Hyundai Motorsport, the winner of Rally Finland, now aims at the Belgium rally in the 9th round. Rally Belgium is the second Tarmac rally this season after Croatia. Ypres, where the service park is located, is a city located in the Flanders region of northwestern Belgium, on the French border. It was one of the fiercest battlefields during World War I. Most buildings were later built because the area was devastated by several large‒scale battles between German and Allied Power.
The Ypres Rally Belgium included in the WRC instead of Rally England last year is based on the original regional event. It has a fairly long history, started in 1965, and was a member of the Belgian Championship and the ERC (European Rally Championship). The rally featured so far familiar star drivers such as Henri Pauli Toivonen, Freddy Loix, Juho Hänninen, Colin McRae, and Ari Vatanen. had gone through The rally was originally scheduled to debut in the WRC in 2020, but was canceled due to the Covid‒19 pandemic. The following year, Rally UK was abruptly canceled, and Rally Ypres was put on the WRC calendar even though it was not planned.
The Belgian stage is mainly a narrow farm road between soil patches. There are many long straight lines, so the speed is fast, and the corners are relatively simple. Although it is officially a Tarmac Rally, the road surface is closer to dirt than asphalt in Spain or France. Cars driving around corners scoop up dirt and stones, and if it rains, it becomes extremely slippery. Above all, if they get out of the narrow road even a little, a drainage ditch awaits them on the left and right. The high‒speed car crashed here and caused numerous accidents, which proves how dangerous it is.
Many stages are new this year; First of all, the last Spa‒Francorchamps circuit from last year’s rally is gone. Spa‒Francorchamps, home of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix, is a symbol of its own, but it was excluded from the rally this year because of its long course, lack of fun, and the Belgian Grand Prix (August 28). Thanks to this, all stages are no more than 25km from Ypres city center; It’s a good thing for visitors.
The Hyundai team gave Belgium‒born and last year’s winner Thierry Neuville their rally car, then Ott Tänak and Oliver Solberg, who marked their second win in Finland. Tanak said, “Belgium is a unique Tarmac rally that may seem simple at first glance. There are a lot of straight sections and not many corners. But in reality, it is quite tricky and can be even more difficult depending on the weather. Belgium is a completely different type from Finland. However, I want to continue this vibe,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Hyundai Team’s vice‒president Julien Moncet said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and said that Solberg, who had been in tears because he retired too early in Finland, said he would try to let him experience as much as possible. Solberg, who has done 8 out of 9 rounds so far, will hand over his rally car to Sordo in the 10th round, Rally Greece.
Toyota’s drivers are Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, Esapekka Lappi, and Takamoto Katsuta. He is aiming for his first win this year, as Hyundai team marked first and second in Belgium last year and knocked out Rovanpera to third place. The M‒Sport Ford has three drivers: Craig Breen, Adrien Fourmaux, and Gus Greensmith. Breen, who finished second in Rally Belgium last year, is quite experienced as this is his sixth visit.
In addition to these competitors, there are other notable Rally 2 participants. Belgian veteran Freddy Loix, who boasts the most wins in the history of the Ypres rally ‒ 11 wins ‒ was also a Hyundai WRC driver from 2002‒2003. Another is Jos Verstappen, who is the father of last year’s F1 champion Max Verstappen. He himself also has played in F1, and is participating in the Belgian Rally Championship; And this is his very first WRC rally.
On Thursday, August 18th, three shakedown tests began on the 7.34km course south of the city. Usually after the test, a ceremony event marks the start of the race; But this year was unusual, with a test race held after Thursday’s ceremony. As expected, the most experienced Neuville was the fastest.
On Friday, August 19, the drivers went through eight 97.02km‒long stages. The opening stage, Vleteren, has a very different composition from last year. Although it rained as predicted, it was constantly on and off, so it was different depending on the tire selection. In the beginning, the Toyota power took the lead. SS1 top‒time Rovanpera was followed by Evans and Tanak. While the home crowd cheered, Neuville had a hard start, wasting about 10 seconds by mistake.
The SS2 and SS6 Westouter‒Boeschepe took place on a 19.6km‒long section starting in Belgium and ending in France across the border. It is a difficult course with a mix of long straight roads and technical sections, and the grip on the road is also variable. Neuville, who regained his pace, made up for the time wasted in the opening stage by marking top time in SS2 and second place in SS3.
