96 Uren van Ieper Rally – 96 hours of Ypres! How to do the WRC on a diet of beer coffee and no sleep

The historic name for last weekend’s Ypres Rally Belgium is the 24 Uren van Ieper Rally or the 24 Hours of Ypres Rally.

Its title changed in 1997 but Kerry Motorsport News is both a fan of the past and the present so we present you with the 9 6Uren van Ieper Rally.

From the time I left home in Tralee to my return to the front door, exactly 96 hours had elapsed.

A lot happened at that time. Sleep was not high on the agenda.

Here is the timeline of my 96 Uren van Ieper Rally – the good, the mad and the reality.

Thursday, August 12

Hour 1: 12.00

Departure for Kerry airport, using the new Ryanair Kerry to Dublin connection, it was my first visit to the local airport since December 2019.

Hour 2: 13.00

Nice to see, first hand all the nice improvements in the departure lounge of KIR

Hour 3: 14.00

Arrived in Dublin airport ahead of schedule

Hour 4 15.00

It is necessary to exit Dublin airport and return to the departure gates via security. Plenty of time to do this for future reference as Dublin airport is nowhere near as busy as it used to be.

Hour 5 16.00

Check-in was painless – you need both a boarding card and your COVID-19 vac-cert but the whole procedure was straightforward

Hour 6 17.00

In the sky

Hour 7 18.00

Clocks move forward one hour in Belgium – but I will have to pay this back on return

Hour 8 19.00

Passport control was painless. They did keep my Belgium COVID-19 locator form.

The car hire office closed but a notice, written in French, directed me towards the collection point. Smugly delighted with myself after understanding the notice – the lockdown French lessons were paying off

Hour 9 20.00

Driving to Ypres along roads I had travelled many times before. It did not prevent the traditional first mistake in a left-hand drive car and I turned into the wrong side of the road after a motorway exit. Copped the error straight away and it never happened again all weekend.

Hour 10 21.00

Arrived in Ypres. Fell out with the SatNav at this point. I needed to get to the media parking next to the Novotel but many city-centre streets were closed due to the rally and it kept pointing me back to barriers and marshals. If you want a stress test try driving a left-hand drive car, in a strange city with narrow streets while reading a map…

Hour 11 22.00

Booked into Hotel Gasthof ‘t Zweerd on Ypres main square and within ten metres of the entrance to the service park. In and out job, was in town within minutes.

Hour 12 23.00

After a fast-food meal, the compulsory Belgian Frites, it was time to visit an old friend.

Friday 13 2400

Phillip owns the 12 Apostles Pub just off the main square. It is a “where locals drink” and not a tourist venue

He remembered me, the last time I was there in 2019 I told Phillip I would be back later in the weekend with the event winners. He did not believe me, full of Belgian Leffe as I was but Saturday evening Craig Breen and Paul Nagle arrived at the door and we have been friends since.

Hour 15 01.00

Closing time is at 1 am, at which time the ashtrays were produced, the international code for a lock-in

Hour 16 02.00

The lock-in community was made up of a band of locals and a group of French rally fans.

Hour 17 03.00

A local couple needed to get home after a fine feed of red wine. The husband was blind so his wife led him safely out the door and towards home. A few minutes later, the group of locals sitting near the window left out a big cheer. The couple passed the door, on a tandem bicycle, herself steering and himself, the rear gunner, on pedal duty. True love!

Hour 18: 04:00

What goes hand-in-hand with a lock-in? A sing-song of course! One of the regulars took over the piano and those of us who were left were treated to a feast of Billy Joel tunes.

Hour 19 05:00

Left the 12 Apostles, stopping off at the Menin Gate, before returning to the hotel.

Hour: 20 06:00

Sleeping

Hour 21 07.00

Sleeping

Hour 22 08:00

Up and at it, but down on power but after a gallon of coffee for breakfast I was almost good to go

Hour 23 09:00

Wandered the streets of Ypres to take in the atmosphere of both the rally and this historic town

Hour 24 10.00

A text message from Paul Nagle “Where are you?” We agreed to meet at the Novatel where we had a brief chat about that morning’s shakedown and what lay ahead for the day.

Hour25 11.00

Invited to a friend, Maxine Froyman’s house for a barbecue. He lives on the Zonnebeck stage, at the famous flying crossroads, and I needed to be there before the road closed at 1300hrs. Stopped off at a Spar just outside Ypres for supplies. A total spend of 79euros would keep any Irish man happy in booze supplies except there was also three packets of cigarettes in the picnic box. Arrived Chez Fryomen before noon

Hour 26 12

As so it started. The first bottle of Jupiler crossed my lips just a few short minutes after noon. It set the tone for the next 12 hours

Hour 27 1300

Irish rallying meets Belgian rallying. I decided at this point, and before things got really out of hand,to give my three Belgian rally fans a gift. I presented them with a copy of Michael O’Mahony’s Icons of Irish Rallying.

