn't yield to the rain and the demanding conditions of the course, faced by over 400 competitors on the muddy tracks of the Alto Alentejo.
Sweden's Adam Thornelius surprised everyone by emerging as the fastest in today's Selective Sector, but it's his famed compatriot, Mattias Ekström, who leads the overall standings, with the Nordic drivers demonstrating the prowess of the Can-Am T3 in these challenging conditions. António Maio (Motorcycles), João Vale (Quads), and Pedro Santinho Mendes (SSV) also commence tomorrow's stage in the lead of their respective categories.
The drivers' assessments at the conclusion of Selective Sector 2 were unanimous. "It wasn't easy. The terrain is very demanding and treacherous. I'm happy just to be here," expressed Nasser Al-Attiyah, making his debut with the Prodrive Hunter T1+. "A tough day. We drove on both dry and muddy terrain. In these conditions, it was easy to make mistakes, so I'm content with our race so far," mentioned last year's winner, João Ferreira (Mini JCW Plus T1+). "It was a challenging special, with lots of water and mud. We're pleased to have completed the stage. The surface was extremely slippery," said Mattias Ekström, the renowned Swedish driver - a two-time DTM champion, World Rallycross champion, Dakar stage winner - who is making his full debut at the Baja Portalegre 500, driving a Can-Am in the T3 category, with François Cazalet as his navigator.
In these conditions, T3 SSVs prove to be highly efficient, less powerful than T1+ cars, yet lighter and more agile, with significant pulling power.
This led another Swede, Adam Thomelius, navigated by Oscar Andersson, to astonish everyone over the 61.8 kilometers of Selective Sector 2, following the impressive performance of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel during the Prologue.
With the combined times from the Prologue and SS2, rookie Ekström tops the overall standings by a mere nine-tenths of a second over Thomelius, two Swedes who are strong contenders for victory in the ACP event. Al-Attiyah, still adjusting to the Prodrive T1+, is 8.3 seconds behind Ekström in third place, with João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro trailing the Swede by 29.1 seconds. They are followed by two more Can-Am teams, Armindo Araújo and Luís Ramalho, leaders in the T3 Portuguese Championship, and Alexandre Pinto and Bernardo Oliveira.