24 Hours Fronteira: The perfect finish for 2017 season.

It all began in 1998, the year of the first edition of the 24 Hour of Fronteira. Since then, the friendly village in Alto Alentejo, has hosted without interruption the event that is more than a test of endurance, it’s rather a great party to close the sporting season.
The spirit of the 24 Hours of Fronteira is significantly different from the other events in Portugal and abroad, and those differences go far beyond those coming from the concept. The teams, whether big or small, are attracted by the sporting challenge, but above all by the atmosphere of this race, where rivals are having a weekend of party with each other as friends, and beside this, an endurance race is also going on.
There are many cases in which the teams are formed by drivers who are rivals in the National Championship races during the season, in other teams, the group of drivers is composed of people who do not usually drive in races, be are mechanics, co-drivers or sponsors. For many of these participants this is the only race of the year.
The main reason behind the success of this competition is that its format allows even the smallest teams, some of them composed only by fans, to realize their dream of competing in a race alongside the biggest names of the sport. The possibility of having several drivers to distribute the driving during the 24 long hours allows the costs of a participation also to be shared, making the effort much easier.
This year’s car field also has a very special feature: the variety of used cars. The regulation allows to register a wide range of vehicles, from the most powerful and evolved machines to the vehicles that do not fit in the “normal standards” of all the cross-country rallies nowadays but have in themselves some remainder of the adventurous spirit of the early years of this sport.
This 20th edition is also emblematic in terms of the differences between the participating cars, where for the first time a Mini All4 Racing (one of the top-level cross-country rally cars) made by X-Raid shared the track with the Peugeot 504. Between these two extremities there is a very rare variety of vehicles including the usual pick-ups, 4×4 jeeps, foreign prototypes and their 1001 forms and of course by the simpler machines of the “504” class, as in the case of a Renault Super 5 or the Datsun.
The challenge and the fun are the same for everyone, even for the slowest teams. In the front, teams fight for the first places overall, with the rivals looking for the smallest slip so that they can overtake. In the pits, whenever there is a problem, the mechanics do their best to get the car back on track as quickly as possible. Further down in the classification, it may seem to be different, but it’s not: everything strictly the same. All fight for the positions in the class, for a goal, always with fierce and attentive competition. The mechanics have exactly the same commitment as in the top teams, only the solutions found for the problems are a bit different.
In the first editions of the “24 Hours” this was practically a Portuguese party, but it soon began to attract the attention of foreigners, especially of the French, the great specialists of this kind of sport, who brought their extraordinarily fast and effective prototypes and mastered the event ever since. Gradually, there have been more and more teams composed of Portuguese and foreigners, that allowed them to fight for overall victories.

The 24 Hours of Fronteira, being held in late fall, always ends up being very affected by the weather, with a significant impact on the running of the race. The main effects of the weather, being dry or wet, make you feel on the track that has to withstand the thousands of passages of the dozens of competitors. In dry years, the track becomes very dusty, making it difficult to drive and to overtake. In wet years, the mud and the difficulties of traction because of the slippery tread at some points of the track are the main problems.

2017 was an atypical year, with none of these problems, even though it was a particularly dry year, with Alentejo suffering and much of the effects of the absence of rain that has been going on for months. The day before the race it rained a little, enough to help to compact the tread and eliminate the dust almost completely. With good flooring, no dust, no rain and with a mild generality of the teams can give many laps, and even those who suffer most, this year had a calmer race, enjoying driving their cars to the fullest.

The frontrunners of the World Cup have been pretty rare sight in Fronteira. Of course, many top drivers have already participated in the race, and of course there have already been many very competitive cars, but we have to go back until 2003, when Mistubishi was present with a Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, then piloted by Carlos Sousa, Stephane Peterhansel, Miki Biasion and Miguel Barbosa.

This year the German X-Raid team appeared in Fronteira for the first time, with a Mini All4 Racing driven by a quartet of Italian riders composed by Michele de Nora, Michele and Carlo Cinotto and Paolo Bachella. The Italian team opted to rent the Mini from the German team betting on the proven reliability of this car.
Teams often say they come to have fun, but obviously the choice of the car indicated that the goal was a top position in the classification. Michele de Nora told before the start that he wanted to finish in the top 5.
Their participation started in the best way, with the Mini winning the free practice. Then in the timed training the “specialists” of Fronteira grabbed the top positions, and the Mini fell to seventh.
Throughout the race they were always in the group of the fastest, and for sure one of the most spectacular vehicles. A delay in the middle of the race made the team down in the standings, just out of top five, but the TT 24 Hours kept holding surprises up until the very end, and problems of those ahead allowed them to reach the finish line in third place.
On behalf of the owner of the car, the information is that no changes were made to the mechanics of the Mini All4 Racing, only the usual revisions. Mini’s recognized reliability only shuddered when it was required to change the gearbox, but still allowed the team to get an exceptional result in this participation, and who knows, have opened the door for more teams to bring cars from the world to Fronteira.

More than 80 teams signed up to participate in the 24 Hours de Fronteira, a number that despite not breaking the record of participation was enough to fill the pits and the track, living up to the tradition of the great party of the end of the year.

