I’ve always been a huge rally fan, and the WRC Rally Pass experience was something that simply didn’t exist when my parents took me out to see the craziest drivers and fastest cars in the early 80s. Truth be told, I hadn’t attended the event since 1995, when Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen went down to the wire at Figueiró dos Vinhos. El Matador won the Rally de Portugal by only a few seconds behind the wheel of the shiny blue 555 Subaru Impreza.
It was pouring down with rain, and every time the Rally de Portugal was upon us, I’d start sleeping less and dreaming more about those rally cars and legendary drivers. 1995 was not an exception, and we managed to watch two stages on the same day – the latter catching Kankkunen and Sainz at the end of the stage, to then reposition and watch all the other drivers take on the last few turns of the stage.
Years later, I went to the Algarve for the very same reason. Portugal had lost its place in the WRC calendar, which was rather embarrassing for a nation that always thought highly of its passion for this Motorsport. Poor organization and more appealing commercial markets meant that what was once considered The Best Rally in the World was done. The Algarve reboot was an attempt to conquer favour from the WRC promotor while showing we can learn from our mistakes and put on a safe and well-structured event.
But this isn’t about 1995. It’s not even about the Group B rally cars, which I was fortunate enough to witness. Or how Portugal lost its place in WRC royalty for a while, only to capture it back in a spectacular way. No – this is about the 2003 WRC Rally Pass experience.
The Rally Pass: A WRC VIP Experience?
Let me rephrase that. I don’t find it to be as VIP as some Formula 1 VIP experiences. There is plenty of potential for the Rally Pass, but we’ll establish a simple comparison between attending the event in this fashion or the usual way. Opting for the first can be expensive for some, surely, but you also get enough perks to make it worth your while. Going on your own terms is fun and perhaps more genuine, particularly if you’re a longtime rally fan, but let’s focus on the pros for now.
I acquired two Rally Pass credentials for Arganil to attend the Rally de Portugal 2023. Being an ACP (Automovel Clube de Portugal) associate, I also got a discount down from €170 to €154. Small as it may be, a discount is always welcome, and the monthly fee for ACP comes with plenty of perks if you live in the country.
Passes were available across several stages and packages. A three-rounder was available, but I didn’t want to drive all the way up to the north and assumed a two-pass at Arganil would be enough – I was right for my level of expectation. You can opt for a Rally Pass, which includes accommodation, transfers and dedicated areas at Arganil, Felgueiras and Fafe. Buy it in advance, and the organization will post it to your address. If you opt for a last-minute purchase, you must pick these up at a specific location in Porto, which would make the detour impossible to fit into my normal schedule.
Something for Everyone at the Rally de Portugal
As you might have guessed, the Rally Pass improves the World Rally Championship experience. You get to watch the action up close, from an exclusive area reserved for those who have the credentials. Here you find all sorts of perks:
- Free parking near the stage (5 minutes from Arganil Rally Pass location)
- Shuttle buses to take you to/from the stage location (plenty of these, constantly running)
- Breakfast/snacks/lunch + soft drinks/beer (interesting, but something to improve)
- Local goodies (Arganil has some of the finest local produce in Portugal)
- Toilets with permanent cleaning service
- Giant TV screen with WRC+ live broadcast
Seems quite a lot, right? First and foremost, let me tell you this much: it’s comfortable and civilized. I won’t debate whether attending the Rally is about such principles, but I surely enjoyed my time. It meant I didn’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to secure a place, and the overnight stay at Luna Hotel de Tábua meant a short and relaxed 25-minute drive to our dedicated parking area. Overall, it was a great commitment.
Not only was the hotel extremely comfortable and its staff nothing short of amazing, but the next morning we were surrounded by other WRC fans at breakfast. We soon crossed roads on our way to the Rally Pass area, propelled by the same principles that drive every fan: the most exciting cars and drivers on the planet.
A Relaxed, Perhaps All-too-civilized WRC Experience
Don’t expect people to shout or jump up and down when the Toyota Yaris GR makes an appearance. We don’t even get a tiny string of hysteria when the top Portuguese drivers fly past – and that’s OK. There are many people attending this event who aren’t even here for the WRC. They are present for business or representing their company, usually employed by the manufacturers or sponsors in any capacity.
