Rallying action returned last weekend in Italy, the first country to suffer massive Covid-19 deaths pandemic, a sign that the sport will thrive in coming days after four months of inaction.
Rally Di Roma Capitale, the opening round of the European Championship, concluded last Sunday after three days of action around the seaside resort of Ostia and the popular stages of Pico and also far south east of Fiuggi.
Sections were closed for fans, but millions followed the action on television and podcasts.
Competitors and officials underwent Covid-19 tests and doctors monitored those who had to undergo body temperature tests continuously.
The rally was won by Alexey Lukyanuk, navigated by Dmitry Eremeev, of Russia in a Citroen C3 R5. They were followed by last year’s winner Giandomenico Basso (VW Polo R5), some 16.1 seconds behind.
Oliver Solberg, son of the 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg, was third in his first ever asphalt rally in a similar car.
Although there were mishaps in the competition after organisers shifted from asphalt to tarmac in some stages, the rally was incident-free, from a medical standpoint, proving that with social distancing and testing, the World Rally Championship (WRC), that stalled in March due to Covid-19 fears, will be concluded successfully this year.
The Italian rally - 800 kilometres long of which 168 was competitive - was the first of the six-round European Championship announced in June and counted towards the FIA ERC2 and FIA ERC3 championships as well as the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams.
The rally also confirmed how drivers have maintained their physical and mental fitness during the forced exile from action.
“Probably, I even drove differently in general. During this forced break, thanks to physical and mental training, I began to see the road in a different way, there were fewer surprises on it, a very clear perception of the stage, corners, pace notes appeared,” said Alexey.
“We didn’t make any mistakes. It was a faultless driving at a good pace from the very first special stage. There was no extreme or impulse to win all fractions of a second: we increased the advantage, and then we drove clearly, confidently, and reliably.”
This brings us back to the future of not only sport, but rallying in a world uncertain of what next as Covid-19 continues to bite.
Television will certainly play a big role, as it has been since the arrival of SuperSport in Kenya from 1995 when fans left stadia action and shifted to television.
For the WRC Safari Rally, this was actualised in 1997 when the BBC gave the first daily highlights beamed across the globe and locally, through KBC.
The Safari Rally enjoyed over 5,000 broadcast minutes in over 150 television stations by 2002 when the then WRC promotion company, ISC, embraced digital technology, thereby bringing the action closer to the fans who did not need to line the roadsides or travel long distances to watch.
Next year’s Safari Rally will be more television-driven, whether or not Covid-19 will still be with us.
This is also the time for local television stations to take a paradigm shift by concentrating on backmarkers, majority of them Kenyans, who may not meet the cut to be included in the live broadcasts that will concentrate on the top 15 drivers.