When I was a young, rallying was everything. My fathers keen interest in the sport undoubtedly rubbed off on a young Ross and my days after school were spent playing with Burago 1/43 scale rally cars, building miniature stages around the house.
In school, all the kids talked non-stop about their idols like Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, but for me it was Colin McRae and Petter Solberg. These guys were my heroes growing up, and seeing their cars up close and personal at Rally Legend was like standing in Camp Nou in the early 2000's.
Held entirely within the small confines of the Republic of San Marino, Rally Legend is simply a celebration of the rally car. Stage timing is vague, there is no real order or itinerary 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 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 San Marino Olympic Stadium while others find various lay-bys and carparks to setup their service vehicles. Fully liveried Fiat Ducato vans surround Delta Integrales on axle stands outside small cafes and shops providing a scene straight out of the late nineties.
Thursdays ‘timed challenge’ was the first taste of action, taking place on the roads just outside the service park. It takes the form of a super special stage with plenty of opportunity for donuts and big skids around roundabouts and hay-bale chicanes.
The next day was when the proper action began, followed by a weekend of enjoyment on the most beautiful ribbons of tarmac I've ever come across. The roads were stunning, snaking their way through the countryside with extreme elevation changes. On Friday evening the first stages of the event climbed 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.
Typically at events like these, the Group-B era steal 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 to the point of explosion. The sheer ignorance of a Type RA Impreza on launch is something else.
These are the cars I grew up dreaming about but never got to see, and events like Rally Legend give us nerds the opportunity to re-live the past for a weekend at a time each year.
For the rally fan, this event is not just recommended, it's a non-negotiable 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 hap-hazard 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.