Sure, there’s always your happy fan. The I-had-one-too-many, but overall the mood is light, and you can almost touch the cars as they drive past. My dad went along for the ride, and he made this remarkable comment:
“The last time I was this close to a rally car was in Sintra… in 1986!”
Fair enough, the comparison is enough to send shivers down your spine, but we’ve come a long way in terms of safety. Fan zones were initially seen as an insult, but they’re now a happy, safe place to watch the action in style. It’s a good thing, and the Rally Pass zone is as safe as it gets. The Rally de Portugal has evolved, and the days of people playing brave in front of a rally car are, fortunately, gone.
I literally watched dozens of people with their backs turn to the road as the top cars drove past. But I’m not one to judge, and the Rally Pass is a great opportunity for fun but also networking. I immediately made plans for next year’s event while having a few chats with people who thought Portuguese Content might be a great partner for their business – especially if they’re into Sports, iGaming, or marketing in general.
The way I can resume it is the following: have a nice, relaxed drive up the hill in the morning, not too early. Park your car. Hop on the bus and enjoy! Once you’re done, hop on the bus back to your car, and off you go. Seriously, attending the rally was never this easy.
Final Thoughts on the Rally Pass Experience
Overall, I would say I was quite satisfied with the experience and will likely opt for the Rally Pass for the Rally de Portugal 2024. I appreciated the comfortable, close view of all the cars. Having somewhere to sit, eat, and drink without a worry, as well as clean toilets, makes the whole experience hassle-free. I would definitely improve the way in which lunch is served considering the very long queues – perhaps dividing it into 3-4 areas, clearly identified, would help.
Arganil was quite fun. The Rally Pass area is big enough to comfortably host 700 people, allowing everyone to watch the cars up close. There is access to another area after a 10-minute walk, which is open to the general public. Here, you get to see the section of three jumps at Arganil, which is unmissable, and therefore, turn it into a complete WRC experience.
The Rally Pass is the WRC experience, improved. You can still have a blast camping out in the middle of a hill with your noisy, partying bunch. I’m not judging, as I spent many long nights of similar nature. What the experience does is allow you a comfortable, unique viewing point to the action with the aid of all modern commodities.
You literally have to worry about nothing else except making an appearance – and not even a very early one, for that matter.
Marco Valente is our Content Manager and Consultant. He’s got a lifelong crush on loud, insane rally cars. His parents took him to the Rally de Portugal in the very early 80s, and in 2023 he took his dad to Arganil to enjoy the Rally Pass experience.
Feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comments box, as we monitor these pieces quite closely.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the Rally Pass?
The Rally Pass is a comfortable experience that allows you to attend World Rally Championship events safely in an exclusive area. Rally Pass holders get a few perks, such as free parking near the spectator area, transfers from the parking area to the spectator zone, snacks and drinks, toilets, and WRC+ live coverage.
How many Rally Pass areas are there at the Rally de Portugal?
There are several dedicated Rally Pass areas at the Rally de Portugal. Special Stages have a Rally Pass area, plus Shakedown, Arganil, Felgueiras, and Fafe. These may differ in 2024 according to the event’s specific stages, but we’ll likely do an article on the next event, too.
How much does the Rally Pass cost?
Special Stage Rally Passes start at €15 for the Shakedown, while the Figueira da Foz Special Stage was €27. The Rally Pass for Arganil, Felgueiras and Fafe costs €170 for each stage. You can grab a discount if you’re an ACP – Automovel Clube de Portugal – associate. There are further passes, transfers and experiences across the offer.
What does the Rally Pass include?
The Rally Pass includes access to an exclusive area with a privileged view. The area is quite comfortable, with toilets, free unlimited snacks and drinks, including beer, coffee, and water, which means you get to have breakfast and lunch here. It also includes WRC+ live coverage on a giant screen.
Is Rally Pass worth the money?
Yes, we believe the Rally Pass is worth the money, particularly because it offers quite a lot. You get to watch the event up close and find all the modern amenities while you wait. Plus, at the regular stages, you get to watch the morning and afternoon stages, which translates into a full day of fun.