15 Jul 08
With a little time to spare Markko ran me through the launch control procedure. "It's a neat system which means I don't need to use the clutch at all," he explained. "I put my foot on the brake; push this tiny switch on the steering wheel and then put the car into gear. Once the [turbo] anti lag is activated I give it full throttle and wait for the countdown. When it's time to go I just take my foot off the brake pedal and that's it, we're away."
Markko's real preparations began with about 20 seconds to go. I missed his footwork, but saw him push the anti-lag switch between our seats. At that point the car started to make its characteristic start line crackle and we were ready. Predictably I missed seeing his foot coming off the brake pedal, but there was no mistaking when it had happened. In a flurry of wheel spin and bark chippings the car surged towards the first corner; an off-camber, right-hand, don't-cut sort of bend, and from there on we were in the forest and sideways pretty much the whole time.
"You see what I mean? it's just not fast enough," apologised Markko as we fired along, drifting through corners which didn't seem wide enough to take straight on, let alone lengthways. Craning my head up gave me enough of a view to know we were really flying.
Small, neat and precise driver inputs are usually the name of the game in the modern WRC, but Martin was having to work hard on the twisty and slippery Goodwood stage - sawing the wheel left and right, flicking up and down the gearbox with the steering wheel mounted selector, and pulling on the vertical handbrake to slide us around the corners.
But whether it was the sound deadening of the intercom or Markko's skill behind the wheel, it actually felt very calm inside the car. The engine noise was changed by the intercom into a chorus of different pitched whines and I was strapped so tightly into the seat that I wasn't bouncing around at all. The man who gave me the bag needn't have worried; even the fifth-gear jump on the back straight was a drama-free experience. It was actually a very smooth ride.
Exactly 2min 30sec later after Markko had side-stepped the brake pedal we flew through the finish control and the car came to a stop. A post ride flick through the data showed we had reached a top speed of 139.4kph, got into fifth gear (briefly) while Markko had made an astonishing 53 gear changes.
"I wish it was a faster stage but it's still good fun driving here," said Martin. "And the car is coming on well too. Already it's fast, but there's a lot more performance to come. It's definitely got the potential to win rallies." It certainly seems to from where I was sitting...