In my short time shooting motorsport I have been lucky to dabble in everything from Indy to Moto GP, but personally nothing matches the fun of shooting the World Rally Championship.
Standing on the edge of a gravel road, the only noise is that of the wind in the trees. Your ears are intently tuned for any sound resembling a rally car. All of a sudden you hear the silence-shattering antilag, you would swear it is just around that corner, although in actual fact the driver is still navigating a turn 2-3km back up the road. I still remember 1999, hanging over a fence post on the inside of a corner while Tommi Makinen slid past me all locked up at 140kph+. It was the one and only time I have been left speechless at motorsport.
WRC drivers are regarded by many as the most talented drivers of any motorsport discipline. Tarmac, gravel, mud, ice and snow are all waiting in the stages for the crews, in all 4 corners of the globe that the WRC visits.
Rallying has always been a very fan-centred sport. The fans appreciate how accessible the drivers and cars are, just as the drivers appreciate the helping hands when they crash off into the trees.
So when you head into a service the drivers are more than happy to sign an autograph, or take a photo with you. There are no barriers or official’s wearing suave sunglasses with a earpiece keeping you away from the drivers. Getting to meet the likes of Burns, McRae, Makinen, Sainz and Loeb is something I won’t forget in a hurry.
On the stages there are no barriers either, the thrill of standing on the side of a gravel road with a 300bhp rallycar sliding past is exhilarating.
It isn’t just a day out either, the planning is all part of the fun. A week prior, sitting down at night with a cup of coffee, studying detailed maps to find the perfect corner from where you want to spectate and arranging an itinerary is all part of the true rally experience.
In the last few years the sport has become even more spectator friendly, the days of long single-run stages are gone. Today the sport favours loops of stages so spectators can visit on stage yet see the cars run the same road twice.
There is a lot intrigue surrounding the sport as well. Ken Block has run his own campaigns in the WRC, Kimi Raikkonen has also done the same. For many professional drivers in other disciplines, this is the ultimate test of driving skill.
Of course if you get it wrong things can end badly, there are no tyre barriers in rallying. Usually the side of the road are lined with trees, and buildings. On the 2012 Rally New Zealand a rare incident of fire broke out and Ramona & Miriam bailed out safely. The car was unfortunately unable to be saved.
Being forced to watch your pride and joy burn to the ground must be one of the hardest things for any competitor to experience.
Fortunately it’s not a common occurence, and while the action on stage is still equally as hot it usually is because the drivers finish 3 days of competitive rallying by being separated by a mere few seconds. I remember the Rally NZ where Marcus Gronholm beat Sebastien Loeb by a mere three tenth’s of a second!
Rallying is a sport in which the Scandinavians dominated for many years. For the last decade however, it has been the French who have taken over that role, in the form of Loeb and Ogier. Loeb came from a gymnastics background – talk about a career change!
There has been a myriad of manufacturers in the history of rallying, everything from Porsche and Ferrari, to Citroen and Subaru. Some with more success than others, although for many manufacturers winning the World Rally Championship is a bucketlist thing to do.
Rallying however has gone through tough times, after the glory of Group B where the sport was more popular than F1, it was thought that WRC might just disappear into nothing. A recent resurgence and flurry of new manufacturers has meant that the championship has come away once again.
Thank goodness it has too, it is great having a motorsport to shoot where there are no buildings, gravel traps, tyres or barriers to clutter up the background.
The nice pace of a rally despite long hours and a lot of driving you always return home afterwards feeling relaxed and never have I come home disappointed after an event.
It might take a week or so to wash all the grit dust out of my hair, ears, and other bodily crevices but that is just what rallying is all about.
Many would argue that if you don’t get dirty at a rally then you are spectating from far too far back. Of course we don’t condone that you stand too close either!
So next time you see that a rally is taking place near you, grab a map, jump in the car and head off to the middle of nowhere to check it out. Rallying after all is somewhat of an adventure!