In addition to the “star” that was the Mini, the list was full of names that are regular in Fronteira, including the usual “French invasion” that once again brought to Portugal its impressive cars.
The team led by Mário Andrade, multiple winners of this event was a favourite with Mário and Alexandre Andrade, Cédric Duple, Yann Morize and Luís Ribeiro at the wheel of his Proto. Pierre Marie Lauilhe, Louis Lauilhe and Stéphane Barbry teamed up to try to repeat the triumph of 2015.
On the Portuguese side, the main contender fighting for the victory was the team of Ricardo Porem who shared the car with Pedro Grancha, Laurent Poletti and Basso Ronald.
Among the long list of entrants, we can find many well-known names and also many not so well-known participants. For example, the family “Santinho Mendes”, with Santinho Mendes, the sons José and Vítor Mendes and the grandson António Santinho Mendes to share the driving of the Opel Tigra. Cesar Sequeira was another well-known driver who brought his family, in this case his two daughters Tânia and Filipa to share the driving of the Nissan Navara.
Not less well-known, the Peugeot 504 was also once again present for another 24-hour duel with the Renault Super 5 and the 2 Datsun.
Two female teams also met the challenge: Team #41, made up of Carina de Castro, Sonia Ferreira, Joana Cordeiro and Teresa Coelho in Nissan Navara, and team #61 with Paula Marto, Otilia Marto, Silvia Reis and Silvia Marto to share the driving of a Suzuki Jimny.

Until the drivers see the chequered flag everything is possible in the 24 hours TT. This year the last hours of the race were particularly surprising and culminated in a somewhat unexpected result.

The conditions on the track this year allowed many teams to run more than usual, avoiding the usual problems that arise in cars derived from the natural wear and tear of the roads, something that did not happen in 2017. On the other hand, the pace was in general also higher, and even the slower ones drove very fast, not to mention the 118 laps completed by the winner.
The mind-boggling rhythm of the frontrunners during the first half of the race did not allow the teams to take their positions as secure. By the way, also towards the middle of the classification fought for the podium places of the classes, with many teams battling for the positions.
The fight was fierce also for the lead of the race with several teams overtaking each other for the first place. After 12 hours of the race, the team of Stephane Barbry, Pierre Lauilhe and Louis Lauilhe led the pack, in front of Mário Andrade and his team with the A.C. Nissan Proto and the team of Paulo Marques, Alexandre Ré, José Pimenta and Thierry Charbonier, all with 57 laps. Still with the same number of laps was the Mini All4 Racing driven by the Italian quartet led by Michelle de Nora. Shortly after the A.C. Nissan Proto number 22 team took over and held the position until almost the end of the race.
At one hour before the finish, the stir started in the front. Thierry Charbonnier, Paulo Marques, Alexandre Ré and José Pimenta, at that time second, were forced to withdraw from the race due to a mechanical problem on their Proto MMP. Shortly after, Mário Andrade’s team, who had been leading the race since the 12th hour, had to pit because of the clutch of the A.C. Nissan Proto, without any chance of repair before the end of the race, forcing them to abandon, too.
To really understand the bad luck of this team, they completed 117 laps on the track, while the winners completed 118. But according to the regulations, to be classified, a team has to cross the finish line by its own means, something that was literally impossible for them.
But if these two teams had a very bitter taste of their participation in the 24 Hours of Fronteira, the team Tempo 24H, coming from Latvia, got the opposite sensation. After several appearances, the team composed by Igors Skoks, Rudolfs Skoks and Arvis Pikis finally scored a victory in Portugal. Being big fans of the event with big knowledge about it, their strategy relied on the quickness and the reliability of the Mitsubishi Pajero that according to the team did not have any problem.

“We know this competition well. I have participated seven times and the team has done it for thirteen occasions. We did an excellent job and the tactics worked. We had already achieved the second and third places, but winning is winning! It was an incredible race. An hour before the end we did not believe that it was possible to win! Our car has always been hundred percent. We did not have any mechanical problems and the victory is fair despite our opponent’s bad luck,” Rudolfs Skoks told the organization at the end of the race.

The second place of the podium went to the French team of Barbry, Pierre and Louis Lauilhe in Proto Sadev Oryx and the third to finish were the Italians Michele de Nora, Michelle and Carlo Cinotto and Paolo Bachella in the Mini All4 Racing.
The fourth was another team coming from France: the trio composed by Andre Bastet, Richard Bastet and George Da Cruz with an unusual Proto-Pulsion Sprinbok Pro.

The best Portuguese team appears only in fifth position: Victor Conceição, Nuno Pires and Tiago Rodrigues managed to make 110 laps on the track with their Nissan Navara.
In the T2, the team of Rómulo Branco was one of the main dominators, but the suspension of Nissan Navara did not let the quartet composed by Rómulo Branco, Jorge Silva, Rui Farinha and Gonçalo Branco to win in the category delaying them irremediably and leaving the victory to be in the hands of the team composed by Carlos Faustino, Hélder Cordeiro, Rui Pinho, Pedro Lopes and Jorge Caetano who were driving a Nissan Pathfinder.

In Promotion B, category of the Peugeot 504 among others, the winner has been the BMW 325 driven by Nuno Carujo, Joao Amante, Joaquim Matos and Luis Maximiano with 89 laps completed; overall they finished in 19th place. The “Team Peugeot 504”, supported by / Rally-Raid Network finished 4th in its class and 40th overall with 68 laps.

Story and images: Rally-Raid Network