The last thing I’ve learned about rally over the last decade is this. WRC is lame compared to regional, clubman level rally. Seriously. I couldn’t name three current WRC drivers right now. I’m not even sure which manufacturers are still involved. Volkswagen? Ford, maybe? Once you’ve experienced regional, clubman level rally – once you’ve been involved – WRC just seems less important. [Read more…]
You will never get rich rallying. Here’s the deal. Even if you grew up karting in Europe and somehow managed to score a ride with a manufacturer, the number of WRC seats available seems to get smaller every year. The vast majority of rallyists do it for fun. Cash prizes are the exception – not the rule – and they’re seldom enough to cover entry to the event where they were earned, let alone recoup all the costs in getting there. [Read more…]
I know, I know. Rally is about driving fast. 10 years fairly immersed in the sport has shown me it’s about so much more, though. It’s about control. Vehicle control. Self control. We rally fans sometimes point out that, while a Formula 1 driver might see a corner 50 or 60 times in a race, a rally driver is likely to see 50 or 60 corners just once. What’s more, the rally driver has only the verbal instructions of his co-driver as a basis for proper setup into each corner. [Read more…]
You can watch thousands of hours of rally footage; fall in love with Group B over and over and over again, and be moved almost to tears by tributes to McRae, Park, and Burns. You can idolize Mäkinen, Grönholm, Sainz, and Loeb, and follow Ogier, Latvala, Hirvonen, et al., in the current point standings.
Unless you’ve ever actually volunteered at a rally, you don’t know the half of it. [Read more…]
Gone (?) but not forgotten. [Read more…]
Rally. A couple big name celebrities show up and drive, taking home top honors and most of the publicity, while the majority of the field which struggles to get to the starting line is almost invisible (barring catastrophic failure). Management thinks the solution is more hype and commercials, but is this really going to save rally? [Read more…]
WHO DO YOU KNOW
Ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know?” Doesn’t always seem fair, does it? Well, guess what. As gearheads, we – all of us – have it relatively easy when it comes to getting to know other people. The trick is treating your automotive networking more professionally.
We’ve all walked up to strangers gathered around a popped hood and joined the conversation. How often do we introduce ourselves and attempt to maybe keep those conversations going after the hood’s closed? And if we can do that at the local car show, can’t we also do it online when we come across interesting gearheads from elsewhere in the world? You bet we can.
THE MAN BEHIND RALLY GB FOR 14 YEARS
My buddy Eugenio Perea, part of the organizing team at Rally Mexico recently introduced me to Malcolm Neill, professional motorsport consultant and former head of Rally GB. Malcolm was rallying before I was even born and today holds what I consider a dream job – professional motorsport consultant. As I mentioned, he ran Rally GB for 14 years, but he was also involved in getting Rally Mexico on the WRC calendar, as well as efforts in Canada (Rally Charlevoix), Rally of Jordan, and Rally of Turkey. I know several rally organizers here in the States, but never thought I’d be talking shop with someone responsible for the smooth operation of what is traditionally the final event of the WRC calendar.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT
- WRC selection process: What are meetings with the FIA are typically like?
- How do organizational challenges vary country to country?
- Where he most commonly finds room for improvement.
- How is rally weathering the current economic storm?
- How many entries is ideal for a rally?
- A special moment he remembers fondly.
- What brings new people to rally?
- What keeps them in rally?
- A single word of advice
- Key activities & looking after WRC teams
DON’T MISS A BEAT!
The full story will be in GBXM #3, coming the first week of April. Are you subscribed yet? It’s free if you subscribe before the end of March.
Here at GBXM, we want the whole world to know the best automotive stories are those of regular folks like you doing big things on small budgets. We leave the big name, celebrity-style stories to the 10,000 other automotive publications on the web. For the most part, we try to find new people with new stories, but we’re going to start following up on past stories more often. [Read more…]
If you want to get the absolute most of your time in exciting new places, you need… a plan. If you plan things out to the minute – and you aren’t organizing super special stages in a rally – you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stress. You stand to make yourself miserable and ruin the experience. It’s important, then, to plan plenty of flex time into your agenda. Day 5 was our flex day. [Read more…]
Two years ago, if you asked me why I put so much effort into this magazine, I’d tell you it’s because I want the whole world to know about the incredible things the average gearheads of the world are doing. A year ago? I’d say I want to help gearheads build high performance machines & lives. Today? I want to show you how meeting your gearhead brothers and sisters in far away places is the way to build those high performance machines & lives. [Read more…]
500 miles from home, in an arid valley on the outskirts of Death Valley, with only the Joshua Trees and insects to keep me company, I found myself in a different state of mind. It was one of those rare moments of zen. Enlightened, I quickly grabbed the notebook from my backpack and began frantically scribbling the words you’re about to read.
