DAVID EVANS I
“Ypres, or Wipers, has always been special” ”
eper. Ypres. Wipers.
There’s always been a special place for this week’s Belgian classic in the Motorsport News office. Back when we were known as Motoring News and David Williams ran the show, Ypres was a very, very big deal. In his own slightly eccentric way, DKW refused to call the event by anything other than its Flemish name, Ieper. To the rest of us, it was Wipers. Whatever you call it, the Ypres Rally was and still is one of the world’s best. And DKW knew that better than most – he’d seen it from the inside: from the inside of his Rover 114 GTI, the car he used to finish the 1993 event.
David was a fearsome pedaller on asphalt, never truly trusted himself on the loose, but he couldn’t half scare office juniors when it came to an asphalt rally or getting around the North Circular to Crouch End before closing time at his local.
DKW loved Belgian rallying and Ypres in particular. I well remember conversations with him and with Colin Mcrae about what made it so special. Mcrae drove a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth on the 1990 event and similarly enjoyed the atmosphere – particularly on recce, where crowds would be three and four deep as the crews practised into the night. The roads might have been open, but the locals knew better than to stray onto them.
The ambiance around the Grote Markt in the centre of town is special and one many world championship rounds could learn a lot from. Ypres remains a cornerstone of European rallying, but it seems its time at the heart of the European Rally Championship could be coming to a close.
Ypres Rally manager Alain Penasse lays plain his concerns for the ERC over the page and it’s hard to disagree. The policy of selling calendar slots to the highest bidder has always been a questionable one, but what the ERC lost in terms of some dubious events, it made up for in terms of a great television product. Without a cast, even that’s looking like a stretch right now.
And, let’s face it, Eurosport’s racing equivalent, the World Touring Car Championship is hardly a powerhouse series is it? I know we’re grappling with the concept of a level playing field in the WRC, but the WTCC’S use of success ballast surely demonstrates the lowest common denominator in turning sport into entertainment.
So, all is far from rosey in Eurosport’s garden. But through the clouds gathering overhead, there’s a flash of silver lining in the shape of Francois Ribeiro. Ribeiro’s a sharp motorsport business operator, somebody well capable of sailing the ship through such stormy seas.
The ERC has its strengths, including a £150,000 privateer prize purse and an admirable Junior series, but clearly something will have to change if it’s to avoid a return to the pits of unpopularity experienced through the complicated days of co-efficient rounds.
Even DKW struggled to find favour with that format.
Harry Hunt will return to Dakar in January – but this time he’ll do it on the back of even more testing as he aims to eclipse this year’s debut top-10 result. The 27-year-old Briton will contest next month’s Silk Way Rally, a 6,000-mile race from Russia to China, in the same X-raid-run Mini ALL4 Racing he’ll use in South America in January. Hunt and co-driver Andy Schulz will then return to October’s Rallye du Maroc to re-acquaint themselves with driving in the dunes. “Our Dakar this year was a dream run,” said Hunt.“it will be a hard act to follow, with the opposition getting stronger and stronger, but this is our aim.” Before those off-road events, Hunt and his Union Flag-liveried Mini will be seen at this week’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Elfyn Evans/craig Parry Fredrik Ahlin/ Morten Erik Abrahamsen David Bogie/ Kevin Rae Tom Cave/james Morgan Josh Moffett/john Rowan Desi Henry/ Liam Moynihan Jonny Greer/ Kirsty Riddick Euan Thorburn/ Paul Beaton Jock Armstrong/ Paula Swinscoe (SRC) Garry Pearson/ Robbie Mitchell (SRC)