“To sleep perchance to dream.”
It was Shakespeare who said that first, but I’m saying it as I arrive happily but jet-lagged to Seattle, Washington for the 2021 DirtFish Olympus Rally and sleepy or otherwise I am very much day dreaming of the Olympus Rally.
It is my sixth visit to this rally and each time I have this phantom sense of nostalgia about it, nostalgia for an event that took place when I was a kid that hadn’t even discovered rallying, I dream of course of the 1986 Olympus Rally where the Group B cars came to sing their beautiful swansong in the pacific northwest and Markku Alén became world champion for a fleeting moment.
Much has been written about that event and it was perhaps best described by David Evans here on DirtFish when he drew the brilliant picture of how he witnessed the event first hand in December 1986 from the roadside service gazing on the Lancia team putting one hand on that season’s drivers’ title before it slipped away once back in the corridors of appeal in Europe.
However for me every time I come to Washington, and leave Seattle and head towards Shelton and the Olympus stages, it is always with the thought of how great is it that we get to drive in the same forests as the last of that most mythical breed the Group B monsters. I look over the often misty and drizzle obscured valleys and tree lines and think right back to the sounds and speed of that era and drift off into a fog of how Group B was the shooting star and Olympus was where it finally disappeared from view.
Sure, I have been fortunate enough to descend into Hafren – the Welsh theatre of so many World Rally Championship stories – and also to attack Arrigna Mountain in Ireland where Sébastien Loeb sliced his way to supremity as the WRC visited Ireland for the first time in 2007. Yet to come to Olympus always stirs in me a nostalgia that I have no direct link to other than descending into a YouTube archaeological dig and fascinating over old rally reports and photos of the 1986 season, and then back out of daydream mode. He who lives in the past neglects the future, and that certainly can’t happen this weekend.
Not that I need to be snapped back to reality really but for Seamus Burke and I as we continue our season in the raucous Ford Escort Mk2.
It’s round three of the championship, and so far we have zero two-wheel-drive class points which is not a good thing. It certainly isn’t the way to defend our championship title and while we were fast at the last round and were leading the timesheets it was the fragility of some suspension components that left us on the side of the road and the 3.7-liter Mustang V6-powered Escort won’t score points parked forlornly on the edge of the stage. We don’t plan on repeating that.
Much is spoken of the battle at the front of the American Rally Association National presented by DirtFish championship and with the influx from the Motorsport Ireland academy programme to the rally this weekend and some other protagonists appearing in new-yet-previously familiar colours, (more of that elsewhere I am sure) means that the top of the leaderboard will be slugged out even harder than the last exciting round.
Back here in 2WD we have Brad Morris leading the championship with his Mitsubishi, and his speed and consistency have earned him that top of the tree status. He will be eager to leave Washington with his usual haul of points and keep that top rung of the ladder, while Cian McCormack is missing this round so he can be expected to drop from second in the series standings.
Michael Hooper in the fastest Lexus in the world of rallying is in Olympus ready to add another maximum score to his 100 Acre Wood Rally haul and he is the main man as ever that we have to beat.
André D’Orazio has a point to prove after he retired in 100AW before he could gain the same accolades as he did in round one, so it is all to play for as usual and my own personal mantra of “points make prizes” has never rang louder in my ears given that we don’t have any points! No pressure though, pressure is for tires!
So of course I pontificate about the link to Group B and the nostalgia but that is not for one second to forget what an excellent event and brilliant region it is for a rally. Olympus is always special as it always runs flawlessly and the organizers have tons of passion and dedication that they have cemented over the many, many years of running this rally. It’s a well-oiled machine and while the canvas of such excellent forests is here for the organizing team they still must paint the picture, and every year they do.
As I eluded to above, frequently the region is rain-sprinkled and misty, so you could mistake it for a Welsh November, but that adds to the challenge and it would be lazy to just say the stages in this area are a direct parallel to one particular thing as they have their own unique character.
Take for example just two stages out of the whole 2021 route, Wildcat and Nahwatzel.
Wildcat is an 18.6-mile stage ran on Saturday as SS7 and SS8, and the best way I can describe it is relentless. We last experienced it in 2019 and I have 30 full cluttered pages of notes for those 18.6 miles.
It is occasionally fast and flat out at the start but then it just climbs and falls into a plethora of narrow switchback sections as it zig-zags over the terrain and dark and narrow heavy tree-lined sections before opening out to a finish that can best be described as sixth gear, or more if you have it. All sounds great, except this year we do the second pass in pitch darkness. I’m looking forward to that, I think?
Then Nahwatzel, we see this on Sunday as SS9 and SS11 and it is 19.8 miles of what I call my “jigsaw stage”.
Now I’m not one that is an aficionado of tiling puzzles, far from it, I call this stage a jigsaw because when you look at it on the map it is made up of so many pieces.
The stage boomerangs around the Nahwatzel lake but it takes place in a forest complex so big and formed in such a diverse grid of roads that every year you tackle this stage the organizers have jumbled the pieces around so much that you find yourself racing past a bt of the 2019 stage in the reverse direction and then joining some of the 2012 route before you recognise some of the 2020 stage and then just as quicky get turned down a junction that you never noticed before because you pass it flat out every other year and it never catches your eye.
Always a different stage but always kind of the same if that contradiction in terms can be made sense out of. No matter how many pieces are in the puzzle of Nahwatzel 2021 one thing is certain at just under 20 miles you can’t afford to have a problem in there or if you do then hope that it is in the last mile and not the first.
So that is an optimistic look at what is ahead of us for the 2021 Olympus Rally while rooted firmly in the dreams and nostalgia of Olympus past. I will excuse myself now for some much-needed beauty sleep ahead of recce when the focus, I can assure you, will be 100% on 2021 and getting points on our board. I won’t even mention Markku, Juha, T16s or Delta S4s even once!