Algarve Pro Racing

It is not an overstatement to say that Algarve Pro Racing are a Portuguese sporting phenomenon. Arguably, the team’s achievements are unparalleled within Portuguese motorsport history. Yet, their success goes relatively under the radar here in Portugal. David Lugg talked to team principal Stewart Cox to find out more about the highs and lows of running a Portuguese-based motor racing team.

It’s the end of a long day and I’ve just completed the school run following a busy day in the office. But, as it transpires, my tribulations pale into insignificance compared to the life of a motor racing team principal. Stewart and his wife Samantha (co-team principal) have just completed yet another successful week having won Race 2 of the Asian Le Mans Series in Malaysia. Before returning home to the Algarve, they flew to Miami for two days of testing at the Daytona racetrack. 

“It’s a sport where if you put all your ducks in a line, you get results. But, like every sport where you look to succeed, the amount of effort you put in is immense.” Succeeding is something that Stewart has become used to throughout his career. After a decade in Formula 1 (including time as a chief mechanic at Jordan and Virgin Racing), he co-formed Algarve Pro Racing in 2010. The team have gone from strength to strength. Their achievements include championship wins in the European Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series, IMSA WetherTech SportsCar Championship and class victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Stewart and Samantha after victory at Le Mans

I ask him if being based in the Algarve offers any unexpected obstacles. “Yes and no,” he says, taking a moment to choose his words carefully. “There are some benefits and there are some things that aren’t so beneficial. What there aren’t much of in the Algarve are industrial areas that are suited for racing teams. Finding suitable premises is a bit of an issue. But, overall, it seems to work for us.” 

Last year was a hugely successful year for Algarve Pro Racing, the highlight of which was taking overall victory in the European Le Mans Series following a dramatic season-ending finale on home soil at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. I put it to him that the season must have been a lot of fun. “Yeah, it was,” he replies tentatively. “But it was a huge sacrifice. The amount of effort that goes in from everybody, you sort of write off your home life.” 

Speaking of which, I ask Stewart about how he came to call the Algarve his home. Interestingly, he tells me that he came to Portugal to retire in 2010, but it’s now become a bit of an in-joke. “When your work is your hobby, it’s a great place to be in life, but we’ve only spent about 25 days in Portugal this year, which is a shame.”

Despite Stewart not spending as much time as he would like in the region, Algarve Pro Racing is a Portuguese team that races under a Portuguese flag. The motorsport industry may well be an international affair, but the team has its roots close to Albufeira. Yet despite this, the region (and indeed the country) has perhaps not given the team the credit they deserve. Outside of Formula 1 (last held in Portugal in 2021) and MotoGP (largely thanks to local hero Miguel Oliveira), publicity for other motorsport events is limited.

“Is the race (European Le Mans Series) promoted as well as it could be? Probably not. The first year we did the race in Estoril – something like 30,000 people turned up. The councils throughout the Algarve could have promoted the fact that a Portuguese team was going to win a European championship. There’s a lot more that could be done.”

Despite his frustration, it is clear that Stewart is a big fan of Portugal. He recalls his first experience of visiting the country as a 23-year-old when he went to Estoril. “I remember going for a meal and we had bitoque (steak) and it cost me 250 escudos. It was fantastic. I just thought this is really nice – I like the food and the people seem really friendly. I’d love to buy a home here.”

Stewart and Samantha now have a bit of downtime at the end of what has been a hectic year. I have visions of Stewart switching off from motorsport completely for a bit, but he advises me otherwise. “No, if there is a race on, I will watch a race. All I seem to do is eat, sleep and breathe this, but it’s our pastime you know. It’s what we enjoy doing.” He does concede that he likes to partake in a spot of DIY, but there is no doubt where his true passion lies.

Twenty twenty-four promises to be another exciting year for Stewart and all those connected to Algarve Pro Racing. His relaxing retirement and any major DIY plans will have to wait at least one more season. But as long as he keeps enjoying the sport, you can see him continuing for a few years to come. “We don’t really do it for any accolades,” he concludes. “We came here to be a Portuguese team and I’m very proud of that. We’re the first team to get the Portuguese national anthem played at Le Mans and now we’ve done it twice.”

Algarve Pro Racing Team describe themselves as a ‘leading light of international prototype racing’ but, in truth, they are far more than that – they are a beacon of sporting inspiration – a lesson to us all of the benefits of diligence and perseverance. Stewart Cox might seem ambivalent about receiving any praise, but he and Samantha are very much unsung heroes of Portuguese motorsport and, indeed, Portuguese sport in general. We would all do well to take an interest.

Photos © Algarve Pro Racing/Sergey Savrasov


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