By Paul Evans
In an illustrious professional co-driving career, Nicky Grist contested his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship 16 times, winning it twice – with Juha Kankkunen in a Toyota Celica in 1993 and with Colin McRae in a Ford Focus in 1997.
Still heavily involved in the sport as an MSA Academy coach and running safety equipment specialists firm Nicky Grist Motorsports, the Ebbw Vale-born navigator is, along with Kankkunen, the official Dayinsure Wales Rally GB ‘Rally Legends’ this year.
There is no-one better to talk us through this year’s Wales Rally GB route, as Grist gives Dai Sport an exclusive stage-by-stage guide to this week’s 23 special stage, 198 stage mile event, which starts from Deeside on Thursday.
Thursday 4 October
SS1: Tir Prince (1.05 miles) 19.00
“This year’s Wales Rally GB starts with a real family crowd-pleasing spectator stage around the Tir Prince Raceway, near Rhyl. Run under the spotlights, cars set off around the trotting oval, go over a jump in front of the main stand and leave the track and head onto a grassy gravel road, with another jump before the finish. Crews will be looking to complete this stage without damage, mindful that you can’t win the rally here, but you can certainly lose any hope of victory if you make a mistake.”
Spectators: There are two main viewing areas – a wonderful view of the cars going around the trotting track, or from an equally spectacular viewing area near the end of the stage. Tir Prince is located near Towyn, just off the A548 coast road. The car park is adjacent to the stage, approx 200m from a viewing area. There is also an overflow car park nearby.
Friday 5 October
SS2: Clocaenog 1 (4.76 miles) 07.56
“A classic North Wales rally stage to start the event in earnest. Part of the stage will have been used the previous morning in the Shakedown, and while Clocaenog might be a relatively short stage, it’s very high speed in places, with a lot of tight and often tricky junctions. It can be quite slippery in here too.”
Spectators: From Ruthin take the B5105 towards Clawdd Newydd, signposted Cerrigydrudion. From the south leave the A5 at Cerrigydrudion and follow B5105.
SS3: Brenig 1 (18.10 miles) 08.32
“The longest stage of the entire rally, this year’s stage is a combination of two stages from last year, Brenig and Alwen, with closed public Tarmac roads linking the two. Crews will know this stage fairly well, as Brenig was the final Power Stage last year – where Elfyn Evans flew over the gravel section on the shores of Lake Brenig and over the final Tarmac section to win his home rally for the first time. It’s a demanding stage – narrow in places and a lot of cuts can be taken on the corners. By the end of this stage, we’ll be able to see who really means business in this rally and we’ll start to see who’s likely to be battling for victory and who are struggling with the pace.”
Spectators: Leave the A5 at Cerrigydrudion and follow signs for B4501 Llyn Brenig. Access is only from the south off the A5 and B5105 from Ruthin.
SS4: Penmachno 1 (10.53 miles) 09.47
“This has historically been two stages, Penmachno North and South, and they have been joined together thanks to closing a narrow and tricky Tarmac public road. This forest hasn’t been used on Wales Rally GB for five years and it’s not an easy stage. It can be fairly rough and rocky in places and it has caused a lot of punctures in the past. There is a section in Penmachno South that always catches drivers out on national rallies, but after a recce and with detailed pacenotes, I don’t expect any of the top crews to have any problems. It will be a key stage on this morning loop.”
Spectators: The car park entrance is off the A470. Follow the A470 south from Betws-y-Coed (following signs to Dolgellau and Blaenau Ffestiniog) to reach the car park entrance. There will be no access from the A5 onto B4406 towards Penmachno village.
SS5 and 6: Slate Mountain 1 and 2 (1.01 miles) 10.40 and 10.47
“This is a short spectator stage at The Slate Caverns, home to Zip World, near Blaenau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia. There are some great vantage points from high up on the mountainside, and after the crews have done the stage once they’ll go straight back in and do it again, just seven minutes later, so it’s two stages in quick succession for the price of one. If you’re new to rallying and live fairly close by, this is the stage to go to and find out what rallying is all about – you won’t regret it. With a slate surface and roads lined with large rocks, crews will be happy to finish this stage without any problems, as there is danger on every corner. From there it’s straight back to the Deeside Rally Village for midday service.”
Spectators: The entrance is off the A470 ½ mile north of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
SS7: Clocaenog 2 (4.76 miles) 14.37
“A repeat of Clocaenog begins what will be a very important afternoon loop. A lot of cars will have gone through these stages, including a national rally, and these cars will have taken different lines and swept loose gravel back onto the roads. From here on in, the rest of the day will be very tricky, especially for the first cars on the road, who will be sweeping the loose gravel and the first to come across rocks and other debris left by the first pass.”
