Rally cars might look like their normal road-going counterparts but, if you clamber inside, the reality is very different.
Strapped in tightly and with a hair net and helmet strapped on, the sparse interior – stripped of all but the bare essentials – gives you the feeling this is a car built for one thing: speed.
“They’re all original fittings,” says my driver for the day, Neil Kirkham, who has been racing since he was 19. He’s enlisted his son Gareth as co-driver and navigator.
Eight years ago Neil got the chance to purchase a battered old Ford Escort 1.6 litre twin cam rally car which was raced by the legendary British rally champion Roger Clark.
With its distinctive licence plate XOO 243F, it was the very first ‘works’ rally Escort to be produced at Boreham and was registered on January 10 1968. It first saw action in a rally in May 1969 when it was driven by Clark in the Acropolis Rally and came second overall.
Almost 50 years later and we’re reaching speeds of up to 100mph as we race around the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle at the preview for this year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (October 26-29).
The first thing that grabs your attention is the noise. There’s little or no soundproofing, and the car feels incredibly light as we hurtle through each damp corner. When Neil presses the throttle, the sound seems to come from everywhere and you can hear every bit of grit thrown up from the road as he struggles manfully with the steering wheel
“I’ve never heard someone giggle all the way round,” laughs Neil as we finally come to a halt after the last hair-raising hairpin bend.
I assure him it was nervous laughter as I go off and find out more about what’s set to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable DayinsureWales Rally GB in years.
Competing crews will tackle a marathon four days of world-class high-octane action set largely in the legendary Welsh forests, with a new opening speed test under the floodlights at Tir Prince Raceway on Thursday (October 26) and the much-heralded return of night stages on Saturday (October 28) adding to the challenge.
The family-friendly RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle – attended by some 10,000 fans last year and now sponsored by Toyota – is back on the bill to popular acclaim, with a revised timetable and a host of entertainment features to enhance the overall spectator experience.
Leading the WRC standings at present is defending four-time title-holder Sébastien Ogier, who is gunning for an unprecedented fifth consecutive triumph on British shores. If he does so, the Frenchman will need to fend off the challenges of Citroën star Kris Meeke and his M-Sport team-mate Elfyn Evans.
“We’re really in for a classic event,” Evans enthused. “There are some fantastic stages on the rally and this year, they will be combined with an element of endurance. Saturday, in particular, will be a tough stint, going back out in the evening in the dark. It’ll be tricky – as will the whole rally, to be fair.”
Other key figures present at Cholmondeley included Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in the Welsh Government, Dayinsure Wales Rally GB’s Principal Funding Partner.
Skates, Welsh Government Economy Secretary, said: “I’m delighted to be here look forward to the 2017 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
As one of the final events on the calendar for 2017, this legendary event is the perfect close to Wales’ Year of Legends.
“It’s been a legendary summer of sport – from hosting the Champions League Final in June to the ICC Champions Trophy and then the Seniors Open in July – meaning Wales Rally GB is in good company.
There’s no doubting Wales’ event-hosting pedigree.
“Wales Rally GB is a showcase of Wales’ natural landscape, uses many of the classic Welsh forest stages and is a great boost for the local economy.
“We support this event for its economic and social impact. Tourism in Wales is in a strong position, and Dayinsure Wales Rally GB contributes to the growing reputation that north Wales enjoys globally as an adventure and outdoor destination.
“The Welsh Government’s continued support for the rally also gives us the opportunity to engage further with the automotive and performance engineering sector in Wales.
“This is home to around 150 component and systems manufacturing companies, employing 18,500 people within automotive manufacturing with an annual turnover of some £3 billion.
“Finally, being at Cholmondeley Castle is an excellent opportunity for us to emphasise the benefits of cross-border working – which is especially the case in the automotive sector.
“Effective cross-border working is essential to attract investment and achieve maximum benefits.”
Ben Taylor, managing director of the rally, added: “Excitement is building. We have seen a significant rise in pre-event ticket sales and our aim is to build on the success of last year, which was a fabulous event.
“We have a really strong route, with 300km of stages through the legendary Welsh forests, and it’s brilliant to be going back to Chester and Cholmondeley Castle again.
“What makes Dayinsure Wales Rally GB so special, though, is that it is so much more than four days of high-speed motor sport.
“What we are doing is bringing a World Championship event into the region, which builds a platform for activities and communication throughout the year with people in the local community.
“The Welsh Government don’t just support the event because they are rallying fans, they support Dayinsure Wales Rally GB because it brings real, tangible benefits to the region and the country as a whole – real benefits for real communities.
“They have been an extraordinary partner for many years, and I must thank them and all of our other incredible sponsors for their fabulous support.”
l Full details of 2017 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB including route, timetable and ticket information can be found on the official www.walesrallygb.com website.