The thunderous clapping and banging as Craig Breen dials up would be enough to awaken the dead. Little wonder then that the sound of his Puma blasting onto the second special stage of this year’s Rally Spain was enough to cause a stir in El Vilosell.
Spain is a World Rally Championship event the drivers all know well. A mainstay over the years, there’s not much to learn. But the people of El Vilosell? The only puma they’re used to is the company that makes their sneakers.
A quaint village in the Tarragona province with a modest population of just under 200, this isn’t a place used to much commotion. Every other year Spain’s biggest rally has avoided this pretty little place, but not 2022.
With Spain believed to be left out of rallying’s world tour next year, the people of El Vilosell may never see a Rally1 car again. And as a result, they were keen to soak in every last drop of it.
Coffee to go? Croissant or hot sandwich? Rest assured DirtFish indulged in all of it – welcomed into a community that’s not accustomed to opening its arms to the masses. Tempting as it was, we had to ignore the bottles of wine outside the wine hotel – a bottle of Spain’s finest wouldn’t be a wise move at this time of the morning.
All thoughts about sustinance soon evaporated when Kalle Rovanperä burst into view. Fresh from opening up an early rally lead on the opening Els Osmells – Maldà, the new world champion slid his GR Yaris Rally1 over the brow of the hill, dropping into the humble little settlement.
The car sliding, revving, full of attitude, these were his final pre-flight checks before attacking the Serra de la Llena stage – which began just round the corner on the exit of the village.
Into the time control he went, the crowds’ mouths gaping at the sight of Toyota’s monstrous creation. Clunked into first gear, off Rovanperä rolls to the start-line. Chaos. The locals don’t know what’s hit them. The raucous sound as he blasts off the line and onto his path for a second stage win from two is simply stunning.
Just as Rovanperä disappears, Ott Tänak appears. It’s fair to say his entrance into El Vilosell was less energetic than his rival’s, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.
And so the trend continues. As one car fires off the start-line, another edges into the time control. It’s a complete feast for the eyes (if they dare look up from their ham and cheese sandwiches).
As you might imagine, it’s Dani Sordo who makes the biggest impact. Sébastien Ogier is normally the superstar wherever he goes, but not today. Instinctively, as the eight-time world champion leaves, one elderly lady steps out onto her balcony and peers out. Sordo is next.
It’s a reminder of what makes the World Rally Championship so special. No other form of motorsport can blend the world’s best engineering and drivers with a small rural settlement. It’s this juxtaposition – peace offset by drama – that makes rallying so beautiful.
Now, the people of El Vilosell know that too. And they’ve still got the second pass to come.