At the top of Goodwood is the rally paddock and a 2 minute, 20-second forest stage that I raced down in Ken Block's Ford Fiesta. It was awesome, but the moment I got out of Ken's car I ran straight to the Group B paddock and started begging for rides. I'm riding in a Group B if it's the last thing I do.
Well, actually I stopped at Kris Meeke's WRC Pro Drive Mini and tried to get in, but one of the engineers heard my story and then there was some talk about me being a rally driver in the states and that I had just got out of Ken's car… "Oh, I'm sorry but it looks we are full on passengers for the rest of the day…"
Sure. I think I would have been the first with a back-to-back comparison of the two WRC cars. Oh well. Maybe next time. David Richards are you there? I would like to drive your Prodrive Mini WRC car. Oh yeah, these are not the droids you are looking for… does this actually work?
So I run through the Group B paddock. First stop, Walter Rohrl's Audi S1 E2! Nope full. OK on to my favorite, a Lancia 037, the last of the big angry rear wheel drive monsters and this was one was in East African Safari trim!
No dice, the owner was on his way to the black tie dinner at Lord March's house. I asked Ray to get me a ticket or let me crash the party as I have my own tux from my previous life… but you can guess how that conversation went.
Next time I'll just bring an empty wine glass, the tux, and walk right in and ask for forgiveness later, not permission — I really wanted to tag the Lord's house with some Caswell stickers. So I have something to look forward to next year when I find a way to sneak my BMW rally car into the event. Can't be that hard if they actually make the movie about it? Right? Right.
Ok, where is that Ari Vatanen's Climb Dance Car that I sat in an hour ago, maybe I can go for a ride in that! It still has the tech sticker with Ari's signature on it. Nope, the forest stage is too rough and he's only running the hillclimb in it. Makes sense.
Oh yeah! A Ford RS200, my favorite! But this one is pristine and not being raced. But man is it cool. I was promised a ride in all these cars when I get back to England as they are pretty much all owned by the same guy, sort of a Superman of Group B. Anyway, I kept searching. A Stratos! It was full too.
A Metro! 6R4 Metro! Rear engine group B craziness and his passenger seat is empty as he gets ready to pull out. This one is mine and sure enough, he says jump in. Wow.
First off, there is a ton of room in the cockpit and more gauges on the passenger side than I have in any of my cars. There are like two rally computers and some stuff I don't entirely recognize. I strap in and we pull up to the line and hand in our time card. Yes the runs are timed and I needed a RAC co-drivers license which is still valid to the end of the year if anyone needs some help at Wales Rally GB...just saying.
I get in to find out this car competes regularly in the UK and we are going to hit it hard and see how quick of time we can set. I don't know who this guy is yet, but he's my hero. The only disappointment? The car was detuned to 320 hp for use in England's rally series. But somehow, even with that, and no handbrake (must have mechanical diffs that would stall the car if one was used?), we were only 5 or 6 seconds behind the WRC cars times. But we're still not at the really cool part.
In order for the Group B Metro 6R4 car to work, you need to drive it like you stole it. I'm willing to bet the expression was coined from driving Group B cars. Seriously.
Ken's WRC spec Fiesta was an exercise of patience and delicate inputs and perfection of car control. This Group B Metro thing just wanted to be beaten, over and over again. The dogbox (meaning no synchros) just huge cogs that engage the next gear with a bang, was amazing. The no handbrake was an issue on the tight stage but this guy would just drop it into first and clutch kick the thing while braking or something as he turned in (there was a lot going on and at a good speed and I wasn't able to take it all in on one pass) and it would whip right around in the slow hairpins.
He didn't lift for the jump and we caught some nice air and landed rather softly given how firm the suspension felt. Apparently it runs Bilstein shock absorbers, and as such, the Metro 6R4 reminded me so much of my overpowered rear-wheel drive BMW. I know a lot of you are going to say "Come on. How could one of the greatest rally cars in history feel like your $500 BMW?" But it's true, it's all I could think about from the moment I got in the car.
The Group B cars are supercars, but they were built nearly 30 years ago. The car I rode in was 26 years old if I remember correctly. I was 11 at the time and the highest tech thing around was like an Atari or maybe a Commodore 64. For all I know they used computers like the Commodore 64 to design the thing.
My point is that it felt like a car, it handled like a car and turned like a car. Ken's Fiesta was strange, but in a cool way. You could tell it was way faster than the Metro and the rougher and faster the terrain, the better it would get, but it didn't exactly feel like a car if that makes sense. We would hit stuff so smoothly in the Fiesta that you didn't even notice, it was tight and quiet.
The Metro on the other hand was loud and banged a lot. Noise from everywhere. Constant gravel sounds on the underbody protection and every little bump made itself known. And with the engine right behind you it sounded awesome. It wanted to be driven angry, flat out, maximum attack, whatever your word is for it. And the harder you pushed it, the smoother it became.
I had been waiting my whole life for a ride in a modern WRC car and I really appreciate Ken Block for giving me the opportunity. But I also know Ken and he is a driver. I promise if he rode in the this Group B car he would be smiling ear to ear trying to find a way to race it too. It's just that much fun.