Now in its eighth year, the Algarve Classic Festival is a must-go for car lovers of all ages, faiths and genres.
For those travelling from abroad to the Algarve to race their old cars around the Portimão circuit, it must seem unbelievable to do it under bright sunny skies and on a dry race track.
Almost everywhere else in Europe the weather is already demanding rain tyres, umbrellas and long coats, but not here at our California-like corner of the world. Over here it is still time for t-shirts, shorts, sunglasses and dry tyres.
Anywhere you went on the paddock of the Algarve Classic Festival, the biggest classic car gathering of the Iberian Peninsula, the spirits were up, the cars spotless and the attendees made everything they could to seize the day.
The festival laid its foundations in 2009 and has established itself as one of the best in Europe. No, it’s not the Goodwood Revival, nor the Silverstone Classic, but it is getting bigger every year and where else can you find three days of sun in late October?
If you are one of those people who cannot wait for the day when electric cars rule the world and care more about the infotainment system in your daily runabout than how much power it produces, I guess you should keep away from the International Algarve Autodrome (Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in our native speak) on this particular weekend.
This is a petrolhead gathering, where the air is filled with the sounds of screaming engines tearing around the track and the smell of burned petrol coming out of multiple exhaust pipes. In other words: heaven on Earth.
Because the organisers understand this is all about the passion these cars generate and the interaction between them and the people who attend the event, it’s fairly easy to gain access to the paddock and touch, smell and feel the beauty of some of the greatest racing cars of all time.
There are 10 different categories being run, from single seaters like the Formula 3 Classic – which encompass cars built up to 1984 – to 90’s Endurance Sports Cars and GTs, the most recent you will see at the Festival and also some of the fastest around Portimão, of course. After all, not so long ago, a Ferrari 430 GTC was winning races the world over. The Historic Endurance series entry list featured an array of cars worth north of €18 million. Wow.
So how does this whole thing work? Well, a bunch of rich people sign up their cars with months in advance, book their flights and send the team and vehicle(s) in a lorry, mostly from England, but also from France, Germany or Italy. There are some nationals taking part as well. All in all, nine countries were represented.
Depending on the car you enter, you are assigned a category, which is no different than all the other classic festivals around the world. There are a few rules to abide by, but mostly, this is all about good, clean fun, racing the cars you love and sharing that passion with people who feel exactly the same.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some close fights on the track. Although the biggest problem with old cars from the same decade, or two decades apart, competing against each other is that one is probably going to be much faster than the other. It is not unusual to find two serious rivals from a certain period or even two or more examples of the same car in one category – meaning it’s up to the driver to make a difference, and that’s when things get more aggressive.
Highlights this year in terms of the cars that came to the ACF? Well, that is always subjective, but on the track I couldn’t help notice four magnificent Ford GT40 – they did beat Ferrari at Le Mans three years in a row – a freshly restored AC Ace, a car that seems perfect in which to contest a race and then take straight to the local Marina for a night out on the town, and a BMW E30 M3 that belonged to Steve Soper, multiple touring car champion, a.k.a. Soperman.
On the far side of the paddock, the classic car park held the road cars of participants that had signed up to attend with their vintage set of wheels and take a celebratory lap around the circuit when the programme stops for lunch. There, among the Ferraris and the Porsches, laid the most beautiful Aston Martin DB2 I have ever seen.
I am not even an Aston Martin man, but boy did this one look good. It belonged to a father and his 21-year old son that drove 800km to be a part of the proceedings. And, get this, I saw them leave at the end of the day and the kid was driving! I remember my dad letting me drive his Opel Zafira. Not exactly a half million euro car, was it?
Sitting on the paddock stands is the best place to watch the races, as they overlook the best corner of the circuit, but, for me, the real treat of the festival is that you can enter every pit garage and see the cars. More often than not, the owners, or just drivers, will be standing next to them and, because this is not their job, but something they love deeply, they will answer anything you ask them and sometimes even let you touch and sit in the car.
The great thing about classic cars is that it brings people together. Before you notice it, the conversation you started with the owner of that immaculate Jaguar E-Type has turned into a group discussion about rear suspension and brake fade. I told you, this is not the place for apologists of autonomous driving.
I am not going to talk results, winners and losers. It’s all too obvious that that is of little interest to the majority of those in presence at the ACF, as I believe it is to you. What matters is that this is a bucket list event for every petrolhead living in Portugal. If you like cars, power, speed, noise and, most of all, beauty, you cannot miss this.
If you don’t like cars, both new or old, fast or slow, noisy or silent, then it’s never too late to start. My bet is the first time you go to the Algarve Classic Festival and watch how special these machines – and everything around them really – are, you will never stay home at the last weekend of October again.
By Guilherme Marques