DCPR reports from his visit to the new ‘Algarve’ Circuit on 28th April 2009;
Wow! – This is Bahrain and Sepang on the infrastructure - and Spa Francorchamps on the track – and your perfect family holiday in the sun to boot!
Promoter, Francisco Santos invited all the co-ordinators for the October debut Historic meeting, Duncan for FJHRA, Martin Grant-Peterkin and Ian Nuthall for the two HGPCA grids (front and rear) and Duncan Wiltshire (Motor Racing Legends) with a postwar and HGPCA/BRDC sports grid – Christopher Tate and Masters already having had a sneak preview the week before for their Masters F1 and other grids.
We flew late Monday with Aer Lingus – the flight Gatwick to Faro had only been inaugurated the week before! – in a nicely empty plane for under £50. Francisco met us for the 40 kms to Portimão, where the Tivoli Marina Hotel, one of the three options for our drivers, is situated. A new two storey type hotel on a promontory into the estuary, with the marina on one side and beach on the other, and a swimming pool complex as the central feature – an excellent buffet meal in the evening.
The next day Francisco took us for a tour of the other hotels, the Pestana D.João II which is a more traditional family hotel, with a large grass / swimming pool area behind leading to a long sandy beach, with unobtrusive beach bar / restaurant – regular live musical entertainment features every night. Finally to the upmarket (and inland) Meridien Penina Golf Hotel, with full 18 hole Championship Golf course and 2x9 hole courses – and the Penguin Club where children from 9 months upwards can be left and entertained all day – although on our visit, to this “resort”, there was a much more traditional “old English club” atmosphere, reminiscent of a combination of the Nureya Eliya Club in the hills of Sri Lanka and the Royal Livingstone, at Victoria Falls – and dedicated golf looked more the order of the day. This one will incur a €30 per day per room surcharge, over and above the 4 night 2 person free package that is being offered to all drivers in October. Rates for those who will be making a (week or so) holiday of it should be available soon.
We were hosted to an enjoyable lunch, before heading to the circuit (about 15 mins from the 2 waterside hotels and less from Meridien Penina), approached by a splendid new road which seems to have been miraculously constructed through the hills at the same time as the new circuit – if only those who “designed” to M40/A43 junction to Silverstone Circuit could spend 5 minutes looking into this! – and then the circuit comes into view – amazing! A 90,000 seater main stand, 42 large F1 type pits, a (shallow) swimming pool (“for the ladies – definitely no diving!), a well staffed restaurant cheffed by Luis Brito who will take pre-orders for any of your on track food requirements for the week – and a track that sweeps up and around in a beautiful flow, but nonetheless taxing the unwary, with only T.3 a sharp R and uphill to L being likely to trouble our older cars. There is some selection in corners, and it was soon clear without question which configuration would best suit the historics, mussing the “F1 kink” after T1 , and taking an “Abbey” curve before the longer and sharper T.
We met the circuit Manager and co-owner who actually designed the track, moving a “mountain of earth to flatten the whole paddock area, and so adding to the ‘up and down’ features of the out field circuit.
On site at our visit were two of the Lola-Aston Martin Le Mans cars 007 ( PD 960-02 ) and 009 ( PD 960 015) about to do a 36 hour simulation, with fuel rigs already in situ, and a good test for all the circuit marshalls.
Nigel Mansell was there too, with son Gregg, - pushing their scooter – it had run out of petrol on an acclimatisation lap!! - under the direction of John Thorburn, before leaving for Spa this weekend.
A tour of all the facilities - already in full use, having hosted the A1GP the weekend before! – and then a press conference to a host of Portuguese journalists – naturally Francisco, and the circuit director, gave most of the presentation, but the rest of us had a say (in English!)
Visit completed, we headed back the 50 kms to Faro Airport, and another all but completely empty Aer Lingus flight. Aer Lingus are our “preferred operator” for the Historic Festival and the splendid arrangements will be announced very shortly, but all Historic participants will be exempt from Faro airport taxes, wherever they fly in from, subject of course to being listed in advance.
We arrived back 20 minutes early, but then had a near half hour delay through immigration!! – bed at midnight, and then up at 6am, for the HSCC board meeting up at Silverstone...