Tuesday | 10 Aug 2021

WRC in Belgium: What can we expect?

Thierry Neuville couldn’t contain himself anymore. So he stopped trying. Finally, it’s happening. Finally, his dream is coming true.

The FIA World Rally Championship is coming home.

“Of course, it’s nice,” said the Hyundai Motorsport driver. “But not just for me, it’s for everybody – all the fans of rallying in Belgium. We were close last year, but now it’s happening.”

This week’s eighth round will be the fourth event to return or make its debut on the WRC calendar, following Arctic Rally Finland, Croatia Rally and Safari Rally Kenya. Few have been as widely and wholeheartedly anticipated as Renties Ypres Rally Belgium.

This is a country packed full of rally fans. Anybody who’s seen Neuville’s fan club following him from rally to rally will understand the passion for – and understanding of – what’s coming this week.

Video: Renties Ypres Rally Belgium preview

Ypres holds a special place at the heart of our sport. Look at the list of winners. Not many national events boast a list of winners including Walter Röhrl, Henri Toivonen, Miki Biasion, Kris Meeke and Craig Breen before they’ve come close to a place on the WRC calendar. Such is the appeal of the seemingly innocuous Westhoek roads.

This week will re-programme your thinking of what a car can look like coming through a village on its doorhandles. Renties Ypres Rally Belgium is shaping up to be one of the most spectacular events of the season. And, if it rains, all bets are off. Anything can happen.

If it rains, the roads turn Teflon and every corner poses an unbelievable challenge – not least because they range in surface from good grippy asphalt to horribly slick cobbles.

Home hero Thierry Neuville is a former winner in Ypres

Unfortunately – or maybe that should say fortunately – rain has been pretty much ruled out, which is fantastic news for the legions of fans expected to line the outside of the Grote Markt service park.

Ypres’ central square is a stunning setting, with the Cloth Hall casting an impressive shadow over proceedings.

It’s impossible to be in Ypres and not be moved by the history which has helped shape the place.

At the heart of that history is the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, built to commemorate British commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the fields around Ypres during the first World War and have no known grave.

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The crews will take time from their schedule to attend the Menin Gate before the event and anybody who’s been there for the Last Post being played – every night at 8pm without fail – will understand the poignancy of the place.

Ypres is one of those special places that delivers sport and perspective in equal measure.

• Full coverage from Renties Ypres Rally Belgium will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.

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