DAYINSURE Wales Rally GB is prepped and primed for a high-speed blast through the legendary Welsh forests this weekend (October 26-29).
Some of the fastest and bravest drivers on the planet rev up to duel it out for glory, now armed with a new generation of even more powerful and dramatic WRC cars.
Drivers were out in Clocaenog Forest this morning getting ready for the start of the rally, which takes place at Tir Prince tonight (Thursday).
Following months of assiduous preparation, Britain’s round of the flat-out FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is now ready to welcome the sport’s most spectacular discipline, with flame-spitting cars, sideways slides aplenty and mud-slinging action firmly on the agenda.
The introduction of new era WRC cars, combined with the prospect of a thrilling title fight coming to a head in Wales, has reignited the blue touch paper, capturing the public’s imagination with sales of advance tickets significantly higher than in recent years.
There is plenty of local interest for the fans to cheer, too, with both Ulsterman Kris Meeke and Welshman Elfyn Evans gunning for what would be a famous home win – the first since 2000.
Meeke has already won twice this year – most recently last time out in Spain – while Evans came within a whisker of winning in Argentina. Both Brits are among the hot favourites for a famous home victory.
Adding to UK interest, the Cumbrian-based M-Sport World Rally Team has moved within touching distance of a first manufacturers’ title since 2007.
It now only needs a couple of finishes in Wales, irrespective of overall placings, to take the coveted championship.
With the Deeside rally village in place, the WRC crews took to the special stages yesterday and today in their recce cars to assess the conditions, perfect their all-important pace notes and steel themselves for what lies ahead over the 190 miles of competitive running.
No fewer than 21 speed tests make up the 2017 route, many of them revised since last year and an old favourite – Gwydir in the Snowdonia National Park – rejoining the schedule on Sunday morning for the first time since 2013.
There’s new curtain-raiser under the floodlights at the Tir Prince Raceway, in county Conwy, on Thursday evening plus a return of the family-friendly Toyota RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle RallyFest, which proved such a huge success when introduced 12 months ago.
Also back by popular demand are a pair of night speed tests - these are set in the Aberhirnant and Dyfnant forests after dark on Saturday.
What’s more, the destiny of the 2017 World Championship is still to be settled with defending champion Sébastien Ogier and his M-Sport team-mate Ott Tänak still fighting for the coveted crown, along with Hyundai’s top gun Thierry Neuville.
Ogier will clinch the title in Wales should he finish in front of his two hard-chasing rivals.
The Frenchman is also seeking to rewrite the history books by becoming the first man in history to win the unforgiving event five times.
“It’s an important weekend for me and of course I want to do well,” said Ogier. “No surprise in the recce – typically Rally GB – tricky conditions sometimes, but still beautiful stages and (I’m) looking forward to start.
“It’s never easy to win the title, but this year has been very close.
“We’ve had to fight hard and we didn’t have the big advantage we had over the others that we had last year.
“The plan at the start is just the victory. I’m not going to take too many risks, which is never easy to do here, but we will always try to win as that would mean with certainty that we win the championship.
“That’s the first plan, but if it’s too complicated, then we have a plan of damage limitation.
“To score some points is okay but the plan isn’t to do that - it is victory!”
The M-Sport star is sure to have things far from his own way in Wales, however, with homegrown heroes eager to turn the tables as Britain seeks to end its 17-year victory drought on the event.
Chris Meeke is up for the fight following victory last time out in Spain.
“They’re difficult conditions out there, but the surfaces do look like they’re yielding a little more grip the way they’ve resurfaced them for this year,” said Meeke.
“Saturday will be tricky as usual with Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin. “We covered Sunday’s stages on Wednesday morning and they were very muddy, very tricky, so it’s going to be a long weekend.
“It’s good to be back here.
“The weather’s looking fair enough over the weekend, but it’ll be difficult in our starting position. We’ll give it our best shot.”
No fewer than 79 international crews are set to tackle the challenging event, accompanied by 81 further competitors on the supporting WRGB National Rally, with dry weather forecast throughout.
After tonight’s start, the high-octane action then really rolls up its sleeves in mid-Wales early on Friday.
Saturday and Sunday takes place closer to Wales Rally GB’s Deeside base and includes the hugely popular, family-friendly RallyFest stage at Cholmondeley Castle with the winners – and perhaps the 2017 World Champion – being crowned in Llandudno on Sunday.
The latest event and ticket information can be found on the official www.walesrallygb.com website.
For further updates, follow Wales Rally GB on Twitter @WalesRallyGB or join the conversations on Facebook at www.facebook.com/walesrallygb
DAYINSURE WALES RALLY GB:
5.45-6.30pm: Autograph session, Tir Prince Raceway
7pm: Visit Conwy Tir Prince (Stage 1)
8.04pm: Parc Ferme – Deeside Rally Village
7.15am: Depart – Deeside Rally Village
10.20am: Myherin 1 (Stage 2)
11am: Sweet Lamb 1 (Stage 3)
11.15am: Hafren 1 (Stage 4)
12.53pm: Regroup and Technical Zone – Newtown
2.31pm: Myherin 2 (Stage 5)
3.11pm: Sweet Lamb 2 (Stage 6)
3.26pm: Hafren 2 (Stage 7)
7.01pm: Chester Eastgate Time Control
8.01pm: Service – Deeside Rally Village
6.10am: Service – Deeside Rally Village (15 mins)
7.55am: Aberhirnant 1 (Stage 8)
8.47am: Dyfnant 1 (Stage 9)
9.59am: Gartheiniog 1 (Stage 10)
10.28am: Dyfi 1 (Stage 11)
11.13am: Corris Regroup and Technical Zone
12.08pm: Gartheiniog 2 (Stage 12)
12.37pm: Dyfi 2 (Stage 13)
3.48pm: Cholmondeley Castle (Stage 14)
4.55pm: Service – Deeside Rally Village
6.55pm: Aberhirnant 2 (Stage 15)
7.47pm: Dyfnant 2 (Stage 16)
10.26pm: Service – Deeside Rally Village
7am: Service – Deeside Rally Village
8.34am: Alwen 1 (Stage 17)
9.08am: Brenig 1 (Stage 18)
10.06am: Gwydir (Stage 19)
11.09am: Alwen 2 (Stage 20)
12.18pm: Brenig 2 Power Stage (Stage 21)
1.35pm: Ceremonial Finish – Mostyn Street, Llandudno