First the bad news – at least from my point of view. I have a confession to make. At last summer’s Wilton Classic And Supercar Show I was able, courtesy of Castrol Edge, to interview Welsh rally ace Elfyn Evans (son of former rally star Gwyndaf) during his first full WRC season.
I know that in this digital age I should have known better but I recorded the whole interview on tape. You probably know what’s coming, right? That’s correct. A broken tape: corrupted tape and one old mini-recorder in the bin. Sorry.
We spoke of the high level of fitness needed and the attention to detail. When asked what he thought of during the heat of battle and the fear of being permanently on the limit he felt that the best thing to do was to empty the mind and get in the zone, as it were, tuned into the pace notes from his co-driver Daniel Barritt. Man and machine in harmony. I also asked him how other drivers felt, previously, to be in the shadow of the legendary Sebastien Loeb. He replied that, in fact, there was no envy, just the greatest of respect for the greatest of drivers. Elfyn has his own website here.
Now the good news. The legendary Welsh forests are ready to welcome a capacity and star-studded 160-car entry into Wales Rally GB, (incorporating WRC2 and the Wales National Rally) the 13th and final round of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship. Building on the huge success of last year’s event, this year’s spectacular rally features a slightly more compact three-day route. It compromises 23 competitive special stages – totalling 191 miles – all run against the clock on a mix a traditional gravel forest tracks and fan-friendly parkland roads.
After the opening ceremony in the Eirias Stadium, Colwyn Bay on Thursday evening, the intrepid crews face a marathon leg in mid-Wales on Friday. The weekend’s action is closer to the Deeside Service Park and includes RallyFests at Chirk Castle on Saturday and Kinmel Park on Sunday. The winners will be crowned on Mostyn Street in Llandudno on Sunday afternoon.
Heading the entry list is the newly crowned 2014 World Champion, Sébastien Ogier. Having just clinched back-to-back titles, the gifted Frenchman will be the one beat on an event he won last year. Ogier, though, isn’t the only past winner targeting further success. His VW Motorsport team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala and M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen have both lifted the coveted Peall Trophy and are sure to provide stiff opposition. Hirvonen (a bit of a surprise this) has an extra incentive, he’s just announced his retirement from the sport and will want to leave on a high.
No British driver has won the event since the late Richard Burns’ completed a hat-trick of triumphs back in 2000 but, with Elfyn Evans (don’t mention the interview) and Kris Meeke among this season’s front-runners, another famous home victory may not be that far away. The new Hyundai Motorsport team makes its Wales Rally GB debut and its top gun Thierry Neuville has already made his mark by winning in Germany. Ex-F1 star Robert Kubica is another to watch (assuming he can keep it on the island).
Following the huge popularity of last year’s event, every effort has been made to increase car parking capacity in advance of the season finale. Moreover, the organisers have re-introduced a dedicated Wales Rally FM radio on 87.7FM to further enhance the spectator experience.
“The excitement is really building towards next week’s event and not just among the rally fans,” says Ben Taylor, Managing Director of Wales Rally GB. “There is a real sense that this is a world class sporting event coming to the region and everyone is looking forward to it. It’s a great day out for all the family, with opportunities to get involved throughout mid and North Wales. We can’t wait to get started.”
Not since the heady days of Colin McRae and Richard Burns have British fans had so much to celebrate on their home round of the World Rally Championship. With Kris Meeke on the verge of his maiden WRC win and Elfyn Evans fast becoming a serious challenger, there are two British drivers in the hunt for glory. Since joining Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT at the start of this season, Meeke has notched up four podiums and taken the fight to Ogier on many occasions.
Elfyn Evans is a local hero in his native North Wales and, while the 25-year-old from Dolgellau is still being groomed for future stardom, he’s already proved his potential with stage wins and no fewer than five top six finishes to date in 2014. Last year, he sent the fans home happy taking WRC2 honours and finishing eighth overall – now armed with an M-Sport prepared Fiesta RS WRC a podium isn’t out of the question.
“There’s something special about contesting your home event with a world rally car and I am really looking forward to it,” said Evans – to somebody else. “The itinerary looks fantastic – I can’t wait to get out there and I’m sure we’re going to enjoy every minute of it.
“We’ve had a pretty good debut season, and it would be great to finish on a high at home. Of course there will be a lot of very quick drivers so we will just have to wait and see what happens. If we can show some positive speed and be challenging on occasion I’ll be happy; but more than anything I just want to enjoy the experience and put on a good show for the home crowd.”
Introduced to provide a full day’s high-octane entertainment for those who didn’t want to venture into the Welsh forests, RallyFests were an instant success, particularly with the family audience – so it’s no surprise that they are back on this year’s bill at Chirk Castle and Kinmel Park. Indeed, such was their popularity that car parking and spectator areas have been massively increased for 2014 and a special traffic management system introduced at Chirk.
Enhanced facilities include live commentary, big screens, special parades and displays, trade stands, catering plus some special activities and showcases kindly provided by Hyundai UK.
Specially priced family tickets are available for just £42.
While access to all 23 special stages is ticketed, there are several great opportunities for the public to savour the presence of the World Rally Championship in north Wales absolutely free.
Visitors are welcome to come to the packed Service Park in Deeside on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Here they not only will see all 160 cars being prepared for action but also be treated to some impressive entertainment including live bands, stunt shows and on Saturday evening a fireworks display.
The Wales Rally GB National Rally is an integral part of the WRC show. Aimed at enthusiastic amateur crews keen to be part of the UK’s biggest rally festival, the National Rally follows the same route providing spectators with even more top class action. As well as including some iconic rally cars from yesteryear including a Lancia Stratos, MG Metro 6R4 and large numbers of Escorts, Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas, the National entry also includes a few stars of its own. Jimmy McRae is rolling back the years behind the wheel of an historic Vauxhall Firenza while former England test cricketer Graeme Swann is trying his luck in new sporting arena.
Importantly, both live and post-produced shows will be screened on no fewer than four different TV channels within the UK. BT Sport will air daily highlights plus live coverage of Sunday’s concluding iRobot Brenig Power Stage. The station is also following the fortunes of Graeme Swann each evening and will complete an hour-long documentary of his exploits after the event. ITV4 and Motors TV will both be screening daily highlights while Welsh language station S4C’s dedicated motor sports programme Ralio will be broadcasting daily. Ralio will also be showing the Power Stage ‘as live’ later on Sunday afternoon. Information and tickets here.