I was in Cardiff for the weekend to do some filming around the World Rally Championship. Now, if I'm honest, before I went I knew very little about the world of rally. But now... well... I'm a veritable font of information.
Did you know that Finland and Argentina are the two countries that get most excited about it? I knew about Finland already – being familiar with rally driver names really helps when you're playing "list five famous Finns".
I sometimes wonder why particular countries adopt certain sports. I've been to Finland and it was pretty cold and depressing. I assume that this is why they have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It seems obvious to me that suicidal Finnish youth decided that if they were going to end it all then they might as well do it in style. So they hopped into their fathers' cars and drove around on icy roads as fast as they could. The problem was that some became very good and didn't crash and lo, rallying was born. Argentina on the other hand... the land of gorgeous women, great steaks and the tango... Why on earth is rallying popular there? I have no idea... sorry.
The World Rally circus had taken over Cardiff Bay. Who'd have thought that there would be so much kerfuffle over grown men off-roading? I wandered around the "Service Park" where hundreds of rally fans (who look a lot like ramblers... anoraks, bobble hats and cameras) cruised around the various stalls and exhibits. Very popular was having your picture taken with the "Stobart Girls"– fake-tanned, blonde women who had something to do with Eddie Stobart lorries. If they weren't your bag then you could buy every possible type of "performance clothing" with rally stuff plastered all over it.
None of this was for me – I was far more interested in a small cordoned-off area where posters proclaimed that a gentleman called Paul Swift was going to be doing some "precision driving". One thing led to another and pretty soon I was in a stupidly powerful Ford being thrown about the place by Mr Swift. I did handbrake turns, J Turns and Extreme Parallel Parking. It was awesome and I can't wait to unleash my new skills on the good people of Cirencester. What I really liked, however was that this kind of legalised joyriding was happening right outside the Opera House in central Cardiff without the usual meddling health and safety police putting a stop to the thing. How on earth had they got away with it? We didn't even have to wear helmets, as they were apparently a hazard as I could possibly smash mine into someone else's head.
Much as I enjoyed myself, I was rather worried that this didn't really constitute a sport. How wrong I was. Paul Swift informed me that it was called "Autotesting." This didn't sound like the sexiest name for an event but there you are. Organised competitions, Paul told me, involve a series of tests, normally around traffic cones, to measure precision driving skill. These tests often include stopping with the front and rear wheels straddling a line, and always end stopping in a "garage" (usually marked out with cones). Some sections of these tests are completed in reverse. To me these are the sorts of skills necessary to get you out of an attempted kidnapping rather than a sport but Paul insisted that they were also very useful in the world of rallying.
Oh yes... the rally... where was it? Over a Tannoy system I could hear somebody commentating on it but it all seemed to be actually happening a couple of hours away from us, which wasn't much good. Back in the day, rallying used to be simpler – people would get into a car and drive like buggery from one place until they got to another – London-Monaco... Paris- Peking etc... Nowadays it's all about stages and rally drivers essentially end up doing loops of various "courses" and the time all gets totted up to find a winner.
However lenient Cardiff City Council officials are about allowing a man to drive like a lunatic in a closed-off area, they are not prepared to take the extra step and allow an entire rally race to roar through the streets. I was eventually shuttled up into the hills to watch a stage. It was exciting stuff, with spectators dicing with death to get good photos of the blurry cars as they skidded past in a hail of shale. My mind, however, was elsewhere. It was full of handbrake turns and smoking wheels. Just wait until I get back home...
Is it illegal for the Welsh to be seen in public not wearing a rugby shirt? I found it difficult to spot one this weekend. What's the penalty for an offender?Reuse content