Motorcycle Track Guides

Motorcycle Track Guide: Portimao

If Carlsberg did race circuits, they’d look exactly like Portimao, a flowing rollercoaster of tarmac. If you ever have the chance to go – GO

The Autodromo Internacional Algarve, near Portimao in Portugal, is unique. The high-speed rollercoaster track layout is like no other. It’s no surprise that many World Superbike racers reckon this track provides the biggest challenge of their season. Incredibly it was built from scratch in just six months but from the moment you turn in the main entrance you can’t fail to be impressed with this no compromise state of the art motorsport facility.
I find this place a bit too daunting, but don’t let that put you off, plenty of people absolutely love it and like all new international tracks the run off and safety is first class. I’m sure part of my problem is the Ducati 1198s and BMW S1000RRs I tested here were absolute rocketships so I’m looking forward to riding there in the future on something more manageable.

It’s a scary track and needs respect, but once you get the hang of the blind crests and tricky cambers it’s somewhere you can really let yourself go at. But it’s a tiring place too, there’s nowhere to relax at all. Don’t be fooled by what looks like a long start/finish straight because there’s a crest on that too and as you’re so fast out of the final turn, it’s no time at all before you’re on the brakes for turn one.

Sector One: Start/Finish to Turn 5

Sector One: Start/Finish to Turn 5

The start/finish straight is the longest time you will stay on one level and even that will only last a few seconds before you suddenly plunge downwards to the first right-hander. I was touching 165mph in 5th gear on the S1000RR before braking at the crest and then changing back two gears just before peeling in. Turns one and two are very similar right handers then you have to brake hard for a 2nd gear hairpin. This first section is fast and hard to perfect as there is only a thin painted kerb that separates the track from tarmac run off. This is not all bad however as many WSB viewers witnessed Max Biaggi constantly running wide here last year then re-joining the track without sacrificing too much time. 

A nice wide entry into the hairpin will keep you mid-track on the exit enabling you to set yourself up for the rise up through the next left. It is best to short shift up to 3rd gear for this one as it soon opens out so changing up mid-corner will be awkward as you will be cranked over to the left and accelerating hard.  The next short straight continues to climb before diving down into another 2nd gear left hand hairpin. While I was learning this track I held 3rd gear until I ran out of revs then eventually I had to snick 4th just before the crest. And this is a system I use for any track; I never see any need to waste time changing up through any section of track unless I’m getting close to or hitting the rev limiter.

Sector Two: Turn 5 to Turn 10

Sector Two: Turn 5 to Turn 10

The left hand hairpin of turn 5 is 2nd gear but the downhill approach means you need to be off the brakes before turning in otherwise there is risk of tucking the front over the rippled tarmac. I found back shifting early meant I could let the engine braking help pull me into the apex. It is another change of elevation now as you gradually open the throttle and shoot uphill round a long left in 3rd gear before suddenly flicking right and down again through a right kink and into a 2nd gear right hand hairpin. 

Feeling sick yet? Another mid-track exit will have your stomach bottoming out but this time you’ll need to pull your body as far forward as possible as you drop off the edge of the world heading down to Jonesy, named after the late, great Craig Jones. At this crest you need to grab another gear (3rd) and close the throttle because everything wants to go skyward at this point. While all this is happening you need to be making your way to the right hand side of the track for the down/up ski run through the awesome Craig Jones corner.

This is the only named section of the track and a fantastic tribute to the great British talent (and human being) we lost at Brands Hatch back in 2008. The eye popping view on the downhill approach primes you for the awesome rush of adrenalin you feel as you clip the left apex around 100mph (3rd gear) before (and I’m sure you’ve guessed it) climbing yet another mountain up to turn 10.

Sector Three: Turn 10 to Turn 13

Sector Three: Turn 10 to Turn 13

The approach to 10 is fast and blind so track position is important. This section took me ages to master as there are no obvious reference points and the corner also doubles back on itself. Too much entry speed could mean a belly pan full of gravel. I found the best plan was to stay around a metre from the right of the track and begin braking at the tarmac slip road on the left just before the crest. This allows you to brake safely while changing back to 2nd gear, and as you’re dealing with a tricky double apex right hander it is okay to run wide mid-corner then pull back for a second apex at the exit.

Your bike will probably want to wheelie as you accelerate down to turn 11 but once you are back in contact with the tarmac it is up to 3rd gear and using every lap to practice opening the throttle more through turn 11 before braking hard uphill into turn 12. This is a tight 2nd gear left that requires a wide entry and late apex so that you can be mid-track on the exit. Still holding 2nd gear you’ll then immediately flick right into turn 13 which starts off mega tight but then opens out so you can begin to open the throttle much sooner than you think.

Sector Four: Turn 13 to Start/Finish

Sector Four: Turn 13 to Start/Finish

A short straight takes you along to turn 14; the penultimate corner that leads onto a final breathtaking right swoop downhill through turn 15. This is another area where you get braver with the throttle every lap and you’ll also soon have the front wheel pawing the air in 4th gear as you crest the rise on the start finish straight and into the tunnel of grandstands.

Just talking my way round this track makes my neck hair stand on end so I can guarantee the real thing is an experience you need to try before you die. This track is super fast, super exciting and super safe but it demands respect so it needs a few days rather than a few hours before you will be in control.
With beautiful resorts next door and cheap flights from the UK to nearby Faro I truly believe the ‘Autodromo Internacional Algarve’ has it all. You know you need to get that box ticked in 2010!

Read more of Niall Mackenzie's comprehensive track guides

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