Wed 25 May 2022

View from the Gala: Celebrating 50 years of the WRC

Five decades in one night. And what a night it was as the stars of the World Rally Championship gathered on the eve of last week’s Rally de Portugal.

Just being in the same room as so much rallying royalty was an honour. And not one lost on the man who wears the crown currently.

Looking around his sharply dressed fellow champions, Sébastien Ogier smiled at his own Toyota race suit. 

“It’s because I’m so excited about the start tomorrow,” he said, “I couldn’t wait… Actually, it is an honour to be in the room with so many legends. It’s just a shame that I can’t stay for longer tonight.”

Shakedown would be coming around all too soon for Ogier and his fellow competing title winners Sébastien Loeb and Ott Tänak. As they headed off to prepare for round four of this year’s series, they left the superstars of days gone by to reflect on what makes the World Rally Championship great.

And the stories just kept on coming.

Being in Portugal, it seemed entirely applicable that Walter Röhrl remind us of that breathtaking charge through Arganil in 1980. Step forward Ari Vatanen, who had his own story of the same event – the one where he and team-mate Hannu Mikkola crashed on the very same corner in the Cabreira stage.

Four-time world rally winner Michéle Mouton and WRC Ladies’ Cup title holders Louise Aitken-Walker, Isolde Holderied and Christine Driano were all present to join Miki Biasion and Carlos Sainz in bridging the decades between the Eighties and Nineties.

Marcus Grönholm and Petter Solberg captured the spirit and the speed of the new millennium – with Robert Reid on hand to recall great times from the 2001 championship he won with Richard Burns. Reid’s fellow Britons Derek Ringer and Nicky Grist were also in the room remembering unforgettable times alongside Colin McRae.

As the night flew by, the years melted away and the stories kept on coming. 

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem received a rapturous welcome – even more so when he told a captivating story about the prospect of being eaten by lions while sitting in a stranded Toyota on the Safari Rally.

Surrounded by friends and fellow competitors, the room remained packed long after the lights had come up and the coffee cleared away. Bringing so many icons of our sport together happens all too infrequently these days and last Wednesday in Matosinhos was a night nobody wanted to end.

Here’s to the next 50 years. 

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM