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Tue 03 Oct 2023

A spectacular comeback: Chile brings the party to WRC

In 23 years, it’s hard to imagine that Kalle Rovanperä’s birthday has been announced quite so publicly. The defending world champion looked a touch embarrassed, but he enjoyed it nevertheless.

What can you do when hundreds of Chilean rally fans spontaneously burst into a rendition of “Happy Birthday to you”? Rovanperä grinned back, waved and thanked them.

“It was nice,” he said. “The fans here have been special.”

They certainly were. Rally Chile Bio Bío returned the South American flavour to the FIA World Rally Championship. And then some.

The service park was packed, five, six, seven deep when the cars returned at the end of each day. And such was the noise of the cheering when the crews emerged, it was hard to hear yourself think. Concepción was special, but the Los Ángeles ceremonial start took that fervour to another level.

Perfectly choreographed, the Heller brothers were the first over the ramp to whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy with any number of “Viva Chiles!” And that was before they started hurling Joker Rally caps into the crowd.

The teams followed with drivers, co-drivers and team personnel revelling in the sort of adulation usually retained for footballers in this part of the world. It was sensational.

That same party atmosphere transferred to the stages. After months of rain, the clouds lifted, temperatures rose and the sun beamed down on hundreds of thousands of fans lining some of the world’s finest rally roads backdropped by vistas so beautiful they made the eyes ache.

South America’s back. Rally Chile Bio Bío was a banger.