On track with Rally of Scotland winner Andreas Mikkelsen
As I sat in the marquee watching the mechanics swap over the OZ wheels on Andreas Mikkelsen's winning Skoda S2000 rally car, the time for my run as a passenger was approaching. I tentatively pulled the helmet down over my ears, not knowing quite what to expect on my debut as rally car passenger.
I clambered in over the neatly welded rollcage and greeted Andreas, who less than 24 hours ago had taken his first IRC victory on the Rally of Scotland.
After belting up I had a swift look around the cockpit. No creature comforts were to be found here, just the top of the dash, a computer screen displaying temperatures and pressures, the tall gear lever and handbrake sitting upright between us and a large LCD screen displaying the current gear.
The rough idle of the car was loud and shaky. As the door shut, Andreas asked me if I was ok to which I nervously nodded and we set off. The car whined as we made our way slowly to the start of the mini stage. Nearly 2.2km of gravel and wet mud awaited.
A sudden burst of power instantly hit me as Andreas floored it. The car pelted forward and he smacked through the gears in what seemed like split seconds. Soon enough we were up to 160kph and it sure felt like it.
It was a slippery track with lots of opportunities to get sideways, Andreas told me, as we swung round a corner with the fluidity of a hovercraft. Looking forward, we were covering ground at an alarming pace. The engine screamed as we flung past a beautiful loch, though I barely had a nano-second to capture a glimpse before the trees came rushing past.
The whole time I was beaming. I could not stop the childish grin from spreading across my face. At points it looked like we weren't going to make it round a corner, especially as we hurtled towards a stack of unforgiving logs, but I never felt unsafe.
Massive Brembo brakes provide the most incredible stopping power. It feels so surreal to stop on a sixpence on wet mud without any notice. Andreas told me that the brakes are always super-responsive in any conditions.
I expected to be rattled around far more, but only the harshest undulations caused the car to bang down on the ground.
As he pulled on the handbrake to swing round and go back in the same direction, Andreas was really on it. At least I thought so at first, but one of the mechanics told me at the end that hewas probably just cruising.
We were on the very edge of the track going sideways at some serious speed when the same set of logs appeared instantly. Relentless acceleration kept the back in check and soon after we were slowing to a finish.
Andreas shook my hand and asked if I enjoyed it. A blow to the senses, it makes you feel alive and awake like nothing else, and the landscape escaping beyond your eyes just adds to the pure delight of experiencing the sheer speed and sound. An unforgettable experience.