The reason so few WRC3 crews are contesting Ypres

Despite its popularity, the classic Belgian asphalt event hasn't attracted many series regulars

Nicolas Ciamin

This week’s Ypres Rally is shaping up to be the season’s most popular round of the World Rally Championship with competitors. In fact, it’s shaping up to be the most popular since the Tour de Corse six years ago. More than 100 crews will start on Friday – but only three of the regular WRC3 field are in town.

Why is that? There are 19 registered WRC3 runners, but 15 of those cars contain Belgian drivers. The reason? The Ypres Rally’s reputation. It’s scaring folk away.

There’s a feeling that this event can’t be won without years of experience – a consideration not without some grounding when you think 38 of the 55 events run, have been won by Belgians.

There are exceptions: Kris Meeke won on his debut in 2009, as did Miki Biasion in a Jolly Club-run Lancia 037, 26 years earlier. And don’t forget Henri Toivonen (Porsche 911) a year later in 1984.

It’s a complicated rally…

“But it’s not like Monte Carlo,” reasoned rally manager Alain Penasse. “I think we struggle with this [reputation]. We have guys like Freddy [Loix] who win the event 11 times and the others, they think he is unbeatable. It’s in everybody’s mind.

Nicolas Ciamin

“I think this is what’s happened with the WRC3 entry, where we don’t have so many of the top contenders daring to come to Ypres because they are afraid of the Belgians. But I think the top level of WRC3 they could match the Belgians, the level they are driving at in the world championship is high, so I don’t really understand this.

“You don’t need so much experience. If you drive very well in [Rally] Germany then you can drive very well in Belgium – it’s the same type of rally. The only difference is where you have the vineyards in Germany, we have the cornfields in Belgium. A lot of people feel these rallies are nearly the same, but Ypres seems to scare people.”

Two of the top five in WRC3 – Yohan Rossel and Pepe López – are present at round eight this week.

Words:David Evans

Photos:Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool