On the second day, the cars are using a well-known stage called Sweet Lamb, though more recently known as the place that Top Gear rallied a Bentley. The course has a section called ‘the bowl’ which features two water splashes and three jumps, and understandably the crowds flock to this unforgiving stretch of the stage. This makes for great photos, as the hundreds of spectators line the banks to cheer on their favourite drivers, or indeed jeer at those not willing to put their foot down over the jumps.
During day two, word quickly spread that former Formula 1 race winner Robert Kubica had crashed and rolled his Citroen DS3 on the an earlier stage. As part of his prize for winning this year’s WRC2 category, the Pole was driving a works-entered Citroen DS3 WRC on Rally Great Britain alongside team regulars Mikko Hirvonen, Dani Sordo and Qatar’s Khalid Al Qassimi. Everyone hoped the crash would be much less serious than his F1 career ending smash two years previous, though the news didn’t stop several Polish fans running onto the stage to put up their very homemade looking ‘Kubica’ banners. Officials – in a nice gesture – even helped fans hang their banners.
As the weekend continues, the experience just gets more intense. The stages become more remote and the travel between each gets longer. Some days require a 1.5-hour drive followed by a 45-minute walk before the stage even hoves into view (that’s before the 2-mile walk into the stage to find a good photography spot). And by day four, it was becoming clear that few could come close to matching the Volkswagen Polo R WRC of new WRC champion Sébastien Ogier. I’d made an early start in the hope of shooting competitors fly past on a road section that ran alongside a dam. These road sections – public I might add – are used by the drivers to get from the end of one stage to the start of another. They need to make good time but cannot for obvious reasons break the speed limit. It’s an amazing spectacle: can you imagine being overtaken by a reigning world rally champion whilst he’s halfway through an event? Fog unfortunately got in the way of this impressive sight during the morning, so I improvised by shooting the road from on top of a huge cliff with trees on it. It’s a fantastic angle but it doesn’t do my vertigo much good.
Between stages, drivers also take the opportunity – in a quiet lay-by – to swap the tyres from front to rear to ensure they have the best grip at the front. They also take the opportunity to check for any obvious failures, remove inches of mud and adjust the suspension settings to a more suitable setup for the next stage. During this time it is not uncommon for quite a crowd of onlookers to assemble. It must be quite a shock for the system in the usually sleepy secluded parts of North Wales that the rally is set in.
The final stage of the weekend and the course was on a coastal road cut out of the cliff. This produced a fantastic opportunity to shoot some of the crazy spectators perched on the edge of the cliffs: I say ‘fans’, though ‘mountain goats’ seems more applicable. If that wasn’t spell-binding enough, a TV helicopter caught the protagonists in action as they belted through one corner after another.
And that was it, the end of my first rally. I was broken, my cameras were brown with filth, and my car interior will never be the same again. But I loved it. It was very challenging but the spectacle of the event and unmatched dedication by the spectators makes it a very enjoyable and photographically easy event to shoot.
Well, aside from the walking and the early starts.
– FULL GALLERY OF SHOTS AVAILABLE HERE – CLICK – Shots courtesy of sportstock