Hour 28 1400

More and more people started to arrive at Maxine’s house for the rally party. The whole group was tuned to WRC Plus via a host of laptops and ipads scattered around the garage

It was clear that this rally was going to be all about Ypres experience. Thierry Neuville against Craig Breen. The Belgian man against the Irishman. I felt I had crossed enemy lines.

Hour 29 1500

It was time to leave the house and walk through the fields to the far side of the jump at the flying crossroads. At this stage, we were “moving nicely” after our early morning work of moving a few crates of Jupiler. But the whole crew transported a further consignment of beers to the field.

Hour 30 1600

Rally passed without incident. Well, the rally cars did. A few of our crew were suffering in the heat and there were a few blown head gaskets in the area. The police were there too, thankfully not for us, but to remove a few fans who were after getting too close to the stage edge. They take no crap out there

Hour 31 17.00

Back to the house for more beer and food and await the second passage of the rally. Things were getting loud and messy at this stage.

Hour 32 18:00

More live WRC plus by in the backyard and more beer and barbecue food. An interesting observation occurred here and showed a slight difference in Belgian culture.

As stated earlier, I arrived at the party with enough beer for myself and extra to share around. I was the only person to bring beer. The other guests did not bring anything but when Mrs Froymen took out her notebook, every person there gave her 30eu to cover the day’s food and drink.

Hour 33 19.00

Feck Oasis. You will have to ask Steve and Julie about this.

Hour 34 20.00

Text message from Paul Nagle – stage cancelled! Not our fault I hasten to add but spectators were not playing ball with the marshals.

Hour35 21.00

We decided to give Breen and Nagle a passage they will never forget

Remember the man that does not like Oasis, that is him mooning to the Irish crew.

Hour 36 22.00

Officially full. Julie and I engaged in some random conversation about mountain climbing in Italy and Ireland – considering we were in the flattest part of Europe it did not make sense but that is what I remember of it

Hour 37 23.00

Officially over full and in danger of spilling

Hour 38 00.00

Taxi! Back to the hotel full as a bingo bus

SATURDAY 

Hour 39 02.00

Sleeping

Hour 40 03.00

Sleeping

Hour 41 04:00

Sleeping

Hour 42 5:00

Sleeping

Hour 43 06:00

Sleeping

Hour 44 07:00

Up, and not firing on all four cylinders

Hour 45 08:00

Coming around – realised my hire car was still in Zonnebeck

Hour 46 09:00

Searching in vain for a taxi to return me to the abandoned car

Hour 47 10:00

Eventually found a taxi firm willing to take on the project. 25 EU later I was reunited with Avis.

Hour 58 11.00

I was in contact with yesterday’s gang who told me they were on the Hollebecke stage beside the Renties VIP stand. “You should try and sneak in,” said a text message from the Italian mountain climbing Julie. Challenge accepted

Hour 49 12.00

On arrival at the Hollebecke stage, as I was trying to park, (left-hand drive, hungover and narrow road) I met one member of yesterday’s party who informed me he and another friend were walking to the nearest shop for cigarettes. “Dude, it’s 5km to the nearest shop – I can drive”

The shop was closed so we drove another 5k to a Lotto Shop (wasn’t he lucky) and bought the remaining supply of Pall Mall. We also bought soft drinks and snacks for the marshals manning the approach road to the junction on the stage

Hour 50 13:00

We enjoyed the best of Renties hospitality – some of the gang had not cheated, like me, last night, and were still on it, nearing 24 hours of partying at this stage.

Hour 51 14:00

The stage is live. Just ahead of it we read that Breen is towing the party line. The rally, as a contest,is over

Hour 52 15:00

Time to say goodbye to my Belgian rally friends.They want to stay on the beer. I want to get to either the Watou or Messen stage.

