TG rides shotgun in DS3 rally car
Take one Citroen WRC machine, a rally driver and a hapless TG staffer. Spin.
The path to the top of Goodwood's ‘Forest Rally Stage' is a long, muddy, lonely, uphill trek. It's almost meditative in its isolation. Very Lord of the Rings, only with added horsepower. And safety marshals.
But it is muddy. It is muddy and mildly moist. I am finding it hard to keep balance. This is concerning. In approximately ten minutes, rising Citroen rally driver Thierry Neuville will be showing me the purpose built rally stage, in his DS3 WRC car, and judging by the precipitation on the ground, it will probably be quite sideways.
After trekking what felt like nine hours and four endings too far, I arrive at the start line. The whole setup is situated at the very, very top of the Goodwood hillclimb, and was designed with input from former World Rally Champion Hannu Mikkola to be as authentic a rally experience as possible; barring the thermos flasks and bobble hats and penchant for getting run over, this is as good an exhibition as it gets.
It's 2.68 kilometers worth of twisty loose-gravel, and begins with being strapped very strenuously into what is clearly a baby seat, followed by a painful wait at the top counting down the clock. From my low-slung, strapped in position, I can only see sky and the tops of trees. Did I mention it's mildly moist?
I plead with Thierry, Citroen works driver and a mere pup at 24. Twenty four. "Please don't kill me", I say, trying desperately not to sound like an ageing donkey about to be given that shot. "Well," he shrugs, matter-of-factly, "let's hope not." He looks over at my pitiful face and offers some condolence. "It doesn't look that slippery out there anyway".
Moments later, we find out, it is actually quite slippery. He is muscling all 300-odd horses the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot can muster, with the casual aplomb of a man reading a newspaper on a Sunday afternoon. We are almost exclusively sideways, and despite the low grip, the Citroen seems very malleable. He is so calm, he even talks to me.
"Nice fast straight coming up, ok, now a tight left hander, right, now it's, no it's a jump, ok so it's quite, yes it's actually rather slippery. It's a bit like ice."
We get to the bottom end of the circuit, and into a special boxed off area reserved for donuts. "Shall we do some donuts?" he asks, somewhat rhetorically. I nod, gingerly. He spins. Enthusiasts give him the thumbs up and cheer him along. We head back up to the finish line and he pulls to a halt.
Turns out we hit over 120-odd kph along one of the straights, along a path so narrow I could see a spectator's nose hair. "It was a bit slow, to be honest, don't you think?" Check it out next year and see for yourself...