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So we’ve made it to the end of day one. Not without incident, it must be said. But we’re done, the car’s made it back to the service park at Deeside after the first four stages of Wales Rally GB.

Talk about eye-opening, though. Stage one started with a hairpin, where so much earth and rubble had been thrown up, it felt like driving through a trench. And that was the first corner of the first stage.

All the rallies I’ve done so far have had the 2wd cars running first, but here, of course, the 4wd world cars run first. And they rip the stage to bits. So by the time we get there, the stages are rutted, lumpy, bald in places, ankle deep in others, covered in rocky ball-bearings and chippings, and mud has been fired all over the place. It basically looks like they’ve towed ploughs through the whole course.

There’s only one line you can take. Leave it and you’re in the hands of lady luck. So stage one was tentative at best, and stage two was as well. My confidence was building as the fuel tank was emptying. It turns out a Hyundai i20 geared so that sixth is roughly equivalent to second in many road cars has a frightening thirst.

We started stage two with a quarter of a tank. After six miles, the fuel light came on. So I started driving more conservatively, using higher gears and trying to conserve momentum. But small things like this knock your rhythm and concentration. We made it through, but I still can’t say I thought I was driving well. At the fuel stop at the end of the stage, we got 39 litres into the 40 litre tank…

Full of fuel, stage three, Hafren-Sweet Lamb, started much better. I thought we were going really well. The car felt balanced, I’d worked out that carrying more left-foot brake through corners, and keeping on the throttle to activate the diff, improved traction and allowed you to make more adjustments to your angle of attack.

Still hadn’t mastered the technique for hairpins, though. And as we swept from Hafren into Sweet Lamb, there was this acute hairpin left. I turned in too early, and with co-driver Jack Morton hollering ‘keep it in, keep it in’, in my ear, I duly did. What we didn’t spot, couldn’t spot, was the ditch on the other side. We thumped in. Didn’t feel like much of an impact, but we beached the car. Jack and the marshals together tried to get us going, but it was only once they’d persuaded the spectators to put their phone cameras down and lend a hand that we got lifted clear and could continue.

We lost a couple of minutes. We also lost the sump guard. We heard it dragging as we barreled down into the main Sweet Lamb arena, then all of sudden it wasn’t dragging any more. We took it fairly steadily over the final mile to the finish – well, apart from the jump, because you have to give it the beans over the jump. I just hope someone’s got the picture, because that’s the money shot. (Send it to editor@topgear.com if so!).

We took stock before the final stage, Maesnant. Only one bracket held the radiator in place, the front bumper was lopsided and the headlight was hanging off. Gaffer tape came to the rescue. Gaffer tape always comes to the rescue. It’s paracetamol for rally cars.

85 grueling, painful road miles later we were back in service at Deeside. With headaches. And a slight sense of despondency. 586, the team that runs our Hyundai, had been far more proactive. They’d sourced some sheet steel for a new sump guard from a metal fabrication company nearby, which we then took to Hyundai’s WRC team, who were kind enough to cut it to shape for us. That’s what rallying is all about – thanks Thomas, Hubert, Tony and Danny, you were a massive help.

So as I write this at 10pm on the Friday night, the new sump guard is being welded into place ready for us to get back on the stages tomorrow. I’ll try to post another story Saturday night, but don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter (@OllieMarriage), or of course see live results at http://www.walesrallygb.com

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