Wales Rally GB: what does it take to keep a WRC team on the road?

The WRC circus comes to Turkey. These are the team compounds, together with the TV and organisational centres - Anthony Cullen
The WRC circus comes to Turkey. These are the team compounds, together with the TV and organisational centres - Anthony Cullen

The record-breaking 360° Tour by Irish rockers U2 in 2009-2011 had a fleet of 120 trucks to transport the mammoth stadium staging and sound system around the world. One of the few events to rival that logistical behemoth year-in, year-out is the World Rally Championship (WRC).  

The only UK date on the WRC world tour is playing on the forests of Wales from October 4-7. Heading the convoy into North Wales will be four works rally teams with an average of 10 trucks apiece, followed smaller teams, a live TV operation mobilised with half a dozen wagons and articulated lorries carrying tyres, catering, signage and everything else to create a festival of rallying.

Unlike a Formula One Grand Prix, held at a permanent track for most of its races, each round of the WRC is spread across the host city and surrounding roads. It is more like the Tour de France cycle race than the Monaco Grand Prix. 

Rally Turkey 2018 - Ford Fiesta - Credit: Anthony Cullen
The backdrop to Rally Turkey is beautiful, although the rally stages are brutal - seven of the top 12 cars were forced to retire on this year's event Credit: Anthony Cullen

On a former sports area outside Marmaris, not far from the beaches where tourists were soaking up the last of the summer sun,  was the service park for September’s Rally Turkey.  The service park is rallying’s equivalent of the pits and one of 13 such encampments the WRC sets up globally each season.

Iain Tullie, who choreographs the logistics for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, based at Cockermouth in Cumbria, says: “Our set-up team of up to 10 crew have been here the best part of 10 days. For a rally like Turkey, we will have crew away from home for the best part of a month.”

Carrying tens of thousands of components (paperwork for non-EU events is one of the most complex and time-consuming part of the M-Sport team, which operates on a reputed £30 million budget) from wheels to egg whisks, it is a daunting job.  

Rally Turkey 2018 - Hyundai hospitality unit  - Credit: Anthony Cullen
Hyundai's two-tier workshop/hospitality facility is transported to all 13 WRC rounds by an army of people Credit: Anthony Cullen

Tullie says: “I saw one spreadsheet for one truck carrying car parts with 900 items listed.  Customs could check everything if they suspect anything is untoward.”

His most valuable piece of cargo? The £675,000 apiece Ford Fiesta rally cars for British hope Elfyn Evans and reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Dwarfing the not immodest Ford camp is Hyundai’s 450 square metre double-decker (and triple-tiered when the president of Hyundai  is on-event) travelling HQ.

Rally Turkey 2018 - team set-ups  - Credit: Anthony Cullen
Hyundai's hospitality unit dwarfs all the other teams' encampments Credit: Anthony Cullen

They call it a hospitality unit. In reality it is a garage and engineering base downstairs and restaurant/lounge above. Both floors are equally spotless.  

It takes 16 crew members a week to erect/dismantle a unit which would dent many an ego if it was parachuted into the F1 paddock. Rumours of Hyundai’s rally budget being at least double that of M-Sport are believable.   

The only people rivalling Hyundai at the WRC base are the TV team. WRC+ is live, pay-per-view streamed coverage of each day’s rallying. With a plane aloft for the best part of 10 hours a day to receive and relay images from 45 on-board minicams,  a helicopter and an array of other cameras,  it is a monster with a multi-million pound appetite.

Rally Turkey 2018 - live TV streaming on WRC+  - Credit: Anthony Cullen
The various TV feeds are edited for live streaming on the WRC+ pay-to-view channel Credit: Anthony Cullen

Florian Ruth, head of WRC TV, says: “Unlike a soccer match lasting 90 minutes or a two-hour Formula One race, over the three days of a world rally there is always something going on.” In Turkey, more so than usual…

In 36 gruelling hours, held on stunning but brutally unforgiving roads, a $1m Citroen burned out, the suspension on a Hyundai detonated a huge hole in the car’s bonnet and seven of the top 12 cars retired.  

Live TV images of Belgian Thierry Neuville trying to fix his Hyundai by the roadside and Craig Breen trying to extinguish the blaze engulfing his car were captivating. Imagine Lewis Hamilton trying to fix his F1 car by the side of the track in order to continue the race.

Rally Turkey 2018 - suspension damage on Hyundai  - Credit: Anthony Cullen
Damage limitation: the rough Turkish stages led to one of the Hyundai WRC team's cars suffering a strut that popped up through the bonnet Credit: Anthony Cullen

Choreographing the rally from a bunker beneath the coast corniche at Marmaris is a mix of Turkish motorsport club and championship officials. Out in the field there is an army of about 1,000 marshals and emergency workers. Their performance is under scrutiny - Turkey is back on the WRC calendar after eight years and is in the spotlight.  

But, like a rock tour,  once the show is over in one city, the race is on to set up the next gig.  WRC wants to be more rock and roll. Compared with U2, logistically it already is. 

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