With just days remaining until the FIA World Rally Championship roars back into the UK, the final countdown to this year’s Wales Rally GB (3-6 October) has already commenced.
Advanced ticket sales are at record levels and excitement is building as the world’s top drivers and the sport’s fastest cars prepare for four days of epic action, staged primarily in the legendary forests on north and mid Wales.
Fuelling the anticipation, this year’s innovative route includes a vibrant new rally base in the heart of Llandudno, a high-profile Ceremonial Start on Liverpool’s historic waterfront and two new spectator-friendly tests, the first on Thursday evening at Oulton Park in Cheshire, the second on Saturday evening on the seafront at Colwyn Bay.
It all adds up to a spectacular date on the UK sporting calendar and a high octane adventure that no one will want to miss.
Here are ten truly great reasons why the 2019 Wales Rally GB is such a must-see event.
1. Cars like never before
Never before has such an astonishing breed of extreme beasts been unleashed in our forests. Powered by turbocharged 1.6-litre engines developing a whopping 380bhp and armed with cutting-edge four-wheel-drive technology – as well as eye-catching aerodynamics – the latest generation of World Rally Cars are the fastest point-to-point racers the sport has even witnessed. They are also based on easily-recognised showroom models – and they are road-legal as crews drive on public highways between the competitive stages.
2. Classic forest stages
The gravel tracks in the Welsh forests are legendary right around the globe, renowned as some of the best rallying stages to be found anywhere on Earth. Names such as Penmachno, Hafren, Dyfi and Myherin are revered right around the globe and it is on these hallowed speed tests that this year’s Wales Rally GB will be won and lost. Adding to challenge and spectacle, the superfast Aberhirnant stage is run after dusk on Friday evening – it is the only loose surface forest test to be run in darkness on the entire 2019 WRC calendar.
3. The world’s best drivers
Competing on every kind of surface from asphalt mountain roads to snow covered frozen forest tracks, WRC drivers are widely hailed as the most versatile on the planet… and sometimes off it when they fly through air! All the sport’s top guns are in Wales; the star-studded entry list is topped by six time world champion Sébastien Ogier who is gunning for an unprecedented sixth Rally GB victory. The Citroën team-leader is also embroiled in a titanic three-way tussle for the 2019 title along with Toyota’s Ott Tänak and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. With just three rounds remaining on the 2019 calendar, the battle will be white hot in Wales.
4. Home heroes
Everyone loves a home winner and Elfyn Evans was just that when becoming the first Welsh driver ever to win a WRC round, when victorious in 2017. Evans has missed the previous three rounds after injuring his back in a heavy landing when contesting a non-championship rally in the summer. However he is now back behind the wheel of his blue #33 Ford Fiesta WRC and will start as one of the favourites. Ulsterman Kris Meeke is another British driver with serious intentions. He finished second in 2015 and, now with manufacturer World Champions Toyota, must have his best-ever shot at the top step of the podium.
5. Affordable fun for all the family
Encouraging even more fans to savour the spectacular World Championship motor sport action, this year’s itinerary includes two family-friendly speed tests away from the forests and Wales’ great outdoors. The competition kicks off on Thursday evening with a floodlit opener at the popular Oulton Park circuit near Chester and Super Saturday’s schedule concludes with timed blast up and down the seaside promenade in Colwyn Bay. With commentary, big screens, catering plus a packed programme of entertainment for all ages – which also includes supercars and the Red Bull Matador air display at Colwyn Bay – both welcome new additions will help to spread the rallying gospel well beyond those already converted. What’s more, tickets if purchased in advance start from just £15 and kids aged 15 and under are offered free admission to all 22 competitive time tests.
6. Liverpool launch pad
For the first time in 20 years, Wales Rally GB will be flagged away on the English side of the border. This year’s Ceremonial Start will be staged on Liverpool’s historic Pier Head with the start ramp positioned right outside the Royal Liver Building. Located adjacent to the Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, the Royal Liver Building is one of the city’s famous ‘Three Graces’ which line the refurbished Waterfront – all three are part of Liverpool’s UNESCO-designated World Heritage Maritime Mercantile City. Activities start from 14:00hrs on Thursday afternoon with interviews, autograph sessions plus a big screen to keep everyone entertained until the first car goes over the starting ramp at precisely 16:00hrs. And public admittance is totally free of charge.
