R4 Rally Adventure
by Alexandra Abreu, Jorge Unha/Aifa, Fernando Palma and Peter Gumbrell, 6 April 2001
The following article is a scaled down version of a feature that appeared in a Portuguese magazine, 'Expresso', on February 26th 2000. It was originally written by journalist Alexandra Abreu, with photographs from Jorge Cunha/Aifa. It was sent in by Fernando Palma, with revised text by Peter Gumbrell.
This is the story of a Renault 4L, driven by two Portuguese drivers, which captivated fans of rally championships worldwide.
António Pinto dos Santos and co-driver Nuno Rodrigues da Silva were tired but happy, having finished one more rally with their Renault 4L, this time the Swedish Rally. After some doubts about the final classification, they were satisfied to know they'd come last. The tradition continued! With a 4-cylinder, 34bhp engine, and 196,000km on the clock, it attracted the curious attention of many, who congratulated the drivers on having the most famous car in the rally.
Although old and maladjusted to the tough demands of the Swedish Rally, the Renault 4L made a debut without problems in the snow and ice.
When deciding which rallies to participate in, the Swedish Rally was one of the secret desires of Pinto dos Santos. The trees and the 'white lands', the roads that are distinguished only by the tracks of the tyres, and the intense smoke that escapes from the chimneys of the houses, they compose a scene of beauty that contrasts with the difficulty in driving on the roads covered with snow and ice.
The heavy snow which fell in the last stage of the rally was not enough to move away the public, who had stayed to the end to see the R4L 'nuts' pass.
The idea of participating in rallies with such an old and peculiar car appeared in the early nineties. At the time with the Renault 4L service car of Arganil City Hall, Pinto dos Santos remembered that he had already travelled more than 400,000km, without any mechanical problems. In his daily routine, he drove on the roads used for the Portuguese Rally, so in 1992 he bought a 4L and participated in the rally that year. Four years later, it convinced the then president of the City Hall, João Oliveira, to present a candidacy to FEDER, to promote the village of Piódão, integrated in the Program of Recovery of the Historical Villages of Portugal. And what better way to promote the area than through participation in TAP-Rali of Portugal 1997?
The City Hall bought the Renault 4L, for 260,000 Portuguese escudos, from a voluntary fireman who had already travelled 180,000km in her. The funny thing is that the decoration - to imitate the material of the houses of Piódão, which covers the body - was more expensive than the car. It cost 400,000 Portuguese escudos, reveals the engineer.
As always happens, the Renault 4L had the privilege of arising to the podium to close the Swedish Rally, and was the car that received most applause from the public.
From that point on, 'Pintanas' - as it is nicknamed for the team - never stopped. The following year they decided to face the world, with the object of participating in the largest number of rallies of the Rally World Championship. It began with the Acropolis Rally in June 1998, then the RAC Rally (England), and in 1999 Corse Rally (France), Thousand Lakes (Finland), and San Remo (Italy). And they never returned defeated, that is to say, for 4L it never ended badly, not even when in Greece they had to tie, more than once, the fuel tank that insisted on dropping.
In the Swedish Rally, for the Portuguese drivers the organization obtained free lodging in the house of Leif and Sonia Fraenki, that has welcomed rally teams for almost 20 years.
On Sunday, day six at 7am, when they got on the road in a rented car, to learn the 20 stages they would drive on the three race days, Pinto dos Santos refused to believe what happened to him. He had never driven on ice, and couldn't control the car. His first desire was to give up and go back home. Nuno laughed, at the same time trying to calm him.
Driver Pinto dos Santos (on the left) and his navigator Nuno Rodrigues da Silva pose with the 4L.
Having conquered the hard battle of the ice, at the end of the three days we had learnt all the stages. 'We drove each stage twice. The first time to make notes, the second to check them and do readjustments', explains Nuno, who confesses that it was more difficult to be the navigator of Pinto dos Santos than when he went beside Rui Madeira, with whom he won the World Cup of the A Group, amongst other titles.
'Whilst at high speeds I'm concentrated and do not delay in making the notes, but in the 4L I have some difficulty in not being distracted because the speed is slower and it's more relaxing. We have time to see the pretty faces of those who watch us at the roadside!', he comments.
During the technical verifications, 4L had the Mitsubishi of the World Championship Tommi Makinen as its partner.
At 10am on the Thursday, 4L presented for the technical verifications, although the plates of the organization and the sponsors had only been glued on the body the previous night. It was requested that they just brought a first-aid kit and two shovels because of the snow, so Pinto dos Santos had to go home and ask to borrow the shovels off Mr Leif.
The following day, the rally finally began. In the first stage, the oil pipe required Américo to do some extra work, but from there the only attention the 4L needed was gasoline and a cleaning of the glass. Despite the snow only falling in the last day of the rally, 'dos Santos', as he was presented on the radios, and Nuno Rodrigues da Silva had no doubt this was one of the most beautiful rallies they'd ever done. The organization thanked them for the fact they had stayed in the rally to the end, because the public waited to see them pass and to applaud, which prevented them leaving earlier for the roads and creating traffic problems.
Having finished the adventure, they celebrated in Leif and Sonia's house with bottles of champagne. Pinto dos Santos commented, 'We go to Catalonia in April and if everything runs well until May 14th, we will be in Argentina for the last rally of this magnificent car'. All that remained was to find out if the sponsors would help turn this last dream into reality.
An additional article from António Pinto dos Santos can be found here.