Colin Clark: Out of his comfort zone in the Monte night

DirtFish's Voice of Rally had some hair-raising experiences on the night stages - but it was well worth it

Ott Tanak Hyundai Monte Carlo Rally 2020

“You know what Colin, we really are going to take you out of your comfort zone this weekend.”

Those were the words of our DirtFish Marketing Director Trevor just after we’d bumped fists, because that’s what our American cousins do, in the arrivals hall at Nice Airport earlier this week.

And on Thursday evening at stage one of the Monte Carlo Rally taking me out of my comfort zone was exactly what he did.

We’d made our way north from Monaco up the Route Napoleon, passing through legendary rally towns Puget-Theniers and Entrevaux, and the anticipation was building. We were heading towards Malijai and the opening stage of the event.

Trevor, being a former DirtFish rally instructor, just couldn’t help himself. It was a running commentary on my lines, braking points and apexes.

He quickly learned that I might be obsessed with rallying but the reason I talk about it and don’t actually do it is because fundamentally I’m a coward – speed scares me.

Somewhat disappointed by this revelation, Trevor fell asleep.

Approaching eight in the evening our sleepy leader (jetlag is a terrible thing) was rudely awoken in quite frankly the best possible way – by the thundering, screaming, screeching roar of a World Rally Car at full throttle. No we weren’t actually on the stage, but we were just about as close as you could be to a rally stage without having to pass scrutineering.

The road to Malijai quite literally ran parallel with the opening stage of the Monte Carlo Rally for around three hundred meters or so.

It was truly magical. Flares being let off further up the hillside sent a ghostly red fog rolling down the stage only to be picked out in the most dazzling fashion by the blinding lightpods of Ott Tänak’s Hyundai. The screens of a thousand cell phones illuminated the ascent that lay ahead for the cars. Horns blared, cowbells rang out enthusiastically and the adoring masses roared. What a place, what an atmosphere, and we just had to get ourselves in amongst it.

Parking the car somewhat haphazardly (some might suggest we abandoned it) we made our way towards the sounds and sights of rally cars and rally fans enjoying themselves to the max.

Now this is where it all got a little difficult for me and my ever cautious approach to anything that even remotely comes close to dangerous.

The stage ran alongside the main road, and then hairpinned left and up into the mountains. To the left of the stage were open fields and to the right, the side we were on, was what I would class as a cliff. But around a thousand rally fans clearly classed it as prime real estate.

The ‘cliff’ top was lined with even more brave fans. And that’s where Trevor, our fearless leader, wanted to be.

Trying very hard to not look too pathetic on my first event with the new team, I somewhat bullishly declared “you lead, I’ll follow”.

Now don’t forget, it’s more or less pitch dark and we are trying to find our way to the top of a crumbling, wet, slippery cliff. Well, Trev found the track that looped around then back off said cliff and up to the summit.

I’m sure you can imagine my relief when, while pushing through some thorny bushes, we were confronted by a steep sided ravine that to me looked impassable.

I got as far as, “oh dear, we’ll never get through that Tr…”. And then he was gone, launching himself into the black abyss like the mountain goat that he quite clearly is.

What was I supposed to do? Lose face with the boss or confront my darkest fears and embrace my sorely missing reckless streak? Well I didn’t really have much time to contemplate this because while cogitating and procrastinating I slipped – and slid all the way down the bottomless ravine on my bum. That’s when I discovered it was far from bottomless and was a mere three meters deep.

“You alright Col?” came the cry from the mountain goat. “Yeah right behind you, boss,” was the slightly high pitched and almost hysterical reply.

Anyway, imbued with a new found sense of confidence and devil-may-care attitude I followed Trev out of the ravine and up the other side of the cliff.

Kalle Rovanpera Toyota Monte Carlo Rally 2020

And what a glorious sight we were rewarded with. Thousands of other brave and adventurous rally fans had battled the extremes to join together in awe struck appreciation of the sight that unfolded below us.

Kalle Rovenperä at flat chat heading towards the hairpin, headlights blazing. A couple of bumps and the Toyota hopped, it skipped, the brakes screeched, the handbrake was applied deftly, the power reapplied liberally and the Toyota roared up the mountainside.

That one experience was more than enough to make my night. In fact it was enough to make my rally.

Taking me out of my comfort zone had been rewarded with the most memorable of experiences. Had it solved my cowardly, ever cautious, approach to life’s extremes?

Absolutely not, I’m still a self-confessed, card-carrying coward and proud of it.