Colin Clark’s WRC testing diary: Embarrassing passengers

Day two in Finland brought back memories of a high-speed passenger ride

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Day two of Toyota testing here in Finland and once again the sun rose early. Well it never really went down, and we were out of the door at a stupidly early time.

And if you’re wondering, once again I slept like a baby, in spite of having to endure the world’s most uncomfortable pillows for another night.

The start was in fact so early that my brain didn’t really get the chance to engage first gear. As we fired up the happy bus to head out to the test stage I had a moment of panic. We had no fuel. How could I be so bloody stupid.

The panic lasted all of five seconds until I realised I was looking at the temperature gauge, which was obviously at minimum, and not the fuel gauge, which thankfully showed a half tank.

And then a very odd thing happened. We stopped again at the mighty fine ABC service station just out of Jyväskylä for coffee and breakfast and Heikki the talented (and very cool) cameraman decided he would join me in taking porridge for breakfast. Nothing odd about the I hear you say. Well nothing odd until he put two great big slabs of butter into his porridge – apparently that’s what they do in Finland. As I said, all very odd.

Today’s test really wasn’t very far from yesterday’s test stage but as we passed Korpilahti and turned off the main road, I started to feel a little uneasy. This was all beginning to look a little disturbingly familiar. Yep, I’d been here before and that was a very long way short of my finest moment.

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We came around a corner and there it was in front us, the site of one of the most humiliating and frankly disappointing experiences of my life. This service area was where, four years ago, I sat in the co-drivers seat of a Hyundai World Rally Car and wept like only a completely broken man can weep. And who was responsible for this pitiful outpouring of emotion?

Hayden Paddon.

I’d been persuaded to sit with him in the very same stage that Séb Ogier blasted his way through today for a bit of a fun ride. It was anything but. My eyes were closed by the first corner and I screamed in abject terror for all of the five excruciating kilometers of that tortuous stage. We seemed to be in the air for the majority of it but I really can’t say if we were or not because my eyes were never open.

I’ll never live the shame down.

We were supposed to turn the car around and blast back in the opposite direction. I threatened to get out.

I only remained in that torture chamber because, being a lovely sensitive guy and realising how distressed I was, Hayden agreed to drive back at road speed.

In all his years of giving passenger rides, and he’s given more than most, apparently that had never happened before. The shame still burns strongly. But thankfully the tears eventually dried up.

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Anyway, today went a very long way to cleansing those demons from my soul. Ogier at full speed on a classic Finnish stage is a sight to be savoured and he gave us plenty to enjoy throughout today. Stage-side filming with Heikki the very cool cameraman was an absolute joy.

And I’d have to say Séb was also a joy to talk to. He was looking tanned and fit and was as relaxed as I’d ever seen him. We chatted about how much of a bonus it was to spend quality time at home with the family and in particular the kids over the past three months. He might be one of the greatest rally drivers ever to grace theses gravel stages but today reaffirmed to me the fact that above all else, he’s a family man.

So interviews done and action footage in the can (do they still say that in television world?), we headed back in the happy bus to Jyvaskyla.

Did I say Heikki was a cool kinda guy? Yeah well I always thought so. Until he let himself down, and boy did he let himself down big time.

Out onto the main road, radio cranked up to some local Finnish radio station and on comes Europe’s Final Countdown. A slightly sunburned and exhausted Heikki came to life – quite alarmingly. Belting out the words to that tune was bad enough, but as the chorus kicked in the air guitar came out.

Air guitar is clearly a hidden talent of Heikki’s, and one that really should remain hidden. The manic waving of the arms remarkably wasn’t the worst part. It was the other worldly euphoric look that took over his face that sealed it for me.

Heikki the cool cameraman is a title that now lives in the past. That facade was blown big time today I’m afraid.

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