1986 Rally of Portugal
How did your rallying career start?
When I was nine years old my father bought me a kart. It was not a serious thing. The brakes were acting straight to the tyre sidewall. But it fired up my enthusiasm and before I had my road licence I was already racing cars on a small circuit near Porto.
When did you actually start in rallying?
When I got my licence I did some rallies in a Datsun 1200. It was a promotion series and I was fourth on the first rally and won the second. My next car was an Austin Maxi with which I did the Rally of Portugal in ’73 and then I did some national rallies in a Porsche 911. I did all kinds of events but I liked rallying most. I did a year in an Opel Kadett, two years in an Escort RS2000 and also had an ex-OpelHolland GT/E.
And the Renault?
For 1984 the Renault dealer in Porto came in with me to run an R5 Turbo for the Portuguese championship. It was a pleasure to drive. We won six rallies but lost the title on the last round. The rally I remember the most was in Madeira when I met Henri Toivonen for the first time. I was doing quite well so he was interested in chatting. That was fantastic as to me he was to rallying what Senna was to Formula One. Finally I clipped a wall and broke a driveshaft. François Landon was there for Renault Sport and he was sufficiently impressed: I got the offer from Renault Portugal of a works R5 Turbo for ’85 with a Bozian engine and full service. We won six events and the title.
And for 1986?
It was the same deal again. We won the first rally at the end of January and the next was the Rally of Portugal. Joachim Santos, who had been our big rival in an Escort, now had a Ford RS200: he had that awful accident in Sintra (in which three spectators died). The factory drivers thought of not continuing and organised a private meeting with their team managers to discuss it. Henri invited me to join them. I was the only Portuguese driver there. If I had not been there I wouldn’t have believed it. The journalists were very keen to know what was going on and it was Jean Todt who lifted the tablecloth and found all these people underneath with tape recorders.
Were you asked for your opinion?
Walter Röhrl spoke first and then the other drivers said what they thought. I was nervous as, while I was in agreement, I could not join them. They could make a decision and go back home and still rally. But I would have had no chance, being a Portuguese who had rebelled against his national automobile club. The others were sympathetic about my situation.
And how was the rally?
For me it was a sad time and there were not so many people watching. As usual the car was a joy and reliable apart from a puncture on the Arganil stage. We won quite easily by a quarter of an hour.
What happened after that?
We won the Portuguese title but in the Azores, a month after Henri died in Corsica, we had an accident and the car flipped upside down and caught fire. Luckily we got out unharmed but I saw my wife that evening and we decided right there and then that at the end of the season I would give up and I did. — JDFD