In my three years of going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I’ve always neglected the faraway gem that is the Forest Rally Stage.
So this year I was determined to put my walking boots for the hike to the top of the hill and spend some time receiving a dusty face while marvelling at everything from classic Escorts, Group B icons and modern day IRC and WRC machines.
It was certainly worth the walk. The stage and its paddock feel a world away from the activities of the main Festival surrounding Goodwood House. It’s less crowded, feels more intimate and there is a sense of community and a real dialogue between fans, drivers and technicians.
While up there, I was lucky enough to be invited to have a passenger ride in a 1998 Toyota Corolla WRC car. This was the very car Didier Auriol drove to victory in the 1998 Rally Catalunya, and has since gone on to be driven to two British Rally Championships by Jonny Milner and even a Dutch Rally Championship.
Milner is once again the car’s owner, but driving duties had been handed over to Welshman and all round top bloke Julian Reynolds as Milner was busy trying to spectacularly conquer the hillclimb in his optimised Toyota Celica Sprint car.
I’ve passengered in prototype racers and supercars with launch control before, but not one of them felt as quick as the Corolla WRC. There is no bogging down off the line or wheelspin in spite of the loose gravel surface, just physics-defying levels of traction and acceleration.
Once you’ve processed just how quick the thing is in a straight line, you’ve just about got time to brace yourself for its cornering ability as this is no ordinary Corolla. A flick of the handbrake makes light work of the tightest of hairpins and the tail comes out at will. It’s nimble and frighteningly quick at changing direction.
Quite how anyone can drive a car with this competence and skill and make it look so easy is a constant source of bemusement to me. While I see a blind crest and would think “slow down”, Reynolds and his top-level WRC colleagues would be thinking, “speed up and get some air”.
Our time on the run was an impressive 2mins28secs, around 10s off the pace of Meeke in the Mini Countryman WRC, although Reynolds reckoned there was an extra 4secs to be found on the course in the Corolla.
The Rally Stage seemed so bustling with activity and variety of machines that it almost seemed an event in its own right. And it’s my first port of call at the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012. I’ve already checked – it should all start again on Friday 6 July 2012. See you then.