The heat, 32 degrees, was not agreeing with my hangover either

Hour 53 16:00

An easy spin to Messen

Hour 54 17:00

Followed by a nice feed of frites in the village

Hour 55 18:00

Managed to poke my way into a junction with five or six other locals. Nice easy viewing as Breen cut a corner in the centre of the village

Hour 56: 19:00

Back in Ypres, a quick chat with Paul Nagle on the day’s efforts. I promised him I would be at the stop car of the PowerStage on Sunday. He was away to bed, at 19.30 on a Saturday night. Ain’t no rock n roll lifestyle here but, then again, the first car is due out of Parc Ferme at 05:00hrs tomorrow morning

Hour 57 20:00

Bumped into Conor O’Neill in the town square

Whiled away an hour or so discussing the day

Hour 58 21:00hrs

Back to the hotel for a tinker’s shower. We agreed to meet in the Milano restaurant in the town square at 10 pm

I had to change rooms at this point, I hedged my bets on staying in Ypres or moving to a new hotel near Spa. The former won but at least I had a room with a view.

Hour 59 22:00

Dinner at last

Hour 60 23:00

Time to go on the beer. Yes, I know I was expected to get up at 5 am

Hour 61 24:00

Back in the 12 Apostles

SUNDAY

Hour 62 01:00

Left the 12 Apostles aware that one more beer would put an end to the trip to Spa in few hours time

Hour 63: 02:00

Sleeping

Hour 64: 03:00

Sleeping

Hour 65: 04:00

Sleeping

Hour 66: 05:00

Up and at it but totally shattered already!

Hour 67: 06:00

The car park was locked. I went to the hotel reception to explain the situation. I was led out a back door of the hotel to the car park and was able to open to gate from the inside.

I spent a few minutes at the car, sorting out a SatNav to get me to Spa and rearranging phone chargers etc.

I drove to the gate where I met a security guard. “How did you open this gate, it is not possible without a key,” she roared.

“It clearly is,” I said. I am not sure exactly what she said over the next five minutes but she was not a happy bunny.

Hour 68 07:00

Motorway driving, I need a coffee. I need food. Truck Stop!

Hour 69 08:00

Onwards to Spa

Hour 70 09:00

Trackside at Spa, against all odds

Here is a video of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle heading down the back straight

Hour 71: 10:00

Snooping around a re-group control at Spa, was merely practice for later in the day

Hour 72 11:00

A long walk across the entire Spa complex to get to the end of the PowerStage. Promise kept!

Hour 73: 12:00

Sitting in the grandstand ahead of the power stage

Hour 74 13:00

Managed to get past security and into the finish podium celebrations. Met both Paul and Craig and was one of the first Irish people to meet them following their impressive run

Hour 75 14:00

Another long way back to the car to prepare for the long drive to Brusells airport

Hour 76 15:00

Stopped off at the traditional Friter near Spa for possibly my last sampling of Belgian fries for a while – but I did try very hard and without success to get more at a later point

Hour 77 16:00

Motorway driving is boring in any country. I nearly dozed off. I had decided that I need a coffee stop as soon as possible.

In an effort to wake up I wanted to open the windows. Bear in mind, I am in a left-hand-drive car, I put down my right hand to find the window switch – located exactly where it would be in my own car only to pull on the electrical handbrake switch.

There was a lot of smoke out of the rear tyres and sideways across three or four lanes of traffic. I was wide awake after that gathering match.

Hour 78 1700

In the village of Zwevegem  next to Brussels airport in search of a car valeting service. Hire cars always go back in better condition than we get them

Hour 79 1800

Eventually found one – 25 euros for and an inside and outside job

Hour 80 19:00

Dropped back the car to Avis. In my efforts to find the shuttle bus to the airport I bumped into Scott Martin and Julian Ingrassia. I told them I was in search of a good navigator to find the bus stop in the sprawling complex that is Brussels airport.

Hour 81 20:00

Booked into the Crowne Plazza at the airport, the same hotel that Paul and Craig were staying in

Hour 82 21:00

Breen and Nagle and the extended Breen family, including his parents Ray and Jackie, were staying at the same hotel and I joined them after their dinner

Hour 83 22:00

“Are we going to town,” says Nagle

Hour 84 23:00

We are in town

MONDAY

Hour 85 24:00

Still in town. Yours truly found the only open bar in the city centre

Hour 86 01:00

Party on

Hour 87 02:00

Still in town but it is time to bail

Hour 88 03:00

Our taxi into town cost 25eu , our return cost 60 because I made the driver drive around until he found an open kebab house. He failed.

Hour 89 04:00

Sleeping

Hour 90 05:00

Sleeping

Hour 90 06:00

The first phone call from Paul at 6:30, its time to get moving

Hour 91: 7:00

Breakfast and taxi

Hour 92: 8:00

Airport

Hour 93: 9:00

Boarding

Hour 94: 10:00

Flying

Hour 95: 11:00

Dublin Airport

Hour 96: 12:00

Boarding for Kerry flight and flying

Back in Kerry and in the door at home by 13:30

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