The legendary Welsh forests are ready to welcome a stellar 148-car entry into the 2016 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (27-30 October), the penultimate round of this year’s dramatic FIA World Rally Championship.
Building on the huge success of recent years, this season’s eagerly-anticipated event promises to be even more spectacular, with a move to a new date at the end of October promising drier and faster action.
Moreover, reflecting the ‘Year of Adventure’ in Wales, this year’s speed tests are the longest and most challenging since the rally moved to its new base in the north of the country in 2013.
The route comprises 22 special stages totalling 206 competitive miles. Adding to the degree of difficulty, many of these are tackled in reverse direction for the first time in a generation and are all run against-the-clock on a challenging mix of traditional gravel forest tracks and parkland roads.
After a glittering Opening Ceremony under the floodlights at Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay on Thursday evening, the intrepid crews face a marathon opening leg in mid-Wales on Friday.
The weekend’s action is closer to the Deeside Rally Village and includes the popular, family-friendly RallyFest, which has moved to a new home at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire, marking the rally’s first visit to the English side of the border since 1999.
When all the dust and mud has settled, the valiant winners will be crowned on Mostyn Street in Llandudno early on Sunday afternoon.
Heading the entry list is reigning World Champion and defending Wales Rally GB winner, Sébastien Ogier.
That the Frenchman has won his fourth world title with two rounds remaining underlines his current superiority, but it doesn’t mean Volkswagen Motorsport’s top gun has had things all his own way in 2016.
Indeed, no fewer than five other drivers have all tasted victory already this season and two of those – Andreas Mikkelsen (VW Polo R WRC) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) – are tied on points in the battle for second place in the championship.
Neuville’s team-mate Hayden Paddon is also in the race for runner-up honours and he’s sure to be a man to watch in Wales. Having grown up in New Zealand, he loves rallying in the forests, as does another of 2016’s winners, ‘Flying Finn’ Jari-Matti Latvala who lines-up alongside Ogier in the third of the pace-setting VW Polos.
With Volkswagen and Hyundai still duelling it out for the Manufacturers’ Championship, there’s added pressure on their leading drivers, too.
There’s no such responsibility on the shoulders of home hero Kris Meeke, the year’s sixth different winner.
The hard-charger from Northern Ireland is not in title contention as he’s only contesting selected rounds for the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team while helping Citroën to develop a new car for 2017.
He has, though, already won in both Portugal and Finland – and now he’s aiming to become the first British driver to spray the Rally GB champagne since the late Richard Burns completed a hat-trick of victories back in 2000. Last year Meeke finished second behind Ogier, and fans will be hoping he can go one better next week.
“The excitement is really building,” confirmed Ben Taylor, Managing Director of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB. “We’ve got 22 of the finest rally stages in the world, a fantastic entry list featuring the world’s best drivers and a huge crowd anticipated.
“Better yet, we have genuine hopes of a strong British result, after Kris’ impressive performances this season.
“We’ll also be venturing into England for the first time in more than 15 years, both with a family-focused stage at Cholmondeley Castle supported by GreenThumb and a visit to historic Chester. It all adds up to an utterly unmissable world championship event.”
Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, said: “This year’s Wales Rally GB promises to be another spectacular event and as our Year of Adventure 2016 comes to an end it shows the range of amazing adventures which can be had here in Wales. We’re looking forward to the 2016 event and to build on our experiences of previous years which have been such a success with fans and competitors alike and have given a major boost to the north and mid Wales economy.
“Wales has some of the finest rally stages anywhere in the world and Wales Rally GB is a showcase for the spectacular scenery and landscapes of north Wales.”
Advance adult ticket prices start at just £20 for the family-friendly RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle, £25 for a day ticket or £99 for the full four-day event pass. What’s more, all tickets include free parking and an event programme priced at £9. Tickets are available for purchase on the day at £30 per adult per stage. Accompanied children under 16 are admitted free to all stages.
NEW HOME FOR FUN-FILLED RALLYFEST
Since 2000, the entire event has taken place inside Wales but this year some of the excitement will be shared with those over the border with the rally route making two brief detours into England.
The first is a spectacular gathering on Eastgate in central Chester on Friday evening, the second for a competitive stage at the Cholmondeley Castle RallyFest in association with GreenThumb on Saturday. The fun-fuelled RallyFest offers easier access, enhanced facilities and a host of day-long entertainment to make this the perfect family half-term day out.
Younger visitors will enjoy a host of imaginative activities being provided totally FREE of charge by RallyFest supporter GreenThumb, the UK’s oldest, largest and most recommended lawn care service.
Its fun-filled marquee will include a Scalextric racetrack, face painting, a giant games area, a children’s craft workshop plus a selfie mirror and graffiti wall both with instant photos to take away. For the more eccentric, GreenThumb has also arranged some dramatic lawn mower racing!
