This year has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved in rallying. Time to reflect on our memories of the year.
We asked our staff to each select a standout memory of 2023.
She stepped out of the car, folded her jacket over arm and looked towards the front door of DirtFish. Briefly, world motorsport’s most successful woman – ever – was stopped in her tracks.
Preparations for the second annual DirtFish Women in Motorsport Summit had stopped. Word was out. She was getting close. And now she was here. Michèle Mouton smiled. She thought she’d seen it all – but not much prepared her for the Pacific Northwest welcome she received in Snoqualmie last March.
There was almost an impromptu guard of honor as staff, volunteers and, well, just about everybody crowded around to catch a glimpse. The appreciation was massive and mutual. And this was Thursday. The Summit was still two days away.
Michèle was nothing short of a megastar. Her indefatigable directness was perfect – as was the same intensity which had once knocked over the likes of Ari Vatanen and Walter Röhrl. She came with one message: yes, you can. She delivered it to a standing ovation.
All of the above count as inordinately memorable, but that wasn’t the defining moment. That came the day after the Summit when DirtFish WiM coordinator and all-round warrior Josie Rimmer and I got to take Michèle for lunch in downtown Seattle. Walking through the fish market in Pike Place with this utter legend was as surreal as it was iconic.
As was her answer when asked her choice of wine to accompany lunch.
“I don’t drink wine,” she smiled. “I only drink champagne.”
Class. Pure class.
When I think about highlights, I tend to be drawn to situations and events that evoke an emotional response in me. Emotions can be very complex, but there’s no question, they can also be incredibly powerful – and for a man who’s covered more stage ends than perhaps anyone else in the world – this was as powerful a moment as I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing.
And we’re not talking about one of the world’s top drivers in one of the world’s best cars, at one of the world’s great events here. This was the Ojibwe Forests Rally in the United States, and this was the driver who was very last on the road at the final stop line in his home-built Mustang.
This was Neil Thomas.
As Neil rolled into that stop line myself and my DirtFish colleague Brenten Kelly were standing by ready to do our final interview of what had been a fantastic event.
Neil’s window came down and I was immediately concerned; his eyes were red raw and there were tears streaming down his face. I was genuinely concerned as to what might have happened in the stage.
Neil took a few seconds to compose himself and then explained.
Those tears were tears of relief, they were tears of joy, they were tears of gratitude.
Because Neil had just completed his first rally, something he’d dreamed about doing for years. And this was no easy ride through his first event. The car was only completed in the final hours before the first stage, which meant he missed the recce. But Neil and his impressive car made it to the start line.
Neil’s words and his raw emotions served to remind me just how much rallying means to so many people. Working at the very highest level of the sport is an honor and a privilege, but reconnecting with the true heart of rallying, the roots of rallying is just as big an honor.
Brenten and I were both truly humbled to share that moment with Neil and it’s fair to say we both shed more than a tear or two at that stop line.
Tragically, Neil was killed in a rallying accident just a few weeks ago.
Our sport is insufferably cruel at times, but Neil left an impression with so many of the rallying community that will never be forgotten.
Another one of the good guys taken from us way to soon.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in this great sport of ours pretty much my entire life. Winning rallies, world championships, working with the finest drivers, co-drivers and team members around has left me with some amazing memories.
But one moment this year topped them all.
Standing watching my daughter Samantha slide a Subaru WRX, fully sideways, fully committed through the corner of a gravel stage was something I’ll never forget.
Samantha and I took a three-day class at DirtFish together this year (something I can’t recommend highly enough, by the way). I wasn’t going to drive, but got persuaded by Josie [Rimmer], Nate Tennis and the rest of the fabulous gang at DirtFish.
I’ve done a wee bit of driving in my time and competed at the front end of the field in a Group N (for any Gen Zs reading… ask your parents!) car at world championship level. I thought I knew a bit, but DirtFish taught me so much more. That in itself was a great memory.
But it was Samantha’s progression from that first classroom session in the morning right through to a flat-out run at the end of day three that capped everything.
Honestly, standing watching her pressing on in that Subaru was the proudest day of my life. A moment and a memory I’ll never forget.
One of the best parts of my job is getting behind the scenes and filming the crews away from the service park and the stages. I love our morning interviews with the drivers as they prepare for the first stage of the day. As was always the case, Craig Breen didn’t disappoint.
