Burn, baby, burn!

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Burn, baby, burn!

The Algarve is associated with lazy days in the sun, lying on the beach in a fug of suntan oil and cold beer, or pleasant evenings over a chilled bottle of wine (or few) and a leisurely meal with friends. A few rounds of golf are about all the excitement most of us expect.

Well, naked white flesh or today’s fish catch are not the only things that are roasting on the coast: that burning rubber you smell is the Algarve International Motor Park. This 4.6km track near Portimao cost nearly Euro200million to build, the biggest development the Algarve has ever seen.

With race track, go-cart track, technology park, five-star hotel, sport complex and apartments, it is a self-contained home for racing fans with its own exit from the A22, only an hour from Faro airport.

The track opened in late 2008, giving it time to bed in before hosting a round of the ill-fated A1GP in April 2009. Although this ‘race of the nations’ is now in suspension while new financial backing is found, the event proved the circuit was well able to handle F1-style racing, with exciting action on its 18 bends and world-class facilities for both teams and spectators.

The track has also hosted the Superbike World Championship and one of its bends is named after young British racing star Craig Jones, who was killed in a Supersports race at Britain’s famous Brands Hatch track in 2008.

The 2009 season was so successful that the track was named Motorsport Facility of the Year in the Professional Motorsport World Expo Awards 2009, beating the near-mythical Nüburging which was also short-listed.

Gary Anderson, ex-F1 technical director and one of the judges for the awards, said: “The Algarve Motor Park has a unique configuration and demanding curves that provide unique challenges, to both pilots and the engineers: to make a car go fast on this circuit is to guarantee the rest of the season.”

If you like the sound of that, you can drive the circuit yourself. Regular track days mean you can bring your own car, if you are brave enough and your insurance company is understanding enough, or you can attend the racing school.

There is a Sporting, Off-Road and Racing School, “dedicated to motoring enthusiasts wishing to improve their driving skills as well as budding motorsport drivers looking for professional training”. Like most racing schools, this will start you off in a standard saloon car and work you up to a single-seat racer once you feel confident enough to take on the challenge.

I love racing schools; it’s a chance to burn off all that aggression you need to bury on the road and learn a few skills that might actually come in useful one day: how to control a skid, emergency braking, handbrake turns… Sorry, scrub that last one. Don’t know what I was thinking.

Anyway, the Motorpark also has a kart track for those who like to take their high-speed thrills a few inches off the ground.

For a proper appreciation of the track, however, you need to sign up for a Taxi Experience. Two high speed laps of the track as a passenger in a Porsche, BMW, Nissan GT-R or Ferrari driven by one of the Racing School’s instructors, or as a passenger on a Honda CBR 1000R motorcycle will no doubt leave you with the impression it left me. Although the laps pass incredibly quickly, the memory lingers for a long time. First, I realised I had never really been properly scared in my life before. Two, when it comes to driving fast, I am a complete amateur. The second, at least, is a very useful and chastening lesson to take back to the road.

If all that gives you a better appreciation of the skills of a professional driver, there are several key events that are already firm fixtures in the Motorpark’s year, from the World Superbikes (March), World Series Karting Championships (June & July), World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), Algarve 1000Km (part of the Le Mans Series) (both in July), GT Championship & British Formula 3 (17-19 September 2010) and the Historic Formula One Championship (16-18 October 2010).

The undulating track gives spectators excellent views of most of the action, while the first-class facilities are the envy of many longer-established names. If you fancy some takes of derring-do to freshen up the conversation after that bottle of wine with your friends, this might be the place.

For information on the latest travel packages to the Algarve

please visit  www.bookingalgarve.co.uk

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