Despite playing almost every rally game ever released over the years, I have to confess that I’ve never actually been to watch rallying live – my experience of rally cars was the circuit-based Rallycross alternative when the legendary Group B cars needed an outlet after being banned from the world stage.
However, that changed last weekend, thanks to Black Bean and Milestone, the people behind WRC 2. They kindly invited me along to Wales to watch Day 2 of the Wales Rally GB and obviously it was an invitation I couldn’t turn down. Sadly I’d hoped to meet up with the winner of our WRC 2 competition who had won tickets but unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute. Add in some technical and transportation issues during the weekend, and you’ll have to forgive the slightly ropey nature of the photographs I grabbed, but that didn’t change the experience of seeing the world’s best rally drivers hurtling through the woods and along the dirt tracks.
That was after the very strange site of rally cars travelling to stages on public roads, which would later spell disaster for world champion Sebastien Loeb when some Spanish spectators collided with him on single track road. I did mention to Black Bean that travelling between stages would be an interesting extra challenge for any future games!
We arrived at the Hafren stage without incident, and made it in time to see the national drivers competing in a range of modern and classic cars – the sight of vintage Escorts and other unusual cars was an unexpected bonus.
It was definitely a good stage to have picked as the weather stayed dry, so although clambering along the side of the track was a bit muddy, it wasn’t cold, and the enthusiasm of rally fans made for an upbeat mood. And despite the strange experience of seeing cars flash by and disapear for the rest of the day, from the higher vantage points you could see glimpses of them winding through the valley in the distance.
What amazed me most, having ridden on similar terrain in Wales on two wheels was that hardly any of the drivers at any level seemed to lift off for what seemed like quite big corners. Luckily if you wanted a bit more of a look at the cars, a handy hairpin provided the chance to admire a variety of techniques, including an unusual approach by Ken Block which involved having his boot fly open.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also eventually made it along to the service area at the end of the day, where we were able to witness teams working long into the night to fix and prepare cars for the next day.
This particularly lovely 1971 Alpine Renault A110, the former works car of Jean-Pierre Nicholas and Jean de Alexandris was also on display.
And obviously after witnessing the heroics of the drivers and co-drivers throughout the day, many fans were grabbing the chance to try their hand at driving on the WRC 2 setups available at the service area. Certainly the response was pretty favourable amongst the most hardcore of racing fans, and competition to record the fastest time was hotting up.
By the time we finally crashed into bed at the end of the day, it was safe to say that my conversion to rally fan was pretty much complete. It’s a very different experience to circuit-based racing, and it’s an interesting atmosphere as fans appear to be competing to find the best and most inaccessible vantage point from which to watch almost as much as the drivers are competing for the fastest time. Certainly if you’ve wondered what kind of nutters stand inches away from the cars trying to get the best photographs, you’ll be able to understand why when you’ve caught up in the event – luckily at Wales there were a lot of very friendly and helpful marshals and safety volunteers ensuring that we got as close as was relatively safe without causing any problems.
I did suggest that given the success of the GT Academy and iRacing champ Gregor Huttu when he tried a real car, maybe I should be a test subject to see if playing rally games helps you in actually driving a rally car. Not sure I convinced anyone enough yet, but I’m going to keep working on it – anyone fancy being my co-driver?
If not, I guess it’s back to WRC2 for the time being… In the meantime, thanks to Black Bean, Milestone, and their PR agency for a great trip.