What the WRC will miss about its absent 2020 fall rallies

The food, the fans, even the leaves. David Evans explains why Rally Japan was so highly anticipated, with a nod to Ypres too

S�bastien Loeb, Red Bull Rally,   Citro�n WRC Team

I had plans last week. Those plans included visiting the Korankei Momiji Matsuri. And eating Kobe beef in Nagoya. Both of those would have been done while rejoicing in the fact that, finally, the World Rally Championship was back in one of the world’s most brilliant countries: Japan.

And, more importantly, we were back in Japan for all the right reasons. Namely, to go rallying.

When those plans were scratched, I had another idea. Plan B involved gazing in awe, once more, at the Menim Gate, while trying to compute the quite incredible flow of history that passed down the road and through that memorial. Ypres isn’t a place to be visited without having thoughts provoked and conscience considered.

My job is one that takes me to some of the world’s more extraordinary places and I still consider myself inordinately fortunate to report on people driving fast in such a set of bewildering locations. But last week, both plans came to nought.

Instead, I sat at this keyboard in this office typing. Admittedly I was writing lots of words about arguably the WRC’s best ever rally, and certainly one of its most iconic and inspirational characters in Colin McRae.

But it wasn’t quite the same as staring at nature doing its things and sending Japanese Maple leaves an almost indescribably beautiful shade of fall orangey-reddy-yellow, or walking across a seasonally laid golden carpet, the pile refreshed on a daily basis by 10,000 gingko trees.

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Fall and winter are my favorite seasons and being in Japan when the leaves change colour is utterly magical. Hence the Korankei Momiji Matsuri – a festival celebrating that process. It would have been at its height as the WRC leader arrived in the Toyota City Stadium for the first time.

Like I said, big fan of Japan, big fan of Japan in the fall, very big fan of Japanese food and enormously big fan of an ice-cold Sapporo while sitting cross-legged on the floor shelling edamame beans waiting for uncooked fish or chicken to be bang-banged.

But all of that pales into insignificance when you meet the locals. This season simply won’t be the same without meeting the man who greets you in the service park – or on the stages – wearing arguably the season’s most spectacular head gear. I guarantee somebody somewhere would have crafted a fully liveried Toyota Yaris WRC into a hat.

And those hats would have been lined up in a row for the first service of every day. Not the first service after the first loop of stages, the first service that kicks off well before dawn, at a time usually starting with a five. Sometimes a six. Rarely a seven.

These people are impossible for the drivers to ignore. One lady would have made a three-foot sign describing in beautifully broken English how much she loved Sébastien Ogier. And then squealed silently in delight when he inevitably arrived at her side for a selfie. I love the dignity and the decorum with which Japanese rally fans conduct themselves.


Japan, you’ve waited nine years for the return of the WRC. Wait one more and let’s look forward to ending a no-Nippon decade together. In spectacular fashion.

And Belgium, here’s hoping your chance will come.

It’s rare that I’d looked forward to a rally as much as I relished the prospect of Ypres in the fall. There’s nothing quite like genuine unpredictability in sport. It’s why we love the Monte Carlo Rally. The run up to round one is insane: will it snow? How hard? What about Sisteron? How far will the ice descend down from the hairpins? The anticipation is huge.

It was the same for Ypres. So changeable would the conditions have been, so much concentration, dedication and determination demanded to carve a result from lanes so full of treachery and trickery.

And then to Spa. To Spa! I’ve been to Francorchamps a few times for the rally and once to a test before the 24-hour race and I’ve absolutely loved it every time. It’s an enchanting place, full of stories, of corners called red water, and a passion for rallying that is entirely disproportionate with the size of the population.

And last week, we missed it. We really missed it.