This weekend, we’re in Prescott, Arizona, USA, attending the Prescott Rally, part of the USRC championship. We’re posting pictures to our Gearheads-United Tumblr (GU+) outpost until the battery on the Blackberry dies (which it did about an hour ago). [Read more…]
We caught up with rally competitor and organizer Kristopher Marciniak with just a week to go before High Desert Trails (HDT) debuts new roads and a field of almost 30 cars. Kristopher and his wife/co-driver Christine have been putting on this event for the last two years. [Read more…]
We started working on this interview in April of 2010. We ran the unfinished story a couple weeks ago, but we’re in the process of updating it this weekend. Get to know one of the organizers for the Corona Rallie Mexico. [Read more…]
We originally met Darren in July of this year. A little over a month ago, he entered his £40 Skoda Felicia in the Wales Rally GB, a WRC event. What follows is a story we suspect will really resonate with you.
How do the costs of running Rally GB, a WRC event, compare to those of the more common club event?
Overall, the entry fee per mile isn’t that bad – it’s about £8 per stage mile for my car, which compares well with an average club event, but the event has about five times the mileage of a typical club event, and of course that means a lot more to be spent on car preparation as everything has to be right and ready for three hard days of stages and road mileage as well.
Obviously there are other costs as well as the entry fee, and finding accomodation for the week, etc., as well as needing to take a week off work (I am self-employed so I don’t get any paid holidays). I could probably do four or five smaller events for the cost of doing Rally GB, but the big advantage for me of doing it is that you get to reach a certain level and maintain it, you don’t have a first rusty stage of the day as I normally do when I do smaller events, you get that out of the way on the recce.
How does inspection/scrutineering differ at an event of this level? Are there any requirements not found at the club level?
Scrutineering is largely the same, and I’m pleased to say my car has always been fine and good and safe! There is a lot more paperwork and so on (with the FIA underwear, HANS devices and helmets being marked with FIA stickers and so on, and the engine and bodyshell needing to be marked/sealed as well). I’m usually pretty well prepared, but this year we got caught out as the OK/SOS board has to be A3 size, twice the size of the one we already had, so we got fleeced £10 for a piece of printed paper that had been laminated!
What were some issues you had to overcome prior to the rally? How did you resolve them?
This year was probably the best prepared I’ve ever been for the event, so I was reasonably relaxed, aside from having to comply with some Health and Safety issues with electrical equipment which we were only told about the week before the event which made for a slightly difficult weekend before setting off for Wales. The car was actually finished weeks beforehand, which seemed really odd, as in previous years it’s still been in bits the weekend before.
How many competitors entered Rally GB this year? How many in your class?
There were 63 competitors, and no-one else in my class. Most of the other entrants were more ‘serious’ than we are, with career aspirations, although there were a few of us at the back who were in a similar position to me, doing it for the experience without thinking we’ll be the next Colin McRae.
How long was Rally GB this year? Number of days? Stage miles? Transit miles?
It was 3 days of stages (plus the evening before in Cardiff which doesn’t really count!), although the recce was a couple of days before that, and about 210 miles of stages (all gravel aside from 2 runs in Cardiff Bay which were about a mile each). Road mileage was about 1000 on top of that, so we packed the headsets for the road sections which I finally spent out on to save on ringing ears!
What’s the atmosphere like in the days/hours prior to that first time control?
For me, it’s electric. The week seems to build in intensity as it goes on; when you arrive for the first stage that you recce that’s usually the first time you’ve seen anyone else who is actually doing the event, and from then on you see the same faces who become familiar, get back into the groove of driving properly on gravel, and down to business. In terms of tension, probably scrutineering is the pinnacle for me, as it’s always a nervous time, in case I’ve mis-read the regulations or forgotten something on the car. After that, you’re committed, you’re doing it, and it’s just down to you, your navigator, your crew and the stages.
What was your plan of attack as you began the rally?
A lot of people look down on those who are going for a finish, but that was definitely the plan – I’d saved all year for this (and funded 90% of it myself), so I didn’t want to stick it in a ditch on day 1. But with that in mind, I didn’t want to just drive about, I had set a target of going well on each stage as in previous years I’ve been very up-and-down with good and bad stages, so making sure that we kept the speed up and committed to braking and cornering more so than before.
How did that work out for you?
I think I got it just about right, as we were going pretty well, and there were quite a few times when Paul said “You wouldn’t want to go any faster through there” and a few half-spins and near misses – there weren’t any points where either of us felt like it had been slow, although we can of course still improve… But overall, it was much more like being a proper rally driver, really!
How did the new engine work out? The rest of the car?
I think we had some bad luck – the engine had been running perfectly in the build-up, but we filled up after scrutineering and the fuel was clearly bad, the car lacked a lot of power and just wouldn’t rev out at all, but we didn’t find that out until setting out for North Wales on Day 1, and because of the placement of the fuel stations we had to run with about half a tank of it diluted with fresh fuel.
It got better as the rally went on, but we also suffered an odd part-throttle misfire (and indeed occasional complete cut-out of the engine) which wasn’t ideal. I’m yet to find out what it was, but we spent a lot of time trying to work it out, and that led to us booking in 20 minutes late to Parc Ferme on the Saturday night. I’m sure when I get that sorted the new engine will be a great improvement, although I’m hoping to use the 1.4 crank in the next version of the engine for a bit more grunt.
