Right at the most distant end of the frayed rope that is my peripatetic life, when I was – oh – 3 or 4, resides one of my earliest memories. Sitting between my parents in a rally crew van, hurtling through a stage looking for a family friend and rally driver, Ian. He hadn’t turned up at the finish and all I really remember is the bumpy ride at speed through the forest, finding his car on its side down a ditch deep enough to contain the car in its entirety, but no sign of Ian.
So my dad wandered up the stage and came back with Ian’s helmet. He’d left it on a wooden post as a sign he was alright and walking towards the end of the stage. I still marvel at how smart a move this was and how well he must’ve known my folks to be sure this would be understood. So all was well in the end and another layer (not the first, not the last) of love for the excitement of motorsport was laid down in the deepest strata of my personality.
Rally events marked my upbringing, alongside grassroots motorsport like Karting, which my father was heavily embedded in for most of his 58 years. From early days alongside my parents as crew and spectator, to the end of my teenage years when I reached the pinnacle of freedom in the Highlands; the possession of a driving licence, which meant I could drive myself to witness these spectacles with my friends.
And even as a full (over-)grown adult, I’ve always followed the sport, except for a period in the wilderness during the boring years, when Sebastien Loeb dominated with Citroen when every other competitor seemed to be a mad farmer or someone with family in the oil business. Even then I kept abreast of developments.
For the last 4 years though, I’ve fallen head over heels with the sport again. This generation of drivers have character and skill, bravery and commitment. Hell, even Loeb seemed much improved, as a person, during his brief, impressive return to drive the spectacular cars of the current era. I’m starting to think Loeb wasn’t the one that sucked the fun out of the sport, I’m starting to think Citroen was always the problem.
Last year, WRC managed to keep going somehow, albeit curtailed throughout 2020, and promises to be a useful distraction this year too. I have a subscription that gives me access to every single stage live or as if it was live should I miss it. It was a lifeline that I could not have done without last year, and is likely to fill the same niche for me this year as well.
Just 6 weeks after the exciting culmination of the 2020 season, the ’21 season began last Thursday and proved to be exactly what I needed. The Monte Carlo rally (on it’s 110th anniversary) provided a focal point of excitement and beauty. Stunning alpine tableauxs, through which the best drivers in the world drew the most exquisite lines on the snow, ice and tarmac that insinuates itself between the trees and alongside terrifying mountainside drops.
Every stage gripping, every run through proving the perfect distraction. A symbol of hope too, that someday relatively soon, we’ll all be able to get back to exploring and travelling these roads around the world; though hopefully without the peril.
That’s what I love about rallying, above all the other motorsport formula that I hold close to me. Rallying is a journey. More than any other motorsport it is an adventure and the drivers, to me, are the closest that remains to my heroes of old. They share an understanding of the risk they take, and so even the greatest rivals treat each other with respect.
Not a circus, something much more real than that.