With its narrow roads, its corners which are essentially crossroads or direction changes with treacherous apices, the Ypres Rally has so often been the preferred hunting ground of Belgian drivers, familiar with this type of course. The 2018 edition of the rally did not break with tradition, with the clear victory of the current leader in WRC, Thierry Neuville in the modern event, and that of Paul Lietaer in the historic event.
Yet it was a Dutchman, Mats Van Den Brand, who was the first leader among the ‘seniors’, succeeding in surprising the local favourites in the first timed sector, at the wheel of his BMW M3. Despite the reaction of the Belgians in the following sector, the Netherlander maintained the lead in the rally until the fourth special stage, before withdrawing in the sixth due to mechanical problems.
Belgian Stefaan Stouf (Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4) was the main contender, posting all of the best times from the second to the tenth special stage, before suffering a cruel withdrawal in the penultimate stage. Waiting in ambush with his Manta 400 from another era, Paul Lietaer took over the lead and held it until the finish, beating by more than five minutes the BMW M3 of his compatriots Tom Van Rompuy and Danny Kerkhof and by more than eight minutes the Porsche of the Swedes Johnsen.
As the Belgians were not specifically registered in the European Championship, brothers Tim and Steve Jones achieved a good result, finishing tenth in their Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4, but first among the crews in Category 4, earning FIA Championship points. Their result launched them to provisional third place in the Championship, behind Norwegians Jensen-Pedersen and Frenchmen Cazaux-Vilmot. The latter were not present at Ypres, but the Norwegians were, and marked their presence with a splendid third place in mid-rally, an achievement that unfortunately went unrewarded due to a broken suspension, which forced them to withdraw. Also involved in a tight European campaign, the Finns Harri Toivonen (Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4) and Jari Latvala (Toyota Celica GT4) were unable to make it to the finish line, instead being forced to retire early due to a series of mechanical issues.
Fifth in the overall classification at Ypres in their Porsche 911, Karl Wagner and Gerda Zauner won Category 3, 32 seconds ahead of the Hungarian Ferenc Wirtmann (Ford Escort RS). In the provisional Championship classification, the positions were reversed, with Wirtmann remaining leader ahead of Wagner and the Spaniard Ferreiro, who has competed in one less event.
Austria’s Karl Wagner and Gerda Zauner won Category 2 with their Porsche (Photo : Ypres Rally/Ronny Van Parys)
While the victory for drivers entered in Category 2 in the European Championships went to the Belgian Carlo Mylle (Porsche Carrera RS), second position in Ypres to László Mekler and his wife Edit Miko meant the Hungarian couple overtook the American Iain Dobson, who was not in Belgium, for provisional first place in the European Championship classification.
In Category 1, the Italians Antonio Parisi and Giuseppe d’Angelo (Porsche 911 S) continue their unstoppable harvest of victories, even if this time they had to contend with the intentions of Carlo Fiorito (BMW 2002 Ti), leader of the first four special stages in Ypres.
The FIA European Historic Sporting Rally Championship will continue in Finland on 10 and 11 August, with the only gravel rally of the season, the Lahti Historic Rally.
The provisional Championship classification can be consulted via this link.