Just when you think you’ve seen it, another press release lands. Another World Rally champion bound for San Marino. Another iconic car. Another mesmeric moment to be relived.
Just when Rallylegend couldn’t get any better, 2023 arrives and outshines everything that’s gone before it.
Before we dive into the good, the great and the out of this world, let’s pause for thought. There’s one name missing: Craig Breen. The Irishman would, as always, have been all over Rallylegend.
He drove one of DirtFish owner Steve Rimmer’s Subaru Impreza 555s at the event a few years ago and would have happily done so on an annual occasion. Nobody would have been able to guide the world through the dynamic history lesson that is rallying’s equivalent of a royal garden party like Craig.
And this year the list of royalty is never ending, with Juha Kankkunen, Miki Biasion, François Delecour and the McRae family heading the A-listers.
There are so many reasons to look forward to the October 12-15 event. The Lancia Delta Integrale Andrea Aghini drove to victory on the 1992 Sanremo Rally, anybody? An ex-Marc Duez Bastos-liveried BMW M3 or a brace of Stratos – one of which remains in Bernard Darniche’s original livery.
And then there’s the Best Impreza clan – a brilliant modern take on the classic 555. Hollie McRae will be hosting Friday afternoon’s ‘talk show’ in the rally village with the Italian-made Subarus at the heart of the conversation. Once Hollie’s stopped talking, she’ll climb into an original Impreza 555 and co-drive gramps, Jimmy McRae. Her cousin Max and uncle Alister won’t be far away, barking their way through the hills in other glorious Subarus.
All of the above is, of course, a mere appetiser for a main course served by another of the sport’s great historians, Mr Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn will be wearing his biggest smile when he lands into Bologna and heads south-east down the E45, bound for the Mecca that is the Rallylegend rally village.
Not only does he return to San Marino safe in the knowledge that he’s about to watch his bedroom walls come to life before his very eyes, but he’s also driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 on Tarmac for the very first time.
Surely, he’s done some asphalt mileage before?
“I have done nothing at all!” he told DirtFish. “We won’t run the shakedown, so I go straight to the first stage on Thursday evening. I’m sure it will be fine: no worries. It’s OK, we don’t take the times, so I can just feel the car and enjoy it without the pressure. It’s all about enjoying it.”
That said, the thinking is that if there’s one thing that’s better than your first taste of a Rally1 car on gravel, it’s your first taste of a Rally1 car on Tarmac…
“I know what you mean,” said Latvala. “I had this conversation with Esapekka [Lappi, last year] and he said ‘Jari-Matti when you drive this car it’s impressive, but then on Tarmac it really pulls! You will see the difference.’
“Even on the gravel I was feeling like… wow! So now I look forward to Tarmac where it should be like a super-wow!”
After a lot of consideration, it’s just Latvala making the trip this time – he’s leaving his collection of stunning Toyota Celicas at home.
“I thought about bringing the cars,” he said, “but I’m quite committed and busy with the Rally1 car. I just don’t have time to run it and there’s no Kalle [Rovanperä] to drive it this time – he’s in Japan.”
Talking about Rallylegend, Latvala added: “It’s a really nice event, it’s great to be going over there. It’s a great chance to see some amazing cars, meet some fans and some really nice people and, of course, it’s a chance to drive Rally1 – this always makes you smile.”
Toyota’s not the only one bringing a more modern car, with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo driving a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC from 2021.
The Spaniard smiled: “I am really excited to be able to join Rallylegend this year, it is a great event with so many fans and such a cool atmosphere! We will be there to put up a good show for the spectators with the WRC Plus, enjoy the event and support our partner Pirelli and their guests.
“There will be no competition for me, as I won’t be participating in the full rally itself, but it will be all about the enjoyment, taking pleasure and making sure the people who ride with me in the car have a smile on their faces at the end!”
Riding in the car or not, Rallylegend always leaves a smile on the face.