Forget the British Grand Prix. If you want to see some proper motorsport competition, you need to don your waterproofs and held into the cold and wet Welsh forests this weekend.
Wales Rally GB starts in Llandudno on Thursday evening, and the revamped event is shaping up to be a thriller. While the World Rally Championship is still some way off the glory days of the late 1990s, it’s produced some cracking competition this year – and without having to resort to random tyres, DRS or other recent F1 gimmicks. Here are five reasons why you should be excited about the event:
1: A big fight at the front. Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier has dominated the WRC in 2013, winning eight of the 12 rallies held so far. But he’s never finished higher than 11th in Britain. In 2011, the last time he tackled Rally GB in a top-level World Rally Car, he crashed out less than two miles into the opening stage.
Ogier’s biggest rival is likely to be his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finnish driver is arguably the fastest driver in the WRC, but is prone to crashing. Still, he loves the British stages, and is chasing his third Rally GB win in a row.
Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen is a former GB winner, and is desperate for a win after struggling so far in 2013. Another driver who hasn’t won yet but has the pace to is rising star Thierry Neuville. The Belgian will lead the challenge of the British M-Sport Ford team.
2: The stages. After 13 years based in the centre of Cardiff, Rally GB has moved to an industrial estate north of Wrexham this year. And that’s great news. Honest.
Cardiff was largely indifferent to the event, and it used to get lost in the city. North Wales has truly embraced the rally, giving it a much-needed buzz. And the move allows for the use of some classic stages in the region. The north Wales forests are fast but highly technical, making them an immense challenge, especially if the weather is bad (which it will be).
3: It’s fan friendly. Spectating on a forest rally in north Wales in November is an amazing experience, but it does require good planning, careful packing, orienteering skills and a little bit of insanity. If you don’t fancy braving the woods, there are new spectator-friendly RallyFest stages at two National Trust sites, Chirk Castle and Kenmel Park. They’ll offer easy access, good spectating spots and catering vans. Because it’s not a proper event if you don’t have a burger from a van.
4: Robert Kubica. Since a freak rally injury ended his Formula One career, the Pole has made a name for himself in off-road competition. He’s won the second-tier WRC2 championship at his first attempt this year, and has been given a works Citroen DS3 WRC for the first time in Wales.
5: Spot the British stars. There won’t be a home overall winner this weekend, but there are plenty of Brits worth watching. Top of the list is Welshman Elfyn Evans, who is a favourite to win the WRC2 section in his Ford Fiesta R5 after some strong outings so far in 2013.
There’s also triple British Rally champion Mark Higgins, who is tackling Rally GB for the first time since 2008. He’s been keeping himself busy though: if you liked the car chases in Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, he did an awful lot of the driving in them.