By Phill Bramhill
I want to start off by saying the Roger Albert Clark Rally is nothing short of an adventure and an epic one at that. Whether you are a competitor, a marshal, a rescue / recovery crew or even part of the media team, what you go through over those 5 days will leave lasting memories that you can and will share with family for years to come. The stories that develop over the 1000 or so miles of arguably one of the best rally in the world become timeless and I’m pleased to say I’m not senile enough to have forgotten all my trips around the country over the last 20 years or so.
I covered the first 15 years of the Roger Albert Clark Rally as an avid spectator sleeping in the car each night. It quickly became an event which couldn’t be missed and one I spent most of the year looking forward to. The last 3 events have been covered by Special Stage and I have been lucky enough to work them. As well as the added bonus of some financial income, this also meant I had a nice warm place to stay each night as charging all the equipment became a necessity, and this year with the introduction of event long live streaming, the focus turned from finding somewhere warm to finding somewhere with enough 3 pin plugs to power a small army.
The planning for this year’s event started way back in January when a meeting between Special Stage and Colin Heppenstall the Rally Manager and the brains behind the whole adventure, sowed the seed with regards to what his plans for the event were. ‘more coverage, more live and a much more in depth media package’, in the hopes it reignite the spark of RACs old and bring in some overseas entrants in the coming years.
It wasn’t set in stone at this point that Special Stage would be the video provider but with a good relationship built over several years, I think we were quietly confident in securing a deal, although it was going to take some serious planning and expenditure to bring the skills and equipment needed up to scratch ready for the event.
Once the nod was given, we knew we had a huge task on our hands.
It was obvious from the outset that this was going to be a bigger project than we had done before and was going to involve some investment in equipment and some careful planning to allow us to perform how we wanted. By this I mean we needed new satellite transmitters in the form of Elon Musk’s Starlink set up, enough to allow 3 teams to work remotely throughout the country in order to relay the images back to Special Stage HQ (parked in service or at a passage control). The starling system is just the tip of the iceberg, there are routers modems and assortment of back up equipment needed in case of problems usually brought on by adverse weather! In essence the equipment needed to be tripled. Not forgetting it then needed to be assembled into waterproof housings which were specially made by Wayne.
By the time the event came round I reckon between myself and Wayne we knew the entire route better than any of the competitors out there! We had seen the DVD of the stages so many times we knew exactly where all the open felled sections of forest were and which direction the satellite had to point to allow us to transmit. Now we just had to work out the logistics of getting the team and the equipment to location. The Nearest junction being the only safe option really although the junctions we picked weren’t always that near.
Wednesday saw us arriving in Carmarthen Town centre early to set up the rally Forum that was planned, This actually allowed for some atmospheric shots to be captured by our friends at Eastwood media, who had come on board to fly the drones and provide us with some fantastic B reel footage. Short, sharp, punchy edits which can be dropped into the overall show to give a different dimension to the production. This became a key feature in the daily rally report shows as the opening scenes for the day.
The 8 strong crew arrived at the accommodation just outside Crychan just before 10pm and after a quick equipment check ready for the next morning it was time for some sleep before the adventure really got under way.
Thursday morning was the first proper attempt in the forest to broadcast to the studio, we had practiced and trialled the equipment before but never in the depths of a Welsh forest, there was no going back now. We set up stage side and waited anxiously for the first competitors to come into view. The sight and sound of the cat 1 cars coming down the hillside into view brought back all the memories of previous years, it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and the realisation that the adventure was underway for another rear. All the hype around the event had meant those levels of excitement only increased with the anticipation of McCormack, Solberg, Meeke, Ingram and the rest of the hard charging main field pushing the limits of the classic cars through Wales. We weren’t disappointed!!!
The afternoon stage was to be filmed in a different location, so we packed all the gear up and drove through to our next position. The plan for the afternoon each day was for me to commentate live from the side of the stage, it meant we spent most of the day live but also allowed the other teams to collect footage for the review show and the event DVD. Now talking is something I have never had a problem with, I can chat for ever but one thing I had overlooked, and in hindsight is pretty obvious, I would be talking the viewers into the darkness. It was staggering to how many viewers were still tuned in to me even though the light levels had dropped to the point where it would’ve looked like your telly was on standby for most of the show, the only give away was my droning, which people seem to enjoy. I have to say it certainly set a fantastic atmosphere in the forest. It was only a short drive back to the accommodation once we had packed away. The rest of the team arrived back late on after producing and presenting the evening review show and after a quick debrief and a swap of batteries it was time for bed, big day tomorrow!!!
