Wales Rally GB roared into life outside the historic Royal Liver Building in Liverpool this evening (Thursday 3 October), as the glitzy Ceremonial Start launched Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship in fine style, ahead of three gruelling days and 192 miles of flat-out driving in the Welsh forests (3-6 October).
A bumper crowd assembled at the Waterfront to grab autographs and meet the stars of the World Rally Championship (WRC) before more than 50 international cars and competitors were flagged away from the vibrant city location.
Reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards had the honour of being the first driver over the start ramp, the home-grown Welsh ace using a Hyundai i20 R5 for his Wales Rally GB attempt this year.
Just a short trip away, the action was hotting up at the opening Dayinsure Oulton Park Stage with Sir Chris Hoy having the honour of driving Colin McRae’s rally winning Subaru Impreza on the circuit to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the running of Rally GB.
“It’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure because you have this iconic car of so many people’s hero, my hero certainly, and you want to do it justice but you also don’t want to damage it,” said Hoy who was buzzing after his run in the car.
“The thought of doing any damage at all or hitting a wall is just unbearable, I was having nightmares about it last night. I thought I just need to get round but equally, as the great man himself [McRae] would say, ‘if in doubt flat out’.
“It’s a fine line between booting it around and keeping it in between hard objects. But it was amazing. It was quite surreal just sitting there in his seat, in exactly the same position as Colin had it in 1996, to drive it here at Oulton Park is just a magical moment.”
Co-driving the decorated Olympian was Colin’s father Jimmy McRae. The duo entertained the large crowds, while the Autocar 75th Rally GB display proudly showcased iconic rally legends from the past ahead of the arrival of the competitors to the circuit. Live music and a rousing DJ setlist built the atmosphere as the night closed in.
A chance to grab autographs of the WRC stars warmed up proceedings before the International field were let loose onto the all-new spectator stage.
Fans didn’t have long to wait for the action, as the Cheshire circuit soon echoed to the sound of the flame-spitting WRC heavyweight’s, each tackling the 2.2mile opening stage of the rally in spectacular fashion.
The crowds were wowed with an impressive array of skill, as breath-taking donuts on the pit straight set the scene for the remainder of the demanding opener. Drivers descended down the sweeping bends, before a watersplash and tight and technical gravel roads.
Adding to the crowd’s delight, Ulsterman Kris Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall topped the timesheets 2.1 seconds quicker than the chasing Hyundai i20 of Thierry Neuville. Petter Solberg’s giant-killing Volkswagen Polo R5 rounded out the top three, with treacherous conditions offering an additional challenge for the leaders.
Action on the stages will resume tomorrow with nine stages and over 75 miles of flat out and relentless action in the forests of north Wales. A dynamic mix of fan-friendly blasts and classic Wales Rally GB stages are ahead including Dyfnant, Penmachno and the moonlit stage at Aberhirnant before returning to Llandudno for the overnight halt.
Crews will head into mid-Wales on Saturday for seven high-octane stages, with the all-new family-friendly Colwyn Bay test rounding off the day as the WRC blasts along the seafront with the Atlantic Ocean providing a spectacular backdrop in the fading light.
Whilst Sunday is a short day in comparison, Wales Rally GB’s parting shot will be no less demanding as Alwen, Brenig and the Great Orme stages feature ahead of the thrilling final at the Wolf Brenig Power Stage, which rounds off the 2019 event.
The winners will be crowned in front of fans and teams at the Ceremonial Finish on Llandudno Promenade from around 13:30 that afternoon.
Tickets are still available via the official www.walesrallygb.com website, at our Llandudno Ticket Office or at the gate of every stage.
The four-day World Rally Pass is the all-inclusive ticket for fans. It provides access to all the individual Special Stages and is priced at £123 for adults and comes with a desirable hard card and lanyard plus an event programme valued at £9.
Forest Passes offer a similar level of flexibility as the World Rally Pass but for individual days of the event. Again, they include an official programme and can be purchased in advance for just £38 for Friday and Sunday and £42 for Super Saturday – a considerable saving on Single Stage tickets costing £35 on the gate for all the forest tests or £20 for Colwyn Bay and the Great Orme.
Tickets for the family-friendly Saturday stage in Colwyn Bay are available now for £20 with, as for all stages, free admittance offered for accompanied children aged 15 and under. Full ticket information can be found on the WalesRallyGB.com website.
2019 WALES RALLY GB LEADERBOARD
(AFTER 1 OF 22 SPECIAL STAGES)
1. Kris Meeke/Seb Marshal – Toyota Yaris WRC – 2m 47.4sec
2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – Hyundai i20 WRC – +2.1sec
3. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills – Volkswagen Polo R5 – +3.3sec
4. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – Citroen C3 WRC – +3.8sec
5. Andreas MIkkleson/Andreas Jager – Hyundai i20 WRC – +4.1sec
6. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm – Citroen C3 WRC – +4.7sec
7. Matthew Edwards/Mark Glennerster – Hyundai i20 R5 – +5.4sec
8. Jari-Matti Latvala/ Mikka Anttila – Toyota Yaris WRC – +5.7sec
9. Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen – Skoda Fabia R5 – +5.8sec
10. Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maceij Szczepaniak – Volkswagen Polo R5 – +6.1 sec
2019 WALES RALLY GB ROUTE
Thursday 3 October:
08:00* 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