The Eifel Rallye Festival is a time capsule containing the best from the past decades of the sport, and every year the cars come out of storage to churn some earth again. There’s little better than having nice vantage point to watch rally legends being released into the lush green forests and fields of the volcanic Eifel Mountains.
The temptation of the Festival is a strong one, and was not lost on me as I headed to the event’s epicenter, the town of Daun, Germnay. Each year the festival has a specific theme; in 2017 it was the celebration of the past “Six Decades of Rallying.” I’m not sure if that’s a theme or just a general celebration of the muddiest form of motorsport, but I know I’m not complaining when it brings a turnout like this.
The sixties is often considered the birth of the modern rallying, and for good reason; this is the decade when long distance trials turned into speed tests with measured sections, service teams appeared, and rally driving became a bonafide profession. It was also the decade when the role of the co-driver saw drastic changes in purpose. Seeing the mind-bending speeds of today’s WRC cars, it is hard to imagine how things worked in the old times. Until the end of the 1950s, co-drivers more or less kept track of average speed. Even though teams were racing on public roads—a rally often covered close to a thousand kilometers—pace notes were actually largely unheard of back then. The pioneer of the modern notes system was Denis Jenkinson, co-driver of Sir Stirling Moss on the 1955 Mille Miglia.
So we know that rallying made a seismic shift during the ‘60s, but where and how did this happen? Well, in 1961, the Rallye Monte Carlo started on closed sections for the first time, but the timed results were modified by a coefficient relating to each car’s performance capabilities. It was the heyday of the Minis, before the it was all about hunting for seconds against the timer, which arguably began in 1968 when the Vic Elford/David Stone/Porsche 911T trio were the fastest up the legendary Col de Turini. After this turning point, the world of rallying started to evolve into the “pedal to the metal” form of racing we know it as today.
At some points in the sport’s history, this evolution of speed overtook the development of the rule book. I think you know which era I’m referring to. In the 1980s, the speed of the cars overtook the speed of the rules’ amendments, and the infamous Group B was born. Surrounded by tragedies accompanying the frantic pace these new all-wheel drive forced-induction cars, it is a decade that still sticks in our heads as the craziest in an already wild sport. It was a decade in which the World Rally Championship was just as famous as Formula 1, a decade which every rally fan worships to this day. There are only a handful of events now where ex-Group B cars are allowed to tackle the stages again, and the Eifel Rallye Festival is one of the best for this.
Aside from the Group B heroes, this year’s event presented the evolution of rallying through a lineup of iconic cars in the discipline, with vehicles like the 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint, the oldest car among this year’s participants, and the 2017 Hyunday i20 WRC, driven by today’s star, Thierry Neuville.
Except for the absence of timed results, the Eifel Rallye Festival is organized like a real rally event, with special stages, shakedowns, time control, service parks, etc. Everything is set for the perfect live history lesson for all the spectators and participants, and among them you could find rally legends like Hannu Mikkola (WRC Champion in ’83) and Stig Blomqvist (WRC Champion in ’84), driving their original cars no less.
And for those somehow still unsatisfied with last year’s sensational Audi Group S monster (which would have likely replaced Group B had it not been for the Toivonen accident which put an end to Group B and the proposed Group S), the 2017 edition of the Eifel saw the debut of one of the two Toyota MR-2-based Group S prototypes, which moved for the first time in front of an audience.
We can’t be thankful enough to Reinhard Klein and to the whole organizing team behind the Festival for turning this small piece of the globe each year into three days of rallying heaven. This event is a must attend for sideways racing enthusiasts, and as two-times German Rally Champion, Harald Demuth said, “If all else fails, I will come with a bicycle.”