He’s won legendary FIA European Rally Championship events and challenged for the coveted title. For 2021, however, Portuguese Hugo Magalhães is prioritising helping the next generation by co-driving new ERC3 Junior recruit Nick Loof in a Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally4 run by Orsák Rallysport.
The city of Fafe’s famous son, 36, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his German driver’s potential and targets for the season ahead, while also reflecting on some of his own standout achievements in the sport.
You’re teaming up with Nick Loof in the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship. How exciting is that prospect?
“At first I’m so thankful for receiving this invitation and to see that Nick considers I am the right person to be next to him. He is putting lots of trust and hopes on me and I am ready to match that. I cannot forget also that this is providing me a big opportunity to keep competing in a very high-level championship as well as reading the pacenotes in English, which is one of my main targets for the upcoming future. Working with young drivers is so challenging as it is satisfying. For me, being a co-driver requires much more than reading pacenotes and I do like to help by passing them all my experience. Not only in a rally car but life’s experience that can make a big difference in their approach to the races, performance while rallying or even how to control the emotional situation that is very common for these boys. This kind of coaching, if we can name it like this, is something I’ve been working for.”
You speak perfect English but how difficult is it to co-drive in another language?
“Actually, it is not. At the beginning I can confess it was really difficult. It’s easy when you look at the pacenote book and you know the meaning of all the words, but in very high speed it didn’t come fast as I wished. Even on recce, drivers were throwing the info and sometimes I was writing the words down in Portuguese. I didn’t have any other options unless I was spending lots of time practising the nights before the races even at home or at the gym during my workout. The good thing is that all the efforts are paying off now because I’m feeling super-comfortable reading the pacenotes in English and it gives me a big boost to keep working to learn and improve more and more.”
You spent some time working with Nick in Portugal last month. How did that go
“Things went pretty good, we have spent a great time together practising the pacenotes on gravel and Tarmac because it is the first time Nick was using the English language too. The target of these days was also to meet each other, to get used to each other. We can share many ideas and points of view as well as doing some sports activities because I would like him to perform as an athlete, not only as a driver, so I am trying to give him a different perspective of things to boost him to do different stuff besides driving. In fact, Nick coming to Portugal was a great and correct decision because after this week we flew straight to do a test in Czech Republic and things just worked out very well between us because we did the homework and we didn’t waste any time.”
What do you think of Nick’s potential?
“From the very beginning I’ve noticed that he has good skills, he’s very humble, a good worker and very interested in learning because he asks many questions and that is one of the best ways to learn. It’s great when you explain sometime over the day and at night Nick was like double-checking and studying to do better the next morning. It just shows his commitment and his willpower. From the test I saw him handling the car very well, driving fast and safe, no big mistakes and essentially listening to the notes and to the team. The speed is there, the commitment also, but we must keep the feet on the ground. It’s just the beginning and there is a long way to run. I don’t want him to miss this opportunity as I already saw many young drivers do. We must take all of this examples into consideration and do things different.”
Apart from some experience of the Rally di Roma Capitale stages from the recce last year, he’ll start all the other events from zero. How hard will it be for him to adjust?
“At the beginning it will be a little bit difficult because we will compete against guys with more experience than he has. The season is starting on gravel not on Tarmac where we could be stronger. However, we are preparing the gravel rallies as best as possible to have a good pace. I do believe from the middle to the end of the season we will be able to show some good speed, even fighting for the podiums. Anyway, we do have a very clear plan in our mind that it will be a learning year and we don’t want to rush the process but take the right steps instead.”
Last October you received a special award from your home city of Fafe, why?
“This award has a huge meaning and not many people can achieve this. It rewards what I’ve been doing so far as a co-driver, all my achievements and my behaviour in motorsport. It is an honour for me to be an ambassador for the city for motorsport. This reward gives me not only the responsibility to keep doing well in my career but, a huge social responsibility to be a good example for young people as a sportsman and human being. Beyond that I am carrying the name of Fafe worldwide.”
The ERC is heading back to Fafe in September. It received a great welcome last year but what’s the best thing about Fafe in your view?
“Fafe is a well-known city for motorsport and anybody who follows rallies knows Fafe. The best thing is that Fafe gives everything and puts all the efforts on to have good events like ERC and WRC in very high quality, not only for the teams but for the spectators also. Fafe allowed me to start dreaming about being a co-driver because since many years the city is hosting many events and I could watch many races seeing my idols very closely too. Then my passion for that sport has grown up naturally. I am really thankful and proud of my city because they give me the chance to do what I enjoy doing the most.”
Finally, what has been the best moment of your career so far?
“The best moment was when I won the Azores Rallye for the first time with Bernardo Sousa in 2014. And then in 2017 and 2018 when I was with Bruno [Magalhães] fighting for the European championship. Winning the Acropolis Rally was one of the biggest and highest moments of my career. But, at the same time, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life because my son was doing his first communion and I could not attend. It was a really hard time for me because he was in my thoughts more than ever and sometimes I found myself crying on the road sections. I missed an important moment of his life that I knew I would not get back, but I promised him to bring the first place home and we did it.”