Three go off in Wales
A road trip such as this would require a strong and nimble beast. A car with power steering, gripping tyres, and reliable brakes would be necessary to match our capable driver. The gravel roads of
It was with this in mind that we smiled wryly at the steed before us: a clapped out Renault minus interior light, several hubcaps and decorated with key scratches.
“It’s got a CD player in it,” said Basil Fawlty enthusiastically – the owner of Alternative (read “Dodgy”) Rentacar. A last minute booking meant that we were left with Fawlty’s “reserve car”, while his son was bundled out of the car, and left stranded on the road side yelling “I’ve got to be somewhere in ten minutes.”
But the car seemed somehow appropriate for the abuse it was going to take and besides it was on a Friday night. Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Petter Solberg and more had already exited the rally and we needed to get to
So with a few lies about our age:
about our destination, “so you guys up to
and about our intent for his car,
we were off to
Well not so fast. First there was the problem of finding reverse, a necessary gear, particularly when parked across the breadth of a narrow through road with nowhere to go but into the side of parked cars. There it is. No that was it. No move the gear shift backward then lift up, at the same time, blow through your left nostril and tap your right foot. Rally drivers only go forward apparently. Then a quick trip through north London, a detour through Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire… as we approached Stonehenge we decided to swing a big right and get back on track for Wales.
The Renault proved a beast in
Our accommodation that night was a lovely seaside hotel in Penarth. Cynan was already there testing the draft flowed well and with that and a bottle of wine under our belts, we retired for the night giggling like teenagers on a school camp until sleep overwhelmed us.
The intention had been for an early morning rise. But the f*cking loud obtrusive hideous alarm that Chris had set failed to wake him with its fog horn-like noise and none of us had a packet of frozen peas handy to get him out of bed (an old co-driver trick for waking service crews apparently) Similarly, without our nav telling us what to do we all felt a little lost, and more inclined to sleep a little longer.
When we did hit the road we decided to head straight to the service park. It was easy to find, as we came over the crest and into the approaching roundabout, we were only metres away from the colourful tents and the growling noises of the
Service Parks are usually about changing gearboxes and grooving tyres but rallying is a big business in a nation suited to anorak and bobble hat wearing, so the park was littered with stalls selling jackets, scarves, badges, coasters and small Eastern European children emblazoned with the team of your choice. Three trips to the car later (and they say women can shop!) and the boys were ready to get under the bonnets of cars.. after a few pitstops to take promotional material from the hands of the Pirelli, Michelin, Ford and Subaru gals. I don’t know why the teams employ beautiful women to give away promotional stuff as I swear the guys didn’t look at them once other to see what goodies they were proffering. I did think at one time that
Highlights of the service park included: changing Mark Higgins’ Focus’ gearbox; Roman Kresta’s wreck of a Skoda; coming a breath away from being mowed down by Gregoire de Mevius’s Peugeot; and holding the jackets, coffee, flags and purchases of the boys while they took photos and ran in circles like Jack Russells.
Under the groaning weight of our purchases (that’s the “spare wheel” groaning – not just the Renault) we headed off for our first bit of rally action – SS12 Trawscoed. Chris had studied the Ordanance Survey maps with a diligence that can only be attributed to a co-driver and had worked out a top spectator spot. Specatating in the
And then the Gods got angry. Carlos Sainz had an accident on the previous stage, taking a right turn instead of a left and ploughing into a radio control and a heap of spectators. Two Medivacs were on their way, and the FIA were checking every spectator position on the following stages. Our friendly
The bitter sound of agony and despair echoed across the Welsh hills. And that was just Chris. Beanies pulled down over our bottom lips, we hoped in vain that the cars at least would run the stage at road pace. It was not our day. Amongst jibes of “how much were your airline tickets guys?!” we found no choice but to retreat.
It was on to Abergavany to find our accommodation in the famous
might seem like an early start but when you’ve come all this way to have a stage cancelled on you, nothing is early enough. Sitting in the carpark for our first stage of the day, with lesser cars than Escorts and Subarus sinking into the boggy mud around us, and smart packs of spectators spreading tarpaulins between cars to make shelter, we found we were not alone. Breakfast was being cooked on camping stoves and there was a feeling of camaraderie and insanity abounding. At one point, someone tested their airhorn starting a cacophony of car horns and tunes from around the spectator point.
We spectated at two stages that day – and both times were lucky to not have to take Chris’s idea of hacking through the woods with a leatherman and a mini mag-lite. On the first stage, Chris went to check out what lay over the crest, and Adrian and I found satisfaction in a spectator corner. As Marcus Gronholm came bearing down upon us,
At the next spectator point, Chris again led an expedition across the Welsh hills, punctuated by fireworks on a background of constantly drizzling rain. It was a brilliant spectator point where we could hear the cars approaching long before they came into view, watch them fly down a straight, and over some gentle bumps. We were soaked to the skin, with rain permeating every little gap in our clothing, and gloves and beanies useless. But it was all worth it to see Burnsie come flying down the straight and get air on the bumps before leaving us breathless and grinning madly waiting for the next car (despite how much Chris wanted to see him go off and miss out on the Championship!)
Satisfied, we headed back to
Burnsie was wiping down his car and sticking World Rally Champion stickers across it and bag pipes were blaring to remind us that Robert was a Scotsman. It was a pretty special moment. We let Chris stand in the mud a while more then decided it was time to join the 72,000 rugby spectators try and find their way out of Cardiff. Hours later… we were still doing it.
Our first WRC spectator trip was virtually over and there were promises to do Monte together, talk of
But it’s what makes it all worthwhile…