WRC Wales Rally GB 2017 - Clocaenog Shakedown

October 2017

Rally. I love rally. I’m Welsh afterall…

Through my kitchen years I never really had a chance to get out to any stages, especially since the WRC had come to North Wales as I’d slowly been climbing the ranks – meaning even less time off work, especially weekends. This being my first autumn out of the kitchen in nearly a decade, I really wanted to take full advantage of the WRC coming to North Wales. Alas, being unemployed I could only afford a ticket for the shakedown in the Clocaenog forests. As it happens I moved to Ruthin only the day before, so Clocaenog was actually my nearest stage. Ideal.

This would also be my first time photographing any kind of motorsports. Gear-wise I didn’t have too bad a set-up – I was currently using a Nikon D7100 (APS-C) and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 USD with vibration compensation. (I’d ideally love to upgrade to a 70-200mm f/2.8 at some point, but we all know how expensive a hobby photography can be…). I also took the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX and the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 DC – the wide apertures would ensure faster shutter speeds, but the wider focal lengths would also mean I’d have to get closer to the action.

And of course, I’d only recently started my new hobby - YouTube - so I’d also packed my rubbish fake GoPro to record some video footage. Despite only costing £20 its wifi function let me control the camera from my phone - which I took full advantage of! Being a very cheap camera I also wasn’t too afraid of setting it up practically on the stage track. I did however shoot some video clips on the D7100 - you can clearly see the quality difference in the video…

Bag packed, flask filled and tired from the house move, I was up before sunrise to head to the forests. The shakedown only takes place on one stage, a good opportunity for teams and drivers to get a feel for the ground and make any final tweaks to the cars. The twisting, muddy gravel forest trails of North Wales are exactly where a rally championship should be held, and there couldn’t be a better stage for the World Rally Championship.

The rally community is like no other sports fanbase. The car parks are opened to the public at 4am, but even before then they’ll be queuing along the road in wait. Walking in from the car park, camper-van after camper-van sit in line along the dirt tracks, barbecue areas set up surrounded by camping chairs and coolers. I’ll admit, I was a little late arriving – yesterday’s house move had taken it out of me a bit, plus I must’ve read the stage times wrong because I could hear those super high-revving gearboxes through the conifers from the car park.

By the time I was track-side, most of the top-tier WRC drivers had been and gone. Elfyn Evans, our Welshman in the WRC, had only done a single test along the shakedown and headed back to the Deeside depot happy. However others like Kris Meeke and Danni Sordo seemed to be having a few more improvements being worked on, belting it through several times while I was there. But of course there were also the WRC2, WRC3 and lower tier competitors still coming through – perhaps not as fast, but certainly not slow.

For whatever reason the stewards had no issue with me standing in the press area on the main spectator bend, alongside the official WRC photographers and freelancers. Perhaps the beefy 70-300mm gave the impression I knew what I was doing, and the D7100 isn’t exactly a small camera. I didn’t complain – this offered me some good angles as the cars were coming into the bend.

I tried a few shots with the 35mm on the inside of the corner, but I was much happier with my telephoto shots from the outside. From here I was able to get head-on shots of the cars coming in, often kicking the back end out as they swung through the apex. What I really wanted was to see the dirt and gravel being thrown up behind the cars to give a real sense of action and the speed at which these machines were gliding through the Welsh woodland.

As the morning rolled on many spectators started to move out back to their vehicles. The main attraction was of course the top-tier WRC cars in action – the WRC2 and lower tier cars were also great to see but for many their interest had already peaked. I stuck around though – I’d paid my £25 entry and I was going to make full use of it! Especially as this was all the rallying I was going to see from this year’s championship.

I’d had a great time drinking my tea and chatting to some of the rally stewards and organisers. Some were from the Vale of Clwyd Motor Club and even suggested I joined if I was interested!

Overall I was pretty happy with some of the shots I’d been getting. On getting home I got straight to editing my images, though now over a year later I’ve found my editing style has changed somewhat – For some images I’ve included both original and more recent edits by way of comparison. I’m hoping this year – 2019 – I’ll be able to head to several stages for the WRC as well as other smaller scale rallies like the Cambrian Rally in February.

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Check out the dreadful video below!