Deep in the heart of the East Rand - a place one doesn’t go very often – is a very muddy field and a few dilapidated buildings that make up the RallyStar rally school venue.
Nothing much special there, you could say, but when the rally cars that are blasting round there are worth R2.5million each, go like a bat out of hell and have various words like ‘6 Times National Rally Champions’ after the name, one does tend to sit up and take a bit of notice, despite the surroundings.
As a bit of a jolly and thank you to sponsors and the media alike, VW invited us to go for a quick spin in one of four cars assembled for the day. Sadly, we weren’t to drive the cars, but be mere passengers. However, when there is about as much chance of my getting out of first gear as there is of dating Charlize Theron (just to keep the East Rand theme going, you understand) it was possibly wiser to leave it to the experts if any fun was to be had at all.
And boy, what fun. After being reminded that, in the general scheme of things, we weren’t all that important in the event of crashing and burning - especially when it was probably our fault that we crashed in the first place by just being there – we were strapped in and driven off.
Actually, no, that’s wrong. We were strapped in and we took off. That’s better. There are barely words to describe the performance of these cars. They seem constantly on the very brink of utter disaster and destruction; every action is one of extreme violence, whether accelerating, decelerating, braking, turning; even the mechanical elements of engine and gearbox are simply brutal in their performance - no room for the mechanically squeamish here.
The one great surprise is the suspension, which is nothing short of astounding. What appears to be a bump in the road that should send the front wheel into orbit is merely smoothed out as if it wasn’t there.
Of course it could just be that you have seen the next immovable obstacle that you are heading for and, as such, have temporarily suspended all conscious recognition of the here and now; as if you had just run over the Titanic but didn’t notice because up ahead was Mount Everest.
The drivers are phenomenal. Utterly devoid of any conventionally measurable brain patterns, of course; how else could they do what they do? If the cars are on the ragged edge, it is because the drivers have put them there and it is such a fine line between death or glory that to perform the balancing act must take a distinct lack of imagination as to the consequences of failure.
Maybe the concept of failure just doesn’t enter into their make-up?
Profound thanks to the VW BP National Rally Championship team, the crews and the drivers for the experience of a lifetime.