Network Q WRGB National Rally
Here is Lizzie’s blog of the event.
Whatever sport you’re interested in, your home round of the world championship is always something special. So when a friend asked me to co drive for him in his Vauxhall Corsa on Wales Rally GB, the British round of the World Rally Championship, it was time to tick something pretty big off my bucket list.
So, how can grassroots crews compete alongside the multi-million pound, professional works crews? Because alongside the international event that serves as the finale to the 2015 World Rally Championship, is the national rally that’s open to anyone who can fund it, and who has the right licence and car.
James Newbould and I have both been rallying for well over a decade – often against each other. Indeed Wales Rally GB was only our third event together, only James’ second stage rally and his first gravel rally. I’d competed on many stage rallies before, but this was only my third on pacenotes. But the opportunity to compete on a rally like this doesn’t come along very often and, as we would find out, we’d have to use all our years and years of competing on small, local and regional rallies to get us through our biggest test yet.
Running from 12-15 November 2015, Wales Rally GB kicked off on the Thursday night with the ceremonial start in Llandudno, followed by three days of competition. The rally is based in Deeside Industrial Park in North Wales, from where crews compete on stages across Mid and North Wales. In fact, on day one, we had six hours of road driving to do!
The three-hour ‘out’ leg took us to Hafren Forest, near Llanidloes, for the 19.97-mile stage one. To say I was nervous would be a meteoric understatement. I’d triple checked my maths to ensure we didn’t incur any road penalties, my heart was racing and I felt quite sick. But wrapped in layers of fireproof clothing, balaclava and helmet on and strapped into the bucket seat, there was no going back. Exciting? Utterly! But also downright terrifying.
Which dissolved into a pile of frustration after we were told that the first stage had been cancelled! So we followed a re-route to the second stage, Sweet Lamb. At just over two miles long it was a more bitesized introduction to international rallying than Hafren and with all nerves gone, the clock hit zero and we were just able to enjoy it. And with a famous sequence including a watersplash, hairpin bends and a jump at the end, we certainly did that! Finally, we’d got a stage under our belts – and it felt fantastic.
Feeling a lot more comfortable, the final stage of the opening day was back to the forests for Myherin which at 18.78 miles was a much more substantial test. At times it felt a bit like being in a 90s computer game as we swept through the forest, the Kumho tyres scrabbling for grip in the damp. And, fortunately, I was concentrating so hard on reading the pacenotes that I was unaware of a few ‘moments’ we’d had until James informed me on the drive back!
After a truncated day one, the five stages of day two would make it a much busier day. We started with a short squirt around the spectator-friendly Chirk Castle, one of the rally’s few tarmac stages. The rest of the day was spent negotiating a series of tricky Welsh forestry stages in slippy, tough, treacherous and changeable conditions. The weather was closing in as we approached Gartheiniog, a seriously challenging, rough and wet stage. And, feeling more comfortable on the pacenotes, I really enjoyed it. Next were Dyfi and Dyfnant where the windscreen wipers were working overtime and quite how James kept us pointing the right way I do not know.
Then there was Aberhirnant. It was now about 4.30pm. So not only was it very wet and windy, it was also dark. Oh yes, and foggy, unpredictably dense fog patches throughout the stage drastically reducing visibility. Unable to see some of the corners I was trying to call, this was when our years of rallying experience really paid off and somehow we got through the 8.64 miles. The wine that night had been very well-earned!
Before we knew it, we were waking up to the third and final day of this incredible World Rally Championship experience. However, with Storm Abigail’s gale force winds, the elements were showing no signs of giving us an easy ride.
Lying about 10 miles east of Betws-y-Coed, I suspect Alwen looks bleak at the best of times. That morning, in the pouring rain and being battered by gale force winds, the conditions were deeply inhospitable and my heart went out to the hardy marshals and fans lining our route. A fast stage with quite a number of crests and jumps but very little grip, seeing quite a number of cars off was a timely reminder that this was the final day – no heroics, we just wanted to finish.
The contrast in weather as we went down to Llandudno for the Great Orme stage could not have been greater, sunshine and blue skies welcoming us for the tight and twisty 2.95-mile blast along this coast-hugging road. We then enjoyed a quick break at the regroup. It was a chance to refuel and recharge car, driver and co driver, before the last stage.
It was back up to the sideways rain and howling winds for our final test: Brenig. Just 6.61 miles and we’d have done it. What could go wrong?!
Brenig was the roughest stage yet, strewn with big rocks, not to mention a lot of retired cars. We just wanted to finish! Picking our way through, all was going well until we hit a chicane. Thankfully it was a hay bale, therefore soft, and we hit it square. With all the Corsa’s gauges looking healthy and with my pacenotes retrieved from the footwell, we pressed on and, finally, we crossed the flying finish. We’d done it! I couldn’t quite believe it then and I’m not sure I can now!
Of course, I’d not be writing this for this website if we’d not carried MACS logos on the car. Well, how better to give such a fabulous charity fantastic exposure than on an international sporting event?
And I’m delighted to share that, at the time of writing, we’ve raised £593.17 – a frankly amazing £728.96 including gift aid! A huge thank you to all our very generous family, friends and colleagues for their donations.