The question was good, but ultimately flawed.
Working our way around Hyundai’s hospitality unit during media hour last Wednesday, Colin Clark and I park ourselves at Dani Sordo’s table. Camera rolling, microphone working, Colin wants to know if this could be Sordo’s last Rally Spain, with questions surrounding his World Rally Championship future.
“Maybe yes because next year is not Rally Catalunya [in the WRC],” Sordo grins.
“And if I do next year, even if I do, I will not be in Catalunya because we will not be in Catalunya.”
“It’s a very good point, I’d forgotten about that,” laughed Colin in response.
The trip to Spain’s north east coast has become something of a given for the WRC. Ever since Rally Catalunya’s introduction to the calendar in 1991, earning it a second name as Rally Spain, only twice has it been absent from rallying’s global tourL 1994 (calendar rotation) and 2020 (COVID-19).
It’s therefore absolutely not a stretch to call it a ‘classic’.
But unfortunately, for those of us not fortunate to either be competing, reporting or watching the event in Tarragona itself, Rally Spain is anything but a classic.
An event being labeled a classic doesn’t necessarily make it great. Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix perhaps acts as the best case in point. Grand, spectacular and famous as it is, how many times have you heard criticism being leviet that it’s boring – particularly in recent years?
Would it be fair to call Rally Spain boring? I don’t think so, personally. But I equally wouldn’t be at the front of the queue of those outraged that it’s set to drop off the calendar in 2023.
The drivers, they love it – and it’s not hard to see why. Few other rallies anywhere in the world offer them the opportunity to drive what they’ll always refer to as ‘proper’ asphalt stages. They’re fast, they’re flowing, they’re technical and they enable a driver to really push their car – and themself – to the limit.
“Yeah, for sure [I will miss it], because it’s a proper Tarmac rally, and it’s been a fantastic one,” Pierre-Louis Loubet told DirtFish. “Honestly, in terms of enjoyable driving it’s wow, it’s crazy. It’s crazy.
“You can push the car at 110%, it looks like it’s meant for the… I have a bit the same feeling as Finland in gravel. You push the car to the limit, which is very nice.”
And Loubet was very much not alone with his views.
“I mean, definitely, it’s the best Tarmac rally that we have in the calendar,” said Ott Tänak, who won his 2019 world title on the Spanish stop of the championship.
“The roads are amazing. They are really nice. So it’s definitely something we should have in the calendar.
“And I mean all the fans here as well. They are so passionate, many of them. So I’d say it’s a country which needs to have WRC.”
Elfyn Evans even went as far as to suggest it’s a “crime” for the WRC to be foregoing trips to such popular events. Which brings us neatly onto the other group of people who are missing out: the fans.
No, not you at home watching WRC+, the legions of spectators from Spain and far, far beyond who annually make the voyage to view the rally stage-side.
For the Spanish it’s obvious why this one appeals, but there are several of factors that make the event a regular annual leave request for many other European rally fans. Cheap hotels, cheap food, cheap drink, hospitable locals, plenty of passion, a strong social scene, good weather, beautiful stage structure… you get the idea.
This year I got my first chance to visit the rally, and I can attest to pretty much all of that (not the drinking obviously, that would be unprofessional, strictly shandies for me).
Yet still, I couldn’t help but feel drained of energy at times.
As a sporting spectacle, there wasn’t much to digest. We might have had an epic battle between two of the WRC’s best – Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä – but Ogier proved too good and just streaked off into the distance.
Perhaps the kindest way to put it is that the show was uninspiring. And as much as it was a great vibe for those of us who were there, we’d be kidding ourselves if we dared suggest that was enough for a WRC round these days with spaces on the calendar so hotly contested.
So will we miss Rally Spain? Really, it depends on how you wish to interpret ‘we’. If you’re one of the ones that’s been heading over to Lloret de Mar and latterly Salou year after year after year, you’re going to miss it badly.
If you’re a WRC driver, you’re going to miss it too as it offers a challenge unique enough to pull it through.
But for the rest of us? I don’t think we’re running for the hills in jubilation that it’s gone for ’23 (at least I’m not) but there’ll be plenty who won’t be particularly sad to trade Spain for somewhere else.
Anyway, it’s not as if it’s gone forever. Sources suggest that the WRC could well return to Salou rather soon indeed.
Only you’ll know if you feel that’s a good or a bad thing.