Tue 23 Aug 2022

View from the Service Park: Belgium

The moment couldn’t have been more Belgian. Standing on Ketelstraat waiting for the start of SS3, there was both deep joy and a small element of frustration.

Yes, we were about to watch the world’s fastest rally cars being fired off the line in a street, literally over there. But no, FritNick had yet to open and start trading in its legendary frites. There’s something special about rallying in this part of the world. 

And there’s something similarly special about the way they make chips. Or fries. Or frites. It’s all about frying them twice, apparently. That’s where the awesomeness comes from.

The lack of potatoes on Friday morning was soon forgotten when Ott Tänak lined up for the start. Nothing, like absolutely nothing, prepares you for the noise of a Rally1 car in launch mode. 

The cracks and bangs were bouncing off the houses just feet away. The locals lined their doorsteps, fingers jammed in their ears, but big, big smiles on their faces.

This was not the normal Friday morning in Mesen. Nobody had ever lapped the town square like this before. We talk regularly about bringing the great sport of rallying and the World Rally Championship to the people, well this was the perfect example of that. 

Mesen sits astride the divide between Flanders and Wallonia and just a stone’s throw (providing you can throw a stone a reasonable distance…) from the French border in Belgium’s far west.

The population officially stands at 988. Today it’s doubled. Tripled. The biggest sporting show of the year is in town for one day only and nobody wants to miss it.

The atmosphere built through the morning and the biggest regret was not being able to return for the second run of the stage, when the frites could have been washed down with a Friday afternoon beer. 

Last year, Belgium landed late into the WRC calendar and the global pandemic hit plans to allow the usual influx of fans into the city of Ypres and the surrounding stages. This time, it was business as usual and the place came to life and totally embraced the event.

Understandably, there was enormous disappointment at Thierry Neuville’s departure from the lead to a ditch on Saturday afternoon, but the warmth of the welcome for team-mate Tänak was absolutely genuine in the service park a day later.

Belgium is a country which loves and lives for its rallying and that was never more obvious than in the Flanders lanes last week. 

 

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