Tuesday | 17 Aug 2021

View from the service park - Belgium

The view from the service park in Ypres’ Grote Markt is one of the finest in all of rallying. It was the perfect base for the FIA World Rally Championship’s first visit to Belgium.

While fans weren’t allowed back into the service park proper, there was nothing to stop them sitting in the bars, restaurants and cafes around the four corners of the town’s central square. So they did. And they did so in their thousands for Renties Ypres Rally Belgium.

The atmosphere was fantastic, with the sunshine and a certain Hyundai i20 World Rally Car helping in no small part.

Naturally, Thierry Neuville was the star of the show. Both he and Martijn Wydaeghe were very much men in demand every time they stepped from their car. It’s been too long since we’ve heard the noise build as the local hero heads towards the fans to make some socially distanced selfies. Last weekend was particularly noisy.

Video: Renties Ypres Rally Belgium review

Rallying is very much embedded in the national culture of Belgium. It’s a mainstream sport embraced across the land. And it was that love of the sport as well as the local heroes that brought people back to the side of the roads.

Even on Sunday morning, even before the sun had come up, fans were lining the motorway bridges on the road south from Ypres to Spa-Francorchamps.

Ypres holds a significant place in military history, having suffered some of the worst fighting in the First World War. The city’s Menin Gate sits in commemoration of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the war, but have yet to be found and buried.

To see the drivers lining up at the Gate on the eve of the rally demonstrated a real understanding of what this part of the world once went through. Of course, the cemeteries act as a further reminders of Ypres’ darkest hours and the stages ran past many of them.

Talking of the stages, weren’t they fantastic? Especially the dusk-to-dark stages on Friday evening. A fascinating and diverse mix of concrete, pure racy asphalt and cobblestones kept the crews constantly on their toes. And just when they thought they’d seen everything, they found themselves tearing along a perimeter road at the Spa circuit at 185kph.

The inclusion of the famous Ardennes track provided another highlight on what was a dazzling WRC debut for Belgium. The sight and sound of World Rally Cars on the limiter through Eau Rouge was an absolute treat.

Between the stages, there was no shortage of sustenance to be found in the Grote Markt with frites, waffles and some extraordinarily strong local brew to be enjoyed.

Ahead of the event, the vast majority of drivers talked in concerned tones about how they knew something different was coming their way. They weren’t wrong. But in the case of Renties Ypres Rally Belgium, different was very, very welcome.

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