Multiple mountain bike World Champion and Red Bull daredevil Kenny Belaey is bringing his breathtaking stunt show to Cholmondeley, too.
Other notable RallyFest highlights will include parades of historic and legendary Group B rally cars, appearances by past WRC champions, autograph and selfie sessions with today’s WRC stars, supercar cavalcades, SuperMoto bike racing, big screen coverage, live commentary, a catering village, trade stalls, mini tanks, a zip wire and a funfair. There will also be a wonderful opportunity to take a memorable passenger ride in a number of eye-catching classic and sports cars provided by the Sporting Bears Motor Club. These will be raising funds for Ty Gobaith, the only children’s hospice in north Wales.
The RallyFest follows a return to historic Chester the previous evening for the first time since the late and very great Colin McRae was crowned as Britain’s first World Rally Champion at the Cheshire city’s Racecourse in November 1995.
After Friday’s action in the Welsh forests, cars and their crews will start arriving on Eastgate in the late afternoon for autographs and selfies with the fans. Adding to the atmosphere will be street entertainment, a big screen and live commentary. Everyone is welcome and admission is free.
FREE OPPORTUNITIES TO SEE THE WRC
While access to the special stages is ticketed, there are several great opportunities for the public to savour the presence of the World Rally Championship in the region absolutely free.
Visitors are welcome to come to the buzzing Rally Village in Deeside during all four days of the event. Here, they will not only see all the rally cars being prepared for action but will also be treated to some impressive entertainment including a big screen, driver interviews, catering, trade stands, Scalextric, a funfair and simulators plus, on Friday and Saturday, some amazing bike stunt shows.
Visitors will also be able to experience a range of engaging interactive exhibits in the Big Bang marquee, aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.
Also free of charge are the Opening Ceremony in Colwyn Bay and the Ceremonial Finish in Llandudno, as well as the special Time Control and Meet the Stars session in central Chester on Friday evening. For those in mid Wales, Newtown offers another great chance to see the rally cars and stars up close in the town centre at lunchtime on Friday.
MCRAE STARS IN WRGB NATIONAL RALLY
The WRGB National Rally is an integral part of the WRC show. Aimed at enthusiastic amateur crews keen to be part of the UK’s biggest rallying festival, it follows the same route as the international stars, providing spectators with even more top class action.
As well as featuring some iconic rally cars from yesteryear including Subaru Imprezas, Mitsubishi Evos and large numbers of sideways Escorts, the National entry also showcases a few stars of its own.
Experienced Scottish driver Mike Faulkner is targeting a hat-trick of victories having won in both 2014 and 2015, while countryman Jimmy McRae is another to watch. It is 40 years since Jimmy first contested Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship and, celebrating that anniversary, he’s contesting the WRGB National Rally back behind the wheel an identical Vauxhall Magnum to the one in which he made his debut four decades ago in 1976.
DAYINSURE WALES RALLY GB
2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 12
Thursday 27 October
08:00 Official Shakedown – Clocaenog
17:00-20:00 Opening Ceremony, Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay
17:30-18:00 Autograph session, Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay
Friday 28 October
05:30 Depart – Deeside
08:20 Myherin 1 (Stage 1)
09:11 Sweet Lamb 1 (Stage 2)
09:24 Hafren 1 (Stage 3)
11:15 Dyfnant 1 (Stage 4)
12:36 Regroup and Technical Zone – Newtown (20 mins)
13:54 Myherin 2 (Stage 5)
14:45 Sweet Lamb 2 (Stage 6)
14:58 Hafren 2 (Stage 7)
16:49 Dyfnant 2 (Stage 8)
19:05 Chester Eastgate Time Control
19:55 Service – Deeside (45 mins)
Saturday 29 October
05:45 Service – Deeside (15 mins)
08:18 Pantperthog 1 (Stage 9) no spectator access
08:51 Dyfi 1 (Stage 10)
09:27 Gartheiniog 1 (Stage 11)
10:23 Corris Regroup and Technical Zone
11:04 Pantperthog 2 (Stage 12)
11:37 Dyfi 2 (Stage 13)
12:13 Gartheiniog 2 (Stage 14)
13:18 Aberhirnant (Stage 15)
15:41 Cholmondeley Castle (Stage 16)
16:29 Service – Deeside (45 mins)
Sunday 30 October
07:20 Service – Deeside (15 mins)
08:31 Clocaenog 1 (Stage 17)
09:08 Brenig 1 (Stage 18)
09:28 Alwen 1 (Stage 19)
10:33 Clocaenog 2 (Stage 20)
11:14 Alwen 2 (Stage 21)
12:08 Brenig 2 Power Stage (Stage 22)
13:26 Ceremonial Finish – Mostyn Street, Llandudno