Cockermouth high street, Wednesday afternoon. Not a likely stage for a motorsport spectacular. But while this mundane backdrop serves only to further exaggerate the caricature of a Fiesta that we’ve stuck in the middle of it, the story of this drive can be traced back to January, in Monte Carlo. Because this isn’t just a rally-spec Fiesta.
This is the official Ford M-Sport WRC Fiesta RS that Jari-Matti Latvala skidded through the hallowed passages of the Monte Carlo rally and then took to overall victory in Rally Sweden, just a matter of hours before Cockermouth is treated to the spectacle of me, stalling my way around the one-way system in it.
But it’s not this car’s history that is a cause for concern. It’s the future. Current regulations state that World Rally Championship cars must use the same transmission and motor for four rallies. Only two have taken place, covering 450km of the most extreme competition mileage this side of the Dakar Rally by the time I find myself sitting in the deep bucket seat, surrounded by rollcage.
So although I’ve grown up yearning to follow in the footsteps of all my heroes (step forward Vatanen, Röhrl, Mouton, Blomqvist, Hopkirk et al), reality has taken a weird twist of fate and I now find myself genuinely capable of affecting a World Rally Championship effort. And all I want to do is not affect it, because that would mean I’d have achieved new heights of idiocy or misfortune and blown up something critical, costing Ford a substantial penalty.
But even with this level of potential disaster on the cards, I wasn’t passing up an opportunity to drive a bona-fide rally car. And I was assured that the 300bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre motor and six-speed sequential are made of pretty hardy stuff.
So I take the keys from Malcolm Wilson, driving force behind M-Sport – the outfit that runs Ford’s WRC campaign. Wilson tells me under no circumstances should I hit the ‘stage’ button, introduces me to Miguel (a technician who will be present at all times and will stop me from hitting the ‘stage’ button) and watches us roll out of his base on to public roads.
It’s an extensive and erratic assault on the senses, driving a rally car. We’re not off the driveway before I realise that comparing this with a standard Fiesta is like contemplating open-heart surgery and antiseptic cream in the same thought. They’re both medical miracles, but at opposite ends of the scale.
Even at below 30mph it judders, whines, crackles and thumps along the road. The cacophonous soundtrack only seems to enhance the neurotically sensitive steering and throttle. You can persuade it along with some fluidity at normal road speeds with practice, but only with the sort of cajoling and nervous concentration you imagine bomb disposal teams specialise in.