The Acropolis 'Rally of Gods' was back. And it was most definitely back at its very best.
The shift out of summer and across the border to autumn concerned some. How could the Acropolis do its thing without the baking sun stifling the crews with cockpit temperatures knocking on the door of 60 degrees?
Don’t worry, the weather played its part. The view from the service park was one of big, looming and very menacing-looking dark clouds in the days leading up to the start. And that only fed into an already captivating atmosphere. Greece was back and, for the most part, it meant a step into the unknown for the crews.
The Parthenon provided an Acropolis Rally ceremonial start staple. It’s impossible to think of a picture that encapsulates the optimism, energy and enthusiasm more than a pre-start shot of all the cars lined up beneath a building that was made 2,500 years ago.
The ancient past and the end of an era gathered in one frame. This year is the current generation World Rally Car’s farewell tour and it’s only fitting that Athens was on the itinerary.
Stopping for cup of strong coffee and a slice of honey cake on the outskirts was a special moment. We’d positioned our pavement table in the direction of the cars and the reception from those around us was quite extraordinary. The crews were treated like returning kings. Or, indeed, Gods.
The WRC is brilliant in many ways, but one of the best things we do is travel. We go from stage-to-stage through some of the most beautiful parts of the world. When the flag drops, the focus is full and firm on the pacenotes and the corners they describe, but between those moments you get to stop, stand and stare in wonder. There was lots of that at the weekend. Driving across the top of the Corinth Canal or gazing into the hills and mountains that rise out of the Malian Gulf with Kamena Vourla and a plate of kolokythokeftedes (balls made from courgettes) and the smell of Souvlaki for company was just an absolute treat.
But it was the people that made last week (as well as the stunning competition and a captivating second WRC win for Kalle Rovanperä). Everywhere you went, from the moment you landed, the locals – from prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis down – were welcoming and deeply grateful to see a sport and an event they’ve known and loved since the Fifties back.