Spectators: As SS2.
SS8: Brenig 2 (18.10 miles) 15.13
“This could be the key stage of the day. Crews will be pushing in here, and with a lot of cuts having already been made by a lot of cars, drivers won’t know exactly what’s around the next corner. You can’t ease off if you want to win, and it won’t be easy to avoid hitting stones on the narrow sections. The second time through Brenig will be a bit of a gamble, which will pay off handsomely for someone and not for others.”
Spectators: As SS3.
SS9: Penmachno 2 (10.53 miles) 16.28
“Another stage where crews going for the win will have to attack. Rocks pulled out and unearthed by cars ahead are always a problem on the second pass through Penmachno. It’s a stage where you thrown everything at it, and hope that team strategy, tyre selection, inch perfect driving and luck will all come together. Crews will want to exit the stage unscathed and in a strong position heading to the overnight halt.”
Spectators: As SS4.
Saturday 6 October
SS10: Myherin 1 (12.60 miles) 08.35
“Super Saturday starts with a very early wake up call, as the first car checks into morning service at 05.30, before a three-hour drive to the most southerly stage of Myherin. With almost 50 miles ahead on the same set of tyres, crews will be leaving with two spares in the boot and a carefully thought out tyre management strategy, especially if they gamble on the softer tyre. Myherin is a stage that hasn’t been kind to me in the past, as it’s where Colin McRae and myself crashed out big time in 1999 in our Ford Focus – and this year’s route goes past that same corner! Having said that, it’s a lovely stage – and any crew who wants to win the rally will have to start very quickly in here. Elfyn’s Corner is a great vantage point, where spectators can see the cars come down past the wind farm and enjoy uninterrupted views for a long time.”
Spectators: Access from A44, 8 miles west of Llangurig. No access from Devils Bridge / The Arch.
SS11: Sweet Lamb Hafren 1 (12.39 miles) 09.15
“A combination of two great stages, Sweet Lamb and Hafren, this stage is shorter than it has been in the past. But it’s another fantastic spectator venue, especially in the famous Sweet Lamb Bowl, where you can see the cars come down the hill, over a jump, around the Bowl, through a watersplash and up and over the hill again – that’s over a mile of uninterrupted viewing. The Bowl is a natural amphitheatre, and it’s where I’ll be watching! There are other good spectator points, and the stage finishes to the north, in Hafren forest, a few miles to the west of the village of Staylittle.”
Spectators: For Car Park I (Sweet Lamb Bowl), access is from the A44, 4 miles west of Llangurig. For Car Park J/K access is from the B4518, 2 miles north of Llanidloes.
SS12: Dyfi 1 (12.10 miles) 10.28
“Run in the opposite direction to last year, Dyfi is a beautiful forest with some lovely driving roads. It’s tight and twisty in places, but it has a lot of fast and flowing sections as well. Drivers love it, and spectators can enter from the east near Corris and watch near the start or go via Aberangell, to the west, and watch near the finish.”
Spectators: For Car Park L, access is from the A487, 4 miles north of Machynlleth (care, narrow bridge). For Car Park M, access is from the A470 at Aberangell, 2 miles south of junction with A458 (Mallwyd). At the entrance, filter left at the split to reach car park M.
SS13: Gartheiniog 1 (6.99 miles) 11.02
“A very short road section from Dyfi takes crews into Gartheiniog – which is one of my favourite stages, not just in Wales, but in the world. As a driver, you can really attack in here as it’s got a lovely smooth surface and a mixture of fast, medium and tight corners. It’s a loving driving stage that has a wonderful flow and gets the best out of drivers.”
Spectators: Access is from A470 at Aberangell, 2 miles south of junction with A458 (Mallwyd). Car Parks M and N share an entrance – when approaching the entrance, filter right at the split to reach Car Park N.
SS14: Dyfnant (5.15 miles) 12.08
“There is a big loop to the north that isn’t being used this year, as Dyfnant has been shortened for television, as it’s Saturday live stage. It’s only used once as well, but features some great sections and includes Irish Corner. A lot has happened in Dyfnant over the years, and whilst it’s shorter than in previous years, a great deal can still happen in here.”
Spectators: Approach from the junction of A458 and B4395 near Llangadfan.
SS15: Myherin 2 (12.60 miles) 14.52
“After a regroup and change of tyres in Newtown, the rally heads back into Myherin. They’ll be just over half way through the longest day of the event, for without a repeat of Dyfnant, forty-four stage miles remain between now and the end of Saturday’s stages.”
Spectators: As SS10.
