A Friday night walk through the Gap service park is one of the season’s highlights. Always. The smell of van chaud mingles beautifully with the whiff of more wood being thrown on the open fire. Folk gather and fans chatter beneath white-topped Alps helping to light the clear, deep-frozen French night.
It’s just ace.
In Turkey last year, the COVID-regulated Marmaris service park was populated with roughly the same number of fans as in previous years. Er, none.
But in Gap, it was painful for the people having to watch from behind closed doors.
One hotelier from nearby Forcalquier told DirtFish: “It’s too sad this time. I’m too sad. Every year, we have one chance to see our heroes and to say hello to Séb [Ogier] and to Julien [Ingrassia], but this time we could not. To have them so close, but too far to touch is terrible.
“Next year we will go to Gap and we will make the big party. You are invited and you must come!”
History-making rally winner Ogier missed his people.
“I was missing them too,” he said. “The atmosphere was not the same. We were all happy to be on the event and to be able to start the season, but it wasn’t the same without the fans.
“OK, there were times when you don’t notice [the absence of fans] so much when you have your head down and you are working – this is really a busy rally when you have so much information to discuss and so many videos of the conditions to watch.”
Monte Carlo runner-up Elfyn Evans added: “Like Séb said, it’s a busy weekend and you do tend to get a bit blinkered with everything that’s going on. But for me, it was when you arrive at the service – normally you can’t move coming into Gap [for fans] and it was a shame to see it so quiet.
“It’s a shame not to have such a packed service park, but on the same breath we have to be happy the rally could go ahead and able to start our season.”
WRC2 winner Andreas Mikkelsen offer a more practical perspective.
“I missed the spectators,” said the Toksport Škoda driver. “It’s a bit tricky for us – we had to be a bit more careful because there was nobody to save us if we made a mistake!
“We missed also the passion from the fans.”
McKlein’s Colin McMaster will, no doubt, make his usual magic from the Monte, but the lack of fans’ flares lighting the sky was marked this time around.
We’re all grateful to be up and running in 2021, but it’ll be a long time before anybody complains about the traffic jams coming into Gap again…