Written June 2022
When I graduated college in 2018, my father decided he’d celebrate by taking me to a F1 grand prix later that year. With limited race options and ticket prices climbing to eyewatering prices, we both agreed we’d head to a round of the WRC instead and I tell you what, I’m more than glad we did. October came, 4 days standing in pissing rain and muddy ditches of North Wales and I fell in love with the WRC all over again.
A year later and I’m sat in Dublin Port waiting to board a sailing for Holyhead. The Thursday night super special stage is playing on my phone and I’m absolutely hyped for a weekend at Wales Rally GB. This time, I’m on my own and the car is packed full of camera equipment. I’ve never shot the WRC before but I can’t wait to give it a crack.
Friday morning arrives and with absolutely zero sleep, I’m heading to the stages at dog hour, no sign of the sun rising for at least a few hours. The first stage on my schedule is the second stage of the rally and I’m in position. Minutes later, the unmistakable roar of world rally car echos through the forest and Ott Tanak blasts into view, pitching the Yaris WRC right, then left over a crest and away out of view.
There are no words to describe the feeling when one of these cars pass at jaw dropping speed. I’ve watched plenty of YouTube clips but none portray the raw aggression that is felt in reality. They are absolutely brutal in how they attack the road, all four wheels clawing for traction on the loose, wet surface sending rocks and dirt flying in all directions.
With mid-day service approaching, I’m keen to catch another stage before mid-day service so I high-tail it to SS5 Aberhirnant just as the stage starts. Sadly and thanks to some brain dead spectators, this stage is cancelled for safety reasons after the fourth or fifth car, a disappointment after making the effort to get there.
Back in the car and back to Bets-y-Coed for the second run of SS6 Elsi after lunch, I’m at a different location, a sweeping narrow downhill section with rougher gravel than the wider logging roads more commonly used. This turns out to be one of the better locations on the rally as cars burst into view, some running wide into the outside ditch before hurtling down the hill towards me.
Just before nightfall, I manage to sneak in the final stage of the day, further south in mid-Wales. As daylight fades, the blaze from bonnet mounted lamp-pods can be seen for miles, snaking through the forest as cars approach and when they do, brake discs and exhausts are glowing red-hot.
Saturday morning features the iconic mid-Wales stages over the moors of Myherin and then deep into the forests of Sweet Lamb and Dyfi. Another early start has me in the latter, the first stage of the day and Irish crew, Craig Breen and Paul Nagle look impressive as they pass, but unfortunately disaster would await in the following stage.
Skipping Myherin, I head to the second half of Sweet Lamb and Breen/Nagle arrive with the i20 in absolute ribbons. It’s fairly clear they’ve rolled a number of times and after a while, grainy clips of the accident filter through. It turns out to be a disappointing weekend for the pair, underperforming by their own standards but gaining crucial experience for the future.
At this point, I’ve had about 5 hours sleep inside the previous 48 and I’m running on fumes. Limbs are sore from over 20km of walking and clothes are soaked fully through. The travel lodge I’m staying in suddenly becomes a five star hotel as even the bare essentials are a luxury, but that’s the joy of rallying, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
I catch two stages on Sunday before the ferry that evening in Holyhead. These stages are set in a natural amphitheatre in the rolling hills of north Wales and it’s possible to see the cars coming for at least 2 or 3 miles. Once again, Wales has not disappointed and my love for this sport grows deeper still.
It’s a crying shame that this round is no longer on the calendar and indefinitely at that too. The atmosphere on the stages, even in bleak conditions was always outstanding, rivalling what I experienced last year in Finland. Being so close to home, it was an easy and cheap event to spectate too so it really is a huge loss to the motorsport world. As usual, money talks, and if I want to keep living these experiences, I’m going to have to head to Europe.
Event: WRC Wales Rally GB 2019