If theres one event that truly encapsulates the saying: Man and Machine against the Elements, then that event would be Wales Rally GB (WRGB). Run in October, on stunning Welsh forest roads, the conditions depend totally on the weather. In October this can be anything, ranging from bright skies and dry roads, through to torrential rain, mud and thick fog. Its a big challenge for the drivers and one where a bit of experience goes a long way.
The crews cover a lot of mileage on WRGB, so be prepared for some very early starts and, particularly on Saturday when there are two night stages, the odd late finish. Each morning the cars leave the service park located at Deeside, which is situated in the Northeast corner of Wales, returning in darkness for each end of day service. The action all takes place on stages run on private roads, and as such spectators need to have a ticket to see it. Here is does make economic sense to buy a pass for the whole event.
WRGB is an event where you can be very flexible on accommodation and it is advisable to move around each day and follow the rally. There are plenty of very good guesthouses and Bed & Breakfast places to stay in the villages and small towns close to the stages. If you really want some luxury then the city of Chester (across the border into England) is your best bet. Likewise for eating out you have literally hundreds of pubs and inns along the route, where you will be guaranteed some good hospitality. Non-vegetarians simply must try some local lamb dishes; this is the speciality of Wales.
The final piece of advice is to take the appropriate clothing that can deal will monsoon like rain, thick mud and high winds. If the weather is that bad then at least youll be prepared. If its much better weather then you just take some layers off.
Shakedown: Clocaenog, 3.32km
As shakedown stages go, this ones a good one and totally representative of the road conditions crews can expect to face on the rally. The advice for spectating would be to head toward the finish and check out any, or all, of the last four corners; theyre super-fast and here you will see whos really on it and whos not so committed. The access in to the stage is by turning north off the B5105 road and parking up in one several forest roads close to the stage.
SS1: Visit Conwy Tir Prince, 1.53km
This curtain raiser for the rally will divide opinion. It has nothing to do with the classic Welsh forest roads, instead it is a lap of a horse trotting track followed by a blast around an artificial course laid out in a gravel car park. It will be dark, so the visual ugliness can be somewhat disguised and the two very long right-hand corners on the trotting track could make for interesting viewing. If it is dry then there could be big plumes of sand flying off the cars, if it wet then it could be a mud bath. The venue is very compact, so our advice would be to arrive and have a look around for your favourite spot.
SS2/5: Myherin, 19.45km
Myherin is the most southerly of all the stages and is somewhat of an old WRGB classic. Recently an infectious tree disease has spread in this area and as a result the stage has been shortened significantly to avoid the affected area. Now there is only one spectator access road and to use it you turn south off the A44 main road, approximately 7km west of the Sweet Lamb entrance. The access brings you to a junction on the stage on exposed high ground, at km 15.3. Here you have three good options:
a) Walk in 350m, back to km 15.0 and you will see two fast downhill corners: a right then a left in open landscape. On a clear day you can see over 1km of the stage as it drops downhill through a wind-farm, but such a view in October is a rarity.
b) The junction at km 15.3 is a fast right-hand corner, and
c) Walk downhill after the junction to km 16.2 and you can view some spectacular fast corners, flowing downhill. There will be relatively few people here making this a good bet.
SS3/6: Sweet Lamb, 4.24km
This is the stage where most of the spectators on Friday will go and most of those will congregate around the section from km 1.5-1.9, known as The Sweet Lamb Bowl. With its three jumps and big watersplash, all viewable from the same high banking, its understandable why spectators flock there. In addition its easy to find and has well organised parking, turning north off the A44.
Alternatively, you can venture further into the stage [actually just a short distance from the main car park] to km 3.3. This is an ultra-fast double left-hand corner where the cars bounce onto two wheels, making it very spectacular.
SS4/7: Hafren, 35.14km
Hafren forest offers some truly spectacular viewing locations, dependant on how far you are prepared to walk. The access and main car park is all located on the east side of the stage, however the more spectacular spots are on the west.
If you want something easy without having to walk far then we recommend going for the left-hand hairpin at km 22. Within walking distance either side of this hairpin theres also plenty of fast action.
If youre happy to walk a long distance, then a place of interest would be the next sequence of proper corners in the forest (from km 23-24). You just need to keep walking into the stage until you find your personal preference, however our recommendation would be the very long left-hand corner at km 24.
For something quite spectacular head through the forest and follow tracks to km 16.9, where eventually you will arrive at a crest on a slight left-hand corner with a road coming in from the left. This section of the stage is a clear open landscape offering great viewing possibilities. At the crest the rally cars cut to the inside and become airborne very high speed.
