Spectating with rallying’s new boss

FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley joined in on an adventure to the Croatian forest to watch the very best stage-side


Have you ever had imposter syndrome? Finding yourself in a situation you feel you simply don’t belong in?

As the second day of Croatia Rally dawned and I was told to congregate with my colleagues in the hotel reception at a slightly unpleasant 7am, that’s exactly how I felt. But not because David Evans intimidates me, rather that we were heading out to the stages with the FIA rally director in the car.

Time to be on my A game.

I needn’t have worried. Andrew Wheatley isn’t an imposing character or someone that commands your unequivocal attention. He’s not power hungry, he just happens to have significant power.

The first clear example of this was as soon as we all walked towards DirtFish’s hire for the weekend – a nine-seater Citroën SpaceTourer that cameraman Eliot Bernard has affectionately named Celia – Wheatley hops in the back, not owning VIP status up front.

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Worryingly though this means I’m in the front, and judging on how some of the navigation went the previous day this isn’t a strong sign. But the less said about that the better.

Unfortunately I can’t reveal too much of what Wheatley said in the van either – I’d lose any career credibility if I did. But rest assured there is simply nothing this man does not know about all the nuances of rallying.

So much so that he was up for an impromptu adventure. Let’s just say the navigational issues that affected Friday blighted us again on Saturday morning too.

The muddy access route we had bravely previously decided to use – assumably against the advice of the local farmer who had spoken to us in Croatian but none of us understood – was closed, and so David had to back down a narrow, forest track.

Plan A failed, but there’s always a plan B. Attempting to get to SS9 (which ended up being canceled anyway), we actually headed for SS10 instead to sample some Rally1 action.


And the voyage quite literally covered further ground than that. Wheatley was more than up for facilitating an exclusive DirtFish video, introducing himself to fans of the World Rally Championship and explaining his vision for rallying. And where better to do it than right in the middle of the Croatian forest as the world’s best tested their mettle behind us?

Look out for that video on our YouTube channel very soon. But before I wrap this column up, allow me to share another nugget with you that I thought summed up Wheatley’s character up perfectly.

After working at the sharpest of sharp ends in the WRC, next week Wheatley will take a short break to focus his attention in another rallying direction.

“I’ve got to get 150 brake [horsepower] out of it,” he said, talking about potential engine modifications he’s going to make to the 1400cc Ford Puma rally car he and his son will share on a grassroots rally in Britain.

“It’s impossible not to get out of bed every morning with an absolute love for the sport,” he added.


“Look at this, we’re standing in the woods in the middle of nowhere early on a Saturday morning and look at the passion for rallying around here. It’s fantastic.”

Wheatley is a rally man through and through. And that’s exactly why, on the trip back to Zagreb, DirtFish’s ‘fun bus’ pulled up at McDonald’s and Wheatley was more than happy to indulge our cravings and enjoy a Big Tasty.

Of course his job is deeply political, but there’s no act or political ploys with Wheatley and it was a delight to see first hand. He is simply one of us, and our gratitude must go to Wheatley and the FIA for him becoming just that for the morning.