Portugal, for those of you who already forgot your geography lessons, is a small, very old and the westernmost european country in the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. It has 9.5 million inhabitants and its about the same size of Maine. Its was a country of immigration in the past and there are big pockets of portuguese descendants, in France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, US (New England and California) and of course Brazil.
Karting in Portugal started some 30 years ago very much like it started everywhere else. Today we have 13 permanent racing tracks and more than 500 license holders. At Braga, in northern Portugal, there is the International Kartodrome of Braga, where the World Juniors Championship was held in 1995. It is a beautiful track with very good facilities.
The Portuguese Championship, normally starts in March and goes on till November. In 1995 it was made of 11 races in different permanent tracks – the Portuguese Karting Federation does not authorize street races.
We race 6 different sprint categories;
Cadet Comer 60cc engine with centrifugal clutch - 8 to 11 years old Super Cadet Comer 80cc engine with c/clutch - 10 to 12 years old CIK Junior 100cc piston port with c/clutch - 13 to 14 years old National 100cc piston port, free tuning - 13 years old and more CIK Inter A 100cc reed - 15 years old Formula C 125cc water cooled w/gearbox - more than 16 years old
Some 100 drivers show up at every race. The number of pilots is still relatively small but is steadily increasing for every race and every year.
Every track also organizes its own one make trophy, which is a much cheaper way to race and is bringing many people to the sport.
All these trophy racers can race together once a year for the Federation Cup, which was held in 1995 for the first time, without great success. These trophies are however playing an important role as many kids are now joining the national championship ranks with very good standards of driving.
In Southern Portugal, during the Summer months there are the occasional ‘Pirate Race’. These are street races with good prize moneys, normally held as part of the programs of Summer Festivals. As mentioned the Portuguese Karting Federation (FPAK) does not sanction these street races and if some licensee is caught racing in one of these his/her license will be canceled. Therefore the pack is made of John Does, A. Smiths and other very famous drivers. The sporting value of these races is very small, in my opinion.
The most popular engines and frames are CRG, Tony Kart, Top Kart, Haase, Alpha, DFM and Tecno (chassis) and Rotax, Comer, Vortex, Parilla, TM, Pavesi (engines).
By far the most popular tyre brand is the Vega, but Bridgestone is coming back. There are newcomers like the Maxxis (Taiwan) and Pneubras (Brazil).
In recent years we have watched an enormous improvement in the standards of driving and chassis/engine tuning and setup. This made the sport much more interesting to watch but also made it much, much more expensive.
Sponsorship is scarce and hard to find, although some of the front runners are backed by petrol companies. In this respect GALP, the portuguese petrol company has been playing an important role helping young upcoming drivers throughout their carreers
Pedro Lamy, now with Minardi Formula 1 team, was the National Karting Champion some years ago with GALP’s backing.
Television is also helping the sport by showing some coverage of some events. Autosport and O Volante, the two main motor sports publications also cover the karting scene. There is also SLICK, a glossy quarterly magazine totaled devoted to karting.
I believe that karting in Portugal is in extremely good health, although our Federation has to find a way to cut costs very soon.
The main problem is that FPAK is the Portuguese Automobile and Karting Federation and karting plays the role of the poor relative of car racing.