No. July’s second Sunday 12 months ago was all about one man. Possibly two. Ott Tänak. And Markko Märtin.
When Tänak fired his Toyota Yaris into Rally Estonia’s final stage around Tartu city, the atmosphere was a strange one. The packed crowds cheered their heroes through the streets, this was the moment they’d been dreaming about for so long. But it was also the curtain call on an amazing weekend of sport.
Factory World Rally Cars from every manufacturer for the inaugural WRC Promotional Event; Tänak at #1; Estonia’s original rally hero Märtin back driving on his home roads for the first time in three years. Life couldn’t get better.
Until today, Estonia’s WRC presence has been tied largely to drivers. Five-time world rally winner Märtin was the first, cementing his own God-like status when he stormed the Baltic Sea, bridged the Gulf of Finland and stole the northern neighbour’s coveted 1000 Lakes.
Such was the impact of Märtin’s 2003 Neste Rally Finland win, Estonia’s prime minister jumped on a plane and joined the celebrations in Jyväskylä.
Then there was Urmo Aava and Egon Kaur, pipped to the 2011 WRC Academy title at the last by Craig Breen.
And then, of course, there was Tänak. Following the rollercoaster, came the rise and rise of the Saaremaa man, culminating with last year’s world title.
One constant over the last decade has been Rally Estonia, an event which has grown beyond national expectations and domestic championships.
Based in Otepää or Tartu in the centre of Estonia’s fastest and most entertaining southerly roads, the event was a round of the European Rally Championship for three years from 2014 - 2016, but WRC was the ultimate ambition.
With Aava now in charge of his nation’s biggest sporting event, the target was a WRC round and landing WRC Promotional Event status last season was a big step towards that goal.
Video: Rally Estonia 2019
WRC teams quickly realised the potential Estonia offered as a Finland warm-up and the Estonians embraced that opportunity, building and developing some stages to ape the fast roads from across the water. As a method model for progressing towards the WRC, Estonia’s approach was lauded across the board. And now they can reap their reward.
At the finish of last year’s event, huge crowds gathered to celebrate with Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja. A light drizzle got heavier, turned to rain. Then that rain turned torrential. To a woman, man and child, nobody moved. They stood, dripping, and hailed their heroes.
But now the real deal’s arrived. The dream is real. The FIA World Rally Championship is going to Estonia.