Rally GB day two: Great views (but no Kubica) at Sweet Lamb

Rally GB day two: Great views (but no Kubica) at Sweet Lamb

The ex-F1 driver rolls out of his first event in a works World Rally Car on a chaotic day in Wales

Sweet Lamb is one of the best places to watch a rally car in Great Britain. Located just off the A44 in Powys, Mid Wales, the rally testing facility offers brilliant viewing for spectators.

The site contains hundreds of rally ready gravel tracks, and is centred around a natural bowl which contains a series of jumps and a water splash. Fans can line the hillside and watch the rally cars tackle a series of challenges. It’s an ideal venue, which is why Wales Rally GB chiefs have made it one of the designated fan friendly ‘Rally Fest’ stages on this year’s event.

You could spend the day at Sweet Lamb and watch the World Rally Championship crews tackle the stage twice, the supporting National field run through once – and then take in a series of displays and trade stands.

There’s only one relatively modern problem with Sweet Lamb: it’s pretty much impossible to get a mobile phone signal up there. And while being out of contact can be a relaxing experience, it does make it quite hard to follow the progress of the rally. So the first most of the spectators at Sweet Lamb knew of Robert Kubica’s dramatic roll on the day’s opening stage was when he didn’t turn up in the spectator bowl when he should have.

Instead of the distinctive sound of his Citroen DS3 WRC’s turbocharged 1600cc engine, there was the peace and quite of the Welsh countryside, only punctuated by the stage commentators speculating where Kubica was. Then the commentators received a radio message: Kubica had rolled. He was out.

Kubica was never going to win Rally GB on his first outing in a works World Rally Car. But the Polish ex-Formula One racer was one of the focal points of attention on the event: even ex-F1 drivers still have a name recognition that their WRC counterparts just can’t match.

It helped that Kubica had an amazing story: his F1 career was cut short by arm injuries sustained in a rally crash, and yet he was rebuilding his driving career in rallying. He’d won this year’s second-tier WRC2 title, and several WRC teams are chasing his services for next year. That’s partly because he brings welcome publicity, but also because he’s proven that he has what it takes to succeed in rallying. His roll has taken away a compelling feel good story from the event.

It wasn’t just Kubica that was in trouble. After watching the top cars through once, we headed from Sweet Lamb to Newtown for the event’s remote service, which featured a crowd-pleasing regroup on the town’s high street. There, with phone signal and 3G restored and drivers to interview, we learned that Citroen’s team leader Mikko Hirvonen had rolled out on the stage after Sweet Lamb. Both Citroen drivers were unhurt, and can rejoin tomorrow (with hefty time penalties) if the team can fix their cars tonight.

There were more rolls, scrapes and incidents right the way down the order. Rally GB organisers have been heralding their event as one of the toughest on the calendar. Friday’s stages proved they were right.

None of that seems to have bothered the Volkswagen team though. World champion Sebastien Ogier was fastest on four of the day’s six stages to stretch his lead over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to 20.1 seconds. M-Sport Ford driver Thierry Neuville, who had started the day in second, was mystified at his inability to match the VW men, and is now just over a minute off the pace in third.

In the WRC2 category, Friday was a good day for the locals. Welshman Elfyn Evans continues to lead, while Isle of Man driver Mark Higgins – who lives in Wales – is up to second in class on his first Rally GB since 2008.

James Attwood is the editor of Motorsport News, Autocar’s sister publication

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