Making a judgement about who’s going to win next week’s Wales Rally GB on the back of two tests and about 10 corners would be a dangerous game. But let’s give it a go, shall we…
Last week, I headed deep into Wales with route co-ordinator (a man who knows just about every corner of every stage in Wales) Andrew Kellitt and Colin Clark (a man who has talked – and continues to talk – about every corner of every stage in Wales). Our mission was a simple one: to find, locate and learn from M-Sport and Hyundai’s pre-event running time.
We couldn’t wait for Toyota (testing this week) and our eyesight wasn’t good enough to focus on Mazamet, the south-western French woods where Citroen is honing the C3 WRC for, err, Wales.
So, snap judgements are all coming from the roads around Bala and Clocaenog last week.
The verdict? Simple. M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta WRC looked like an all-conquering force; Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC exited most corners looking like a beached fish trying to fight its way back into the water.
Present from the start of Sebastien Ogier’s running, the Frenchman went through his own warm-up routine while the Fiesta was woken gently to a bright and sunny morning between the trees. Moments later, the 260 hamlet-dwelling folk of Llangower – the test site’s nearest neighbour – were given a somewhat sharper, but eminently more fever welcome to Thursday.
Off the line, Ogier gave the car a couple of gears before a right hander led him into a short, cuttable left. Mentally, you build a picture of what’s coming: probably third gear, a cackle of anti-lag will telegraph a pre-corner lift to get the thing turned in to our corner and then hard on the throttle up the straight past us.
No lifting, pops fourth as he dives in, smudges the apex into the long grass on the inside and happily lets the rear drift until it almost kisses a log pile. Gone.
Impressive doesn’t come close. It’s the same wherever we go in the stage. And in Clocaenog the next day. The M-Sport car looks brutally efficient, come rain or shine, mud or dust. It’s just working beautifully. And so is Seb.
Contrast that to the word from down the road, where Neuville, a man on a tractor reliably informs us, only had five runs all day.
“His car broke down. I can’t see that Nerve-vile bloke getting very far.”
We’re not just relying on our own snap judgements here, we’re taking in-depth local analysis too. From a man who called Thierry, ‘Nerve-vile.’
Andreas Mikkelsen was the man behind the wheel the day we happened upon Hyundai’s warm-up for next week. The Norwegian always finds something to be cheerful about and his recent return to full-time employment ensures he’s absolutely on the party line about the car.
These trees can talk. Let’s get among them and see what they have to say.
The exit of the first corner we get to has a blind entry, no idea what to expect, no time to build a mental picture. There’s not a lot of lifting going on. Sounds like he’s coming in flat. Last moment, down a couple of cogs, then back on it. The car comes into view rear-first, the left-rear slashing at the overhanging pines. Other corners reveal more of the oversteery same.
So there you have it: on the evidence of 10 bends and two days, put your money on M-Sport.