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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Petrolhead Experiences - My First Rally Event


Before I started this blog in 2011, I was doing things that, in hindsight, I could easily have written about on here by now. So, because I've recently been reminded of when I first went to a rally event (as a spectator), here's the account I wrote on Facebook (through photo captions) of the 2010 Tempest Rally in early November. My photography skills weren't great back then, but roll with it...

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On 6th November, somewhere between Wokingham and Farnborough across the A30, I parked my Punto in a ditch at some time after 14:00 with all the Subarus and Suzukis (and two Porsches, actually) and walked here, to a 1st gear left-handed hairpin on the Yately stage of the Southern England Tempest Rally.

It was quiet, as nothing had started just yet, and there were a handful of people there (including some drunk Eastern European "safety" marshals). I was standing in the escape route for cars that couldn't slow down in time, so I thought it safer to look both ways and casually walk across to the inside of the track. You can do that at a rally. Try doing that at Silverstone. You can't.


The view to my right as I stood facing the corner entry. Drivers come firing down a hill and have to keep it under control as they go fast left > fast right > slow left. Braking at the wrong point here would see you enter the hairpin facing any way OTHER than forwards. Good thing I wasn't standing in the escape route any more, then...

I was quite chuffed to have stumbled across quite a technical corner on this course at random.


After handbrake-turning around the hairpin, a short hill climb is required of you before you sweep right...


...and head off into the distance. Well, you wouldn't be in the distance if you were driving, but you know what I mean.


After a couple of Nissan Navara pickups went past at middling pace (probably to make sure that no trees or campsites had appeared on the track prior to the race starting), the woods were alive with howling 4-cylinder engines, coming nearer and echoing less and less. The anticipation was amazing, a mix of fear and excitement as what sounded like monsters approaching got so loud you thought they were just around the corner...

...one sounded much closer than the others, and round a blind corner, a Ford Focus WRC came rocketing towards us with a massive noise, stamping on the brakes as the tail stepped out, groping the handbrake briefly (the rear wheels locked for a bit) before planting the power and spraying a perfect arc of drying mud around the outside of the corner - reason two why I'm standing on the inside - and screaming off up the hill with an exhaust pop that sounded like gunfire as the driver changed into (probably) 2nd gear.

A fully fledged racing car just drove past in anger about five feet away from me. It was bloody awesome. I was buzzing for ages afterwards.


After filming the second car (another white Focus), this GH Impreza STI caught me off guard a little, but I'll just use the excuse that massive blur "gives the picture a sense of movement".


After the Imprezas, Evos and Focus WRCs in the "Tempest 4" class (i.e. 4-Wheel-Drive cars), the Tempest 2 class took to the stage. Unlike the up-to-date 4WD cars, these varied massively in age, from a new-ish Citroën C2 to Mk.1 Ford Escorts from the '60s. They could be either Front- or Rear-Wheel-Drive, so I would imagine the grid and finishing order is quite mixed.

This is actually a BMW 3-Series (E30). A former business saloon being used for the express purpose of getting dirty and trying to deafen you. A better purpose than any office commuter ever found for it, for sure.


I'm pretty sure this is a Mk.II Escort, but this picture "has such a major sense of motion" that it's not easy to tell...


I'm actually slightly annoyed that I took this picture in such a hurry, because after this Citroën C2 had (just) got round the hairpin, it took so long finding enough grip to get up the slope that I could've painted it more accurately than this.

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration...


As the light faded and the temperature plummeted, I decided that 2 and a half hours was long enough to stand on a muddy hill watching cars go past, and the excited buzz I'd felt at first had dwindled, so I waited for a car to pass and crossed the track (because they all start about 10-20 seconds apart, it's safest to cross just after one goes past).

This Peugeot 205 and others like it weren't the fastest cars of the day (and their drivers all looked quite young in their, well, low-budget cars), so I thought it safe enough to stand behind a fallen tree in the escape route and snap one or two more cars, including one of just two Mk.1 Escorts amidst a sea of Mk.IIs. The extra lights on the bonnet were blinding though...

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It doesn't have to be WRC for a rally event to be an exciting spectacle. If we think of different motorsport disciplines as parts of a rock band, then to me rally racing is the drummer, because to be a fast rally driver you arguably have to be a bit mental (unless you're Sébastien Loeb, in which case you just have to be an unflappable winning machine that's brilliant at everything, everywhere, 99% of the time every time). So take a thermos, coat, beanie hat and a scotch egg, find a good spot and watch the Keith Moons of motorsport hurling their hatchbacks and saloons through the countryside. It may be the most dangerous kind of racing as a spectator given the minimal protection and fairly open access, but if you're sensible and don't stand on the outside of corners then you get to be closer to the action than in any other motorsport, which makes it all the more thrilling when a fire-spitting grocery-getter slides past at as much as 90mph (depending on where you stand).

Local events are also pretty bloody cheap! A tenner to park, or just park outside the car park and it's all free. If you can find an event nearby, I heartily recommend it.

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