MY first

Car (South Africa) - - SPEED -

taste of WRC came the pre­vi­ous day with a post­ing on an el­e­vated right-han­der past a church that dropped into a switch­back crowned with po­ten­tially car-cleav­ing trees at Spe­cial Stage 1, Harju. It was here I be­gan to re­alise I was not alone in hold­ing a che­quered in­ter­est in pro­ceed­ings. The howl­ing ap­proach of rally car, met with a for­est of tat­tooed arms wav­ing phone cam­eras, was lit­tle more than a pe­ri­odic in­ter­rup­tion of what was as much a so­cial gath­er­ing as a sport­ing event, with laid-back chat­ter and cheery quaffing of the wa­tery lo­cal lager.

To­day, a sea of red Toy­ota Gazoo ban­ners and fans decked in sim­i­larly branded clothes drown out the mi­nor­ity of Citroën and Hyundai sup­port­ers meekly fold­ing away their flags; Gazoo’s mar­ket­ing folk must be shim­my­ing with de­light. And that’s it. It is a far cry from my pre­con­cep­tions of fast, flow­ing ac­tion, with a rapid suc­ces­sion of cars leap­ing through pic­turesque pine forests.

In­stead, bar­ring a fleet­ing glance of drift­ing rally cars, the cheers the Yaris’ ap­pear­ance on the big screen elicit are fol­lowed by a leisurely stroll to trans­port/ bar/hot­dog stall. We’re sat­is­fied at the grow­ing dom­i­nance of Gazoo’s Yaris trio af­ter a neck-and­neck fight for the day’s hon­ours be­tween Ott Tä­nak and Citroën’s Mads Øst­berg sees the Es­to­nian come out on top. For­tunes are mixed for the lo­cal boys; Jari-matti Lat­vala pips Hyundai’s Hay­den Paddon for third but a groan-in­duc­ing start line stall for de­fend­ing rally winner Es­apekka Lappi rel­e­gates him to eighth place.

This flurry of metic­u­lously timed on-off ac­tion is also re­flected in Toy­ota’s ser­vice park, where there’s the bizarre sight of ex­cited fans cran­ing to get a bet­ter view of the swirling, power tool-wield­ing bal­let that is the me­chan­ics hur­riedly pulling apart and re­con­struct­ing the cars un­der the glow of TV screens beam­ing a 45-minute ser­vice in­ter­val count­down.

The fi­nal run to­mor­row prom­ises to be a more aerial and elec­tri­fy­ing af­fair; and along with it, the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve both rally car and en­thu­si­ast in their more nat­u­ral for­est set­ting.

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