Scenes from WRC Wales Rally GB

The great thing about the UK is that you’re rarely too far away from anything. So, when the World Rally Championship comes to town and you already have plans for the weekend, you still stand half a chance of getting out to a stage or two.

That was exactly what I did. I’d only touched down in the UK from Australia a couple of days earlier, and had plenty to do. Seeing the whole event was out of the question, but at the last minute I managed to rearrange some things so I could at least go and see a little bit. Without too much hassle I managed to get to the service park at Deeside to catch evening service, and I stayed overnight in the area to then get out to a stage on Sunday morning. What follows is not so much a comprehensive event report, but a few photos and a handful of random observations.

WRC cars mixing it with regular traffic never gets old.

Where there are international rally cars, there are usually some pretty cool spectator cars in the car park too. I loved the Speedline wheels and stick-on number plate on this WRX – 10 points Gryffindor.

Watching the top teams service never gets old. I could have stood there for hours.

The manufacturer service and hospitality structures themselves are pretty incredible. This is the first time, and probably the last, that a drainage gutter will ever be posted on Any Given Reason. But it’s the coolest gutter I’ve ever seen.

It was pretty cool that the service park was free to enter. Arguably, you can soak up more of the WRC atmosphere here than out on the stage. There’s more places to shelter from the rain, too.

The further you walked away from the main manufacturer area, the more desperate things were becoming.

This Volvo Amazon was one of the coolest cars, but its crew easily deserves the kudos. This photo was taken at about 430pm when I arrived, and they were just beginning to remove the gearbox. I left at about 9pm when it became too cold, and these guys were half way through the job, lying on the group and working only by torchlight. The rally spirit is arguably far stronger here than it is in the big teams.

Recce cars are a certain type of cool.

So are genuine Prodrive Subaru World Rally cars.

Now this is how to go rallying. Proper motor home for warmth, double bed up above the cab, and a warm, dry and well lit workshop/car transport space in the rear of the truck.

As for the rally car itself – a serious Mk2 Escort with a modern engine, sequential box, Motec PDM and all the tricky cockpit bits.

Yup, this is how it’s done.

The next morning, I was up and on the road by 545am. My plan was to spectate on both runs of the Brenig stage. The second pass would be the final stage of the event, and would be the internationally televised WRC Power Stage.

Spectating at Rally GB is very different than in Australia. They actively discourage people from going out to stages, even going so far as saying that it is not possible to spectate on your own. You must go to an official spectator point, and the only way you can get in is by purchasing an insanely expensive ticket. For me, this is not rallying. For starters, there are so many people that you’ll be stuck in traffic for hours to get in and out, and you’ll be lining up with thousands of other spectators. There is commentary and food stands, and it removes all the excitement involved in finding a good spot. Basically, these spectator points take away all of the adventure and remove many of the reason why I love rallying. I know why they are necessary – this is the biggest motorsport event in the UK, and it would be pure mayhem having that many people making their own way to the stages. I understand the need for spectator control, and I would probably comply if the costs were reasonable. But charging $51 per person to see a single stage is a bit of a laugh.

Not only do they close roads for the stages, but they close all of the surrounding roads as well to make it impossible to drive even close to a road junction. However, I’ve been around rallying in Australia long enough as an official photographer, a competitor and an official to know that there’s always a way in… challenge accepted. I found myself a survey map of the area, charted the stage, and surveyed all the surrounding roads. I found one that I thought would give me the best chance of finding a good spot, and hoped for the best. Thankfully the stages ran right through the area of the Evo Triangle, which I’d driven a few weeks beforehand, so I had a vague grasp of the land. It still a massive guess, though. It was rally spectating adventure at its rawest.

I ended up finding a secret spot only known by locals… what a fluke! It did involve an hour hike through the marshland from where I parked, but with views like this on the way it was hardly a chore. The funny thing is that despite all of the negativity from the official channels, I received nothing but complete positivity from every event official I encountered on the ground. Not one person told me to go back, and every official was more than happy to assist in helping to suggest a good spot for photos…. as long as I observed their instruction and remained in a safe spot. It was an easy promise to keep – this is the way it should be out on the stage.

I honestly couldn’t have dreamed of a better spot. We had an amazing series of corners that provides endless opportunities for different photos, we had some great officials and other spectators to talk to, and a few incredible vantage spots from which to full appreciate the mastery of the modern WRC car and driver combo.

Sure, I’d accidentally walked through a sodden marsh, so my feet were soaked and freezing cold for hours on end. And there was no catering (I hadn’t thought to bring a snack) which meant I was incredibly hungry, and there was no phone signal. But this was an easy trade – it was the exact Wales Rally GB experience I was hoping for. It didn’t even rain… much!

Who knows, maybe next year I’ll try and cover the whole event properly. But for this year, a quick stop and a hike in was a pretty much perfect way of spending a Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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