N.B. This is a post about the Rally from a slightly under-informed but very enthusiastic new fan’s perspective. For Rally results and all the facts, figures etc please click here.
On the evening of Wednesday 10th November after a post-work cider and chips from Caroline Street I take the Bay Car bus to Cardiff Bay. On the bus I hear the sound of a souped-up engine and an unidentified rally car roars past. The World Rally Championship (WRC) has arrived in Cardiff.
The bus drops me behind the Senedd next to Service Park B and I prowl the perimeter fence but it’s not open to the public. I stop to help a couple looking at the map of the “Rally Fest” area – it’s nice to have insider-local knowledge – and then march up to Service Park A where the big boys are.
I arrive outside Petter Solberg‘s pit just as the Norwegian is heading off to Shakedown (a practice run of Special Stage 1 which will take place on Cardiff Bay barrage on Thursday night) and manage to grab a quick snap of his car.
Next thing some headlights appear from the depths of Service Park and a Citroen with Red Bull livery approaches. The Ice Man exits Service Park too quickly for me to get a picture. “Kimi!” I involuntarily squeal to no one then grin sheepishly. Then Jari Matti Latvala drives back into Service Park. Again this is too sudden for me to get a picture…I need to have my camera ready!
I head off for a recce of Service Park. I need to know where all the big boys have their pit garages for tomorrow night when my dad and sister come to see the Rally. I spot a guy in a dinner suit looking at a map of Rally Fest and decide to be a friendly local and ask if he needs any directions. He turns out to be a dashing American who lives over in Penarth and was worried about road closures (‘helpfully’ the map of the Rally route cuts off half way across the Barrage). I advised him (totally incorrectly as it turned out, whoops) that they wouldn’t be closing roads in Penarth just the Barrage.
After ascertaining where all the drivers’ pits were I headed back to the bus stop. Damn. 20 minutes until the next bus. But my wait was made eventful by the fact the drivers were using the road to get back to Service from Shakedown. First I saw Petter drive by and have to stop at the traffic lights. I ran up the road to the lights and then just stood there grinning (luckily there were some photographers there taking pics so I didn’t feel so conspicuous). Next Mikko Hirvonen had to wait at the lights and again I was there to stand grinning and waving – what a fan girl!
Thursday night and my sister Georgia (@susi36) and our dad have arrived to watch SS1 and have a day of Rally action up in the mountains on Friday. We have dinner at IKEA and then walk down to the Bay, Georgia and I waving our suomen lippuja (Finnish flags) and arguing in pigeon Finnish about who has the best flag (hers is the veteran of at least 3 WRCs and numerous other motorsport events).
We go into the WMC to buy our tickets for SS1 and surprisingly there’s quite a queue. Then it’s announced that tickets have sold out. Damn! Dad is the most upset, Georgia and I are good at finding the silver lining in situations like this. We decide to walk over to Service Park B and see who we can find. This pays off as we get a pic with the super-sexy Andreas Mikkelsen but otherwise there’s not much going on. We try to work out if we can stand somewhere on the road to catch the cars as they drive from Service Park to SS1 but after chatting with a marshal it seems we can’t access their route to the stage. We decide to drive over to Penarth and see if we can see the cars as they drive onto the Barrage (they start SS1 from the Penarth end). We park a little way away from the Barrage and, spurred on by the sound of revving engines and the sight of headlights, jog to the Barrage through the lashing rain and gale-force wind!
We are pretty pleased with ourselves for figuring out to come to this end of the stage especially as the cars stop right in front of us as they are let onto the stage a couple at a time. Unfortunately we seem to have missed the big boys so my hopes of seeing Kimi up-close are again dashed but we do see Andreas again and some lesser-known Finnish drivers including one Finnish co-driver who has walked up to the start of the stage to see what’s happening (there seems to be some confusion with the order the cars will go through) and nodding to me and Georgia and our flags says “hyvännäköinen” (looking good). Squee!
Georgia and Dad had a great, if cold, day out on the stages on Friday. Friday evening I decide to pop down to Service Park just to see if anything is happening. I timed my arrival perfectly, stepping off the bus just as some of the cars pulled up outside the side of the Red Dragon Centre for scrutineering. And Kimi was there…
I didn’t get a photo with him. Some fellow fans called him over with mournful cries of “Kimi! Please, Kimi.” He scrawled 3 autographs without smiling or looking up and the walked away to stand with his crew. I think people knew not to call him over again. He then got in the car ready to drive it to Service Park. He sat inside alone and perfectly still as a press photographer photographed him through the windscreen. He obviously hates this side of Rallying: the fans and photographers being so close and access being a lot less restricted than in F1. Also perhaps he wasn’t enjoying waiting around in the cold for something to happen – but that’s at least 50% of what Rallying is about for both fan and driver!
The other drivers seem to tolerate the fans better. I interrupted Mikko Hirvonen talking with his crew and having a drink to ask for a photo and he was more than willing to oblige. But Kimi is different, “Kimi is Kimi.” Maybe one day I’ll get that prized photo and maybe get to exchange a few words but I doubt I’ll get a smile from the Ice Man.