A winter's tale

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From November 21-24 Britain’s biggest sporting event will take place. The RAC Rally regularly attracts more on-the-spot watchers than the Derby, Wimbledon or even the cup final. It is sponsored this year by Network Q.

More than likely, the weather will be cold, damp, foggy and generally miserable, pretty well the most unattractive conditions of any event in the World Championship, yet it gathers one of the most impressive fields of the series and more spectators than any other of Britain’s sporting events.

It will be centred at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena and its 150 or so competing cars will begin leaving the city’s Centenary Square early on November 21. Car scrutiny will have taken place from 7.00 the previous day. (Note that there will be a charge for public admission to scrutineering and to special stages.)

The first day of the 1600-mile route will take competitors through nine special stages in stately homes, private parks and racing circuits ranged in a clockwise loop starting and finishing in Birmingham

After a night stop, Monday’s 4.00 restart will take the crews westward into Wales, first tackling special stages in the forests of Dyfnant, Myherin and Hafren before the customary regrouping stop and service halt at Machynlleth. After this will come Pantperthog, Dyfi, Penmachno, Brenig and Clocaenog before the motorway trek up to Lancaster for the second night stop.

The third day’s 6.30 restart will take competitors northwards via the two Grizedale stages, to be tackled just before 8.00, to the Kielder area, where there will be seven special stages (the last starting at 18.56) before another overnight stop in Gateshead, where the closed park will be at the stadium.

On the final day, the run back to Birmingham will start at 6.30 and will go via Hamsterley to the Yorkshire forests of Cropton, Gale Rigg, Langdale and Dalby. There will be a 10m regrouping stop at Whitby from midday. A special stage at Scunthorpe will allow no spectators, but the final (35th) stage at Donington, starting just after 18.00, will be open to all. The first car is expected back at Birmingham’s Centenary Square at 20.00 on November 24.

As the final round of the World Championship, the event is always likely to suffer an entry loss due to that series being settled earlier, but this has never affected the numbers.

As this is written, there are two championship qualifiers to go before the Network Q RAC Rally, Italy’s Sanremo Rally and Spain’s Cataluna Rally. However, there is still a very real possibility that the drivers’ section of the World Championship will remain open until the final round. The makes’ series is already settled in Toyota’s favour.

Among the teams attending this year is Ford, with two cars actually from the factory for Francois Delecour and Massimo Biasion (although those crews are not yet named on the list) and two from Michelin Pilot for Malcolm Wilson and Robbie Head. The Toyota Castrol team has two cars for Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen, whilst Toyota Sweden is keeping its eggs in its own basket this year by entering potential winner Mats Jonsson.

Mitsubishi Ralliart has two cars for Armin Schwarz and Kenneth Eriksson, and David Llewellin will drive for Vauxhall Sport.

Two Subarus have been entered, a Legacy apiece for Richard Bums and Alister McRae. Although they do not appear on the provisional entry list, we understand that two Subaru lmprezas will also be entered for Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen.

Italian teams have a history of late entries, usually waiting until after the Sanremo Rally, and it was not surprising to note the absence of the Jolly Club. However, Pirelli has made a series of hotel bookings, so it is more than likely that Andrea Aghini will be there in a Delta integrale. As far as Carlos Sainz is concerned (he drives on Michelins), we will have to wait and see.

G P

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