Club Superstage president Alain Penasse is a busy, busy man right now. Not only is he flat out working as Hyundai’s team manager, he’s also overseeing a potentially historic moment in Belgium’s World Rally Championship history.
Club Superstage is the promoter and organizer of the Ypres Rally, an event which is looking increasingly likely to be included in a revised WRC schedule later this year. Penasse is the man to answer questions about taking one of Europe’s most popular rallies to the world stage…
How difficult is it to make a WRC round out of Ypres?
To be honest, the two days of Ypres were ready and made – we just had to tailor these two days to the needs of the WRC. This was to consider the live television slots and to make sure everything fits together. We had to consider spectator movements because we know spectators will move about and we don’t want this to jeopardise the road sections of the rally cars. We had to add an extra day on Sunday which we thought was a good idea to go to Spa-Francorchamps and mix with the rallycross cars.
It’s a long road section, but it’s something different it’s good to have the powerstage at Spa-Francorchamps. This is the part we are busy with right now. I still have to go to the Spa area tomorrow [Tuesday] and Wednesday to look at the roads and to see what is possible.
Before now I have a look at the circuit, I go for a one-day recce, but it’s busy all the time with cars. Now I need to look from the other side of the fence and see what we can do, not just with the stages but also with the regroups and the tire-fitting zones. So far, I didn’t go to the actual Formula 1 track, now I want to do that to have a look. I think it will work, but we need to take a look.
We need the time between now and the rally to take the organization to the next level. It’s clear there are more demands for a WRC round, it’s more complicated if you need more manpower you need a media safety book, a recce road book all of these things you have to take care of and in the normal rally you don’t need to have it.
Can you use some of the RX track?
We have to discuss that. That’s why I go there for the next two days to understand how it is made.
How will you cope with the number of fans?
We have always coped quite well with the numbers of spectators present. We have one helicopter flying over all the time the spectator areas to make sure the fans are obeying the rules and sometimes the helicopter has to do an intervention to push the people back. The people who are coming to the rally already, they know very well that they have to listen or there is a chance the stage will be canceled. We will have to communicate this very well because if WRC is coming we can expect some more people and we are working hard to make sure everybody follows the rules.
For the coronavirus side of things we will obviously work closely with everybody, but this is an evolving situation and nobody knows the answer to this question. Will there be a second wave? Are they going to close down the countries again – we have to be realistic about this, we cannot close down the world again.
We’ve seen a route with 13 stages and around 350 kilometers, how accurate is this?
It’s completely wrong. I don’t know where it comes from. It has been somebody very inventive and putting it on Facebook and everybody thinks this is it. It’s completely wrong and completely stupid. It’s all long stages, you would never be able to make a route like this.
What will your route look like?
We are a bit below 300 (kilometers) for the moment in the draft itinerary we made. We run Friday afternoon after the shakedown in the morning and then it’s a short day Saturday and Sunday morning. It could be a very, very relaxed rally for media and competitors: it starts at nine in the morning and finishes at six in the evening. You will have time to drink a beer!
What about you, which job will you do?
I will work for Hyundai. My [organizing] team is dealing with everything in the past. I am there, but my people are used to doing this on their own. In the past if they needed help I was there to help them out. We have to brief them carefully, but they will do the job they are used to working alone but we just need to take some bumps away.
It will be strange for you having worked on this event but also working as Hyundai team manager?
It will be very strange. But it will also be a dream come true. It’s always like this if you organize a rally. It’s the same like if you are a driver, you want to be World Champion; if you organize a rally do you want to be organizing a round of the World Rally Championship. It’s nice for the team, the volunteers and everybody involved. These people have been working on this for years and years, waiting for this moment to come true.
So, no sporting conflict at all for you?
There would be no conflict. I have no official role on the rally, so no conflict. The stages are identical, we changed none of the stages – they are the same if we are in the Belgian Championship or the World Rally Championship.
How much of a challenge will the event be in October, specially with potentially changeable weather?
It could be nice weather but for the same price it could be changeable and maybe wet with some mixed. It could be a little bit the same like Germany, when we have a Tarmac rally, the changeable conditions always make a challenge.
Who’s your money on for the win? Thierry [Neuville] surely?
I don’t have money, so this is not a problem for me.
But local knowledge and past experience would help – Neuville would have an advantage on an event like this, surely?
It will help but the level of WRC drivers is so high, they go somewhere and they are always the fastest – it doesn’t matter where they drive and Ypres is not so different from Rally Germany, so who is able to drive fast in Germany will be able to drive fast in Ypres. Of course, you have some particular corners where you can’t cut so deep, but these places these days are all on the Internet.