The 49th Mecsek Rally in South-West Hungary turned up with a relatively small field, but the Historic European Championship still had some machines to witness.
The cambered, flowing roads of the Mecsek mountain - as the most Northern outpost of anything of a Mediterranean climate - may be a far cry from the hairpins of the Col de Turini of Monte Carlo Rally fame, it can still be quite a spectacle to watch a decent rally. If for nothing else, the variety of cars turning up for such events make rallies like this a desirable one. Alongside the local grid of veteran Ladas, Trabants, Skodas, Wartburgs and anything the late communism managed to churn out of its factories, some of their Western contemporaries pay their annual visit as well. Ford Escorts, Porsches, Alfa Romeos and the lot all making a spectacle before the current gunslingers take the stage.
It seems even more weird when one considers half the field consisting of Ladas and Mitsubishi Lancers. But for the greater deal of the audience, it is always the Lada winning.
That said, I attempted to find a decent spectators’ point before a slow turn to potentially witness some handbrake turns. Thank goodness, it was the only day without rain as the weather has been unusually wet in these last couple of days and although a die-hard anorak is not daunted by a splash of water from the skies or from the road, it can still ruin a good barbecue in the forest.
Because that’s the thing with rallies. It’s an event, there’s nothing like it apart from the general enclosure areas of endurance racing with everybody creating their own spectating point. Caravans are parked, plastic cups for some short drinks are quickly prepared, fire ignited, bacon pierced on sticks. Every time you are near to such an enclosure, you are surely walking into a realm of some amazing stories passed around.
You don’t need earplugs, there’s one car passing by, running on the inside of the banking, skidding on the floor against the tarmac, turbo rattling, car’s rear is flung to the outside of the corner, tyre gently chirping, flames shooting from the exhaust pipe, leaves flying in the air, some comments are made from ex-rally drivers and the general discussion goes on for another minute.
The only case attention is raised high when an unusual engine note is heard from the distance, especially if that’s a two-stroke. People are smiling and wave the Trabant racing by, eventually shouting “Respect the speed!” as the break pedal is the biggest enemy of these vehicles.
Also, when something extremely loud is approaching. Like the time a series of explosions muted the rising engine note of the Group A Lancia Delta Integrale leaping into frame. Fitted with Martini colours, this is SEGA Rally coming to life for the many who had little or any chance seeing these cars rallying for real.
Drama is imminent with this car, and the sound of the fuel burning away in the exhaust could be still heard from far away, long after the car disappeared from sight.
But it’s all about the VFTS’s. The ultimate fan-favourite car, the Lada VFTS is one of the last remains of the fabulous Group B era. Not being on the top of the Group B ladder system - as they sported engines of smaller displacements - these cars managed to survive the widespread ban of said category internationally. Exact replicas of the originals are still built today and with the only, quite recent shutdown of the production of the Lada 2107 in Russia - but not in Egypt, apparently - the VFTS rally cars will surely be around for a couple of decades more as the last of the Group B cars. It is only ironic that the Fiat 124 - the car from the 60s the Lada is based on - is about to be reintroduced in its Spider trim as a rebadged Mazda Miata/MX5. The jokes are inevitable.
The Fiat 124’s late successor, the 131 made an introduction as well. The Abarth version was forever immortalized as was driven by the likes of Markku Alén and Walter Röhrl and certainly. There is just something absolutely fabulous about Italian rally cars and it is a real shame that Lancia is more likely to vanish from existence. Luckily, apart from the Delta, a Fulvia is also here to help matters a bit.
It’s only a shame this brand so synonymous with rallying has to go this way.