SS16: Sweet Lamb Hafren 2 (12.39 miles) 15.32
“Spectators who have stayed in the Sweet Lamb Bowl will be rewarded by seeing the world’s best drivers pass them for a second time. There is an alternative spectating area above and behind the Bowl, where cars have looped backed before turning north again into Hafren forest and the finish. It’s still a long way from here back to the safety of final service, but there will be no alternative but to push on flat-out over this stage.”
Spectators: As SS11.
SS17: Dyfi 2 (12.10 miles) 16.45
“A repeat of a great stage, situated between Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south.”
Spectators: As SS12.
SS18: Gartheiniog 2 (6.99 miles) 17.19
“A repeat of my favourite stage. It will be getting dark under the trees now, and the light could be particularly difficult for the cars running further down the order. But whether you’re running first car or last car, Gartheiniog is still a cracking stage! From there, it’s a fairly long drive back to flexi service in Deeside, followed by dinner and a well earned rest.”
Spectators: As SS13.
Sunday 7 October
SS19: Elsi (6.25 miles) 07.22
“Situated above Betws-y-Coed, sections of this stage were used a few years ago as one of the Thursday night forest stages. It’s not a particularly nice surface, as it can be a little bit rough in comparison to the others, but it’s only run once. Elsi is run very early in the morning, so low sun and morning dew could be waiting to catch out any sleepy crews.”
Spectators: Follow A470 / A5 to Betws-Y-Coed. Car park entrance is north of Betws-Y-Coed on the A5 towards Capel Curig.
SS20: Gwydir 1 (9.17 miles) 08.08
“Completely different in character to the previous stage, Gwydir is two stages linked together, and therefore doubled in length, by a small and very narrow 0.7 mile Tarmac road – which will need to be tackled with a bit of care on hot gravel tyres. After that, it’s a beautiful run to the finish of the stage. Unusually, this is also the Power Stage, so it will be live on television, with bonus points going to the top five fastest crews. And with the battle for the world title so close, crews will be pushing very hard to net those extra points.”
Spectators: Leave the A470 at Llanrwst over the narrow bridge onto the B5106 signposted to Trefriw. After 500m turn left and follow car park signs.
SS21: Great Orme Llandudno 1 (4.98 miles) 09.16
“Although the Great Orme is quite a famous rally stage, it’s a new stage for 2018 and run in the opposite clockwise direction to normal. After circumnavigating the Great Orme via the Marine Drive road, the stage continues onto the streets of Llandudno, around a few roundabouts and junctions, and finishes with a big jump on the Promenade. There will be a lot of entertainment throughout the day, including stunt driver Paul Swift. I’ll be sitting alongside Juha Kankkunen, leading a procession of older rally cars in a Toyota Celica, very similar to the car that we won the 1993 Rally GB in. It is, in fact, our 1993 Rally Portugal winning car.”
Spectators: Exit A55 at J18 and follow signs to Wales Rally GB Great Orme car park or exit A55 at J19 and follow signs to the Wales Rally GB Street Stage car park.
SS22: Gwydir 2 (9.17 miles) 10.29
“Only tyre fitting and refuel is allowed before crews head back to Gwydir. Not an easy final forest stage by any means, and with only a handful of seconds separating first and second places on many of this year’s World Championship events, this might still prove to be the sting in the tail.”
Spectators: As SS20.
SS23: Great Orme Llandudno 2 (4.98 miles) 12.18
“Gravel tyres aren’t ideal on asphalt as they tend to move around a lot, so the concrete kerbs that line this stage are the final hazards for crews as they head towards the finish line. One crew in particular will be breathing a huge sigh of relief as they drive the final section up and down Gloddaeth Street and onto the final section along the seafront as 2018 Wales Rally GB winners. After a tough event, they’ll be very worthy winners too, and possibly a step closer to becoming world champions!”
Spectators: As SS21. The Ceremonial Finish and prize-giving takes place on the Promenade in Llandudno immediately after SS23 from 12.30 on Sunday afternoon and is free for spectators.
Deeside Rally Village
Service will again be located alongside Toyota UK’s engine manufacturing plant in Deeside, Flintshire and will be home to all the teams for the duration of the Wales Rally GB. Fans will be able to watch the crews bring their cars in to be repaired and serviced in their dedicated service areas as well as enjoy a full schedule of entertainment. For parking follow the yellow signs on the day. The Rally Village will be open as follows:
• Thursday 4 October: 09:00 – 22:00
• Friday 5 October: 09:00 – 22:00
• Saturday 6 October: 09:00 – 23:00
• Sunday 7 October: CLOSED
You’ll need to purchase a ticket to view the vast majority of Wales Rally GB action. Full ticketing and route information, including the official Rally Guide and route maps, can be found on-line at walesrallygb.com