If you’ve watched Steve Sutcliffe being terrified by Kris Meeke in Citroën’s DS3 WRC (and if not, why not?) then you’ll know that a) Rally GB is on right now, and over this coming weekend, and b) that Britain finally has, in the shape of Meeke and Ford youngster Elfyn Evans, a couple of guys in the top flight again.
I’ve just come back from a day’s spectating at the event – a sort of weird trip down memory lane, in fact, since I spent half a dozen years covering the series in the heyday of Messrs McRae, Burns, Sainz and Mäkinen.
I hung up my service park media pass just before Sébastien Loeb turned up to dominate – and the sad thing is that right now, it looks like the other Sébastien (Ogier) and VW have a similar level of superiority over the rest of the field. Meeke ended today’s action, held in the classic forests of Dyfi and Gartheiniog, in the thick of a great fight for third position with the soon-to-retire Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg – but this scrap is already more than a minute adrift of the two Polos.
Our own spectating today mixed technical stuff around the hairpins of Sweet Lamb with a real balls-out, hold-tight stretch in Gartheiniog. Once again, the faster stretch really showed how you can get closer to rallying than any other motorsport; we were barely a few feet from the road as the top crews flew by at 120mph, showering us with gravel as they went.
I can’t help wondering, though, if the technical rules are at least partly to blame for rallying’s current spell in the doldrums. Flash back even 10 or 15 years and the World Rally Cars in use were fairly recalcitrant brutes with a little more power and, more crucially, less advanced suspension and transmissions. They were simply more of a handful – just as the Group A cars of the mid-nineties needed a firm hand, and the Group B weapons of a decade earlier forced even the top drivers to take a deep breath.
These days the technical development seems to have delivered cars that are spectacular when they’re up to speed, but, well, a bit ‘ordinary’ when they’re not. I have no doubt – as Sutters discovered – that a modern 1.6-litre World Rally Car still requires sublime skill to drive on the very limit.
But wouldn’t it be great if the next set of rules came up with cars that make a bit more noise and are a bit harder to drive all the time? A bit of further simplification on chassis rules and transmissions electronics ought to do it. Rally GB is still a great opportunity to see, in my view, the best all-round drivers in the world. I’d just like to see them working a teeny bit harder.