Ypres Historic Rally

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By running the Ypres Historic Rally and Ypres Historic Regularity simultaneously, the organisers have succeeded in turning what could have been a poor substitute into a magnificent end to the season.  Jurriaan Tas reports…

Other than the Red Devils national football team, there seems to be only one thing that can unite the Belgians:  Their unconditional devotion to rallying.  The abundance of twisty back roads and the intense rivalry in the past between local tobacco brands created an environment in which the sport could thrive.  As a consequence, Belgium has produced a quite remarkable number of top drivers, navigators and teams at both World and European Championship level.  All this has contributed to the insane popularity of the sport in this tiny country.  The contemporary Belgian Rally Championship (which has its own YouTube channel) attracts well over a dozen Rally2-equipped title contenders and is fiercely competitive.  As a side-show, it runs a historic championship which, in terms of size and quality, can match any other national series in Europe.  In Mats van den Brand, the country has one of the premier historic BMW tuning specialists in all of Europe.  Belgians are also arguably the kings of the regularity run, which can be contested with the same cars as the historic speed events.  They dominate competitions throughout Europe and bring out hundreds of competitors every weekend for events across the country.

The gaps remained minimal but eventually fell in favour of the Opel Ascona 400 Group 4 of veteran Paul Lietaer and co-driver Wouter Knockaert

For Belgian rally fans, Ypres has been the annual high mass of rallying since 1965.  The first event was run as the ‘Ypres 12 hours’ and subsequently became the ‘Ypres 24 hours.’  From 1970 onwards, it was included in the European Rally Championship in its various guises.  “Back when the Ypres Rally was a round of both the European and the Belgian Rally Championship, the Belgian Historic Rally Championship was always an intrinsic part of the program,” says Race Director Norbert Dumoulin.  “This year is the first time we run our historic rally in November.  We are not allowed to run alongside the WRC event and since we skipped 2021 altogether because of COVID, this year is our first experience of running the rally in autumn.  When deciding on a new date we thought it made sense to team up with the Ypres Historic Regularity that had already been on the agenda in November for the last four years.”  All events for the Belgian Historic Rally Championship are run alongside the contemporary championship, so this year’s rally does not count for the title. “It is a stand-alone event this year,” says Dumoulin,  “which has its own benefits. 

The vastly experienced former winner Yves Deflandre, navigated by Yves Noelanders, won the regularity event by a narrow margin in Deflandre’s distinctive orange Porsche Carrera

The 25-27 November itinerary had plenty to offer.  Parc fermé was located on the majestic market square in Ypres under the shadow of the monumental medieval Lakenhalle or Cloth Hall.  The entire rally was run on the classic Ypres asphalt stages of Boezinge, Heuvelland and Zonnebeke.  Mixing it with the regularity runners meant the stages were likely to be covered in greasy mud, promising the kind of challenging conditions that are typical of Flanders at this time of year.  Whereas the regularity run was spread over three full days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the speed event started with a single night stage on Friday evening, all eight remaining stages being run on Saturday before sundown.

There was plenty to keep the spectators on their toes, with a battle royal expected between Maeynaert’s BMW and the Opel Ascona 400 Group 4 of veteran Paul Lietaer and co-driver Wouter Knockaert.

To read the full report, see the January/February 2023 issue of Historic Motor Racing News..

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