For the second year in succession, the Monza Rally will conclude the World Rally Championship season.
Precise details are thin on the ground for now, but what we do know is the world’s best rallying drivers will once more head to the ‘Temple of Speed’ on November 19-21.
If nothing else, it proves the world is far from free of COVID-19 as Monza steps in to replace the canceled Rally Japan.
But what would we like to see from the event? Last year’s event was incredibly effective as a stop-gap solution, but can anything be improved?
That’s the very question we asked our team of writers, and here’s what they had to say.
A balance needs to be struck
It’s not Japan. Monza Rally will be great, but it’s not Japan. I think that’s my biggest problem with finishing the season in northern Italy and not Nagoya.
The Monza Rally organizer finds itself in a tricky position. As I type it’s assembling in the metaphorical recording studio, trying to avoid the same fate as The Second Coming – The Stone Roses’ very, very difficult second album.
And it’s not like last week’s Italian Grand Prix was some sort of snooze-fest that left the Autodromo Nazionale Monza faithful clamoring for World Rally Car-based genuine entertainment.
On top of all of that, it’s not Japan.
For me, Monza means Milan and Milan means Pirelli. Is this an opportunity for the World Rally Championship’s tire supplier to come further to the fore and welcome the world into its backyard? I think it is. Pirelli can plan a party and, fingers crossed, this time the fans will be allowed to come to that party.
And when rally fans descend on Monza, the atmosphere is always electric. Even though clashes will make it difficult to attract big names from elsewhere in motorsport, there will be plenty to keep people on their toes. But that brings me to the heart of the promotional-commercial-sporting conundrum.
Keeping people entertained means keeping the cars on the circuit, but providing competition worthy of the WRC means no more than a day on track and two days in the lanes north of the city. A balance will have to be struck.
And if they get that balance right, it’s possible I might see past the fact that I’m not in Japan.
– David Evans
More – and different – mountain stages
Here’s a confession – I don’t mind the stages within the Monza circuit complex that much. With a mix of internal gravel roads, the old banking and the Formula 1 track, a handful of differently configured stages around the circuit grounds is actually quite palatable. The problem I have is running entire days of the itinerary there.
Luckily, it seems quite a few people in the paddock agree. Jari-Matti Latvala’s already hinted that the organizer may be planning to add more away from the track. That would be great news – the loop of stages north of Bergamo were a fantastic addition to the calendar full stop, never mind an adequate stop-gap solution.
I say we take a leaf out of the same book used last year by utilizing roads from a different regional event in northern Italy: Rally dei Laghi.
While circuits can have a valuable place on the WRC itinerary, the fan reaction to the final day of action in Ypres suggests we can't have a full day of that again
Located in the northwestern tip of Lombardy, Rally dei Laghi has been around for decades and utilizes a series of narrow passes through the valleys north of Varese. There are some serious Sanremo vibes to be had, ducking and dodging under the trees as the roads wind up and down the hillsides. Unlike Sanremo, though, the roads are narrower and more technical.
Anyone who knows their cycling will know these roads well; Cuvignone, one of Rally dei Laghi’s longest-serving stages (but absent from this year’s shortened itinerary), has been part of the Giro d’Italia in the past and is a favorite of Italian cycling legend Ivan Basso. Reigning Italian rallying champion Andrea Crugnola even compares it to the Col de Turini – I can’t think of a better compliment.
Give this onboard of Giuseppe Freguglia and Marco Vozzo on their way to victory in 2014 – threading the needle with a Ford Fiesta RRC – a watch and you’ll learn all you need to know about these roads.
There are also more stages ripe for the itinerary a little further east in Parco delle Cinque Vette – the pass through Boarezzo on the Valganna stage looks especially tricky, the asphalt surface breaking up in some places and the road barely a car’s width while passing through the villages.
Is it a practical idea? I’m no rally planner but considering Ypres insisted on traversing almost the whole length of Belgium to drive around Spa-Francorchamps, the 90-minute or so trip from Monza towards Lago Maggiore would be a piece of cake by comparison.
Maybe I’m on a flight of fancy here given the short lead time for the ACI to get this event sorted. Or maybe they’ve already picked out some stages elsewhere – Como, perhaps, which is a little nearer to Monza than the Rally dei Laghi tests.
While circuits can have a valuable place on the WRC itinerary, the fan reaction to the final day of action in Ypres suggests we can’t have a full day of that again. Let’s break up those stages with more out in the countryside.
– Alasdair Lindsay
Novelty factor needs to be rediscovered
I found it difficult to entertain any backlash to last year’s Monza Rally. The World Rally Championship was in desperate need of events, and here was an organizing team committed to pulling off what turned out to be a very entertaining rally.
But this year? The jury is out for me.
Looking back, a lot of what made Monza spectacular in 2020 was the disgusting weather – which turned the Monza circuit and its periphery roads into something closer resembling a gravel rally than an asphalt contest – and the fact every single WRC title was to be decided on the event.
Can we be guaranteed the same this time around? The first of those we won’t know, but the second looks unlikely given Sébastien Ogier’s current championship position. Without that intrigue, the flaws of what is, to be very cynical, a glorified clubman rally may begin to protrude.
The issue is, where else can the WRC go? At such short notice, Monza is the logical and clear choice to replace Japan given its usual winter date and the fact the organizing team has produced a WRC event before.
There can therefore be little issue with the decision made, but rallying fans may be left a little short-changed in terms of a spectacle. If there’s nothing really on the line in terms of the championship, it may feel more like a showpiece than a rally, which could even lead to some not bothering to watch.
The novelty factor and the high stakes on offer stimulated onlookers last time, but patience for a format such as this may wear a lot thinner, a lot quicker if Monza is dry and held predominantly on a circuit in 2021.
– Luke Barry