Here’s Why Every Car Show Should Have a Live Rally Stage Outside
Photography by Nat Twiss
One of my earliest motorsport memories was waking up at an ungodly early hour to stand in a damp, drizzly pine forest in the north of England. If it weren’t for the sounds of popping anti-lag systems echoing off the hillsides like gunfire, the wait for the cars to make it to me would have been intolerably dreary. One particularly memorable rally featured the late, great Colin McRae in the Martini-liveried Ford Focus WRC car. He wasn’t competing in the event, but made a presence on the stage nonetheless. Even though it wouldn’t result in points or prizes, the man was at one hundred percent. It was magic. I think if it weren’t for my exposure to top-flight rallying as a kid, I wouldn’t have wound up writing this. I don’t get to attend rallies as often as I’d like these days, but then again, I don’t want to stand on a windy hill in Wales for the whole day either. It’s always a treat then to come across the cars like these in a more pleasant setting. That’s where Race Retro comes in.
In all truth, the event isn’t entirely about rallying; it’s more of a general motorsport exhibition. As the heart of the racing season looms ever closer with the winding down of winter, more of these events pop up on the calendar; competitors vying for last minute exposure to sponsors, trade stands galore, you know this type of event. Days spent trailing around under fluorescent lighting, somehow simultaneously hot and cold in the semi-insulated spaces. Very few events manage to have enough content to make the experience worth it. There are only so many times you can see a car sat static on a show floor before it blends into obscurity, and the organizers of Race Retro know that—a decent amount of tarmac access road snakes around the Stoneleigh Park market, so they turn the exterior of the indoor show into a temporary asphalt rally stage. Passenger rides are available if you’re up for it.
You’d be correct to wonder if the cars are really being pushed to their limits on this stage, but with nothing besides the respect of the audience to win at the end of the day, what harm is it to run your show car at half tilt? Luckily, the majority of these cars are going to spend the year competing at speed, so the two days of running around here actually provide a very thorough shakedown for the season ahead.
They don’t meander around here either though, for once the cobwebs are dusted off the drivers are really putting their feet into it. Sometimes too much so, with cars clipping the hay bales, locking up in puffs of hot rubber, and dropping wheels into the dirt. These aren’t your boring local rally cars either, these are veritable legends of the sport. World stage competitors from the discipline’s prime years are all in attendance—Audi Quattros, Peugeot T16s, Renault 5 Turbos—along with some more modern machinery like the stunning Ford Focus WRC car that was really being driven quite hard. It doesn’t matter if you were hankering for Stig Blomqvist’s Saab 99 Turbo, a Mitsubishi Evo VI, or a modern VW Polo WRC car, it was all here and in action.
I’ll gladly admit I spent far too much time watching the cars, and barely set foot inside the two huge exhibition halls, but can you blame me?