Sam Store reflects on an 'unforgettable weekend' in Portugal and his first taste of a World Rally event...
I am not sure there are many better ways to experience your first ever World Rally event, than to go behind the scenes with one of the sport's top teams, and that's exactly what I got to do on Rally de Portugal last weekend, the fourth round in the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team provided us with unprecedented access into the world of rally, with a tour of the hospitality area, a close up of a full rally service, and entry to the best viewing spots of three stages, making even the most ordinary motorsport fan, feel as important as any other VIP guest they may entertain.
Throughout the weekend, we had the pleasure of being at three of the stages of the epic Rally de Portugal. Set in the stunning south of the country, it is east to see why it is a favourite of the drivers.
To see the likes of Mads Ostberg
and Sebastien Ogier
sweeping through the dusty gravel roads, from just metres away, was an absolute thrill. And clearly we weren't the only ones impressed, with hoards of Portuguese fans camped throughout the stages, drinking, laughing, and generally celebrating the fact that the rally is in town. It's hard not to be taken in by the atmosphere, with the fans screaming and some of the world's best drivers sliding by, there is nothing quite like it.
As well as close up access to the stages, we were also granted entry to the M-Sport hospitality unit - an incredible structure, especially when you consider it is unfolded and put together using eight different lorries. This is where all the team members eat and the drivers gather, meaning you are not far from the mechanics and those at the wheel too. This even led to a slightly odd conversion with M-Sport driver Nasser Al-Attiyah in the toilet area. To break the silence I asked: “How's the rally going?” He replied: “Good, it's going well… but still four stages to go tomorrow.” After a brief chat, he was off... It's difficult to imagine being so close to the drivers at any other event, and in a way, this is what made it so special.
Directly outside of the hospitality unit is the service area, where the cars return from the trials of the stages to have repairs. This is where the mechanics spring to life, feverishly working away to get the cars in the best possible shape for the next stage. Standing just feet away from the cars, we had unparalleled viewing of the work that goes on, and the sheer speed they have to work at. An M-Sport team member explained to me that Ostberg had rolled on day one, wrecking the car. The mechanics then had to work to get the car back up and running and Mads was back in the rally on day two, eventually bagging some points by the end.
Outside the M-Sport area, we had a quick walk around the rally circus, as it were, taking a peek at the other cars and the merchandise stands. The whole place was buzzing with people, excited for the rally and looking out for the drivers. Personally I was searching for ex-F1 driver Robert Kubica, but alas I did not catch sight of him.
Prior to this rally, my memories of the sport are of the old stars like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. But in recent years, my interest has dropped, with the dominance of Sebastian Loeb and Citroen. However, being at the heart of the rally is enough to ignite anyone's love for the sport, even my motorsport indifferent fiancée, who had an incredible weekend too. With M-Sport's fantastic hospitality and the atmosphere of the WRC, this was truly an unforgettable weekend.by Sam Store