Drains in rural Belgium have also gained notoriety this year. First, championship leader Rovanpera became the scapegoat. Rovanpera’s Yaris Rally 1, which fell slightly to the right from SS2 and into the ditch, was unable to start again due to severe front hull damage. As a result, Evans took the overall lead, followed by Tanak and Neuville.
Neuville, who was cheered by the home crowd, was still fast. He went on to record top times in a row in four stages, taking him to the overall lead in SS7. Tanak followed, rising to 2nd overall, and Evans was late at SS8 and was penalized for 10 seconds. At the close of Friday, Neuville marked the overall lead, followed by Tanak in second place with a gap of 2.5 seconds. Toyota’s Evans and Lappi are third and fourth respectively. After M‒Sport’s Breen and Greensmith, Solberg was in 7th place.
On Saturday, August 20, starting with SS9 Reninge, four stages were repeated until the 22.32km‒long Hollebeke, the longest of this year’s race. The 133.22km Saturday race section accounts for nearly half of the race. Rovanpera, who returned after a laborious car fix, showed off his power with an opening top time. But as he wasted over an hour failing to finish most of the stages on Friday, he aimed for the power stage. Tanak finished second in SS9 and took the lead in the overall ranking, beating Neuville by 0.1 seconds.
The SS10 Dikkebus made another victim. Breen, who was turning the left corner, fell into a ditch and overturned, and a fire broke out in the engine room. Fortunately, the fire did not spread, but the race was briefly halted, giving Tanak, Neuville, Lappi, Evans, and Rovanpera the same record. In SS11 and SS12 that followed, Neuville came in the fastest, widening the time difference with Tanak to 16.2 seconds and reclaiming the overall first place. Solberg placed 6th overall.
Neuville also took the lead, conquering SS13 to start the afternoon. However, his dream of winning the home title was shattered when he fell into a ditch in the SS15 that followed. He returned to the course with the help of the crowd, but it was impossible to drive. The corner, soiled with dirt and gravel, was much more slippery than expected. Now, the overall leader is Tanak. Evans caught up with Tanak by 3.2 seconds until SS14, but Tanak was able to outrun the last two stages. Now the race is starting to look like a survival game.
At the end of Saturday, Tanak took the overall lead. Evans followed closely behind 8.2 seconds, and Lappi fell about a minute to 3rd overall. Thanks to the accidents and bad luck of the preceding vehicles, Solberg rose to fourth place. Fourmaux was caught by the police during the transit section and was penalized for arriving late at SS15 and pushed back to fifth place.
On Sunday, August 21st, the final battle for the winner began at SS17‒SS20, which repeats Watou and Kemmelberg. Kemmelberg, located southwest of Ypres, is famous for its road cycling course. The iconic stone‒floored uphill section is incredibly slippery when it rains.
Evans chased Tanak from the opening stage SS17 Watou to SS18 Kemmelberg with two consecutive top times. Nevertheless, Tanak maintained his overall lead position. At Kemmelberg, which serves as the practice stage for the final power stage, the gap between Evans, Tanak and Neuville was only 0.7 seconds. Solberg also blocked Fourmaux’s pursuit by 10 seconds, maintaining fourth place. In SS19 Watou, Tanak was again the fastest and the time difference widened to 7.2 seconds. Solberg benefited from Fourmaux’s accidental retirement. In the final power stage, Rovanpera, who even removed the spare tire, recorded the top time. Evans, Neuville, Tanak and Katsuta took the extra points in 2nd‒5th places. Transmission trouble held Neuville back, so he only got three points on the power stage.
Tanak saved Evans’ last minute chase by five seconds to win the Belgian Rally; This is his third win of the season and a straight win behind Finland. The rest of the podium was taken by Evans and Lappi. Solberg shrugged off his sluggishness in Finland and finished in fourth place, his own best record. Despite Neuville’s retirement, Hyundai Team was able to maintain the score gap with Toyota thanks to Tanak’s victory and Solberg’s outstanding performance.
The remaining 2022 WRC rounds are Greece, New Zealand, Spain and Japan. The next 10th Acropolis Rally will be held on September 8‒11 in Greece, the birthplace of Western civilization. This rally is notorious for its combination of dirt, rough roads and sweltering heat. Then the season ends after the rounds in New Zealand, Spain and the final round in Japan.
By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor‒in‒Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting‒edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.