From watching to competing: Botelho secures dream ERC1 Junior entry for home rally
Rafael Botelho will go from big fan to big chance when the FIA European Rally Championship visits his home island for the Azores Rallye.
A native of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, where the spectacular gravel event is based, Botelho will drive a ŠKODA Fabia R5 for The Racing Factory as he continues his transition from Rally4 to Rally2 level.
While his agreement covers the Azores Rallye and the other events that make up his local championship, the 25-year-old is working to secure the budget to contest additional rounds of ERC1 Junior.
A big pleasure to be a part of it
“I started riding motorcycles when I was three and rallies was always my passion. I remember when I was four or five going to Tronqueira or Sete Cidades to see the rally, so for me this is a big pleasure and it’s important to be part of it. My target was to be in ERC1 Junior for my home round and I’m very excited to be competing against these very good, young drivers. I’ve done one rally in this car but it was only 50 kilometres so I don’t have much experience, but this is a dream come true.”
All set for the big format change
With the traditional Saturday stages moving to Friday and vice versa, Botelho is preparing for a “big, big change” alongside co-driver Rui Raimondo. “The rally starts with a very demanding day and the first stage, Graminhais, is 24 kilometres. Tronqueira is also more than 20 kilometres and then you have Vila Franca São Brás, which is very narrow with lots of loose gravel. Last year the first leg was 24 kilometres and that’s the length of the first stage. Really, it’s a day of survival because it will be tough for the drivers and the cars and it will need a different approach, you will have to be very focused.”
Hoping for a long discussion
“On the positive side, if you can say this, Saturday will be a shorter day. It will be a pleasure to finish with Sete Cidades and I really hope the rally can be discussed until the end with the fight open.”
From McRae to Meeke, Kankkunen to Kubica, Botelho was watching and competing
“I remember watching Alister McRae, Juha Kankkunen, Jani Paasonen and thinking they were the best. As a young kid with a huge passion for the rallies, it made me think I want to be a driver and do the Azores Rallye. Then in 2009 when the IRC came, I really loved this time because I had a special appreciation of Kris Meeke, who won. My first time doing this rally was in 2013. It was also my first rally but Eurosport made an interview with me at the end of Tronqueira. This was very special. It was the time when Robert Kubica was in the Azores and I was very encouraged to have an F1 star and a good driver taking part.”
Ready for one, hoping for more
“At the moment I have the budget to do the Azores. After the Azores, and according to the results, I will try the best with my sponsors to do other events but I don’t say what events because I don’t know.”
The partners making Botelho’s dream possible
Rafael Botelho’s ERC1 Junior debut is being supported by The Racing Factory, ŠKODA Azores, BAHCO (International Tools) and Pavão Enterprises Inc.