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Monday 14th November 2011


RALLY GB: RETRO STYLE

Rear-drive Escorts would be a good way to spice up WRC, unexpected oncoming traffic not so much



Christian Geistdörfer, Terry Harryman, Derek Ringer, Robert Reid: just some of the great co-driving names in the wonderful sport of rallying. My name, most definitely and absolutely, will never be on that list. Sure, like any bloke I like to think I can tell one end of the map from the other, and take pride in plotting a route the old fashioned way, especially if it means out-witting the sat nav system.

Now that's what PH calls a proper rally car
Now that's what PH calls a proper rally car
But rally pace notes? As with any code or language, if you 'get it' then it makes perfect sense; if you don't, well, they simply become numbers and marks scribbled onto paper. The fact we're running the stage in the wrong direction first, and hence I'll need to read them backwards, makes the task yet more hopeless.

And then there's the car I'm sitting in. Arguably the quintessential rally car of all time, the Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800 doesn't want to know much about anything below 7,000rpm. It is also entirely comfortable with being ragged to 9,500rpm, at which point it sounds - and feels through the chassis - like the most savage, over-sized, industrial chainsaw ever built. It's so angry you imagine it wants to rip a chunk of front bulkhead off and start chewing on it while using it's pistons as missiles around the service car park.

Look of fear successfully hidden by full-face lid
Look of fear successfully hidden by full-face lid
The Escort in question is Jim Whelan's LSV 171 in Eddie Stobart livery. Built in 2006 by Prepfab Motorsport, Jimmy McRae drove it to victory in the RAC Rally, also securing the pre-1981 category in the Historic Rally Championship that same year. When new it was tested by the late Colin McRae for his father, and Alister McRae also drove it to win the historic category in his brother's memorial rally. Whichever way you look at it, if you love rallying, it's a very special bit of kit, and although it's now been rebuilt to pristine show standard that doesn't stop its owner using it in anger on events such as the Rally Clasico Isla Mallorca.

We're at Great Orme, Llandudno in North Wales, ready for stages one and two of Wales Rally GB - part of a warm-up act of classic rally cars to run through the stage before Loeb and co show up.

McRaes of all generations have graced this Escort
McRaes of all generations have graced this Escort
Belted into the Escort so tightly I fear for the integrity of my privates, we have a long wait to get going as the stage is blocked by a media car obstructing, of all things, a double-decker bus doing VIP tours. When we finally get to drop the hammer, the 260bhp Sherwood 2-litre BDG howls its head off and we slither off the line as I try not to giggle like an idiot. The acceleration is suitably fierce through the short-ratio, five-speed ZF 'box, while I try not to make the novice's mistake of nudging the horn button on the footrest with my boot.

Sadly - although thankfully without any tragic consequences - the fun stops (very) abruptly when it becomes apparent that various FIA cars have been let into the stage at the other end, a liberal smearing of Kumho's finest testament to the ensuing 'moment' along with a hefty dry cleaning bill.

Shortly before 'moment' with oncoming car
Shortly before 'moment' with oncoming car
So we can only apologise to the fans out on the craggy cliff top as the organisers pull the plug and we have to trundle slowly through the stage in both directions, with most of the classic cars cancelled altogether. It's very, very frustrating, but just for a brief moment Jim hangs back and then devours a sequence of corners and straights with commitment: sideways and with that glorious Mk2 bark echoing off the rocks. From the co-driver's seat it is an unforgettable experience. However good it looks and sounds from the outside, you can be sure it's even better when you're sat inside...

The current troubles of the WRC are a frequent topic of heated debate among most motorsport enthusiasts, and rightly so. The A55 to Llandudno was quiet and seemed entirely devoid of the mud-splattered Impreza, Evo and hot hatch convoys of yesteryear, once ferrying tired rally fans to the next stage complete with dodgy service station snacks and dog-eared map books. The cars, the events, the competition, the prices, the media, the TV coverage, the FIA - there are many issues to discuss and no room for it here, but while it's far too simplistic to blame any one area, even with rose-tinted spectacles firmly removed, it's obvious that a drifting, rear-drive rally car at 9,500rpm has plenty of teach the current generation cars when it comes to raw entertainment. Long live the RS1800.

LSV 171 on a proper workout in 2008...
LSV 171 on a proper workout in 2008...
...A Mr A McRae at the wheel
...A Mr A McRae at the wheel




   

 

Author: Adam Towler