I experienced a really unsettling and physical sensation of deja vu at the Pirelli Rally yesterday. Whether it was an age thing, too much fresh air or a 'double-shot' in my coffee at the catering van, who knows, but it was triggered by one sound and one sight in particular.
While strolling through the Kielder Service Park the sensation was initially sparked by the sound of a two-stroke Saab and as I swung round I caught sight also of a Mk1 Escort being fettled alongside a Ford Anglia with another Mk1 passing by. Just one of those strange occurrences that make your neck hair bristle.
For a few short seconds, this could have been anywhere 40 years ago. There was nothing around the conifer lined natural amphitheatre in the depths of Kielder Forest to indicate age or even the decade. Only the modern vans gave the game away.
I mentioned this to Ian Wilson who was looking forward to his first ever gravel event with his Mk2. As he looked around the Historic array he expressed a tinge of regret that he missed the heyday of the sport as I reminisced about the heroes of that time and their feats of bravery, skill and endurance in what were relatively unsophisticated machines. And when I suggested that I thought I had seen the best of the sport, he said: "You might just be right!"
Of course that all changed abruptly when the Historic cars moved on and the BRC 'heavy duty' brigade arrived spearheaded by large trucks, big tents and lots of kit, instead of Transits, CFs, estate cars and roof racks. Changed days.
The sport is very different now and who is to say it is better or poorer. Of course there are those who look at the current crop of S2000, WRC and R5s and reckon the sport is far too expensive and such machines should not be allowed in rallying. In that respect nothing has changed.
Back in the 1970s, an ex-works car was around 4 times the price of a good clubman car - and that is still the case now, it's just the total figures are bigger. Much bigger.
Other things have changed too. Central servicing, groundsheets, fuel bunkering, no overnight sections, limited day time running, route notes, tyres, transmissions, brakes and engines, not to mention safety equipment and diet sheets!
The challenge is still there, and although the speeds are higher, the distances are shorter. Rallying has lost its sense of adventure and endurance, to be replaced with speed and precision. And who is to say which is right. I wonder what will give me the shivers next time, eh?