As for the rest of the car, the main revelation was the new suspension; years ago I got a set of Proflex which was in need of a rebuild, and I finally saved up enough to get it fixed. It wasn’t cheap at £1300, but it has totally transformed the car – in places where we were bottoming out it just smoothly drives through now – the difference is that marked that the in-car footage now looks like the WRC cars, really smooth compared to the bouncy ride before.
Unfortunately they didn’t tell me that the rear axle needs a small modification to save the rear shock hoses on full bump, which led to them breaking on Saturday night, and to us running road car suspension for the last day to finish the event – that REALLY highlighted just how good the new stuff is as the back end of the car was bouncy and had so little grip in comparison. I’ll never have another car with average suspension on, for sure.
In the end, how did you finish? In your class? Overall?
Well, we actually finished by pushing the car over the finish line – seriously! The engine died on the road section on the way back, just short of one of the time controls, so we had to push it there and then across Cardiff to the final control to be a finisher. Fortunately I found the problem with the ECU and sorted it (the kill switch was activated and had broken), allowing us to go over the ceremonial finish ramp. We finished 44th overall (last finisher, as you would imagine in a 1300 car that’s 13 years old compared to everyone else’s cars, the next newest of which was a 2005 model!), and first in class.
Many of our readers are located in the States, where there is no WRC. What makes this WRC event special for you?
It’s my home WRC event, which would make it special anyway, but I think the Welsh Forests are iconic to anyone in rallying, in the same way that Finland and Monte Carlo are; to me they ARE rallying, and it’s a privilege to have been able to drive on them at all, let alone on the same day as legends like Loeb and Solberg have done.
People often ask why I bother when clearly I have no chance of winning anything, but that’s completely missing the point – the experience is something that I’ll never forget, and there were quite a few stages where we really were going well. To see it the following week on the TV, and see the stages when the front runners are going through and to remember that stage, and how it felt, how slippy it was really makes you realise what you’ve just done.
I spent a LOT of my free time and most of my free money on getting ready for or paying for the rally. It took up about 8 months of my life with weekends spent on preparation, and quite a few times were really hard work, such as the THREE engine changes in a week, but as soon as we got going on day 1 I knew why I do it – it’s a magical feeling to be driving through a forest and knowing that the only thing that’s keeping you on the road is the car you’ve built and hopefully the ability you have (or not!).
On day 2, I vividly remember a downhill section on the Monument stage, we were driving into the sun, with the sky crystal clear and blue, and the car was revving out in 5th, so getting on for 95mph, and I can still close my eyes and see it, almost feel it. It’s difficult to convey how good it feels to know that I’ve done that.
This year we felt a much bigger part of the event because we had quite a bit of coverage in the motorsport press and also from BBC TV, and getting the stage results as they happened with the WRC app meant we knew what was going on all the time – like seeing the end-of-leg timing sheets you get, but one every stage; seeing that we’d “beaten” Ogier on the stage where he binned the car was another moment where it all became clear that we were doing the same event as the best in the world.
And then at the end of the day I got to park my little Skoda that originally cost me £40 in the same Parc Ferme as the WRC’s front runners, and I generally act like a complete tourist by taking lots of photos! I do think, though, if you’ve not heard, seen and indeed felt a WRC car in action, it’s hard to imagine what they’re really like in the flesh; make no mistake the machines are unbelievable, but the drivers are out of this world too.
Did you rub elbows with any celebrity drivers?
No, this year the service area we were in was miles away from everyone else, so we only got to see them when they drove to the service out control which was by us; we were about half a mile from the WRC teams, unfortunately, and that meant we didn’t even have much chance or time to wonder in (as our passes get us in there). That was a bit of a disappointment for us, although other things made up for it.
What is your favourite memory from Rally GB this year?
It’s difficult to think of just one, because there are so many good ones, and my favourite stages are on the event and we did them some justice this year at long last! Driving through Margam Park and passing the place where Saenz’s World Championship hopes evaporated as his engine expired is right up there though, I have a wonderful pic of the car with the house in the background, but overall it really has to be the finish, because it had seemed to be taken away from us with the car breaking down having done all the stages and road mileage, and pushing the car across Cardiff to finally get there, so although nearly everyone had gone home, it’s still a vivid memory for me.
And, now that you have two more years to run this chassis, whatcha thinkin’?
I’m thinking that I will have to do everything in my power to do the event again – I figure with an extra 30 horsepower (it’s currently only 100) then we could have some real fun in it. I’ll be honest, I almost feel like a fraud, because I’m sure a lot of the interest in us was because it was our last time, but a week ago the FIA extended the Felicia’s lifetime to 2012, which means I could do the event twice more before looking at doing an IRC round (which was my original plan, to do the Monte Carlo rally).
I can only say that it must demonstrate just how much I enjoy this that even now, in a near-freezing England where it’s raining right now, and the car is in the drive on axle stands with no suspension and an engine that doesn’t work properly I’m considering spending weekends out in the cold getting the car done, and saving for the next 6 months just so I can do it for 3 days…
And there you have it. One man’s WRC story.