The Belgian rally season traditionally kicks off with the Legend Boucles de Spa. In fact it has marked the beginning of each season since 1953, when it was named ‘Rallye des Routes Blanches.’ After 2004 the rally was no longer part of the Belgian and European Rally Championship, however it has become one of the best historic rallies in Europe.
The rally made its comeback in 2006, and since then the historic rally cars have been attracting thousands of car enthusiasts from all over Europe in the Belgian Ardennes.
Year after year, the infamous Belgian weather and tricky stages make this rally a challenge for both man and machine. Nothing else to expect this year.
This year’s edition was marked by major changes and modifications. The main organisation, Rally-Center, as well as the Parc Fermé moved from Spa to the the town of Bastogne, situated in the hearth of the Ardennes. The change in location allowed the organisations to select new stages, including some that had never been used before.
The stages delivered great diversification for both drivers and spectators. Nearly a third of the stages were held on gravel roads, and nobody was disappointed. These changes had to be reflected in a new name, the Legend Boucles de Spa is now the Legend Boucles à Bastogne. But all this couldn’t scare anyone off. On the contrary an impressive number of 221 teams took part this year. The participatants could enter one of two possible classifications: In the ‘’Classic’’ category you have to complete the stages with an average speed of 50km/h, in the ‘’Legend’’ category you have to finish with an average of 80 km/h.
Like every year the rally attracted the “Crème de la Crème” of the rally world, Belgian legends Marc Duez, Robert Droogmans, Patrick Snijers and Bruno Thiry all entered competition. Well-sounding names like like McRae or Alén were not missing either. Finnish rally legend Markku Alén, who once held the record for most stage wins in the World Rally Championship, participated in a beautiful original Fiat Abarth 131 Gr.4.
After their two wins at the Legend Boucles de Spa, back in 2013 and 2014, former WRC driver François Duval and Anthony Bourdeud’hui wrote history with their win at the first edition of the Legend Boucles à Bastogne. This year’s edition was an enormous popular success, some extra drama was provided by the unpredictable winterly conditions.
Early Saturday the rally started on snow covered and icy roads. Ford Escort Mk II driver Raphäel de Borman started first thanks to his strong performance on the Prologue stage the day before. Unfortunately, Markku Alén had to retire with a broken transmission after just two stages. Alén was very displeased by the performance of Milano Racing who prepared the Fiat.
It was only a matter of time for the snow to melt and local hero François Duval, who was only seventh after the Prologue, fought his way to the top of the rankings. The stages on Saturday morning were mostly fast, and Duval managed to tackle the stages in a perfection only known to Swiss timekeepers. But not only was the driver’s performance outstanding, his Ford Escort RS1800 BDA has also been an integral component of the successful team. The dry sumped BDG 1993cc BDG engine, outputting over 265BHP at 8750RPM, delivered more than enough power at all times. No need to talk about the sound of the wonderful, historic Escort!
“I really had fun on this superb new course,” commented Duval, one of the few who had stuck to the rules and didn’t do any reconnaissance before the event. “At first, it was difficult to make a difference on the overly fast section. Even on a very tricky course with sleet and snow, we sometimes had to stop for a minute before the end of the stage. This is my only regret. For the rest, I was only a bit worried when an injection problem forced us to push more. In the end everything was vibrating…”
Relegated to 32th place on Friday following a mistake by his co-pilot, Bernard Munster impressed with his ascent on the third step of the podium.
Fourth, Florian and Carolane Jupsin (Escort) have been the revelations of this edition.
Excellent performance also from local Romuald Thirion (Opel Ascona), seventh stuck between the Porsche 911s’ of Marc Duez and Patrick Snijers, and the Ford Escort MKIs’ of Fred Bouvy and François de Spa.
Robert Droogmans finished on the excellent 14th position with his small Citroën Visa Gr.B, Citroën Racing boss Yves Matton and his co-driver Daniel Elena finished 23th with their beautiful Porsche 911.
In the the Classic class it was a victory for Christophe Berteloot and Frédéric Cancel, with 4.70 points ahead of the R5 Alpine of Piraux-Monard.