15 Jul 08
The Subaru blue open face crash helmet was equipped with an intercom system, which meant two sound deadening headphones and almost complete deafness once the thing was on. Helmet on, and feeling a bit detached from the noisy rally paddock, I took my carrier bag and carefully backed myself between the roll cage and down into the co-driver's seat.
Although it had been completely re-furbished I was riding in C1 WRC, the very car Chris Atkinson had used in Greece and Turkey. Settling into Stephane Prevot's seat was a strange experience. He's not a tall man, but to keep the centre of gravity down the seat is set very, very low. I'm 5ft 11 tall and my eye-line was just below the bottom edge of the windscreen.
The white painted floor meant the inside of the car was bright and airy and sitting almost in the rear foot well further exaggerated the feeling of space. I was a very long way from the dashboard and the roof was high above me. Markko was already belted in on my left, in a commanding position as his seat was almost at a normal height. My headphone plug was connected and with a click I could hear high pitched electronic whining, myself breathing and Markko.
"What do you think?" said Markko as the Subaru technicians continued to adjust the seat belts and buckle me in. "Compared to the previous car it's completely new in here," he explained. "The dashboard centre console has gone completely, all of the controls are here instead," he pointed to a blue control panel located between our seats on the centre tunnel. Sure enough, the front console of circuit breakers and switches had gone completely. Instead, there was just a gap between the cut-down dashboard and the floor. The front bulkhead was almost completely visible.
My boots rested on a carbon fibre plate, fitted with two foot-operated buttons for the windscreen wash/wipe and trip-meter reset. Just above my toes was the co-driver information panel, linked into the cars electronic brain and capable of displaying all sorts of data about the car. Right now it was telling me that the ambient temperature was 48 degrees Celsius. It did feel a bit warm.
All strapped in and ready to go the co-driver door was shut and then opened again by the technician who wanted to know where his bag was. He needn't have worried; it was tucked under my right thigh, ready to grab in a second.
Markko started the engine, dipped the clutch, selected first gear with a 'clunk' and we pulled away to join a short queue of cars at the start control. "It's not such a great stage," said Martin. "It's too slow and twisty for us to get much speed." Behind us in the queue, however, was evidence that the stage wasn't such a walk over. A once immaculate but now properly crumpled Fiat 124 Abarth was getting ready for another run. All of the windows were broken - including the windscreen. The driver and co-driver were wearing ski goggles.
Before the start line we stopped to collect a time card. With the seat belts holding me in so tightly, reaching up to open the door was almost impossible, so I was glad when the marshal opened if for me and handed me the card. From there it was a short drive to the gantry where an electronic display said we had two minutes to go.