Our first day back at World Rally Championship work simply couldn’t have gone better. Estonia has delivered in spades – and we’re still four days away from this great nation’s first-ever WRC round.
Why has this been such a great Tuesday? Markko Märtin. That’s why.
Talking to the five-time world rally winner last month, Markko enquired about our plans before the event.
“If you come over a little bit early, do you fancy doing some cross-karting?”
Just a bit.
Driving into a purpose-built rallycross track just outside Tallinn, the voice of rally piped up.
“What exactly are these CrossKarts?”
At precisely the right moment, six-time Estonian champion Eero Nõgene’s 17-year-old son ripped across the horizon in a bright orange laser-guided missile.
Joosep tipped the thing one way, then flicked it at the apex and fired it through the corner in one big, long drift.
The color drained from Colin Clark’s face.
“Is that what we’re doing?”
It started to rain, washing even more color from my Scottish amigo. Let’s not dwell on how long it took us both to a) get into the overalls and b) get into the CrossKart.
Nõgene Sr is the man responsible for Ott Tänak: The Movie. He’s a lovely fella, but he wasn’t the most popular chap around when he told Colin: “It’s easy. The gearbox is sequential. It’s the same as riding a motorbike.”
With a slightly false smile fading from his colorless chops, Col waited for Eero to be out of earshot before whispering: “I’ve never ridden a bloody motorbike in my life.”
I had two objectives: not to crash and not to go through any puddles in an effort to keep my jeans clean. I achieved one of those objectives.
The first few laps were, quite honestly, abysmal. We were both slow, scared, and, to be blunt, rubbish.
But as confidence grew, you really could control the thing on the throttle. You really could throw it at corners. But you couldn’t see a sodding thing. With wire mesh for windows, my visor was covered in mud in no time. Here’s a handy tip for you: don’t try to clean your visor with your hand.
Lifting it and risking rocks in my face, I was ready to crack on a bit when Col came past me (we were on a superspecial-style side-by-side stage). I grinned. Now I could show him what it was all about.
Except I didn’t see him again. He was out of there. He’d found some serious speed. Must have been a quicker kart.
Then came the race. And the red mist. Video evidence of what followed will be coming your way on DirtFish very soon…
Tuesday’s other exercise involved a run in Tarmo Silt’s 1970’s Gaz 51 truck. Showing us a picture of this thing flying past the 20-meter board after a jump while still a meter in the air didn’t ease returning nerves. We needn’t have worried. 1960s Soviet V8 technology allied to some trick, contemporary dampers worked wonders and the ride was an absolute dream.
Silt had this Russian monster dancing between the trees with plenty of left foot-braking, kicking the rear into a slide which he held as comfortably as anybody could given the steering rack included four turns lock-to-lock.
As you might be aware, Colin’s not at his most comfortable in the co-driver’s seat, but by the end of his run he and Tarmo were talking seriously about doing an event together.
You read it here first….
Still not done, we were treated to a look at Oleg Gross’s exceptional collection of Russian cars before supper in one of Markko’s favorite restaurants in Tallinn.
What a start to the week. Now, I promise there will be more rally-related stuff coming tomorrow. That won’t be difficult, because tomorrow we’re off to see a man called Tommi to talk about his team.
Relieved the WRC’s back in business? Just a bit.