There’s not much glamour in the World Rally Championship. In fact, there’s probably none at all. I'd go so far as to say that some club meetings at circuits have more glamour, better facilities and far more pampered drivers spending big bucks to try and get to the top.
That's not to say it's a cheap sport to be part of: there’s lots of money involved in the WRC’s two works teams Citroen and Ford. A clutch, for example, sets them back £24,000 and will generally only be used for one day’s action.
And that's the charm of the WRC circus - it's focused on competition, not trying to impress. The main service park for Rally GB was in a car park in a tucked away corner of Cardiff. With the rally cars driving on public roads to and from the various stages, it just added to the feeling that this is a sport that operates on an entirely different level to high-profile racing series, and connects with people for that very reason.
When the cars are out on stages the 'facilities' are even more charming. A deserted car park with a sheet of wet and muddy tarpaulin laid out to work on might not sound like much, but it's what they've got - rally folk are hardy types. Even the works teams don't have glamorous motor homes. On the road, the Ford team uses a hired coach as an HQ, and a pick-up truck for serving tea, coffee and bacon sandwiches.
Yet having spent time watching and experiencing the WRC for the first time last weekend, I’d take it over Formula One any day. And it’s not just the charming facilities which I fell for, it was how engaging and accessible the teams and drivers proved to be.
Everyone was willing to talk and tell you what they did and - best of all - show you the cars up close and in immense detail. I can’t imagine too many F1 teams would be willing to let journalists sniff around their cars taking pictures and asking lots of questions at such a crucial and busy time.
Best of all was Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford’s number two driver who’s built up quite a reputation for crashing and high-profile mistakes. Speak to him about the rally and the championship and his answers are what you’d expect – team player, going for the win etc. But speak to him about matters away from the forest and a big smile appears on his face.
Best of all was the insight into what his day-to-day company car transport was. You’d naturally expect a Ford WRC star to be given the keys to a Focus RS, but not Jari-Matti. “No, I haven’t even driven one yet,” he said. “I’d like to but it hasn’t happened yet.”
“Maybe they’re worried what condition it will be returned in?” I asked. No answer, just a big grin.
So what does Jari-Matti drive? Very proudly, he told me it was a Ford Mondeo 2.2-litre diesel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a Flying Finn who lives in Monaco to drive. “But it’s okay,” says Jarri-Matti, “it’s got 173bhp…” Enough to get it sideways, in other words...