When I was a young, rallying was everything. My fathers keen interest in the sport undoubtedly rubbed off on 8-10 year old Ross and my days after school were spent playing with Burago 1/43 scale rally cars, building miniature stages around the house.
As I grew into my teens, the dinky cars turned into their digital counterparts on games like Colin McRae Rally & Rally Evolved and Dad and I went to lots of different events including the two occasions the WRC came to Ireland. I was properly hooked back then, idolising Petter Solberg and the famous blue Imprezas.
One year my father got a few Duke 'Greatest Years of Rallying' DVDs for Christmas, which told the stories of the 1970s and later group B eras of the world championship. I can still vividly see footage from those videos of Röhrl in the S1 Quattro parting a sea of spectators on the rough, gravel stages of the 1985 San Remo. Those clips left a big impact on young Ross and so about 16 years later you can imagine how it felt to be stood beside those same cars in an area of Italy not too far from the stages they originally competed on. Surreal.
In school, all the kids talked non stop about watching Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, but for me it was McRae and Solberg. These guys were my heroes growing up, seeing their cars up close and personal this past weekend was like standing in Camp Nou in the early 2000's.
So with all that nonsense out of the way, lets talk about the event itself. Held entirely within the small confines of the Republic of San Marino, Rally Legend is essentially a celebration of the rally car. Timing is vague, there is no real order or timing itinery for crews to follow and the stages run in a slap-dash manner that go on long into the night.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, giving us a chance to familiarise with the surroundings and check out the Rally Village before the lunacy started later that evening. The core of the main field of competitors are housed within the grounds of the Olympic stadium while others find various lay-bys and carparks to setup their service vehicles. It's a bit mad seeing Delta Integrales on axle stands outside small cafes and shops.
The timed challenge (use the word *timed* loosely) was the first taste of action taking place on the roads just outside the service park. This is more of a spectator stage with opportunity for donuts and big skids around roundabouts and hay-bale chicanes.
However, it is Friday morning when the proper action begins followed by a weekend of enjoyment on the most beautiful ribbons of tarmac I've ever come across. The roads here are stunning, snaking their way through the countryside with extreme elevation changes. On Friday evening the first stages of the event climb through endless switchbacks to a finish at the top of San Marino itself, a majestic backdrop for the cars and drivers.
And it really is all about the cars. Save for a few famous drivers, they really are the star of the show. There are very few places in the world, if any, that showcase over fifteen Lancia 037s driven in competition form and almost every notable rally car was represented in some shape or form, often in their multiples. The MG Metro 6R4 and Ford RS200 were the only obvious cars missing, although I think the latter was only because of a late drop-out.
Typically the Group-B era steals the show but it's the early Group-A and F2/Super 1600 eras that excite me the most. Anti-lag was certainly at its most aggressive in the mid-nineties and the crazy Italians weren't afraid to use it, their cars wound up seemingly to the point of explosion. The sheer ignorance of a Type RA Impreza on launch is something else.
One evening we drove back down the switchbacks from San Marino at 1AM, limbs numb from hours of standing at the edge of a stage and in hot pursuit of a Delta HF Integrale up ahead. Suddenly the Lancia dives into a lay-by and a period correct Fiat Ducato, kitted out to the last in its Martini livery is sat waiting to swap tyres and re-fuel. The childhood memories of watching an exact replica of this scene unfold on those DVDs come flooding back.
For the rally fan, this event is not just recommended, it's a nonnegotiable must-attend. Don't think of it as any typical rally, because it's not, but more a celebration of everything that has caused us to grow fond of this odd sport. It isn't a rally to chase, moving from stage to stage throughout the day, but more one to experience in whatever pace it sees fit. It's as slap-dash as you'll get, organisation is chaotic and you will often be standing for 20 minutes between cars but when they arrive, boy is it impressive.
Event: Rally Legend 2022
Location: Republic of San Marino