Colin Clark briefly looked confused. A touch perplexed. He was right, we were about to cross the border. Just not the one he was expecting.
Passing the blue European road sign complete with the 12 stars, the voice from behind the map piped up.
“Welcome to Austria,” he said.
‘Willkommen in Deutschland’ said the sign.
Cue much salty language and furrowing of the brow. Then it all made sense. We were on that road, not this road.
“It’s quite confusing…” was about as good as the defense got.
In fairness, Colin was absolutely right. It was confusing. From the town of Julback, Austria (although you might want to check…), you could be in a different country in a matter of minutes. And another country in a matter of just a few more minutes.
The thinking is utterly straightforward: three rallies in one round. Germany’s a monster car market and needs to be back in the WRC, but doesn’t have a fiscally workable solution to head back to Bostalsee; Czech Republic plays host to one of the world’s most fervent fan bases and Austria also has a WRC history (yes, Achim Warmbold’s 1973 Austrian Alpine Rally does definitely count) and is right around the corner.
Like, right around the corner.
It’s a mighty undertaking, bringing together three organizing teams, three police forces and, of course, three governments is not the work of a moment. It’s huge. Which is why this one’s been in the planning for months and months and months. The PR job on the route alone, knocking on the door of every house a rally car will go by at speed in the next three and a half days, is an astonishing undertaking.
But they’ve done it. And now it’s here. It’s rolling out.
Out in the hills, everything is looking good. The fan zones are well thought out and nicely put together, the service park is interesting and the backdrop and landscape breathtaking.
Conceptually, this one was a no-brainer, but now it’s time to prove that concept. The geography and associated navigation won’t offer any kind of challenge to the co-drivers – but getting a wheel on the grass running up the middle of Šumavské Hoštice might raise an eyebrow or two among the drivers.
The excitement around the place is palpable for this rally. There’s so much going on, with constantly changing grip levels, wide roads narrowing and narrow roads tipping you downhill into some of the most horribly off-camber braking zones you’ll find. Every stage has something and something is not going to turn into nothing this week. There’s going to be no shortage of action.
“At first, when I heard about the itinerary, I almost withdrewSébastien Ogier
Does the three-country thing change anything in terms of the rally? Not a bit. It’s a novelty in terms of the sporting contest, nothing more. Yes it’s cool to see cars crossing borders between three major European nations, but as far as the crews are concerned it’s a Passau-based WRC round with a long drive to and from the ceremonial start.
And Prague is, make no mistake, a very long way from Passau.
Is it worth it?
We’ll let you know once we’ve watched the ceremony around the city’s castle.
There are those who question the whole route. When he first saw it, Sébastien Ogier wasn’t sure.
“At first,” he said, “when I heard about the itinerary, I almost withdrew. The road section on day one – 300 kilometers (180 miles) to do two superspecial stages and 12 hours in the car everyday makes no sense and proves that the WRC is quite wrong in many areas at the moment.
“But it’s a new rally. We’ll see. It’s very different from the rallies we have done in the past. It’s going to be a new challenge – it will be quite exciting.”
In the days of looking for ever greener credentials, the itinerary is hard to justify. Yes, of course, the 100% sustainably fuelled Rally1 cars will have zero impact on the thousands of trees which line the route, but what about the rest of the cavalcade?
Can you balance that with hundreds of thousands of fans loving rallying’s very own Octoberrallyfest?
Come back to us on Sunday.