What makes Rally Poland special

Yes, it's a fast gravel rally - but there's plenty about Poland that makes it unique


Dance classes with Iwona Pavlović, tobogganing, horse riding or a quick dip. For the first time in the history of the World Rally Championship, all of the above are available within the confines of this week’s service park. Pretty much.

Rally Poland has always brought something special, something different to the WRC. From tasty pierogi dumplings and interesting gołąbki cabbage rolls (both of which can probably be eaten in the world’s oldest restaurant, Wrocław’s Piwnica Świdnicka – a permanent fixture in the city since 1275) to the 800-year-old salt mines that take you 135 meters underground and the heaviest wild animal on the continent, the European Bison weighing it at approximately half a Rally1 car (around 600kg).

And the dancing? That’s all taken care of by Hotel Gołębiewski, a 700-roomer which swallows up the service park for the week. Having much of the event on one holiday-focused site (although some of the drivers will likely stay at swish Hotel Mikołajki, which sits on its own island) definitely makes for something of a vacation atmosphere.


WRC's last visit to Poland's soft gravel roads came in 2017

And it’s an adventure. Ten years ago it was the road to Lithuania listening to George Donaldson’s awesome stories as he demonstrated how best to traverse muddy puddles in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere. And while you’re mid-nowhere, you can easily find yourself on the doorstep of Wolf’s Lair – Hitler’s military headquarters on the Eastern Front in the Second World War.

Poland’s history is well documented, but taking time to appreciate it never fails to offer incredible perspective.

This week’s first WRC round in seven years brings a return of the familiar Mikołajki Arena stage. This seemingly innocuous stretch of road will, no doubt, forever make Jari-Matti Latvala wince as he replays that 2009 crash that cost Ford the second part of a one-two. The Finn tripped up a few times, but rarely did he do it so publicly, right in front of team principal Malcolm Wilson and, pretty much, the whole Ford team.

Rally Poland, Mikolajki 24-28 06 2009

Latvala's final-stage crash in 2009 left him shellshocked

That moment will doubtless feature in his team talk as he prepares Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä for Thursday night’s loosener around the spectator-pleasing, custom-built circuit (which also sits in the yawning grounds of the Hotel Gołębiewski).

With the first mile and a half done, the crews will get down to the real business of the week – sending their Rally1 cars down some of the fastest, but softest roads of the season. Day one is out east of Mikołajki, based around the town of Olecko which hosts the remote tire-fitting zone.

Staying out of trouble should, in theory, be considerably more straightforward on round seven that it was in Sardinia, one rally ago. Poland’s not known for boulders being unearthed or stones the size of televisions (once the go-to dimension check for a jaw-dropping rock on the Acropolis).

The potential issue in Poland is the ruts on the second pass. The soft surface digs up in no time and it’s unbelievably easy to knock a tire off the rim – just ask Ott Tänak, that’s what brought about his 2016 heart-breaker.


Tänak's 2016 charge to a would-be maiden win was derailed on the penultimate stage

Getting the right tire pressures are more important than ever this week.

Another possible issue is the sheer speed of the place. Which will only be an issue if the car gets out of shape…

With fewer jumps, crests and corners on crests than Finland, there’s potentially less to slow the cars down. And these Rally1 cars, complete with planet earth-hugging aero, will be gravel-eating rocketships.

Hello again Poland.