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Top Gear goes rallying: race report
The most important thing is that we finished. And no, I’m not just saying that to cover up the fact we finished 87th. Because 87th out of the 160 starters of the Woodpecker Stages Rally and 11th in class is a complete result as far as I’m concerned.
Rolling our freshly minted rally car into a small ball wouldn’t have done much for my confidence, the team’s mood, our preparations for Wales Rally GB or my relationship with my new co-driver, Jack Morton.
Jack is part of the Motor Sports Association’s Junior Academy that helps develop new talent, a programme run by Nicky Grist, co-driver to the late Colin McRae. In case you weren’t aware it’s the co-driver that does pretty much everything in rallying short of turning the steering wheel, and yes, that includes managing the driver’s pace, calming him down if he gets carried away, chivvying him along if he starts to chicken out. Jack, as far as I’m concerned, is the sole reason we did as well as we did on Saturday.
What can I remember? That all the stages seemed to blend together, a brown and green blur of murky forest and wet mud. A couple of choice moments leapt out: the start of stage one was all steep uphill hairpins around which our sub-90bhp i20 really struggled and at the end of the stage I completely botched the chicane, going in too hot, stalling and having to reverse out - all within sight of the finish.
The end of stage two caught people (well me) out - downhill hairpin left into hairpin right, during which I mounted the back through the first corner and nearly collected an errant spectator. There was fog in 12.2-mile stage 3, and an error in the supplied pacenotes saw what Jack read as ‘four left into five right’ (where numbers reflect the gear you expect to be in) turn out to be a tight chicane. Thereafter the pacenotes looked iffy for thirty seconds or so, so Jack gave me the ‘drive it as you see it’ get-out clause.
Although I was flat in sixth at the time, heading downhill with much fresh air off to my right, this was actually a bit of a relief, because the whole pacenotes thing is not only a bit pat-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach, but requires both driver and navigator to have huge faith and trust in each other.
It was all a bit of a feet-finding exercise - this was the first stage rally I’d done in eight or nine years, but by lunchtime my confidence was starting to come and the three afternoon stages felt better - more flow, more speed, less over-driving of our underpowered car. If you really want to see how we did, click here to see the official results.
Our little i20 had no mechanical issues whatsoever, the post I could have sworn I swiped with the back end midway through stage two must have missed by millimetres, and the way the Hyundai drives is just fabulous: stunning brakes, really accurate front end, mobile back end and a diff capable of hauling us out of the most wretched situations. More power and we’ll be sorted…
And ideally longer gearing too. At the moment the Hewland six-speed sequential is geared to make the most of the modest power. Top speed is a GPS-verified… 67mph. In one stage we were flat on the limiter for around 35 seconds. We might have nudged 68mph. This does mean I’m forever changing gear, trying to keep the 1.2 in the last thou before the 6,000rpm limiter and that in itself is fun, but on any uphill the speed just refuses to build. At one point Jack asked if I fancied a brew…
I think what amazed us most was the interest and support we found out there. People loved seeing something new and different, immediately understood the link to the Hyundai WRC car, loved the way the i20 looked.
Which brings me on to one last thing. Currently EY63 UGT is white. It has no livery. We’d like you to design one for us. Yep, really. More information on this shortly.