Part 1: AOL Cars goes rallying


A pair of brave souls from the AOL Cars office have decided to go rallying for the first time. They've got the car, purchased the overalls and practiced with the stopwatch, now it's time to let them loose on the muddy stuff.

Here's how they think they will get on at the weekend

The seasoned hand

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Rewind to 1994 and I used to spend my weekends hurtling through forests strapped into a rally car. It was ace – the greatest thrill you can experience on four wheels. Then, like most rally drivers, I ran out of money. Or, to be more precise, I ran out of other peoples' money – which is a slightly trickier problem to fix.

Fast-forward two decades and the rallying bug has bitten once again. Debts cleared, dreams alive. Now, for those who aren't familiar with rallying, it's essentially circuit racing's dirty sister. It's you, a gullible co-driver and a course (special stage in rally parlance) that you've never seen before.

Drive that stage faster than everyone else does and you go to the top of the leaderboard. Repeat over a further 10 stages and you win the rally. Simple.

Our steed is a Peugeot 206 Super Cup – which sounds rather more exotic than it is. It's a rare survivor from a one-make rally championship Peugeot ran in the early 2000s and is based on a 1.6-litre 206 XSi. It's got about 180bhp on tap, some rather trick suspension and the obligatory 'whack your head every time you get in' rollcage. It's a proper piece of kit – which is a good start.

Our first event takes place this weekend at TSH Stages Rally, RAF Portreath, Cornwall. Two days of flat-out tarmac driving against the clock. It's the kind of place where local knowledge and a skilled co-driver are essential for a good result. Unfortunately, I have neither. What we do have is a start number of 83... out of 83 runners. Lesson 1: Never try and crack a joke about the Cornish on the entry form.

So here I am, a matter of hours before I discover just how rusty my driving skills are. At least co-driver James seems to be putting on a brave face...

Follow this weekend's antics on twitter:

Mike Askew @thelaikamike

The first time navigator

I'm a little bit nervous. Actually, scrap that, I'm very nervous. Why? Well, this weekend I'll be making my rally debut as a navigator and it's not the crashing I'm worried about – it's the potential for, er, redecorating the interior of our car.

You see I'm not what you'd call a 'happy' passenger. I'm the sort of front seat tag-along that does extravagant 'ghost-braking' for the driver when they're a little late on the anchors. And that's on the way to Waitrose – not flying into a corner at 70mph...

I'm also a little worried about the potential of revisiting breakfast. I struggle to read a book or send a text when I'm travelling in a car without feeling a little bit queasy. So the thought of hurtling across an airfield with my head bowed down is not filling me with confidence. In fact, I think there may be an office sweepstake running on how long it takes for me to, well you know, up-chuck.

I'm also panicking about letting Mike down. He's the seasoned pro when it comes to rallying. I simply have all the gear and absolutely no idea. Helpfully he's described me as ballast with a clipboard – but the problem is I haven't even got one of those yet.

Getting the motorsport licence to be a co-driver was surprisingly easy. There are no lessons needed, no medical – just a cheque and lengthy form to fill out. I've been swatting up on what I need to do, too. It's my job to make sure we arrive at the checkpoints in time and keep track of the stage times we clock up – considering I'm usually late for pretty much anything important, I'm rather worried about this too.

Just do me a favour and don't tell Mike any of the above – I'm trying to play it cool and pretend I know what I'm doing. Smoke and mirrors...

Follow this weekend's antics on twitter:

James Baggott @cardealered

Take a look at the car in the gallery below

AOL Cars goes rallying - Part 1

AOL Cars goes rallying - Part 1