Aberystwyth, the Plains Rally and the WRC

First published December 2016.

ABERYSTWYTH, the PLAINS RALLY and the WRC – by Nigel Raeburn

A couple of months ago Margaret and I were driving home from a short break in Pembrokeshire and stopped off for a quick McDonalds snack lunch in Aberystwyth.  Sitting in the McDonalds car park munching away, I realised that just across the road was a familiar hotel, the Park Lodge.  I remember first staying there around 2001 on the Circuit of Wales historic road rally when the hotel was quite new and the rally used it as its HQ, start and finish.  The area around was quite un-developed then – I think we even had a special test in a nearby wasteland area which nowadays is probably the car park of a retail park.  I remember Colin Evans and I had a good run to second overall behind winners Dick Appleton (father of ace navigator and route planner Mark) and the late Andy Gibson.

A year or so later, in 2002, the Plains Rally used this hotel as its HQ and I recall being a Steward and staying there again.  The Plains was based in Aberystwyth for a number of years.  I’ve just found some paperwork from 1995 when signing-on was at the Llety Gwyn Hotel (a guest house where the organisers stayed quite a few times – which now appears to have been demolished!), the rally started on the Promenade and finished at the University campus (and I can remember staying there one year in student accommodation).

Back to 2002, I can remember chatting to Pentti Airikkala in the Park Lodge hotel bar.  Pentti was a good friend of KDMC, initially triggered when Alan Jolley co-drove for him in an Alfa Romeo on the 1974 Welsh International.  I also got to know him when we were team-mates in 1975 in the DTV team.  He came to the KDMC Dinner Dance more than once I think as guest speaker.  He was a top international driver for many years, winning the RAC in a Mitsubishi in 1989, and was also famous as a rally driving instructor with his ‘Left Foot Braking’ school.  Pentti sadly died far too young at 64 in 2009.

Why was Pentti in Aberystwyth for the Plains?  He was there with his protege, a 17 year-old Finn by the name of Jari-Matti Latvala.  Under Pentti’s guidance he was undertaking a series of British rallies to gain experience.  I think he came 3rd on that Plains (anyone got a set of results?) – not bad at that age and with very limited experience.  Of course he has gone on to win many WRC rallies, although the Championship has eluded him to date, and in my view he is one of the nicest personalities in the sport at that level.  He sometimes seems a bit fragile mentally, but I’d love to see him overcome that and win the Championship.  It’s nice to think Knutsford’s Plains Rally played a small part in developing his career.

It’s not only Jari-Matti whose WRC career was nurtured on the Plains – in 2006 Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen (at the age of 17) and Ola Floene won the Plains in a Focus WRC as part of a programme of British rallies to help him develop into a top rally driver, which he certainly did.  So two of the current top WRC drivers started out on the Plains – something for the club to be proud of.

As I finish writing this article, the VW withdrawal from the WRC is having a big impact on the careers of these two drivers, plus of course World Champion Sebastien Ogier.  The VW team has had a great four years, ending with yet another 1-2 and this time a win for Andreas.  Once again bad luck (or carelessness?) cost Jari-Matti a good result after he clipped a bridge.  It will be interesting to see where these drivers end up and how they fare in the 2017 season without VW but with Toyota joining the party.

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