Lots of buttons are located on the centre console and a digital display offers information for everything from the car’s drive modes to cabin blower settings. For someone who has just jumped into the car for the first time, it’s a bit overwhelming, but the way Grönholm flicks switches and cycles through menus shows it’s just another office for him.
Car warmed up, helmet secure and intercom connected, it’s time to face the rally. SS11 is a 4.62km stage called La Ciarulla – The Legend – that circles an industrial estate a short drive from the service park where we start. While I’m carefully directing Grönholm to it, I already begin to sense that his mind isn’t focused on setting the course on fire.
“Ah sh*t, it’s all dry now,” he says in a sharp Finnish accent, staring at the tarmac ahead. “Our wet tyres will overheat a lot but, hey, at least we can do some big slides for the people!”
The excitement in his voice helps me to release some pressure. Clearly he’s not bothered about stage times; he wants to have fun. The start line marshal grabs our time card through my side window’s slim opening. It’s handed back to me with our start time scribbled on the front, so I check my watch and let Grönholm know that we have two minutes and 30 seconds to go.
When there are 30 seconds left, he edges forward to the start line and we wait. “Ten seconds,” I say. His eyes are locked on the start marshal ahead who is counting down with his fingers. Grönholm switches on the anti-lag and pins the throttle. The start marshal’s fingers count ‘two, one’ and we surge forward, wheels spinning and vibrating as they bite into the surface below.
“Right around here,” I shout, as he fires up a slight gradient and into the industrial estate. “I think it’s a left here… yeah, there’s a jump ahead, I think.” I’m barely 10 seconds into the stage and my eyes are lost on the page.
My head is thrown side to side in the seat and my neck desperately tries to hold my gaze steady. I look across at Grönholm. He’s smiling, arms thrashing at the wheel and right foot prodding at the accelerator. He’s not even listening to me. The guy is just having fun.
“Watch – jump!” I hear him shout through my headphones. Now he’s instructing me…
We launch, the revs dull and, for two seconds, there’s no sound. Then bam! We land flat and Grönholm tugs the vertical handbrake bar to slide us 90deg left around the next corner. I suddenly remember I’m meant to be guiding him, but I’m on the wrong page and he’s too busy showboating for the crowds who line the edges of the road in their hundreds.