Come to Monza they said. It will be a basic introduction to rally they said. Maro Engel soon learned however, it was anything but.
The 35-year-old German driver, who has made a name for himself in circuit racing, made his rallying debut last weekend, competing at ACI Rally Monza in a TokSport-prepared Škoda Fabia Rally 2 evo.
“When I started racing with TokSport in the GT Masters, we spoke a lot about their rally programme and kind of joked that at one point, I would come along for a test and drive the car,” Maro Engel told WRC.com.
“Towards the end of the year when it was announced that Rally Monza would become a WRC event, I received a message from the team owner, just with the headline ‘Rally Monza’. I replied: ‘Is this what I think it is?’ He replied: ‘Yeh, let’s talk.’
Given the rally’s base at the fabled Temple of Speed, it was understandable why the rally would have appeal to drivers familiarised with driving on circuits.
“We thought it was a great event to do first up – mainly circuit-based and a Tarmac rally.
“Obviously though, we were pretty much shown something else when we arrived,” MEngel said, laughing. “The going joke was ‘come to Monza, it will be an easy rally’ but it was obviously anything but that.
“Tarmac, concrete, gravel, mud, snow, ice…slush. There was everything in there and to be honest, it really gave me a great insight into driving styles and what you have to be careful of.”
Despite being a complete novice to rallying, Engel’s driving calibre quickly shone through. In the testing conditions which caught out far more seasoned drivers – including championship contender Elfyn Evans – the German impressed with his competitive stage times.
“Overall, the big aim was to finish the rally which was already pretty hard with these conditions, but basically to end up with a top 15 in WRC 3 class and 21st overall was really positive and something nice to take away.”
Engel also relished the opportunity to compare his time to the weekend’s frontrunners, including good friend and rally winner Ogier.
“Sébastien [Ogier] and his wife [Andrea Kaiser] are good friends of ours, as well as Andreas [Mikkelsen] from here in Monaco and Thierry [Neuville] as well,” explained the Monaco-based driver, further hinting at his willingness to get behind the wheel of a rally car.
“It’s impressive the pace the guys at the front are driving at…it’s another skillset doing that with pace notes as opposed to circuit racing when we repeat the track and we try and look for perfection.
“These guys are approaching a corner they have seen twice before then going off their pace notes and the pace is very impressive.”
Having his friend Mikkelsen just ahead of him on the road also paid dividends.
“I just have to thank the whole rallying community. They were all so welcoming and happy to give advice, which was really helpful, especially Andreas being in the same class and just a few cars up the road.
“He was super helpful throughout the weekend with advice and his thoughts on tyre choice and driving styles. It helped accelerate the learning process.”
Tyre choice was something that Norwegian Mikkelsen perfected in his own performance, winning the WRC 3 category.
With a noteworthy debut in the bag, is it likely we will see Engel joining German rallying folklore, alongside Walter Röhrl and Armin Schwarz?
“We’ll see. I will let it sink in and maybe if the opportunity rises again in the future maybe I will give it a go. I would certainly not exclude it but right now the plan is to focus back on circuit racing and the new season ahead.”