I’ve been to Portimao twice – 2011 and 2012 – and it’s one of the best tracks I’ve ever ridden. I’ve recently heard that the surface isn’t great right now and needs some work doing but haven’t seen this for myself.
What is it then?
Portimao is a fantastic circuit in the Algarve, the south of Portugal. It’s a beautiful part of the world and has some absolutely stunning beaches, so it’s a great place to go for a few extra days for a bit of a holiday and keep the family from whinging too much.
You can fly into Faro and hire a car to drive to Portimao; it’s a couple of hours away. Alternatively, you can fly into Lisbon and drive down although this is a fair bit longer. Lisbon is a really vibrant city (it has really amazing graffiti, if that’s your thing) so is also good for a pre- or post-track break.
Flights range from £80 – £300 depending on the airline you fly with. I went BA first from Heathrow into Faro & EasyJet into Lisbon the second time. I hated the second time – partly because I’m a bit of a snob and hate being herded around with a bunch of pikeys with 15 screaming kids on their way to Shagaluf at Stansted airport at stupid o’clock in the morning for a ridiculously early flight, and partly because EasyJet is spawned of the seed of Satan himself and it annoys me how the entire flight is a sales pitch to get you to spend £8 on a soggy, microwaved ham sandwich.
How can I do it?
My first trackday there was with Hottrax (which I think closed down a couple of years ago) and my second was with No Limits, who I now always book with as I much prefer them to the main alternative. There are a couple of newish companies offering foreign trackdays there which I’ve yet to try, but have read good reviews.
Typically, your event booking will cost around £550 – £750 and include your track time, hotel, and bike transport. You’ll need to get your bike to one of the drop-off points a week in advance where you’ll load it into a stillage (metal stackable crate) and then they’re all forklifted onto a truck to be driven down. The stillage is big enough to take a reasonable amount of gear too so you can usually get your leathers, helmet, spare tyres, and tools on there too.
Where to stay
The hotel is included with your track booking. The TDO will have a deal with a hotel or two for group bookings at reasonable rates so this is always taken care of. Usually, your hotel booking is for the same amount of days as you’re on track for (starting the night before), so it’s usually work booking an additional night so you don’t have to go straight from the track to the airport once you’ve packed your bike up at the end.
Portimao is an absolutely incredible circuit. It was my first proper trackday – I’d done a couple of days with California Superbike School and Ron Haslam, but I’d never booked a regular trackday before I went to Portimao.
It’s really fast, flows well, is a proper roller-coaster of a track with loads of elevation changes, and has some technical sections and blind corners which can catch you out.
I’m not going to write a full walk-through of the track as other people have done this better than I could but a few notable sections – there are two places where you come out of a fairly tight 90° right-hander, accelerate out, drop down a slope, then bang it onto the other side and accelerate through the left-hander up another hill – fantastic!
Another corner worth mentioning is the last right. This is one of those corners that really demands balls. It’s a really fast, downhill right-hander that leads onto the start/finish straight and it took me the best part of a couple of days to get it right and finally take it fast enough to get my knee down here. I’d met a bunch of great guys in the same garage as me and one of them, Bill, got his knee down for the first time ever on this corner – absolutely crazy in my opinion!
It’s a definite must-ride, as is Portimao as a whole.
The weather at Portimao can be really dicey – it’s often very wet. Locals say that it’s typically sunny and dry for 6 months a year but can be really stormy either side, so sometimes you can be unlucky and have a complete wash-out.
The first time I was there, it hammered down on the first morning as we were unloading the bikes and then was dry by 11am. It rained a little around lunch on the second day and then dried up a few sessions later, remaining sunny for the remainder of the four days.
The second time I was there, it was raining first thing on day one again but soon dried up and was sunny for the rest of the three days.
My track sessions
My first trip there was a 4-day trackday and I had a new set of Rosso Corsas to last the trip which did a great job, although by the third afternoon I was spinning the rear up on the exit of some corners. My front brake pads had had enough by the afternoon of the final day and I was planning on going out and riding round steadily without needing to use the brakes, which is a really good exercise and one they teach at the California Superbike School. However, there was a guy in the next garage who had a part worn set of pads and insisted on giving them to me so I could get back out properly – what a star.
It’s always a great atmosphere in the paddock with everyone really happy to help out. Like Bill, who helped me fit the pads as I’d never done it before – thanks Bill!
On my second trip there, I had a minute tear in a gasket which was causing the tiniest amount of oil to escape and hit the exhaust so I occasionally had a little puff of smoke visible. This meant that, after every session, I had to take the lower fairing off and have a bunch of people look for a leak which we couldn’t see and then I’d go out again only for someone else to spot a puff of smoke in the next session and pull me up on it… so that was fun.
I was new to trackdays when I went to Portimao and I don’t have a lap timer but think my best lap round there is about a 2:15 according to the inbuilt timer on the RC8 of Yves, who followed me around for a session. This isn’t particularly quick but is a fairly decent inters pace. The target for my next time there is sub-2 minutes.
Portimao is right up there with Spa as my favourite ever circuits – it’s really hard to choose between them as they’re both fantastic. That said, I’ve only done 3 foreign tracks so far so can’t offer a complete comparison yet.
I have Jerez booked for April and next on the list will be Aragon and Mugello which are all meant to be incredible so I’m sure my favourite-ever list may be subject to revision!