The 2023 Roger Albert Clark Rally

Back in November I headed out on a Wednesday morning on a 250 mile, 5 hour drive, to Carmarthen, Wales. You might be thinking that Motorsport happens at the weekend but the Roger Albert Clark Rally replicates a time in Motorsport history when rallies were 4-5 days.

So there I was, at Carmarthen Showground watching the cars being scrutineered, fascinated by the quantity and quality of the 150+ iconic rally cars. The majority were from the 1970s with a huge number of Ford Escort Mk IIs entered…

a few Mk I Escorts…

along side those were 5 or 6 Porsche 911s, a Datsun 240z in safari spec, a Saab 96 V4…

and a Toyota Corolla Levin TE27.

There were so many cars to look around in the showground as everyone prepared for the 5 days ahead of them but the stand out car for me and so many others on this rally was the Lancia Stratos, piloted by Seb Perez and his co-driver Gary McElhinney. It looked incredible and it sounded even better once we got out into the stages!

Wednesday evening was the Ceremonial Start in the town centre so all of the cars would be driving through the busy streets, huge crowds had assembled to catch a glimpse of these beautiful rally cars ahead of their first day in the woods.

The evening wrapped up at about 10pm so all that was left to do was drive about 50 miles to Walters Arena for the stages that I had picked to spectate the following day.

Thursday morning and I woke early with the sun streaming through the window of my car, grabbed some breakfast at the local McDonald’s, drove the remaining couple of miles and parked up in Walters Arena. I had only been to a single stage in the woods before so I loaded up my camera kit and hiked up the stage to a hairpin about two thirds of the way into it.

It was popular location but one that I soon found limiting due to the crowd control measures. I headed further up the hill from there and soon found much better places to shoot from.

The previous photo was taken from an area where the marshals had spotted me shooting and encouraged me to join them closer to the action, I was still taking it easy as I wanted to get used to the unpredictability of the way the cars moved around on the loose surfaces.

I continued heading into the stage with a friendly spectator helping me navigate the maze of gravel roads around the Arena, I loved shooting at this location as the cars crested the hill in the distance before passing us flat out!

The second stage of the day would be a repeat of this one but a few hours later as the darkness fell over the woods, navigating this was made more difficult as I had left my torch in the car about a mile away!

It was so dark in the woods that we decided to watch the first bunch of cars come through before hiking out of the stage and up to the Service Park, taking advantage of the lights to shoot the crews working on their cars after a hard day.

I then headed out from Walters Arena and drove 70 miles to Sweet Lamb, arriving 2 hours later at about 11pm. It had been tiring following the rally and I was only at the end of Day 1, I had already driven 370 miles in around 8 hours and spent around 20 hours photographing.

Friday morning I woke up just before dawn to find my way into the Sweet Lamb Complex, having never been here before I got lost before spotting another spectator heading the right way. We got down into the valley and over into the car park early with a few hours to spare, I noticed that I had parked right in front of the stage so I went back to sleep for a bit, knowing it would be a long drive at the end of the day.

Around Midday I took the opportunity to wander around the spectator area on this stage, starting with a hairpin before climbing up a winding hill and over the top of the valley in the distance. At 1PM the stage went live with the first cars hitting the hairpin, clearing the gravel for the following competitors.

From this location I could also shoot with the 300mm lens and capture the cars coming toward me, further up the stage and away from me up to the crest of the hill.

The sun started to set as the fast group of cars came through the stage, helping create some contrast and interesting light as it hit the various hills and valleys around the area.

I was now at the top of the hill with a few hours to kill while I waited for the second run through the stage for the day, again it would be in the dark. This gave me time to appreciate how accessible rallying is, I wasn’t here with media access but just as a regular spectator. This photo shows just how close we could all drive up to the stage with the public car park on the left and the stage right in front of us.

The last light of the day faded so I shot a few photos in the darkness before watching the last few cars through the stage.

That ends Day 2 of the rally, now to drive from central Wales up to Glengap in the Scottish Borders for Saturday morning, a journey that took me all night with a short stop at a hotel for 2 hours sleep. I arrived just before dawn after 7 hours of driving and 280 miles later, parking on the fire road into the woods with the car half into the ditch. The frosty morning soon woke me up as I grabbed my camera, some food and drink and hiked out into the stage to find a good spot to start the day.

I found this great spot shooting over the top of a few bushes as the rising sun reflected into the lens off the frost that had built up on the frozen branches.

The light only lasted for a couple of minutes, giving me a chance to get a couple of variations before moving. I spent the rest of the morning moving up the stage through the thick pine forest on the opposite side of the stage before popping out to see what available shots there were at each section.

I found this great spot where I could shoot the cars over a small jump, turn around and shoot them going away from me up a hill or cross over and get a completely different angle of it all. These next shots are all taken within about 50m of each other!

The second run through of the stage wouldn’t be for about 3 hours so I walked back to the middle of the stage where I had entered it and headed out the other direction looking to get further down the stage and work my way back through the next run through as it would be dark. I made it about a mile past the entrance point to a nice set of corners with a safe place to stand on the exit of the corner.

The variety of shots here wasn’t great but it was awesome to watch the different styles of driving as the cars squirmed around on the brakes before sliding through the bend.

I headed back out of the stage as it got dark, heading back down to Carlisle to get some hot food, warm up and bit and get ready for another night sleeping in my car.

The next morning I woke to see that my friend Mike (check his work here – had driven up to meet me early so that we could head out into the stages together. It’s always nice shooting with someone, seeing their perspective and creative ways of capturing the same subjects.

We hit the road for a 40 minute drive to Kershope for another stage that would be run twice that day. The first run through we hiked into the forest to a clearing that we could see the cars coming for quite a way, giving us a nice panning shot against the trees before a tight hairpin in front of us.

We worked our way back down the stage a bit, finding different view points as we went.

At this point I was stood on what I thought was solid ground but it quickly proved to not be the case as it all gave way with me falling into a freezing cold, rather deep puddle. Luckily not damaging my camera or my phone! It was really funny at the time and still is looking back at it but I was now wet and cold, not a great combination on a day that was just above 0C. So I headed back to the car, got changed into my last set of clean and dry clothes and found a way to get down to another part of the stage ready for the second run through.

The location didn’t offer much in variety of angles but with the mist rolling in I managed the get a few shots that I am really happy with.

That was the end of Day 4 and unfortunately my rally! I had intended to shoot the Monday too with a 30+ mile stage to end the event but I was feeling rough after falling into the cold water. I was also really aware that if similar happened on Monday I would not have dry clothes to wear on the way home. I packed up and headed home, dropping Mike off in Carlisle on the way.

The rally was one of the best events I have done and I will be back for it again when it runs in 2025, it was tough but that is part of the enjoyment for me. The challenge of chasing the rally across 5 days, 22 hours of driving, 1000 miles and around 75 hours in the woods photographing incredible cars.

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