This week was always – and will always be – sacrosanct in my household.
It’s the week of the RAC. Rally GB. Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship.
For one week, the rest of the world could do figure. And that includes you, Mr Bertram. For your information, those Mondays when I was “ill”, I wasn’t. I was suffering from serious fever, but nothing you would understand. And certainly nothing an hour of your trigonometry would have fixed.
The only possible cure was to walk a mile or two in the rain, lean against a tree until I couldn’t feel my feet (but I could see ice forming on my wellies), then delight in the spectacle of a Martini-liveried Lancia. Or cigarette-backed Toyota.
I loved it. Loved it.
In my formative years, the Sunday start wasn’t really ideal. It usually meant one spectator stage and then hours spent looking for somewhere to park up at the side of the road, followed by a mad dash in the direction of Juha Kankkunen’s car. I’d usually arrive window side, program and pen in hand, just in time for him to drop off the axle stands and fire the car up towards the next stage.
Fans these days have no idea how much easier dedicated service areas make watching a gearbox change. Being number five in a five-deep crowd gathered around a bunch of Boreham’s best changing the front differential on a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4 usually meant 50% of me was on a busy A road. There was a constant cost-benefit analysis going on in my head, weighing up being squashed by a lorry versus catching sight of Malcolm Wilson.
Those were my RAC Rally Sundays. I always got to do those with my dad.
On the Monday morning, every year, dad collected or was collected by his mates Dave and Paul and the three of them would disappear in pursuit of the event to the finish. They didn’t do Mickey Mouse. And I was very grateful for that.
Pre-event preparations included the arrival of the spectator pack. This included a full entry list, map of all the stages and the program. I’d help dad mark up OS maps, but generally nothing from that weighty brown envelope would be far from my sight in the lead up. Then Thursday happened, Motoring News landed complete with its RAC supplement.
Cover to cover. Every year. The same with RallySport.
No sleep Saturday night and then away Sunday.
Home Sunday night and Ceefax (a TV text-based news service for our non-UK friends) would be tuned constantly to the motorsport page and I’d have the rally line on direct dial. For years, mom couldn’t work out why the phone bill went through the roof in November. Confession time again: it was me. You could call this telephone number and listen to a recorded message with news of the top 10 on the event. The hours I spent in my father’s study, hiding under his desk on the phone, waiting to hear if it was true: had Hannu Mikkola really dropped his Mazda 323 from the lead in Langdale?
He had. Gutted.
That year was made all the more memorable for me for one red reason. It was the only year dad’s mate Dave used his red Rover SD1 for the event (it was a couple of years old by then). Hearing that car arrive outside the house at the end of the rally was one thing, but seeing it totally covered in mud was something else.
That year was all about Harrogate. 1988. Just the 52 stages in a route running down to Birmingham, up to Elibank.
After a while, Sunday simply couldn’t cut it and I badgered dad to take me on the Monday as well. Into the mid-Nineties and done with school, university was far more missable and dad I chased the whole thing together.
This story was supposed to be about what we’re missing this year and I’ve rather hijacked it to my own ends.
So, what would we be missing?
How about a superspecial through the centre of Conwy tonight. Conwy’s a fairly small town with a big castle, but the sight and sound of a Rally1 car tearing down those narrow streets with the anti-lag crack bouncing off the walls would have been sensational.
Friday was Clocaenog, Penmachno and Brenig/Alwen. Twice. Say it quickly and it might not be quite so painful…
There’s no easing the pain of Saturday though. That mid-Wales day with a 14-miler in Myherin, 18 glorious miles combining the spectating potential of Sweet Lamb with one of Wales’ classic tests in Hafren and finally for the loop, 20 miles in Dyfi.
And this time, there would have been no complaining from the drivers about the length of the day – they would have made the trip down to mid-Wales on Friday night, offering an unusual seven o’clock (rather than four o’clock) alarm call.
Sunday was set to be one of the most radical days of the season, with the woods shunned in favour of a day at Oulton Park. Early planning was for a 5.5-mile powerstage incorporating the delights of the Cheshire circuit with perimeter roads and sections of the venue’s rally stage. Wouldn’t have been to everybody’s liking, but I’d take it over what I’ve got planned for Sunday…
And, of course, we’d be back on Deeside this week. I’ll admit, that’s not something I would have missed. Moving to Llandudno last year worked an absolute treat. We couldn’t go back this time around for fear of the highest of high tides washing away sections of the service park (a reasonable enough reason…), but the north Welsh coast town really embraced the event. It looked like the RAC might have found itself a home, only to be taken back to a desolate car park on the outskirts of Chester. Oops, did I say Chester? Sorry, Deeside.
In and among that route, there would have been some extraordinary action. Who wouldn’t have loved the chance to see current world championship leader Elfyn Evans taking his Toyota Yaris WRC past his own front door, chased all the way by the fastest rally drivers in the world?
The spectacle of Rally GB is one of the season’s highlights and, when the weather does its thing (ie not rain all the time), there really is no finer place in the world to go rallying.
And no better place in the world to report on a rally. Yes, you get covered in mud as you crowd around the car to listen to what the drivers have to say, but that proximity also offers that most delicious aroma of mud being baked onto the exhaust. Nothing finer.
So, in short, plenty. That’s what we’re missing this week.
Especially in this house.