With their WRC futures on the line, Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans put in strong final round performances to finish their home event in 2nd and 6th position respectively.
Following the cancellation of the RAC rally, Wales Rally GB 2015 would turn out to be my final event of the year. And after swearing never to sleep in the car again we headed to Mid Wales for the Friday and Saturday stages complete with the creature comforts of Dad’s new caravan! Whilst the weather forecast looked bleak, there was an upbeat atmosphere surrounding the event with the genuine potential of both leading British crews featuring at the sharp end of the results.
Pleasingly Myherin had been reinstated to the Rally GB route and it was here that we headed on Friday morning. Even more pleasingly, having arrived over three hours before the first car was due, there was no issue whatsoever in reaching our desired destination of Junction 24; just the small matter of a 5 mile walk up some very steep inclines to get there. Never did I imagine that Dad’s decision to bring the Jet Boil in preference to his camera would make me so happy!
Shortly before the crews arrived we were delivered the news that Latvala had retired in Sweet Lamb. The disappointment was short lived however as judging by the pace of the top crews, Ogier was not going to have things entirely his own way …
And sure enough, Meeke and Mikkelsen were within touching distance of the Frenchman after the morning loop of stages; Meeke performing incredibly well in the un-fancied Citroen to keep the young Norwegian behind. Evans meanwhile was only 40 seconds back but would soon lose buckets of time with a puncture on the second running of Hafren, dropping the Welshman to 9th, and leaving a small mountain to climb in order to bring his Ford back into contention.
With three quarters of the event remaining however there was plenty of mileage for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt to recover some of the deficit. And in full expectation of a charge from Elfyn in the afternoon we made our way back towards junction 21, taking in the National crews along the way. The Mitsubishi Mirage R5 of Jamie Jukes was particularly impressive through one of several painful hailstone showers which blighted our journey back up the stage!
Having just about reached our desired location in time; a “short cut” over a fenced field not exactly helping, I was plagued, yet again, by the mountings of my 70-200 separating from the lens itself. Fortunately it was great spot to watch the action unfold as the world’s best drivers launched their vehicles from left to right between the turbine laden hillside.
Dyfi has long been a favourite stage of ours and it was here that we headed on a, as forecast, incredibly wet Saturday morning. Thankful of a good nights rest we eventually made our way down to junction 18 after making several wrong turns in the early morning darkness and comically disturbing one particular Marshall’s morning relief; The chances of being disturbed at that ridiculous hour must have been slim to none!
The double Junction of 19 & 12 was our intended target but after some debate we instead opted for the top hairpin between junctions 13 and 14; and it turned out to be every bit the spectacle I had hoped. Remembering to pack my electrical screwdrivers (something I had forgotten at Zandvoort) I was relatively pleased with the pics achieved too.
The Brits in particular were quick through here, Meeke although losing time to Ogier, sitting just 15 seconds off the lead while Evans was back up to 8th with 5th fastest time on stage. Meanwhile, under-performing super-rally returnee, Thierry Neuville had gone quickest in both Gartheiniog and Dyfi before ending his rally for good later in the day with a large off in Dyfnant.
Whilst rain was forecast I at least expected a couple of breaks in the downpour but instead it was coming down even harder by the time of the second run. Having made our way back to a slight left towards the main Corris spectator area, it would not have surprised me to have seen Noah’s Ark first on the road but thankfully the likes of Ogier, Meeke and Evans were still in full attack mode. Ogier was more flambouyant than ever before, clearly fearing what the super quick Northern Irishman could produce.
The original plan of heading to Aberhirnant for the night stage had long been scrapped by the time we were back at the car following the passing of the National field; instead opting for home made stew, Stella, red wine, David Bowie and Scrabble!
But whilst we struggled to place words on the board, Ogier continued his strong run through Saturday’s foul weather to open up a 35 second lead margin by the time the cars reached the overnight halt. Meeke however had done an incredible job in lets face it, inferior machinery, eeking out 25 seconds to Andreas Mikklesen, while Evans had climbed to 7th partially as a result of problems for Ostberg in the second DS3.
With just the Short Sunday leg remaining Ogier could cruise to victory. And that he did, going on to claim what turned out to be a very emotional 26 second rally win following the horrific events in Paris on Friday evening. As it happens managing to run the 36 kilometre leg at all turned out to be a minor miracle following the discovery of a skeleton, high winds and yet even more heavy rain! Meeke however was able to battle hard against the troublesome conditions and keep a flying Norwegian, in form of Andreas Mikkelsen at bay; recording the best result for a Briton on Rally GB since the late Richard Burns took victory in 2000.
In what turned out to be a trying event for Elfyn Evans, the Welshman did however manage to claw his way back to sixth position overall by the end of the event following the demise of team-mate Ott Tanak. Evans would however be left ruing his day 1 puncture, without which, 4th position was very much on the cards. Surely both he and Meeke have done enough to secure drives in 2016, but unfortunately speed is not necessarily the deciding factor.
For us, despite the conditions, Wales Rally GB 2015 had been a good one. Over the thirty years of attending Britain’s round of the WRC, the car control possessed by the fastest drivers in the world, combined with their commitment into the corners never fails to amaze me; the speed carried through the fast section of Dyfi 2 will be one of those moments that sticks in the memory for years to come! Roll on 2016, where hopefully the new October date will bring substantially better weather …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)