Myherin was our second location of the weekend, always a favourite for with competitors and myself alike. The first shot we were down at the bottom of the wind turbines , a usual haunt for the livestream team as it has great views, but not somewhere you want to be in bad weather. It always amazes me how big these turbines actually are, it seemed even more impressive when a technician arrived and climbed to the top opening a tiny hatch and poking his head through. The event had already proved itself as a marathon with a number of crews not making it out of Wales on the first 2 days, but when the final competitors passed us by at 6:30pm it was time to pack up for the long drive to Carlisle. 12hrs after arriving at the stage, we had a 4 hour drive north ahead of us. A quick pit stop in Newtown for food gave us enough energy to see us to Tebay services for a late night coffee stop before arriving at midnight at our Holiday Lodge, and battery replacement and charge all the gear.
Saturday morning we moved into unchartered territory with a visit to Dalbeattie forest, a place I had been on holiday but never seen a rally car through the woods here. It looked from the DVD to be a very technical stage with lots of blind corners on crests deep in the trees. We planned a shot in the only open section of the stage just before the flying finish, what was nice here though was the weather had provided us with a frosty morning and some proper RAC weather to keep the crews on their toes. I think this was one of my favourite shots from the event, it felt very nostalgic stood with all the spectators watching these stunning cars sliding around on the ice.
With only one pass of the stage we moved on to Glengap for the afternoons stream, and probably one of the roughest stages I had been in. The first pass of the stage had really cut up the surface and driving into the stage to our location was a real chore. It was also the only time over the event where we met up with the other teams and all filmed in the same area of forest. This was great as we got to see how the drone team worked a d what an eye opener that was. Flying just meters away from us and with absolute precision these guys had my attention more than the cars at times! Unbelievable to watch them at work. Another long drive back to Carlisle after another long day filming was on the cards. However, after arriving back to the lodge at around 10:30pm we realised we had a hot tub on the deck. An opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. A very chilled 45 minutes followed before another late night.
Sunday was the earliest morning with a harsh frost coating the countryside it was going to be a steady drive into Kershope, and at 16 miles it was one of the longer stages of the event for us. As usual, after a chat with the stage commander at the start line we were given permission to drive through the stage to our location at the top end of the forest. We parked in a small Quarry and got the kettle on, this was somewhat of a tradition now each morning. A brew and a bacon butty was a great way to start the day.
We only had the one run planned in Kershope and after packing all the gear away in double quick time we were stood next to the car waiting for the sweeper to come through. We had been given special permission by the stage commander at the start to drive out of the stage between runs, however it was a long way out of the stage and we eventually got caught by a very upset safety delegate. He let us know he feelings on the road section after the stage where we were told we could have slowed down the whole event. Oops!
It came to light later that the stage commander spoke with the delegate and our story stood up, so that made me feel a bit better at least. We made our way over to Mount Common for 2 stages, managing to pack an extra stage in to the day. It also meant I could commentate in the daylight, a section of stage I have done before on the 2019 event. I really enjoyed this stage, we got chatting to a group of marshals and had a great time with them and some of the spectators that had made their way up the killer hill where we were filming.
After the stage we had a chance to relax before the evening stage where we could film for the DVD. We had managed to fit in an extra stage and when we left the stage at the end of the day, I managed to fall in the ditch with the equipment and hurt my shin, it still hurts to this day! It wouldn’t be the Roger Albert Clark without a trip into a ditch and a wet arse!!!
The final day saw us heading for Shepherdshield and to a section of stage where the cars are flat for over a mile before turning square left down hill towards us. My chauffeur for the weekend and fellow cameraman Jamie, was struggling by now from lack of sleep and we decided to let him get some rest in the car while I filmed the stage. After all he still had to navigate us back down to Cheshire after the finish. It was great to have a visit from Steve Perez who was out catching up with his son Seb in the glorious Stratos, Steve and the team at Amigos Tequila flavoured beer were the live stream sponsors so it was great to catch up with him and to thank him for funding the shows. The Big one was the last stage of the event and what a stage it was! We drove into the junction at Churnsike Lodge and set up on a fantastic flowing section of stage where the crews will have been battling away for about 30 miles! It was a great section that actually caught out a crew in a mk1 that rolled into the ditch, we weren’t going to leave them there though and after 10 minutes of struggle, we eventually got them back on the road and to the finish.
With typhoons flying above us we made our way back to Carlisle for the finish and to hand over all the equipment. What a week it had been, like I said at the start, what a challenge! It doesn’t matter if you are a competitor, marshal, organiser, or the film crew, the event is an adventure. It takes its toll on you and there is no better feeling than climbing into your own bed after what seems like 6 days of hardly any sleep. You spend about a week wondering why you put yourself through such trauma, but I guarantee within 2 weeks you wish you were there again, and it’s now a long 2 years before we get the opportunity to galivant around the UK again.