All aboard for Azores: Botelho happy to dream big in ERC
Rafael Botelho’s dream is set to come true this week when he contests his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship in a Rally2 car for the first time.
Botelho, who is from the island of São Miguel, is entered for the 55th Azores Rallye in a Škoda Fabia R5 alongside co-driver Rai Raimundo.
Although Botelho has started the Azores Rallye on seven previous occasions, he’s always done so in two-wheel-drive machinery, making his step up to all-wheel drive and the ERC1 category a major career opportunity for the 27-year-old, who heads into the event second in the Azorean championship.
“I’m very excited, it’s like a dream come true,” Botelho said. “Everything is prepared but it will not be an easy rally. Friday will be a long day and for day two to end with the Sete Cidades stage will be awesome. I feel very happy to have the possibility to do the rally and let’s see how it goes because the entry list is with very fast guys.”
Waiting and hoping to rally again
Following the postponement of the 55th Azores Rallye last year, Botelho has played a waiting game for the ERC’s return but managed one event on the Portuguese mainland in 2020, plus the opening three rounds of this year’s Azorean Rally Championship. “It was a tough time because I depend on my sponsors to do the races and of course the plan with the R5 was to do the Azores Rallye last year and then more rallies,” Botelho explained. “It was not easy to continue with my project, but everything is building up again and things look more normal. The rally will be very good for the Azorean people and the economy because we are small group of islands and we need the tourists and the big events.”
Strong home form boosts Botelho for ERC counter
“I am doing the Azorean championship which is seven races, three on gravel, four on Tarmac on five different islands,” said Botelho. “I am second overall in the championship, I finished with one second and two fourth places. There are four fast guys fighting for the top of the championship. It’s a huge battle, but I am the younger one and the one with the less experience of the R5 car. I know I can do better, improve my skills and drive faster but I feel very happy that things went well in the first three rallies and I hope in my home rally things go even better. The Friday will be an important day for the Azorean guys because it’s just this day that counts for the Azorean Rally Championship so my target will be to push more on Friday and enjoy Saturday.”
From listening to competing: ERC Radio fan to go up against championship big guns
“A few years ago it was my dream to do the Azores Rallye and I made it, nowadays my dream is to do my home rally in an R5 car and it’s like a dream come true. I listen to ERC Radio all the time and it will be a pleasure to finish the first stage and be interviewed by Julian Porter or Chris Rawes. I am a young guy from a normal family, we don’t have a company and my sponsors are the companies that help me to move up and give the possibility to do the rally in an R5 car. And it’s a pleasure to be in the same rally as these famous drivers. If you look at the entry list, you have drivers from the world championship like Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo. Erik Cais did a fantastic rally three weeks ago, Efrén Llarena is improving a lot and Miko Marczyk is a fast one too. I cannot come close to them because they are faster than me with more experience, but my target is to enjoy the experience, even though it won’t be easy for a young Azorean driver. I will do the test next Tuesday, my team takes more time to prepare the car because the rally is a big one, demanding with lots of long stages. But mentally I feel ready to enjoy this opportunity. Physically I also feel good, everything is checked. It will be a big week for me, my co-driver and my team.”
Botelho is supported by Pavão Enterprises Inc. New York, Škoda Açores – J.H. Ornelas, Bahco, The Racing Factory and Partneraçor.