In the early years of WorldSBK the championship visited Portugal on two occasions with four races held at the Estoril track, in the 1988 and 1993 seasons. The series returned to the western European country in 2008 at the new 100,000 capacity Algarve International Circuit close to Portimão on the Atlantic Ocean.
Several riders from Portugal have competed in WorldSBK over the years, the most successful of them being Alex Vieira, the only Portuguese to have won a race in the series, at the Osterreichring in 1989 (Race 1) and to start from pole - at Hockenheim in 1988.
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On the west of the Iberian Peninsula, the borders of Portugal have changed little since it first became an independent nation in the 12th century. The country is framed by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east, with mountain ranges and the Minho and Guadiana rivers marking the frontier with Portugal’s Spanish neighbours.
People in Portugal are typically a laid-back and friendly bunch, whilst the diversity of the country, with its forests and mountains inland and coastline of fantastic beaches and colourful cities, provides plenty of adventures and lasting memories for visitors.
Indeed, Portugal’s two main cities - Lisbon and Porto - reflect the former prestige and power which the country achieved as a sea-fairing superpower in the 14th to 18th centuries, with expansion to South America and parts of Africa and Asia making this small nation once very rich. The diversity and multiculturalism in Portugal’s big cities are sensed in the Angolan, Brazilian and Mozambican influences of contemporary Portuguese culture.
In the south of the country is the Algarve International Circuit close to Portimão, in the Algarve, Portugal’s most popular region for holidaymakers, with fantastic beaches and a superb climate all year round.
Given its location in this popular holiday destination - and with WorldSBK’s visit to the Portimão circuit not coinciding with the peak season - accommodation is plentiful in this part of the world in September.
The central coast of the Algarve between Lagos and Faro, which includes Albufeira and Portimão, all within comfortable driving distances from the circuit, is lined with guesthouses, villas, hotels and campsites.
Really you are spoiled for choice here and there is accommodation to suit all budgets, with well-organised and clean campsites, rental apartments, luxury hotels and all inclusive resorts, in addition to plush private villas all easy to find.
Albufeira (a 40 min drive) and Lagos (a 30 min drive) are both pleasant places to stay, little coastal towns such as Alvor, Carvoeiro and Armação de Pêra are good options and Portimão itself has plenty to offer.
In the west of the Algarve Portimão is the home to the excellent Algarve International Circuit and the former fishing port is now a busy commercial centre and popular holiday destination. It’s compact old central quarter is a pleasant place to stroll around and enjoy the views of the waterfront, take a cool drink in one of the many outdoor cafes or bars and later order some grilled fish for lunch or dinner.
A boat trip up the Rio Arade is more than agreeable and the boutiques on the Rua Diogo Tomé and Rua da Portades de São José streets sell locally crafted goods, whilst a meandering walk through the riverfront squares of Largo do Dique, Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes and Praça Visconde de Bivar provides a real taste of the Algarve at its best.
Some of the Algarve’s main holiday resorts, Albufeira, Armação de Pêra and Lagos, are a short drive away, offering further culinary delights served up on pleasant sandy beaches in pretty little coves. Generally the further west you go from the central coast back past Portimão the wilder the coastline becomes, with less facilities, quieter beaches and better surf.
The biggest city in the Algarve and the main airport of the region is Faro. From there to the east to the Spanish border the Reserva Natural da Ria Formosa is a wonderful series of islands with long sandy beaches to be reached by boat. Meanwhile, inland Algarve is beautiful in itself and the gorgeous Serra de Monchique mountain range provides serenity and cooler temperatures.
Away from some of the main tourist traps on the coast, where prices are often hiked, keep an eye out for bars, cafes and restaurants catering more for the locals than for visitors and you will be amazed by the quality of the affordable food and wine in the Algarve and throughout other regions of Portugal.
When it comes to local dishes, fresh seafood from the Atlantic is the order of the day, with clams, oysters and cockles served in a variety of manners including stews, casseroles and rice dishes. The fresh fish is first class in this region and cooked over charcoal grills it tastes sublime – try the mackerel or in Portimão go for grilled sardines, which are a local favourite.
Most of Portugal is easy to get around in just a few days and if you fancy a road trip from the Algarve head three hours drive north to Portugal’s trendy and evolving capital city Lisbon, where classic and contemporary architecture and culture will blow you away.
In 2008 the first WorldSBK visit to the new Autodromo do Algarve track was dominated by Troy Bayliss on his farewell weekend. The Australian devastated his opponents, taking pole by almost 2.5 seconds and winning both races.
On that same weekend, a young Jonathan Rea switched from the World Supersport Championship to World Superbike, impressing with a third place on the grid and a fourth place finish in Race 1.