Even for a rally, this is early. And this isn’t even a rally. It’s 3:30am on Thursday when my telephone reminds it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for.
Thursday is Puma day. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. Every now and then, as a journalist, you have to take a bit of a punt on something. More than a year ago, I took a bit of a punt on the Puma.
There was lots of evidence pointing to the switch from Fiesta to Puma, but there were still lot of voices – very high-up and quite loud voices – warning me that it might not be a good idea to run this story.
But we did. Another reason it was worth getting up before the local birdlife had even considered opening its eyes.
The reason Thursday started so early was that DirtFish had been given permission to join and film M-Sport Ford at its photoshoot for the new car. That shoot started at 5am outside the Duke of Richmond’s front door.
We couldn’t wait for that, we wanted to see the car in the flesh as soon as possible. It was rolled out of the back of the truck and into the waiting West Sussex air at a smidge after 4:30am. In milky first light, there it sat. In a field.
“What do you think?” asked team principal Richard Millener.
I didn’t answer. I was still taking it in. First impression was of sheer size. It’s bigger, longer than the current Fiesta. But purposeful. Aggressive. With lots and lots of presence. The funky 2022 livery does well to disguise some of the aero lines from a distance, but up close the comparisons to a 2017 Fiesta are understandable.
Don’t forget two things: this car will take Rally1 back to the 2017 World Rally Car-style of aero. There won’t be the endless dive planes and wings added to every possible flat – or semi-flat – surface of the car.
Fundamentally speaking it’s a snowplow at the front and an ironing board out back, with the potential for some air intake trickery mid-ships. The second thing not to forget is that this is a prototype car.
Basically, it’s the front end of a Puma bolted to the rear of M-Sport’s test car. What’s coming at the actual unveil will be different from the b-pillar backwards. Not massively different, but different. That’s when it’s all Puma.
Not that anybody cares when shutters start clicking at 5am.
The weather hasn’t really played ball, with the British summer sun showing its usual reticence. But the slightly overcast skies combined with the early hour add to the atmosphere, the expectation and the sense that we’re seeing something happen that perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing.
This is proper behind the scenes. Ford’s snapper Drew Gibson is strapped into a camera car, a cut-and-shut Focus with a rear-facing bucket seat in the space where there was once a boot.
Marshals and catering staff start to arrive, bused in and up and down the hillclimb track on the same Stagecoaches which will return to shipping folk from Chichester to Bognor Regis on Monday.
It’s all very surreal. Ford’s communications uber-boss Jay Ward offers a ride back up the hill in the F-150 Raptor he’s using for the Festival. Why would anybody want to go in the cab at this point?
The only place to see the world’s most famous hillclimb (sorry people of Colorado Springs, but Goodwood’s the place to be today) is sitting in the back and enjoying the soundtrack of two turbochargers and considerable displacement.
With the Puma backed into its paddock garage and the covers pulled over, it’s time to consider breakfast.
An Oatopia porridge special with banana and peanut butter is the only way to go for me, while Gary [Osborne, DirtFish cameraman] is going sausage sandwich – quite possibly the most expensive in the history of DirtFish expenses’ claims at £7.50 [just over $10] for what is essentially a hot dog with a very big house in the background.
By now the gates are open, folk are coming in. Our secret will soon be out. It almost feels like the moment the police arrived in the Queen’s bedroom to ask Michael Fagan what he was doing in there.
Is that analogy a bit strange? Probably. Forgive me, I’ve been up since early…