It has been some time since we have featured stage rallyING on Fueltopia and there seems no better way to address that then with a look at the pinnacle of rally, the World Rally Championship.
This blog is a little shorter than my usual contributions as I travelled to Wales with spectating, rather than photography, foremost in my mind. Given that I snapped off a few shots though, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to not post a few words about the biggest UK rally event of the year.
It has been many years since I last visited a World Rally Championship round and, having been forewarned that travel between stages during the event can be problematic, I elected to stay on one stage for the whole day.
Myherin was the most Southerly stage of the event and, at just over 18 miles in length, it offered a multitude of vantage points for those willing to put their hiking boots on. Each of the Saturday stages saw two passes from the International class – i.e. the World Rally Championship competitors – and a single pass from the National crews.
The National entry was the bigger of the two, with 80 cars entered, while the International entry comprised of 60 cars, among which were eleven of the much vaunted 2018 specification World Rally Cars. Although I am keen on rallying at all levels, it was the chance to see the 2018 cars that had convinced me to make the long trek to deepest Wales.
So was the journey worth it? Unquestionably. These latest cars are not just blistering quick, but they look loose and dynamic at speed. You hear them coming long before you see them, then they flash by in an instant, lacerating the treeline with gravel before sweeping round the next corner. I was afraid that the press and video clips had exaggerated their presence but, if anything, nothing I have seen or read has truly conveyed the spectacle of the current generation of WRCars.
The most numerous entries in the 60 car International field were R5 class cars competing for WRC2 honours. I have struggled to get enthusiastic about supporting classes in previous seasons, but I think the R5 category is superb and has been a huge boost to both WRC2 and National level rallying.
Although the R5 cars are far from cheap, they are as quick as all but the most modern WRCars and, in my eyes, just as entertaining to watch.
While the International class was populated with the latest cutting edge rally weaponry, the National class comprised a much broader spectrum of cars, from recently retired WRC machinery to rear wheel drive classics.
Surely the rarest car in the National field, the distinct V6 scream of a Metro 6R4 sounded fantastic echoing through the Welsh valleys. I enjoy watching Group B cars in any environment, but seeing one used on a forest rally stage seems that bit more authentic.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing pairing of Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja held the spotlight for the first half of the rally after the duo established an early lead. Alas their run – along with their chances of a fourth consecutive victory – came to end on Saturday when an impact damaged the radiator of their Yaris.
However it was Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala who most impressed me in Wales. Throughout the last few seasons I had started to suspect that Jari-Matti might be past his prime, but he delivered a sensational drive in the closing stages of Rally GB including a jaw-dropping performance on the Sunday Power Stage.
Following a track day earlier this year I declared the Audi Quattro as the most influential car in rallying but, reluctant to make too many sweeping statements in one go, I held off declaring the Ford Escort as the most iconic car in the sport.
Still, it’s hard to think of a better image to represent rally through the ages than a Mk.2 Escort sideways on the loose though, isn’t it?
Although I think it’s a stretch to argue it as the most iconic rally car of all time, the early WRCar variants of the Impreza are surely the most memorable shape of modern rallying.
Racking up a number of fastest stage times Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield took the ex-Juha Kankkunen Impreza S6 WRC to third overall in the National class.
Recovering from a damaged gearbox in the early stages of the rally, eventual victory went to Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia who dropped as low as seventh before eventually seizing the lead. I read a comment online shortly after Ogier took victory, describing Sebastien as having “a knack for making mercurial performances look both undramatic and effortless”. Despite pondering the matter for the last week I’m still unable to think of a more eloquent way to summarize his talent.
The World Championship continues to be led by Theirry Neuville, but victory for Ogier has seen him close the gap while Ott Tanak, despite his Welsh woes, is still not out of the picture. The penultimate round takes place this weekend and, with a renewed sense of awe for both the drivers and the latest specification World Rally Cars, I will be glued to the TV throughout!
Words and pictures: Steve White
Want to see more of the World Rally Championship in Wales? Click here for a full image gallery.