If I was ever going to have a rock-and-roll moment, that was probably it.
I’d just ditched Carlos Sainz’s Race Touareg in a lake – only a small lake – and my first words when I managed to extricate myself from the thing?
“Where’s the car? I have to go to the airport…”
Within five minutes of getting my feet wet I was heading for Frankfurt, bound for Heathrow.
Which made the positive response all the more surprising when I called Volkswagen Motorsport’s PR superstar Andre Dietzel with an idea.
“Can we drive the Race Touareg around central London?”
Yes we could.
So we did. Having clambered up and down an Ande or two quite successfully, Piccadilly Circus and a picture outside a Gherkin was a doddle for the German manufacturer’s Dakar-smashing weapon.
I loved working with Volkswagen Motorsport on those jobs. Nothing was too much trouble.
It was the same when it landed in the World Rally Championship. It managed to retain some degree of modesty through a 2012 warm-up season, when a brace of Škoda Fabia S2000s were deployed to every round bar Rally New Zealand, in an effort to see what the WRC was all about.
But when 2013 arrived, Volkswagen Motorsport not only redefined success in our sport, but it also redefined the best way to shout about it.
Sébastien Ogier has talked about his feelings on the loss of Volkswagen Motorsport and it comes as no surprise that he talks about it with such warmth. Ogier made the Polo R WRC, and the Polo R WRC made Ogier. Together, for four years, it simply couldn’t stop winning. And, on the odd occasion when Ogier didn’t dominate, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen were on hand to do the job for him.
But this column isn’t about the statistics or the number of wins or the four-year monopoly of WRC success Jost Capito and Sven Smeets presided over between 2013 and 2016.
It’s just a way of saying thank you.
Volkswagen Motorsport made my job easy. It provided so many stories, so many emotions.
Remember Capito’s humility on the eve of the 2013 Monte? He wouldn’t entertain the idea of big talk or title tittle-tattle. Even when the success came, feet were never allowed to leave the ground. Capito’s push and desire for success was endless.
But it wasn’t all about the Polo’s performance, Capito wanted and worked for the best in the WRC. Certainly in my time, Rally Portugal 2014 was the first time the drivers were told not to speak to WRC TV at the end of stages.
It was Capito’s strength of leadership that came to the fore when the manufacturers reached an impasse in their negotiations with WRC Promoter. He instructed his crews not to open the doors and not to answer any of the promoter’s questions.
The doors remained shut in one of the most bizarre moments in the series’ history. It’s fair to say, we weren’t short of good copy that weekend.
But the biggest emotion came at the end. Or the end of the WRC program.
Listening to Adele singing the line “This is the end…” at first service on the final day of Rally Australia, 2016 brought a tear to the eye. Right up until one of the more manly mechanics got tired of the noise and demanded: “Who put this f****** suicide music on?”
Rather killed the atmosphere and ambiance, if I’m honest.
Rallycross was, of course, the new rallying for Volkswagen and, courtesy of Johan Kristoffersson driving for Petter Solberg’s team, total domination was maintained.
After that? America’s mountain and an unbelievable trip to watch Romain Dumas demolish the Pikes Peak record in a car which, to most in Colorado Springs, looked like it had recently escaped another planet.
“It don’t even sound like a car…” was the memorable view from one disgruntled fan, apparently untutored in the art of all things electric.
Rarely has one manufacturer crossed so many disciplines with such success. Volkswagen Motorsport will be so, so badly missed.
But, as is always the case, it was the people who manufactured achievement.
And I’ll miss those people. Capito and Smeets were a pair of the best team principals I ever worked with. Francois-Xavier Demaison is one of the sport’s preeminent technical brains, but he demonstrated – regularly and often – that he hadn’t lost his touch in explaining his brilliance to the common man (me).
And when F-X wasn’t on hand, similarly minded experts Gerard Jan de Jongh, Richard Browne and Phil Barrett were more than capable of filling in for the many – and massive – gaps in my knowledge.
There are so, so many more folk that I would like to mention, I fear if I start I won’t stop.
Those four years defined a generation of the WRC. And made me a bunch of friends I’ll never forget.