World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier is unsure if the “complicated” trip to Spa-Francorchamps on the final day of the Ypres Rally was worth it.
Belgium hosted its first ever World Rally Championship event last weekend with two legs in the famous Flanders fields that comprise a traditional Ypres.
But to comply with WRC regulations, the usually two-day Ypres Rally became a three-day event and instead of some more stages in the region, the rally headed over 180 miles south-east to Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix circuit Spa.
While it brought the rally to a different region and created a strong show for TV, it also meant that less than 15% of Sunday’s mileage was competitive.
Debate over the merit of such a trip was rife ahead of the event – not least on DirtFish’s SPIN, The Rally Pod – and opinions were varied.
Asked by DirtFish if the detour was worth it or if the rally would’ve been better off remaining in Ypres for the final day, Ogier – who had his podium bid ruined by clipping a stone on that final day and was restricted to fifth – admitted “it’s a tough question”.
“For sure it’s nice to put a wheel on this special track, but logistically it was complicated for everybody,” he said.
“I don’t know if it is really worth it somehow. It’s special for the world, it makes a nice picture to finish the rally here, but also Ypres is not a bad place.
“I think there was a great atmosphere through the weekend as well, so I’m sure the teams would have enjoyed also to finish the rally there.”
FIA rallies director Yves Matton said that “some people easily forget” the original reason for heading to Spa on Sunday was to collide with the World Rallycross Championship.
The Ypres organizer was asked at the last minute to join the WRC calendar in 2020 following the cancellation of several events, and the date of the rally was the same as the World RX round in Belgium.
Both the World RX round and Ypres were subsequently canceled in 2020 but the rally organizer had already made good steps to arrange a visit to Spa-Francorchamps.
Matton did however accept that, with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to reverse the logistical schedule and visit Spa before heading to Ypres for the bulk of the weekend.
“I believe after this weekend maybe the best format would be Friday here [at Spa] and Saturday, Sunday in Ypres, but maybe this is based on the experience of this weekend,” he said.
“But we cannot forget that it was based on the fact we had rallycross here, and for sure if today you have rallycross it’s the place to be here. If you don’t have rallycross, maybe it’s best to be here Friday and Saturday, Sunday in Ypres.”
Spa-Francorchamps was the second international race circuit to prominently feature within the itinerary of a WRC round in the last 12 months.
Italian Grand Prix venue Monza was the base for the majority of the Monza Rally that concluded the 2020 season, although in contrast to Ypres two days were held at the circuit and just one in the mountains.
Ypres Rally winner Thierry Neuville enjoyed the challenge of both types of tests, describing the stages on the circuit as “very fun”.
Neuville, who was the only driver to have competed in Ypres in a World Rally Car before last weekend, said he “really enjoyed driving the car” on the traditional Ypres roads as they were fast and slippery, giving him “the impression of speed and how fast those cars can be”.
But he also enjoyed the differing challenge of the Spa stages, saying: “Coming to Spa, the nicest circuit in the world in a WRC car, that was fun as well.
“I really enjoyed the part on the race track as the grip was really high and you have to adapt your driving as our cars are very soft and high and groaning a little bit too much.
“It makes you slide at high speed. It was very fun.”