WRC 2022: The perfect calendar for a perfect season?

The return of New Zealand is among the highlights of a calendar that has impressed David Evans

Sebastien Loeb – Action

Rarely is an entire day – like all 24 hours of it – spent sitting down so enormously worthwhile. Imagine it. As you read this, just think about what you’ll do while the clock’s small hand makes its next two complete rotations. Instead of doing that, you’ll sit down, watch telly, pretend to sleep, eat something masquerading as chicken tikka masala before being offered chilli noodles for breakfast.

The good news? Chilli noodles done, you’ll descend into an airport further around planet earth’s far side than any other (if you’re flying from London). You’ll descend into the City of Sails. AKL. Auckland.

Emerging into a North Island spring is the perfect antidote to the inevitable jet lag. Finally. Rally New Zealand’s back. And this, my friends, is a big, big reason to be cheerful.

Here at DirtFish, we regularly bang on about how great roads are all around the place. My colleague Colin Clark and I were on Mull recently and there’s no doubt the stages in and around Tobermory rival the best of the best black top anywhere.

Away from the asphalt, yes Finland – in both its frozen Arctic and summer Jyväskylä form – is special. As is Grizedale, which graces England’s Lake District, or Fafe in Portugal.

But none of them quite match New Zealand.

I remember sitting down to dinner with Jarmo Mähonen, then the FIA’s rally director, in an Auckland restaurant. Before we ordered he moved, lowered his voice and leant in.

“I’m Finnish,” he said, “so you know it’s difficult for me to be anywhere with roads which could rival ours. But these roads…”

He paused. Thought about it. Could he? Maybe. Possibly.

“…These roads are definitely the second best in the world!”


Photo: McKlein Image Database

Not quite.

They really are that good. They’re smooth, quick and cambered like you’ve never seen. The ability to throw the car at a corner a gear too high, hook it into the curve and let gravity do its work is sensational.

There’s some footage of Colin McRae straight-lining a Subaru across a classic Kiwi stage in the mid-90s. After diving from camber to camber, fully committed, McRae lifts at the apex of a right-hander to transfer the weight. He then looks out of the window to his left, just to see where a flat-chat, fully sideways Impreza 555 is heading.

If there’s an art to rally driving, New Zealand’s roads provide the perfect canvas.

Other than heading south in late September, what are the other highlights of the 2022 calendar?


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Lucky 13. Twelve rallies is good. But 13 will always be better. And 14 best. We’ll get there.

And going back to Croatia. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saying that when I landed into Zagreb for the first time earlier this year, but I genuinely loved the place. The roads totally added something different to the calendar and the number of people was quite astonishing. Just imagine what it’ll be like next year when spectators are actually allowed!

It’s hard to remember a time in the WRC more exciting than right now. Granted, the onset of World Rally Cars in 1997 was pretty groovy and Group B a decade and a bit earlier wasn’t exactly dull. The 2017 cars were pretty tasty and delivered the fastest rallying ever.

But the here and now, the right here and right now has to match it.

At the time of writing, we have a championship fight going on with the potential for another bananas finale in Monza. Then we have the conclusion of Rally1 car testing and Monte pre-events through December and early January.

Then we have the main event. Round one itself.

Whatever you do, don’t tell Andrea Adamo or Malcolm Wilson, but I’m secretly glad the Automobile Club de Monaco has stuck to its guns and given the boys no service on the first Friday and Saturday of the season. What a challenge. What a way to welcome in the next generation. Make it fast, but make it last.

Then it’s north, north, north to Umeå for some Swedish snow – which latitude dictates is definitely coming our way this time.

Post-Croatia, what’s not to love about a run of rallies like this: Portugal, Sardinia, Kenya, Estonia and Finland. All loose, starting technical, tricky, getting rougher, rockier, then faster. And very much faster.

The Safari doubters were silenced this season and the Kenyans will, no doubt, build on a returning rally which stole so many hearts this time around. Good for them.

Were TBC an acronym, it would have to be: To Belfast. Clearly. David Evans

And then TBC.

Hmm… TBC in precisely the same weekend when Northern Ireland was supposed to host a wholly Northern Irish WRC round for the very first time this year.

The arrival of the letters TBC on a calendar for the WRC is a history-making moment. It’s also testament to the desire to see Belfast come to the party. If it happens, WRC Promoter event director Simon Larkin and Bobby Willis are the men to thank.

Both have worked – and continue to work – tirelessly to put a round peg in a round hole. Quite how so many remain so convinced of a square peg is beyond me.

The return on investment from getting the WRC onto some of the finest asphalt around (Mull’s inner Hebridean infrastructure’s not quite up to the WRC…) is blindingly obvious. Forget the marketing speak, the hyperbolic nonsense which can be spun to jazz up the numbers.


Photo: FIA ERC Media

We’re talking about thousands of people who need somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat. That’s the bottom line. Selling the best of Belfast to the world is an added benefit.

Were TBC an acronym, it would have to be: To Belfast. Clearly.

The Acropolis again? Fantastic to see a WRC cornerstone back in place. And Spain for a final European round is similarly good news.

But talk about saving the best for last: Rally Japan step forwards and prepare for your moment.

Three times these lovely people have come close, thought their long overdue WRC return was coming, only to have their hearts broken by Corsica and coronavirus.


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Well no more. We’re coming. Come hell or highwater, Colin Clark and I will be heading east next November. It’ll be a different event to the one we knew and absolutely loved in Obihiro and Sapporo, but Toyota City’s not a bad replacement for the island of Hokkaido.

It’s impossible to sign off here without talking of the Americas and Australia. It’s a real shame and disappointment not to see Argentina, Mexico or Chile represented – hopefully, one, two or three of them will be back very, very soon. And the same for Australia.

I fell in love with Coffs Harbour just in time for the WRC to sign its divorce papers with the city which sits beneath the big banana. Bathurst, back to Perth, whatever, let’s just find a way to get back down under.

Photography:Red Bull Content Pool, McKlein Image Database, Toyota Gazoo Racing, FIA ERC Media

Words:David Evans