Qualifying for the Circuit of Ireland took place today on a short 9km sprint up Whinney Hill. The rain held off which made my first experience as a rally spectator a lot easier!
With my car loaded and a hot cup of coffee, I set off early to give myself a chance to choose a vantage point. As well as warm clothes and a chair, perhaps the most essential part of a spectators luggage is a map. Knowing what roads are emergency access or poor viewing is important and the rally organisers did a great job displaying that.
The day started with a practice session, where drivers could test different setups to have a balanced car. I chose the exit of a sharp left turn at the top of the hill. I thought it would give me a chance to see cars slide through the corner -but what I got exceeded expectations!
There are a number of different cars competing this weekend, from the four wheel drive, winged ERC cars; to the smaller, front wheel drive ERC Junior cars, and many more in between. I hope to write a full post about this when the rally’s over, but you can clearly see the difference in car characteristics through the corner.
There was a break between practice and qualifying so I found myself a new spot to have a change of pace (pun intended). I made my way to the run up to the same left corner to see the cars at full speed before they hit the brakes. It was the fastest part of the stage and meant I got to see and hear the cars as they slammed on the brakes for the sharp left.
So it turns out you can park pretty close to the stage if you plan it right (I didn’t even need the bike) and since each stage is different, it’s difficult to find the right vantage point. But whether it’s at a sharp corner, or a long, fast section, you are sure to see the cars on the limit!
The first competitive stages get underway tomorrow, with Ireland’s Robbie Barrable on the road. My money’s on car #1 Craig Breen for the outright win, but it looks to be a close battle. I got to hang out with some of the drivers this evening and there’s a clear excitement from the Irish guys, particularly Breen -this is the win he’s itching for.
Check back tomorrow night to see how I got on chasing the drivers from stage to stage. So far, this has been a great experience! See below for some pictures from today!