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1 car


"Maximum Attack!"
'Turn! Pull!' The world swivels a full ninety degrees before I drop the handbrake, in favour of applying some frenzied opposite lock to prevent clipping the bank. A squeeze of the right foot and the Ford pulls forward, carving a path down the narrow, cambered slip-road, into the next handbrake turn and out onto the gravel. Suddenly, a supermini seems rather more potent than appearances would have you believe...

For somebody such as your intrepid reporter, who was raised on circuits, this whole rallying business can feel very alien. Whereas I'm used to wide, flowing expanses of tarmac and turning into corners with the steering wheel, of all things, I find myself flung into a situation where the ground looks like a building site and one turns the car with this peculiar lever between the seats.

Sure, it looks like a handbrake and it lives where a handbrake normally does, but whenever you try to hold the car using it the lever falls back as if unconscious - something you doubt was helped by the screw some careless soul has placed through the release.

Apparently, this is a 'fly-off' handbrake and exists to lock the back wheels for the sake of sideways cornering; something it does very well in the hands of a professional and adequately well in my own.

Unfortunately, using this novel device requires the removal of one's left hand from the steering wheel; something I'm not very used to, which goes someway to explaining my first session behind the wheel. To put it succinctly, the KA ate tyres. Literally.

Conducted on a small, gravel oval; with walls of tyres surrounding almost the entire perimeter and forming a threatening island in the oval's centre, this session punished over-correction and under-correction with a trip into the rubber. To start of with, the instructor took me out and showed me how to do it, before swapping seats so I could show him how not to.

After pulling over so that we could pull no fewer than five tyres out from under the car, things started getting better. My instructor, Andy Johnson, fast joined the ranks of Pinter and Camus in managing to pull something meaningful out of very little; though he bestowed in me the ability to slide on gravel rather than creating deep social comment out of an unbuilt shed.

Yes, many slides still end with a stall in the tyre wall, but every now and then a quick tug of the wheel, followed by a prolonged yank of the handbrake lead to the rear taking up attitude for the rest of the corner. And when those moments come, the car sliding yet still aiming where you choose, the feeling is truly magical.

The car itself, a first-generation Ford KA, looks almost comical out on the gravel but the addition of a roll cage and twin, blue bucket seats leave you in no doubt of its provenance out on the loose. Furthermore, as underpowered as I feared the little Ford might prove, once out on the stage it felt far quicker than its 80-odd bhp suggest.

Having had enough time to grab a quick snack and recompose myself, it was time to take on the stage proper.

Pop the door handle, swing over the cage and drop into the bucket seat. The first thing that strikes you is sheer starkness of the facia, with only three instruments; a speedo, a fuel gauge and - in the middle of the dash - a small clock. The wheel is standard stock, but no less pleasing for it, being both the right size and distance from the driver for quick, comfortable inputs. The clutch is a slight over-stretch for my tastes, but everything else is well situated, with the bucket seat serving to offer more head and legroom than a standard KA. Slide on the four point harness, slip on my gloves and it's a loping downhill right to the start of the stage.

Add a bit of speed and drop into second, dropping through the oval and up to the first corner, a wide left with a deceptively narrow, blind entry. Quickly gaining confidence from the improving sightline, I push a little harder through the rest of the turn before flowing down into a sharper right. Through this transfer, the little Ford's weight is especially obvious through the seat, with a strong sense of pent-up energy stemming from the back of the car.

This initially feels a little unnerving but one soon grows accustomed to it and, combined with light, rounded feel through the steering, there is a sense of the car floating over the stage; attentive to your inputs and responsive yet impervious to the gnarled ground below.

The light, airy feeling continues into the next corner - a ninety degree left. A dab of the brakes brings the KA into focus, shifting the weight forward for some front end grip before a quick roll of the steering wheel and pull of the handbrake bring the car round to face the next straight.

A few corners later, in amongst the trees, and a well-timed pull of the handbrake sets all four wheels into a neat, controlled slide out of the turn. The feeling is euphoric - this is what I came rallying for - and if you want that hit; I strongly suggest you do the same.

My experience was provided by the Silverstone Rally School. Junior Courses, for those aged 11 - 16, use a Ford Ka; whilst adult courses use a Ford Escort MkII. For further information, visit
Very nice write-up, must have been a cool experience for you
02.03.2011 @ 12:43