Sitting in Tartu town square on Wednesday afternoon was like a breath of fresh air – all the factory World Rally Cars were rolled in and sat outside the fountain known as the kissing students statue.
Right on cue – and just as the dancing began with locals in Estonian national dress – the bells rang out around the square. It was a poignant moment. With their ceremony done, the cars fired up and slowly moved out.
For the handful of kilometres back up to the service park at the Estonian National Museum, the streets were lined to see this impromptu parade of the world’s fastest rally cars.
It was a moment of real emotion. Some locals stood and clapped and the drivers returned that appreciation. The sport had come back to the people.
Anybody who’s been to Rally Estonia in recent years will fully appreciate just how important Tartu is to the event. It’s one of the towns around the world which really takes the sport and places it right at its very heart.
All of which made Friday morning even harder for the locals to swallow. When Ott Tänak retired, the collected groan of a nation could almost be heard across the Baltic Sea by Estonia’s neighbour and fiercest rallying rival, Finland.
That’s when Estonia showed itself to be a country full of rally fans though. Yes, their man had gone, but history was being made and that was more than enough reason to continue the festival of summer fun.
Video: Rally Estonia winner - Kalle Rovanperä
And it was, make no mistake, very much summer last week. With temperatures topping 30°C on a daily basis, Rally Estonia v2 had quite a different feel to the early autumn affair of last season.
Whatever the weather, it was a treat to see fans back in the service park and lining the stages north and south of the city. The only downside was the number – and size – of beasties out and about in the skies.
We’re not talking about the Flying Bulls plane Stanislav Cejeka used to offer Adrien Fourmaux an alternative view of Estonia.
We’re talking about enormous hornet-type things that really should have sought permission from air traffic control to be passing through rally town and back out into the countryside.
Whatever they were, they didn’t bother the fans. Mixing factor 50 with some industrial strength mosquito spray worked a treat.