WRC Live Radio
Presenter: Becs Williams
The WRC Live team are in Portugal and ready to go! Becs, Colin, Lisa & George are as motivated as Sebastien Ogier, to bring the full atmosphere of Portugal direct to a global audience.
I am the first to admit that I’m a bad passenger in a car.
No, scrap that - I am an extremely bad passenger in a car.
I have little trust for anyone driving, except myself of course! My foot instinctively reaches for the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side, as I assume that other drivers simply cannot react quickly enough.
It’s not that I hate speed. I love speed - but I also love to be in control.
So, when I’m asked whether I would like to jump into a WRC car and be thrown around a gravel track at bone-shakingly fast speed, with all control taken away from me, I usually decline.
My fear being, (and this would be mortifying) that I would insist the car is stopped midway through a stage, jump out and run away. At great speed, of course.
However, I know this is utterly irrational.
So, after almost 13 years in the WRC, I finally decided to say ‘Yes’ to a co-drive. Since the day I said yes, which was about four weeks ago, the scenario of me shouting ‘Stop the car - NOW!’ has been playing in my head daily.
But there comes a time when you just have to dismiss the ridiculous fear that all the respect you have built over the years could be thrown away in instant, don’t you?
March 30th was the date set for possibly the most embarrassing day of my life and it arrived very quickly.
With only three WRC events under their belt, it was the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team who invited me to have a ‘co-drive’ experience, sitting alongside Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen.
Firstly, we would attend the Fafe Rally sprint, which was - as ever, an incredible spectacle that attracted over 100,000 spectators.
I watched in wonder as the WRC cars launched over the iconic Fafe jump. Little did I realise as I ‘Ooouufff-ed’ with the rest or the journalists at some of the landings, that I would be facing the same prospect the next day.
Hyundai had kept the ‘co-drive’ destination a secret. The exact location, the final 2 kilometres of the Fafe stage, was revealed whilst we enjoyed dinner with the team on Saturday evening. I remember the other journalists were delighted with this, I was too - it’s an iconic stage and for my first time this would be pretty epic.
Then my irrational fear kicked in. I was replaying in my head the jump that I had watched many times that day. The huge jump.
Yup, that one.
Me, in a car, on that jump.
No getting out of the car when it is airborne and running away. Nooooo.
If I had listened to my fear, I would probably have bolted to the nearest airport. However, I arrived at the co-drive the next day ready to smash my fear to smithereens.
We were greeted by the Hyundai PR team, Nicoletta and Thomas, who were as excited as the journalists as this would be the first co-drive experience the team had hosted.
We were ushered into a big white hospitality tent which included an eating area (not that I ate anything) and ‘Hyundai’ branded changing rooms.
Adjacent to this was the small service area with the Hyundai i20 WRC ready for the day ahead. In the distance was the famous ‘Fafe jump’.
Spanish jouno, Fernando Albes was the first to co-drive and we all watched as the i20 catapulted off the start line. Thierry was obviously keen to give the car a good workout and he made a huge effort on the first jump. There was a collective gasp and whoop as he landed after being in the air for what felt like 10 minutes! At this point I was 50/50 fear and excitement.
Each journalist that emerged from the car was full of praise for Thierry and everyone was smiling. You would think that this would make me feel better, right?
The fact that no-one had said ‘Stop the car - NOW!’ midway through a run meant that it was left to me to be ridiculous. Why couldn’t someone have cried or something? Then I would have felt OK.
I was the last to run in the car with Thierry and as the mechanics fixed the HANS device to my helmet the excitement was building. I climbed, ungraciously, into the car and was duly strapped into the racing seat.
Thierry arrived, lithely jumped into his seat and got himself ready to go.
He had discovered that this was my first ever co-drive only minutes beforehand and was massively surprised that I had never done it before.
As he did his final checks I noticed something at the side of my seat, a folded up plastic bag. I alerted one of the mechanics that they had left something in the car and Thierry turned his head to me and said, ‘No, that’s for you’ and smirked.
It was a sick bag.
I have to admit though, sick bag aside, he was the perfect gentleman. ‘Do you want me to take it easy on the first run?’ he asked, ‘No, flat out’ my insane, fear talking voice responded.
‘You don’t need to worry, I know what I am doing’ he said.
As we moved to the start line the ‘I am not in control’ fear was ebbing away. It was being taken over by pure excitement. I think I went a little crazy because as we reached the start, Thierry asked if I was ready, I told him I would ‘Count him down’ just like Nicolas does on the start of a stage.
And I did this in French (I know. I am embarrassed just writing about it!)
The roar of the car and the feeling of the acceleration as we launched off the line was truly mind blowing. All your insides are left behind and everything happens so quickly that your brain is struggling to keep pace.
It is that raw speed coupled with quick reactions, the changing pace and direction, the force of the braking - it was all new to me and I was truly in awe. Commentating was not an option and I didn’t expect to do that but I also did not expect to shout and cheer as much as I did. I simply could not help myself - it was thrilling!
Thierry was a true showman, we slid, the jumps were HUGE, he did donuts in the stage, his right foot was heavy on the throttle and I loved every single second.
I was out of the car for about 15 minutes before I jumped back in again to run the stage with Juho. This would be his first run of the day and he told me that we would do three runs, one recce and two flat out.
As we approached the start line the rain began to fall. ‘I think we need windscreen wipers on here’ said Juho “Now, where is the button for the windscreen wipers…ho ho ho”, and with that laugh his foot was flat to the floor and my insides had disappeared for the second time that day.
Juho’s recce run was by no means slow. His pace was astounding and the pure aggression with which he attacked the stage was exhilarating!
It was an absolute joy to sit in the car with both drivers. I was dizzy with excitement for hours after it and thanking everyone from the team over and over for letting me have the experience.
And guess what?
I didn’t say ‘Stop the car - NOW!’, but I did say ‘Don’t stop the car - EVER!”
Vodafone Rally de Portugal
The WRC Live broadcast schedule kicks off with coverage of the Lisbon super special stage on Thursday evening. Join the team for the full weekend of Rally Portugal, as they bring you all the very latest action from the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
All times local to Portugal, which is GMT+1
Thursday April 3rd: 1800
Friday April 4th: 0945
Saturday April 5th: 0930
SundayApril 6th : 0830
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