Sweden was my highlight of the year. It wasn’t about Ott Tänak’s first win back with M-Sport (though that was very cool); the memory was all about Craig. And it wasn’t the morning. It was Saturday afternoon before the day’s final stage.
We were going down the line with Colin [Clark] talking to the drivers. Where was Craig? His co-driver James Fulton smiled and nodded in the direction of the trees, where Breeny was about to answer the call of nature.
Right on cue, a big old Volvo competing in the historic event arrived at a nearby junction. The inhabitants were clearly trying to catch Craig’s attention with a load of revs and spinning wheels.
This was an interesting one: Craig had just lost the lead of the rally to Ott and his focus was bound to be elsewhere. Even Colin admitted he was thinking harder than usual about the questions for Craig. He was going to be pretty focused.
Of course he was, but this sport meant everything to Craig and even though he was facing the trees and, er, busy, he couldn’t help himself.
The Volvo sent it out of the junction on the limiter and up the road sideways. Had Craig even noticed?
What do you think? He was laughing his head off, waving (one-handed) and whooping away. I filmed almost all of it.
He saw me and carried on laughing: “I hope you’re not filming me having a p***!”
Not a bit of it. It was all about the Volvo, but the soundtrack of Craig cheering just added to it.
Working with Craig was always a total pleasure, but seeing him back to his absolute best in Sweden and being there to capture his amazing character and smile was something so special. I think we should all remember Craig in Sweden this year. He was a driver and a person having the time of his life.
My best memory of the year? Easy.
Popping champagne with Michèle Mouton after our record-breaking 2023 Women in Motorsport Summit.
Or, perhaps, the car ride to that celebration, where she told me how emotion-filled she was after interacting with an awestruck and inspired audience. The energy in the WiM Summit tent, when all of our panelists walked in the room and the applause shook the walls.
It was that energy and feeling of emotion that shook my breath a little bit as I wrapped up the panel portion of our day. The realization that we’d done it. The knowledge that there were young women in the room that knew they could do it too.
I’ve been watching Subaru Motorsports USA for the last 15 years. Competing in a Subaru myself, the chance to get closer to the WRX race car built by Vermont SportsCar has been pretty amazing this year.
But I never expected this. When I was asked if I wanted to sit in with Brandon Semenuk for a run in the brand new car before Ojibwe… Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d lucked into this! What an opportunity. The car hadn’t even turned a wheel on a stage and here I was sitting alongside Brandon.
Talk about an eye-opener. I’ve ridden with quite a few quick drivers and, working at DirtFish, I’ve been in some really quick cars. But this was different.
Off the line we went into the first corner in fifth or sixth gear and Brandon barely lifted. He certainly didn’t brake – he just hooked the thing into apex and absolute sent it.
It was such a cool thing to do and I can’t thank Subaru Motorsports USA and VSC and, of course, Brandon himself, enough for the chance to do that. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
In fact, the whole year has been fairly unforgettable. Working on DirtFish Live Center has been really cool this year – seeing the Live Center evolve and develop with every event is something really special.
I’ve been a member of the community of rallying in America for a very long time and one thing we’ve always noticed is the lack of awareness of our sport, especially for those competing further back in the field. To be part of a process which is so obviously changing that and bringing the sport of rally to the people through DirtFish Live Center is fantastic.
To pick just one event, it would have to be Oregon Trails. That’s kind of a home round for DirtFish and standing at the end of a stage interviewing five or six of my fellow instructors or people we’ve taught in the school was just a blast. I can’t wait to be back next year.
It’s a close one for me this, and I’m very lucky to have many moments to choose from!
I only started with DirtFish in October, and actually joining the team and getting to know everyone around this place has really been an amazing experience, and something I never thought would happen.
Then there was Central European Rally: the first event I attended as a member of the media. Shaking hands with world champion Kalle Rovanperä there was pretty cool.
Oh, and so was getting to go to Dani Sordo’s end-of-season rally-themed party of course.
But for me the moment that stirred the emotion the most came just a few weeks ago, in the pitch-black night of Kielder Forest.
It was the sound of Seb Perez in his V6 Ferrari-engined Lancia Stratos echoing up from the valley, as he tackled the second pass of the Mount Common stage on the Roger Albert Clark Rally.
In that moment, I was transported to another world – it was just me, that sound, and the magic of rallying.
Quite simply, it doesn’t get any better than that.