Food and drink:
Close to the Hafren stage is the town of Machynlleth with has several cafes and pubs serving food. Its a very traditional mid-Wales town and worth the effort if you are hungry.
SS8/15: Aberhirnant, 13.91km
Aberhirnant is a classic Welsh forest stage, set in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. For the second pass as SS15 it will be run in darkness, adding some night-time drama to the action. You only have two choices for spectating on this stage, as the access in is quite limited. Our recommendation would be to take the main access road into the stage, which eventually arrives at km 9. The action here is super-fast as the cars plunge flat-out downhill towards a left kink, which sits in a slight compression. The cars suspension will be tested to the maximum here. Just 100m after this is a fast right-hand corner on a new piece of forest road, which is in an open area of cleared trees. One great aspect of spectating here is that you get to see the cars for a long period of time.
Your other option is a square left-hand junction at km 5.3. This has good access from the West, but has very little else going for it.
SS9/16: Dyfnant, 17.91km
This is a popular stage with spectators, however the locations you can easily get to are typically square junctions with a lot of plastic tape and not to be recommended. Its far better to go away from the crowds and find some much better, fast and spectacular action. First up at km 10.2-10.4 there are a pair of quick left-hand corners where you will be able to see who is really on it. To get here follow signs for Car Park I, west of the stage from the village of Pont Llogel.
An alternative big-action alternative is to follow Car Park I to its western end and walk on to km 13.2. This is a really fast, uphill, slight-left corner into a long right-hand bend.
Like Aberhirnant, the second running of this stage will be in the dark.
SS10/12: Gartheiniog, 12.61km
Just head for Car Park J, as far as you can towards the end, where it meets the stage at km 1.3. At this point there are two slow junctions [a tight right, followed by an even tighter left] which the drivers will flick their cars around, trying to maintain as much momentum as possible. This could be good.
If you continue walking through to km 1.8, you will arrive at one of the best spectating points in Wales. Here the cars emerge out of the forest into the open via a dramatic flat-out, two-wheeling, crest. Straight after the crest is a fast right hand corner, with a high banking on the inside. If you climb up on the banking, you will see both the crest and the corner.
SS11/13: Dyfi, 25.86km
This is the longest stage of the day, however it does not offer a massive choice of viewing locations. Our advice would be to get to km 3.3, which is at the end of Car Park G. This location is pretty exciting; its a very high-speed downhill right-hand corner, where the cars should slide sideways.
SS14: Cholmondeley Castle, 1.8km
This is a short blast on a narrow asphalt road, in the picturesque grounds of an old English castle. This stage is aimed at families looking for a fun day out and as such there are many other activities going on all day to make it an event. If you do go, then head for the middle of the stage (km 0.8), where you can see the cars make a 360° spin around a big hay bale.
Food and drink:
If you do go to Cholmondeley Castle then all your catering needs will be met there. Elsewhere on the route there are plenty of options. The town of Bala, near Aberhirnant, has plenty of pubs and a couple of good cafés on the main street. If you are near Dyfi and Gertheiniog there is the Brigands Inn pub at Mallwyd, which does superb restaurant food.
SS17/20: Alwen, 10.41km
Theres just the one spot we can recommend for you on this stage and that is at km 6.1. This is a fast downhill approach to a tight right-hand hairpin. The access is very easy; you take the gravel road directly off the B4501.
SS18/21 (Power Stage): Brenig, 6.43km
This may be one of the shortest tests on the rally, but it is definitely one of the best, with the scenic Lake Brenig as a constant backdrop. Your best bet for viewing is to head towards the stage end, with Car Park O2 (Near Lake Brenig Visitors Centre) the ideal choice.
From km 4.5-4.8 the stage runs along the lakeshore and you can stand on top of the dam and see it all. As the cars pass by the dam they will make a jump on a slight right-hand corner, before plunging downhill. This whole section is completely open and you have an infinite amount of places to stand and take in different views. This is why we would recommend this section of the stage and advise against trying to go somewhere else.
The stage end is not far from here and could be worth going to at the end of the Power Stage. Depending on how the results go, there is always the possibility of seeing a World Champion crowned here.
SS19: Gwydir, 7.41km
This is a new stage for Wales Rally GB, however it is a forest which is well known and popular with the locals. The public car parks do not really offer you much for good spectating locations, our advice would be to park in the town of Llanrwst, cross the river using the main bridge beside Gwydir Castle and walk uphill into the forest on the asphalt road. Head in through, and then walk beyond, the stage start to the first proper corner at km 0.6, which is a tight right-hand bend. The approach to this corner is very fast, so the drivers will have to be careful with braking.