Once upon a time, there was a little girl who wanted to drive very fast through the forest and into puddles while a person said weird things to her about gears, lines and angles. That little girl was also aware that because she was a girl (and little) that this was never going to happen. She filed her dream away and hoped that one day she wouldn’t be quite so little and maybe she would be a boy too so she could drive that fast and get that muddy. The dream sat in her mind for 26 years until one day her Prince Charming gave her a present that she had never thought would happen. She got to drive the car through the forest very fast and a man sat next to her and said things like “2nd gear” and “tight into this corner”.
OK – so maybe the fairytale thing doesn’t appeal to everyone but today, I got to live one of my oldest dreams out (no, not being Kylie Minogue) and I redeemed my 31st birthday present from Tom – a rally driving experience in a rally car in a forest setting. Ever since I and had watched the great but late Colin McRae thrash a Subaru around a Norwegian forest on the TV, I had a dream that I would be able to do the same. Tom and I had previously talked about my dream of rally driving and in his previous life Tom was a modified car nut so he knew where my passion came from.
I never expected to be able to have a “dream come true” moment and I am so very very grateful that I have managed it! The experience day was run by a company called Extreme Rally and uses the off-road course at Tong Off Road centre, just 20 minutes from Leeds and 10 minutes from Bradford. Having had no off-road experience, unless you count getting stuck in a very muddy field in Derbyshire, I had no idea what to expect or what I would be faced with. The answer was lots of people waiting to drive and a fabulously enthusiastic and knowledgable team from Extreme Rally who did everything to make the event fun and exciting.
After a very thorough briefing from one of the team, we waited for our slot to be called and helped ourselves to the excellent biscuits, tea, coffee and crisps that were included as part of the package. Waiting is never fun but in a fug of petrol fumes, dust, woodland and few cars flying past it made the wait more than bearable – and they say good things come to those who wait. I can confirm that they do – I waited and then the good things came. It was a choice of two cars: the Mitsubishi Evo or the Subaru Impreza. While my first choice was the Subaru (McRae influenced), I ended up in the Evo and to be honest, I wasn’t even a little bit disappointed.
One word to note: abandon all dignity when getting into and out of a rally car. The roll cage inside that protects you should you crash or turn the car over is not designed for ladylike entry to the carriage – neither is having your 5 point harness adjusted and fastened. That being said, the team were fabulous and took their time making sure I was safe and as comfortable as it was possible to be. Having been described as looking like a rabbit in the headlights before I got in the Evo, I was itching to put my foot down and go when I was in it.
I had a lovely instructor who thought it was hilarious that I seemed to have a sudden bout of Tourette’s. I did promise not to shout but I couldn’t promise not to swear – apparently its quite common. Strapped in, we headed for the start line. I’ve been driving for 13 years but today, it was just the best. Inching the car forward slightly and waiting at the cones for the word to go, I was in heaven. All the dreams crystalised into perfect clarity and suddenly, I was being told to drive. Into corners, accelerating on the straights,hugging the corners and booting it up switch backs and a chicane lined out with cones. Cones, I’m afraid to say that on my first lap, I squashed flat through some rather impressive over steer and over correcting. My instructor however laughed and asked that I try not do it again. I didn’t hit another cone for the rest of the laps.
Two laps in and I was flying. Speed out of corners, the chicane was mastered (as well as it will ever be) there was a monumental back-end slide out and I regained control while uttering some expletives out of sheer joy and excitement. In and back out of the woods, through the muddy patch, down the gravel hill and then to the final hairpin up a hill. Helpfully, the had disabled the speedometre so I had no idea how fast I was going – I think about eleventy hundred* miles an hour was the quickest. *45 ish. As the final little chicane came into view and the waiting area approached I wasn’t even aware that I had been holding my breath until I had to breathe out again.
As I parked and tried to work out how to extricate myself from the harness, I had to tell my instructor the truth about how I felt after my experience: “That was fucking awesome!” One of the ground crew came over after I got out and asked me how it was – but my ear to ear grin told him everything he wanted to know. They asked me if I would be back again for more and I can honestly say that I would go back in a heartbeat. It was everything I dreamt of and more – brilliant team from phoning up to book my weekend to the welcome from the ground crew and the excellent briefing and instructor. Tom and I have been looking at their Swedish Ice Rally experience…we might end up saving to do that next. And when you have such an awesome time, why wouldn’t we!
Disclaimer: This experience was paid for by Tom as a birthday gift and I was in no way asked to write a review. All opinions are my own. That being said, it was AWESOME!