Fri 03 Mar 2023

Big Brother and back: Why ERC returnee Sousa plans to “keep it really cool” in Fafe

Bernardo Sousa makes his return to the FIA European Rally Championship in Fafe next week intent on “keeping it really cool” behind the wheel of his Citroën C3 Rally2.

An ERC event winner and former Portuguese champion who also competed successfully at FIA World Rally Championship level, Sousa hasn’t rallied on gravel in his homeland for two seasons. He therefore concedes that he’ll be playing catch-up when Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto opens the 70th-anniversary ERC season from 10 - 12 March.

“I don’t think I will be on the top level yet because my last big gravel rally was almost two years ago and the entry list is incredible,” said Sousa, who won the ERC-counting Azores Rallye in 2014 (podium celebrations pictured below). “But I did a test on Tuesday and the data looked good so you never know, although I have to be careful because the main goal is to win the Portuguese championship this season so I need to be clever. I hope to be between top five and top 10 and already this is going to be massive for me.”

As well as a lack of recent competition time on gravel, Madeira-born Sousa, 35, will have to overcome a lack of familiarity of the stages, a process that will be made harder by the heavy rain that’s being forecast throughout next week.

“There are some bits and pieces [of the route] that I know but the knowledge of the local guys and some of the ERC guys who did the rally last year makes a big difference,” Sousa said. “I’m an outsider, let’s say, but I was lucky to have [double Portuguese champion] José Pedro Fontes testing the same day as me and we had the opportunity to exchange the data with the same engineer and this was good for me to understand that I am near the good rhythm or not. In the end I was almost as I didn’t stop [driving regularly], I was quite close.

“Things seem promising but I want to keep it really cool and go with the flow because it’s a long rally and the stages are short so you have to go suddenly on the rhythm and go fast from the number one metre of the stage.”

While winning a second Portuguese title is Sousa’s focus in 2023, it’s not the limit of his ambitions.

“If you’d asked me last year if I thought I’d be racing again definitely I knew it was not possible. But after winning Big Brother [in Portugal, see below] all the doors were open to me, I came back, I did some good events on Tarmac with the Citroën. Even this year I don’t have the full programme guaranteed because I am still lacking a bit the budget, but everything seems to be underway. Depending on what happens in Fafe, the door is still open with a manufacturer to do the European championship. We know in rally one result can change everything from being stopped to having a full programme.

“At the moment the main goal is to be champion in Portugal and probably try to build up something bigger for the future. I’m still quite young, 35 years old, the same age as Mads [Østberg] and still here to race, so it’s still possible, there’s plenty of time.”

A Big Brother winner after 57 days
While Nil Solans was claiming ERC glory in Fafe last season, Bernardo Sousa was busy on the small screen having been invited to take part in Big Brother Famosos, the celebrity edition of the Portuguese version of the Big Brother reality TV show.

After 57 days inside the Big Brother house, Sousa was declared the winner against 14 rival contestants.

“I had nothing to lose, I was not racing, I had no programme so I said, ‘let’s give it a try, it’s going to be good for media and if I do good, even if I don’t win in terms of media it’s going to be incredible, everyone will know your name in Portugal’,” Sousa said of his celebrity status. “Afterwards I had the programme with Citroën and a major supermarket company said, ‘okay, let’s go back to racing and next year let’s try to be champion’. I’m a lucky guy.”

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