The irritating jingle of my alarm at 5 o’clock was not the best start I’ve ever had to a Tuesday. Having finally dragged myself out of bed and got ready, I managed to put the kettle on and make some breakfast, carefully trying not to wake anybody up. I was once again armed with my trusted (and borrowed) Prova shirt that, were it not for some tactical rolling of sleeves and tucking in, swamped me.
On the cards for today was the Wales Rally GB media day at the Walters Arena in Glynneath, about 30 miles north-west of Cardiff. One piece of dry toast, a strong coffee and a nice, warm (and once again borrowed) Prova jacket later, I was tootling along in my ‘washing machine on wheels’ towards Tewkesbury, where Aimee had agreed to meet me, before the journey down to Wales.
I was met at the designated ‘pick-up’ by Aimee, who had managed even fewer hours sleep than me! The journey down to South Wales was uneventful, other than our disbelief at how many traffic cones there seemed to be west of the River Severn. We made it to our destination just gone 9 o’clock, following what felt like a rally stage itself, until we met up with the team of marshals.
Walters Arena used to be a quarry and was transformed into a motorsport venue. It will be one of the most important stages of this year’s rally, playing host to the qualifying on Wednesday, 12th and seeing the competitors twice again for the final day on Sunday. I had thankfully brought my walking boots with me and the two of us, joined by Richard, set about organising the arrival of the media, local dignitaries, Welsh rally drivers Tony MacWhirter, Sara Williams, Shon Rees, Cameron Davies and their impressive vehicles.
By 11 o’clock, the day was in full swing with cameras and reporters from ITV Wales, S4C Ralio and the local print media joining representatives from Wales Rally GB and the Welsh Government. After a brief speech by CEO of Wales Rally GB, Andrew Coe, photographs and interviews with the drivers began and I was tasked with seeing how many media and dignitaries I could persuade to sign their lives away and sit alongside the drivers as they took to a section of the stage. One of the ladies was particularly keen to experience the speed and adrenaline rush first hand; in fact I almost had to stop her from jumping in the drivers’ side!
Throughout the day, we were keen on having a steady flow of cars taking to the course. When the willing journalists and representatives had been strapped in and roared around the stage, myself and Aimee were allowed a go in the hot seat. I was sat alongside Tony MacWhirter in his Mitsubishi Evo at the starting point when he turned to me and asked, “Have you done anything like this before?” My response of “no” was met with a less than reassuring laugh, the lights turned green and he sped down the gravel track.
The control that Tony had, as the car squirmed around on the track, was incredible. I was stunned with how the drivers could make so many subtle changes in the car, yet still concentrate on what was passing by in a blur, right in front of them.
If somebody had told me at the start of the day that I would be hurtling along a deserted quarry, turned rally stage, in South Wales, perhaps the early wake-up call would not have been so bad.
After a summer of Olympic sport, the final explanation of my day to family and friends was with a typically poor, sporting cliché. It’s not how you start, it is how you finish!