On the occasion that the World Rally Championship will probably end in Belgium, I will give a bit of attention to it. And also to one woman from there whose car you see in the photo of this post. So, Rallye Sprint du Trefle.
The Ypres Rally has been among the most famous events in Europe for some time, thus attracting the compilers of the ERC or British Rally Championship calendars. So it is time for the WRC flags to fly in the western part of the country. Ypres usually takes place more or less in the summer, and the autumn-wet and rugged closing of the season belonged to the equally famous Rallye du Condroz. But it looks like it will be wet and windy all season, as the Belgians started rallying after quarantine quite recently and turned all championship events into late fall. The diversity of roads in the country is strongly offset by the variety of the car fleet. The championship can accommodate everything from the R5 and old WRC to exotic Porsche, Nissan 350Z, or even more interesting cars. However, with roads, the situation is worse, but only maybe in terms of diversity. Belgium is a small country with fairly flat terrain, so many of the roads used for the rally can be described like this: a narrow asphalt country road stretching near small towns and farms, and in the intervals between them – endless cultivated areas with a variety of vegetation, and pastures. Those roads have an infinite variety of intersections. Those intersections, like other turns, are very often cut by racers. Therefore, after a certain number of cars, in some places, it is possible to find asphalt only with the help of a shovel. Adding rain, fog, and darkness to the various nuances of those roads not yet mentioned, we get a real Belgian challenge. If anyone has been following the 2019 ERC Hungarian Rally, then I think there will be something similar here and there will be no fewer surprises than in Turkey, which has just ended.
Now about more positive and beautiful things. Women are still a rarity in the world of rallying as the main driver, although not a single one has proven that they become no worse than men when it comes to driving. And here in Belgium, there is one that has earned the respect of this sporting society in Belgium. And not unnecessarily. After receiving the rally virus from her father, Mellisa Debackere sat in a rally car in 2002. After training with Citroen Saxo in Belgium and neighboring countries for a couple of years, this girl has been driving extremely serious equipment since 2004. The whole of Belgium found out about her at the end of 2008, as two participants – Mellisa Debackere with Toyota Corolla WRC and Hubert Deferm with Subaru Impreza S10 WRC – applied for the title of a national champion before the last event in Rallye du Condroz. Then Mellissa was overwhelmed by the Belgian media because the rally champion woman would have been a sensation. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen, Hubert finished second and Mellisa only fifth. That was enough for Deferm to win the championship over one point. But the Belgian women didn’t give up and continued to pursue the title with both the Toyota Corolla WRC and the Toyota Celica GT-Four and even the Subaru Impreza S12 WRC. She came closer to the goal in 2013, when with the Peugeot 207 S2000 and a couple of events with the Celica GT-Four, she was second again this season, slower only to the legendary Freddy Loix, who was driving a Ford Focus WRC ’08. Having replaced countless cars in fourteen years, since 2016 Mellisa is now driving only the Škoda Fabia R5 in various major and smaller rallies in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. It is worth mentioning that for most of her career, the duties of a co-pilot for the crew were also performed by women. In 184 career starts, Mellisa has achieved 19 victories. So I wish her for a 20th.
And now briefly about the Rallye Sprint du Trefle itself. The four-leaf clover, a symbol of this rally, probably attracted Irish air. It was wet, dirty, the pile participants underestimated the braking points and the grip, so they found themselves in vain of the meadows and soils. Of the three R5 cars that started, only Mellisa reached the finish line and won the event. One special stage was stopped because veteran Philippe Dewulf, who won the rally twice, had an extremely severe accident with a Škoda Fabia R5 and was seriously injured.
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Photo – Lorick Jacquemin