SKODA: RALLY RATHER GOOD
Riggers gets on his bobble hat, fills up his Thermos flask and heads for the Czech Republic
It was the way the service crew managed to change a rear differential in less than a quarter of an hour that opened my eyes. I am not one of nature's mechanics (I recently bought How it works: The Motor Car, an old Ladybird book, and found it to be genuinely instructive), but I know enough to understand that the changing of the diff was a work of efficient mechanical genius.
And the average rally fan can get within feet of the action - I was there as an 'official' Skoda guest, but aside from there being no physical barrier between me and the car I was hardly any closer than the rest of the fans.
But the key to rallying's appeal is that VIP hospitality treatment gets you barely any closer to the action than regular fans can get. It is motorsport that you can see, touch and smell, where little more lies between you and the action than a line of plastic tape and a man with a hi-vis tabard. And if you happen to be in the right place at the right time there will be as much drama as you'll find in any soap opera.
He had spun out of a 26-second lead with just three stages left to run and then, trying to make up lost time, braked too late for a left-hand corner, beaching the car on a large branch. The anguish of Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary were plain to see - and Kopecky's girlfriend was in tears, knowing that dropping out of the lead had effectively killed his championship chances.
Bouffier's misfortune promoted the works Skoda of Juho Hanninen into second and private Skoda entrant Pavel Valousek into the third podium spot. But with Kopecky's retirement it was a bitter-sweet one-two-three that secured Skoda its hoped-for manufacturer's title. A Hollyoaks script writer couldn't have devised a more dramatic plot.
So just what is IRC?
IRC stands for Intercontiental Rally Challenge (the word 'international' would be just too obvious) and is a 12-round global championship for Group N rally cars (production-based cars along the lines of the Mitsubishi Evo) and Group A vehicles.
The top-spec cars - such as our friend the Skoda Fabia - are based on S2000 regulations, which means a normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine giving around 265bhp, a six-speed sequential gearbox, four-wheel drive and two mechanical differentials.