Wales Rally GB – End of an era

Last weekend I made the trip over to Wales for the final round of the 2010 WRC. Having lived in Wales, it’s always great fun going back (the roads are frankly incredible). This trip had an added significance however. With the driver’s title already wrapped up by a certain Mr Loeb, the championship fight wasn’t the draw. Instead, the pull was the fact that this would be the last time that we see the 2.0L World Rally Car in the hands of the quickest men in the sport, for this era is now at an end.

Remember when Loeb used to just be a Tarmac specialist? Me neither.

I’m a big fan of what is to come, so I won’t lament over the ‘slowing down of the sport’. The 1600 Turbos that are on the way look the part, sound the part and still go like something off a shovel. We needn’t fear for our sport losing it’s spectacle. That said, this was the last chance that we would have the chance to see works World Rally Cars. The plan was to do all three days, to get the most bang for our buck. Tickets were bought, cheap hotels were booked, the fuel tank was brimmed. We were going.

The shape of things to come.

The stages we chose were Sweet Lamb on Friday, Fourways & Halfway on Saturday and Resolven on Sunday.

Sweet Lamb is a natural amphitheatre were you can see the cars tackle jumps, hairpins and two water splashes, the cars being visible for well over a minute. The only teeny snag was the horizontal rain that battered us on the second running of the stage. It was certainly exciting, my iPhone overloading in my pocket made my coat feel like it had anti-lag. This didn’t dampen our spirits though, the cars were spectacular over both runnings, with Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala putting on the most flamboyant displays. Loeb was in ominous form but Petter was hounding him all the way.

Henning Solberg sprays some gravel on Sweet Lamb

Kimi kept it the right way up for the whole event!

Saturday took us back to Epynt. Regular readers will know my opinion of the Epynt military range, so the chance to see two stages there on the Saturday was a no-brainer. ‘Fourways’ was the first stage, a tarmac route, but with the stage directly after, ‘Halfway’ being gravel, the cars were up on gravel springs with gravel tyres. This created a huge amount of pitch and roll under braking and acceleration, fantastic to watch. It reminded me of the Grp A era in the early 90s when suspension technology wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today, the suspension looked like it could barley cope with the demands. The cars looked far more at home on Halfway, the full gravel setup now far more appropriate. The speed that a top level car can carry over a loose surface is breathtaking to behold.

Mads Ostberg in the Adapta Subaru. Still my favourite car of this era.

Petter lobs it in, love the comedy suspension settings.

Ken Block had a solid run out in his Focus

Resolven on the Sunday morning was an early one, first car was at 7.38am. The road to the stage was absolutely brilliant. Uphill, switchback hairpins, in amongst the trees, it was a great way to get fired up before the stage started. We spectated next to a long downhill straight, the cars were absolutely flying past. The corner at the end of the straight was a tight 90 right, comparing the braking points was fascinating. Even compared to the other top guys, Loeb was so much later on the brakes than anyone else. He has so much belief in the car, it’s a joy to behold. There’s a reason he’s a 7 time champion.

Matt Wilson did his usual thing of finishing about 7th

Very slippery surface in Resolven, Kimi did well.

Andreas Mikkelsen beat several 'World' cars in his S2000 Fabia

I think it’s fitting that Loeb won it, even though Petter pushed him on all the way. Sebastian has dominated this period of the sport so convincingly, him taking the final win was predictable, but it felt right.

I was thoroughly impressed with the running of the event. I’ve only ever marshalled on it before, so I didn’t really know what to expect as a paying customer. I’d heard tales of tiny spectator pens ruining it for some fans in years past. Either this has been addressed in recent years by the organisers or the complaints at the time were simply blown out of proportion. I found the spectator areas to be huge and well marshalled. No heavy handed bossiness, just professionalism across all three days.

The National rally boys were keen to entertain!

Looks like next year will have to be a must see as well. I can’t wait to see what the new breed of cars can do in the hands of the factory drivers.

To finish I’d just like to add my voice to those lamenting the fact that Dave and Neil Cole won’t be covering the WRC next year. I think this is a real shame, the coverage has evolved and Neil has really grown in to the role of host. They really got the balance right this year, ditching the ‘celebrity guest’ element was a very welcome move. I’ve hugely enjoyed the coverage in 2010 and I for one am quite sad that Mr Cole won’t be venturing in to this new age of rallying with us.

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