Reliance. Dependence on or trust in something. If you’re a rally fan in the United States of America, you have no idea how reliant you were on Reliance on Saturday.
The good news? Reliance was entirely dependable and trustworthy.
We’ve moved beyond Reliance the noun, we’re now talking about Reliance, Tennessee.
It’s not the biggest of places, population 486, but it does have a fly and tackle shop. And a white water rafting business.
If Saturday is anything to go by, Reliance will soon be able to add a round of the World Rally Championship to its list of attractions.
April 8 was, of course, Rally USA day. A stepping stone, a proof of concept, call it what you want, the Chattanooga-based event went down a storm with the most important stakeholders: the locals.
Starting with a ceremonial start and parc expose on Friday night, one stage was run north-east of the city on Saturday. Threading its way through the woods just outside the town of Reliance, the Lost Creek stage became increasingly challenging as the rain continued, but the crews loved it.
By the end of Saturday, rally manager Stuart Wood was smiling.
“Everything has gone to plan,” he told DirtFish. “It’s been a fairly busy few weeks, but Saturday – and the events on Friday evening – went absolutely as we’d hoped they would. OK, the weather was fairly horrible, but even through the rain, still the people came.”
Finding a positive in everything, Wood said the wet weather offered the opportunity to investigate the true nature of the roads.
“We know these roads hold up insanely well in the dry weather,” he said, “but it was good to see how they were in the rain. We had a little bit of clay come up, one section was a little bit soupy – but that just added to the challenge. The roads will be fine.”
The roads were – and are – important to Rally USA’s bid for WRC status in 2024. But another key to that is the buy-in from the locals.
Saturday was a great step forwards in that respect.
“In the weeks leading up to the event we worked hard to improve communication locally,” added Wood. “We worked with the mayor, the forest service, local residents and business people and I would say everybody’s now looking happier. People understand much better what we’re trying to do here and there’s so much pro-activeness for the event after Saturday. We’re really, really encouraged.
“Put it this way, over the last few weeks, we built a checklist of things to go through on Friday evening and Saturday. We ticked every box. We even added a few boxes and ticked those too.”
Seven cars tackled Lost Creek, what will be a 12-mile stage when the WRC arrives in town. Wood is quick to temper the use of ‘when.’ He’s taking nothing for granted, not even with all those boxes ticked.
The next step is a one-dayer in the Fall.
“We will effectively run a one-day, world-style event,” said Wood. “The date for that event will be decided by the forest service locally, but obviously ACCUS, USAC, the FIA, and WRC Promoter will be consulted on that and every other step we make down this road.”
WRC Promoter was represented at the event, but is keen to leave the Chattanooga organizers to talk about Saturday. The overwhelming feeling from those involved in the initial debrief is that the proof of concept did just that, laying further strong foundations for the WRC’s return to the United States.
With more and more of the hurdles now being cleared by Wood and a Rally México partnership which brings organizers Gilles Spitalier and Patrick Suberville from Guanajuato, the thinking is that America could be included on a draft WRC 2024 calendar, with that slot dependent on a successful September event.
Wood concluded: “The feeling from Saturday among the crews and the organizers was that we completed the recce. The fall event is a super-recce. We know what we want from that event, Gilles and Patrick are out in the stages this week, plotting control locations and pulling a route together. But as well as the roads we would use, we’re very happy to take the entertainment model side of the event from México as well. We’ve seen how Rally México works for fans and we really like that.”
One of the reasons Rally México has worked for the last 20 years is because of its own unique character. Leaning up against the fly and tackle sign on the bridge over the Hiwassee River on Saturday afternoon, the locals tipped their hats in the direction of the passing rally cars. It was partly appreciation and partly to the drain the rain.
Chattanooga and Tennessee took rallying to its heart last weekend. You can rely on that.