7. Hoy’s heroic homage
Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy is today almost as renowned for being a petrolhead as for his six gold cycling medals. From childhood Hoy has always been a fan of the late Colin McRae and he’ll be paying tribute to his fellow Scot as a curtain-raiser to this year’s Wales Rally GB. Hoy will be fulfilling a lifetime ambition when driving one of McRae’s iconic blue Subaru Imprezas just before WRC action blasts off at Oulton Park on Thursday evening. Adding to the special occasion, Colin’s dad Jimmy will be in the passenger seat.
8. Llandudno open all hours
In some forms of motorsport the pits and paddocks are reserved solely for the preserve of VIPs – rallying is the absolute opposite. The busy Service Park, now for the first time based in downtown Llandudno, offers absolutely everyone the chance to see the teams and drivers up close and personal. Admittance is totally free and there will plenty of opportunities to marvel at the crews as they ready their astonishing cars for action and get autographs and selfies with the superstars. “Being based in Llandudno, there’s going to be a a real buzz and a terrific atmosphere,” predicts Elfyn Evans. World Championship or not, rallying has long been one of the most accessible and fan-friendly of all sports.
9. Milestone celebrations
It all started in Torquay way back in 1932 and, now in 2019, Rally GB is celebrating its 75thedition. The highlight will be a special display of stand-out cars from the past at Thursday evening’s opening Oulton Park stage. Former winners will be out in force, too. ‘Magic’ Marcus Gronholm and Petter ‘Mr Hollywood’ Solberg, who dominated the UK’s long-running World Championship round at the start of this century – Gronholm triumphed in 2001 and 2006, Solberg all four times between. The former returns as this year’s Official Legend while the latter is making his final WRC appearance joined by welsh wizard and his championship winning co-driver, Phil Mills. 18-year-old rookie and Petter’s son Oliver only passed his driving test last week and now makes his WRC debut in a two-car family team alongside his illustrious dad at the gruelling event.
10. Value for money
There are not many World Championship sports which fans can savour for as little as £15, the advance price for admission to Saturday’s rubber-burning street stage in Colwyn Bay. Entry to Oulton Park costs just £25 and tickets for the Thursday night opener must be purchased before the cut-off at midnight on Monday 30 September. Other tickets offer equally outstanding value for money – even more so if purchased now. What’s more, accompanied children aged 15 and under are admitted free. No surprise, perhaps, that tickets sales are tracking higher than ever before. Although tickets will be available on the gate, significant savings will be made by those purchasing in advance. Full details can be found on the official www.walesrallygb.com website.
2019 WALES RALLY GB ROUTE
Thursday 3 October:
8:00* Shakedown: Gwydir
16:00 Ceremonial Start: Liverpool
19:08 SS1: Dayinsure Oulton Park Stage
21:17 Overnight: Llandudno
Friday 4 October:
07:18 SS2: Elsi 1
07:46 SS3: Penmachno 1
09:56 SS4: Dyfnant 1
10:53 SS5: Aberhirnant 1
13:07 Service: Llandudno
14:40 SS6: Elsi 2
15:08 SS7: Penmachno 2
15:57 SS8: Slate Mountain
18:11 SS9: Dyfnant 2
19:08 SS10: Aberhirnant 2
21:11 Service and overnight: Llandudno
Saturday 6 October:
08:06 SS11: Dyfi 1
10:08 SS12: Myherin 1
11:02 SS13: Sweet Lamb Hafren 1
12:40 Regroup: Newtown
14:08 SS14: Myherin 2
15:02 SS15: Sweet Lamb Hafren 2
16:19 SS16: Dyfi 2
19:13 SS17: Colwyn Bay
19:49 Service and overnight: Llandudno
Sunday 6 October:
07:28 SS18: Alwen 1
08:08 SS19: Brenig 1
09:26 SS20: Great Orme
11:10 SS21: Alwen 2
12:18 SS22: Brenig 2 (Wolf Power Stage)
13:32 Ceremonial Finish: The Promenade, Llandudno
*all times for first car and subject to change