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The Chase: bobble-hatting in Wales

  1. Last week I spent several days on the trail of Wales Rally GB. You might well have been out there too. On Thursday I was in the service park at Deeside where I interviewed Robert Kubica, the next day I ponced between stages in a helicopter and on my final day, Saturday, my son and I did it the normal way and braved the traffic and weather. I learned quite a bit of good and not so good stuff and I thought you might be interested, so here’s a gallery of pics and some words to go with it.

    Words and Pictures: Ollie Marriage

  2. Robert Kubica has a limp handshake

    This surprised me for a couple of seconds. And then I remembered why. It’s two years since the accident that nearly severed his right arm. I sat down with him for 15 minutes. He’s surprisingly garrulous when you get him going: hasn’t fully given up on F1, but the problem is not being able to rotate/leverage his wrist and arm in the confines of an F1 cockpit, ‘Monaco would be impossible for me at the moment’. He tested a DTM car earlier this year, but having won the WRC2 championship this year, I think he’d properly focus on rallying if he got a top line drive. He didn’t do himself many favours by crashing out on Friday, then again on Saturday…

  3. Jari-Matti Latvala is the best driver to watch

    He was clearly trying hard, but his style, using the edges of the track, using extra sideways, visibly trying very, very hard meant I always looked forward to him blasting into view.

  4. The Audi RS7 is a proper weapon

    It, really, really is. Monstrously fast, so tractable and grunty and grippy and trustworthy in crap conditions. I did 885 miles over three days and although the snotty might say the steering and brakes aren’t the last word in feel and turn-in isn’t perfectly precise (all true), for blatting through mid-Wales in November it’s damn near perfect. If maybe a bit wide.

  5. Helicopters: poncey but brilliant

    Yes, landing a handful of yards away from spectators that have marched for hours to be there when all you’ve done is get into a helicopter on the first tee of the Llandrindod Wells golf club and enjoy a ten minute ride is an uncomfortable feeling. However, however… there is no better way of getting between rally stages, no better view than from the air and much more besides. Helicopters make rallying better. Much better. They are quite expensive, I understand. Also tricky to fly.

  6. This is how to make a Golf GTI look cool

    It’s a boggo MkV GTI on Guernsey plates wearing proper Dunlop SP Sport rally rubber. It was parked a long way up a dirt access track. I reckon the driver must have had a high old time on his way to this spot. I was mildly envious.

  7. Every so often you get lucky

    Flashbulb popped opposite within the same 1/1250 of a second that my camera’s shutter was open…

  8. The Audi RS7 is practical

    Here it is with a bike in the boot. At one stage it carried two bikes, one of which was in a box. Don’t ask. It also carried three days worth of Welsh rally-wear (hats, wellies, waterproofs, gloves etc), office stuff (laptops, cameras, notepads, phones, iPods…), family kit (an eight year old son and associated teddies, car seats, clothes, toys etc), plus all the other necessities: food, maps, passes, more clothes, mud. It was so massive that I didn’t have to give a thought to packing neatly. This might not have been a good thing. Some things did tend to fly around the cabin.

  9. I met Gwyndaf Evan's brother

    And his cousin. Was standing at the side of the stage through Hafren when this big burly Welsh farmer type walks down the track and we get chatting. He admires the helicopter I’ve just sauntered out of, then tells me he’s here to support Elfyn Evans, probably British rallying’s brightest young hope and a genuine local hero. Turns out he’s Elfyn uncle. “Oh, and here comes Gwyndaf’s brother”, he says as another burly sort comes trudging down the track. Don’t know who Gwyndaf Evans is? You can’t count yourself as a rally fan.

  10. Rally marshals like off-roaders and tea

    They also sport good facial hair that’s clearly more than a Movember sprouting and for the most part are genuinely helpful and informative. Special shout out to the chaps at Myherin on Friday and Dyfi on Saturday who recommended where to stand and walk to and kept us abreast of the stage timings.

  11. Sweet Lamb is a proper venue

    Stand on the hillside here and you can watch the cars for two whole minutes

  12. Watersplash into...

    …jump, hairpin right, double apex hairpin left, jump, jump, watersplash. And then off up a hillside. Sweetlamb again.

  13. The A483

    I missed this road when I did the lap of Wales for the current issue of the magazine, turning off at Dolfor near the northern end. I shouldn’t have done. I got it at a quiet moment on Thursday afternoon, from Newtown down to Llandrindod Wells. Excellent stuff: quiet, sweepy, well surfaced and open even though it tracks along the side of a river valley.

  14. The Eurocopter EC135 is an awesome helicopter

    Smoothest I’ve ever been in. Quick, too - we hit 160mph. Made in Germany, obviously.

  15. I can't think of a better car for the job than the Audi RS7

    On my way north very early Thursday morning I had the usual Audi doubts about the RS7. Too heavy, too hard riding, not lithe and feelsome enough. But now I really can’t think of a better tool for the job of chasing Wales Rally GB. Nissan GT-R? Too hard riding, not enough comfort. Porsche 911 Turbo? Too low, and like the Nissan, not big enough. Mercedes E63, Jaguar XF-R and BMW M5 don’t have four wheel drive so have traction issues. Which leaves big fast SUVs. Cayenne Turbo might have done the trick, but even that wouldn’t have been as rapid cross country as the big Audi. It was mighty. Suspect a Merc A45 AMG might have been similarly effective, but with 20 per cent less overtaking ability.

  16. Chirk was a joke

    This, Saturday’s RallyFest stage, was the low point for me. The organiser’s completely underestimated the number of people that would turn up, so the car park was full ages before any cars arrived. We parked well over a mile away, and when we got to the Castle were told there was only one way in, and we’d have to walk another mile. So I did what countless others did: hopped over a fence and walked across the parkland. For free. No marshals, no ticket checking, no-one to stop us and because the organisers hadn’t predicted this, expecting everyone to stay penned within a single zone, they were then faced with people standing right next to thin iron fences on the outside of scary fast bends. Not safe. I hope the organisers have learned from it.

  17. Thierry Neuville gets a works drive with Hyundai next season

    I think he could be rather good. Only 25, the Belgian is in the Ogier/Loeb mould, neat but fast and keeps it sunny side up.

  18. The course car

    No Volvo has ever sounded better or been driven harder than this S60.

  19. Fuel economy

    It wasn’t pretty. On Friday the in car computer suggested I’d averaged 16.5mpg over 161.5 miles. Meaning it’s probably about 15.5mpg. Overall I did 885 miles in the bright red RS7 at a genuine 19.6mpg.

  20. TG and Wales Rally GB

    Two things that stood out. When I mentioned that I worked for Top Gear everyone remembered Kris Meeke driving the Bentley last year with James May on the pace notes. They want more stuff like that. They’re also nuts for Robert Kubica. The WRC would do well to keep hold of him. Here’s hoping Citroen gives him the drive his WRC2 victory this year so richly deserves.

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