It was an invitation Otago Daily Times’ Balclutha bureau chief Richard Davison accepted with some reservations. He had never ridden in a rally car before and the ‘‘trust us, we know what we are doing’’ message only slightly calmed the nerves as Paul Goatley, of Balclutha, in his Subaru WRX, hurtled around the Puaho Rd stage of the Catlins Rallysprint on Saturday. Our reporter survived to write the tale.
I FIND myself desperately pressing the brake pedal into the floor as we hurtle towards yet another seemingly impossible, blind and muddy corner, but to no avail.
Not a great surprise, however, as I’m on the passenger side of this four-wheeled WRX rocket, strapped in at six points by torso and neck brace in the sporty-looking bucket seat — a feature that’s definitely favouring style over comfort today.
I’ve been given the opportunity to take a ride in a rally car for the first time in my life.
The event: the McLellan Freight Catlins Rallysprint — two days and about 20km of Deep South gravel, hills and bends.
The buildup was all very low-key and jocular, prior to finding myself with a 350hp Subaru strapped to my back, front and sides. And head.
South Otago Car Club president Dean McCrostie suggested I might better get a handle on the enduring appeal of rallying by actually jumping in alongside one of South Otago’s more experienced practitioners — Balclutha’s Paul Goatley.
‘‘You’ll love it,’’ Dean said. ‘‘Very safe,’’ he said.
‘‘Come out with a big grin on your face.’’
When I front up for my ride on Saturday — day one’s Puaho Rd run — the banter takes a decidedly more sinister turn.
‘‘You ate something did you? Some people get a little queasy.
‘‘Keep your vomit in your safety suit. Oh — and there’s no brake on the passenger side.’’
This latter statement I find myself considering once again as — no doubt picturesque — Catlins rainforest flashes past blurrily, while my trusty driver performs apparent miracles to my right.
I also reconsider the statements about my now-nagging digestion, as we take a series of what I would only very recently have considered corners, in a dead straight line, at 165kmh.
It’s not so much the movement — although God knows how anyone can read pace notes under these conditions — but the growing scent of fuel and exhaust from the high-octane Avgas propelling us to our unhappy destinies.
But then something changes, and I find myself beginning to quite enjoy the wildly anarchic side to this whole experience.
I remember to breathe normally, relinquish my imaginary brake pedal, and start to find the sadistic seat and hog-tied harness a surprising comfort.
There’s still a slight sense of detachment from the whole affair, like I’ve accidentally stumbled into somebody’s fever dream, or a VR version of Colin McRae Rally from my misspent PlayStation youth.
But Paul clearly knows exactly what he’s doing, and it’s a genuine joy to watch and feel as he clips corners, destroys straights and pumps his pedals for frenzied Catlins glory.
Six minutes later and it’s all over.
I point the camera towards Paul and me for some final video, and we say kind things to one another about our respective driving skills and strength of stomach.
As I check myself over for signs of life, it turns out Dean’s predictions were spot on.
Loved it. Very safe. Great big grin on my face.