Touring car fans will be most familiar with Vila Real’s time on the World Touring Car Championship and, latterly, the World Touring Car Cup calendar. First held as a world-championship event in 2015, six editions of the ‘Race of Portugal’ were held around the 4.6km Portuguese street course before the WTCR’s dissolution at the end of 2022. Incredibly, and in a nod to the circuit’s technical layout, 12 different drivers were victorious in the 14 WTCC / WTCR races held during that time, with only 2019 world champion Norbert Michelisz and, fittingly, Portugal’s Tiago Monteiro winning more than once.
Prior to its WTCC / WTCR tenure, Vila Real can actually trace its heritage back to amateur Portuguese motor racing in the wine-making ‘Norte’ region in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Financial backing from local government officials meant local street racing was given an official home in 1930 on the new ‘Circuito Automóvel de Vila Real,’ albeit still run largely on public roads and through hillside towns. And while the original 7.150km course length paled in comparison to the 22.8km and 14.9km behemoths established just a few years earlier around Nürburg in Germany and Malmedy in Belgium respectively, Vila Real more than made up for that with its picturesque hillside location. And danger! Drivers were required to cross two perilously-high bridges traversing the roaring Rio Corbo river, between which was a narrow railway level-crossing.
Competitive intrigue soon spread, and with the road course having survived the onslaught of the second World War, international competitors started flocking to Vila Real from 1950 onwards. Indeed, Enzo Ferrari himself sent factory entries for the formative ‘Race of Portugal’ in 1951 (which dutifully finished 1-2-3), while Sir Stirling Moss led home a Maserati 1-2 at the event in 1958, the first edition run since modifications – including the new, tighter ‘Curva da Salsicharia’ (Sausage Curve) before the start-finish line, apparently so-named for the adjacent butchers that overlooked it – saw the circuit dip below its traditional 7km length (6.925km) for the first time. Grandstands and a permanent pitlane, complete with an Armco barrier, would follow in 1968.
Vila Real’s first ‘boon’ period arguably began with the arrival of Formula 3 for 1966, and more crucially, Group 4-5-6 sports cars three years later. After an exploratory six-hour event was held in 1969 (and won by Porsche’s exquisite 908/2), a 500km event was hosted at Vila Real for 1970 onwards, the ferociously-quick Porsche 917, driven by local hero Mário de Araújo Cabral, crushing the lap record multiple times in a sensational recovery drive to 2nd place. Fast-forward to 1979, and after another hiatus – this time driven by the 1973 Suez oil crisis and Portugal’s Revolução dos Cravos – Vila Real’s attention had turned to national Group A touring car competition when its license was finally restored. Portuguese tin tops remained the headline event at the Circuito Automóvel de Vila Real until racing was shelved altogether on the grounds of safety in 1991 following a tragic accident.
20 years later, the new – and, more importantly, safer – Circuito Internacional de Vila Real emerged from the ashes of its forebear. The shorter layout may have bid farewell to both bridges, the railway crossing, and the enormously fast sweeping bend through the neighbouring Mateus (the speeds through which were now controlled with a chicane) but nevertheless promised excellent on-track action with its punchier, 4.6km configuration. National racing was once again the focal point, with the Portuguese Touring Car Championship the circuit’s main draw from 2008 to 2010, before the ambitions of new management led to Vila Real’s world touring car era beginning in 2015.
Almost 100 years on from its humble motor racing beginnings, and more than a decade after its last prominent GT event, Vila Real is ready to reinvent itself once again with CREVENTIC on 14-15-16 July 2023.