At 7.30am last Saturday I was standing on a remote corner of a gravel road along with about 20 rally spectators, some of whom were cooking a barbecue breakfast.
A few hours later the Brother Rally New Zealand roared around our road and, once again, the farmer and I were helping out to raise funds for our community. For a share of ticket income, volunteers manage the local stages and feed VIPs in a big marquee beside what’s known in rally speak as Hella Bridge.
A few days earlier, during the pre-rally reconnaissance, I checked out the cars as they finished a stage while reading a novel and contemplating my frozen toes as well as the fact I’d had never received more than a smile and casual wave of thanks from rally drivers. Couldn’t they do just a little more than that?
That will teach me. Seconds later Emma Gilmour then the Swedish women whose car erupted into flames a few days later waggled their fingers in especially expressive thanks.
Then a vehicle growled to a halt beside me. “Here’s a gift from the Brazilian team,” said the navigator, bestowing me with a wide Latin smile and handing me a pen. After extending effusive thanks, I texted a friend who was also marshalling: “In lurve with Brazilian team. They gave me a pen.” “Me too,” she texted back.
These tiny treats (designed a la soap on a rope so they hung around our necks) thrilled our team, and I’ve since learned volunteers working at the start line are constantly thanked by the drivers as their vehicles idle during countdown.
On rally day even 14 Kiwis who’d been sneaking in to watch rallies for free for 15 years turned out their pockets when I told them locals act as marshals to raise funds for community groups.
Later that day, after helping feed 175 members of rally royalty (sponsors and their guests), I even learned a cunning driving tip, which seemed appropriate given the theme of the week.
As I crawled along the road in a queue of cars, an over-hyped driver of a high-powered vehicle stupidly overtook me and tucked back into line. And that’s where it stayed despite constant tailgating. Each time it looked like overtaking, the vehicle ahead flicked on its right indicator. Clever trick. Mr Impatience was forced to stay put.
After the rally had finished in grand style in Auckland, Maungaturoto blokes had a night out to end them all – and plenty of women enjoyed it too. Kiwi team Hayden Paddon and John Kennard proved to be as accomplished at public speaking as they are at rallying. They were fascinating, funny, self-deprecating, informative and grateful to the people behind the scenes who make rallies happen.
They were the first New Zealanders home for the third consecutive NZ WRC event but, along with everyone else, were upstaged by eight-time world champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
The farmer was watching telly when an effusive sports reporter said the entire field had been in Loeb’s rear vision mirror.
“Ha,” he said, “Loeb was in my rear vision mirror on Saturday.” That they’d been in bumper-to-bumper town traffic was an irrelevant detail.