As I walked through Greenwich Park's southern gate entrance situated across the road from Blackheath I encountered a Skoda Octavia with green and white Rally Sport livery.
To my detriment, I’ll choose to ignore the sound advice offered by the great Harold Evans in which he warns against verbal viscosity, and write the following; I believe on a very personal level that amongst the many benefits attributed to motor sports, it brings forth a perpetual cognisance, and sense of aesthetic awareness, to our understanding of technology, history and mobility.
In other words, it attributes to some form of clarity in my everyday life.
Thus, no auto car with the slightest hint of racing livery is allowed to escape an enthusiast's critical eye, often leading to more in-depth research and greater historical analysis. Dare I write it's a bit like train- spotting, but be advised, should you dare make this analogy in the presence of another auto enthusiast there's a chance you'll suffer some demonstrable act of violence.
I remember this summer being in rather unfamiliar territory; an affluent neighbourhood in Stockholm called Huddinge (Hund-ding-ger) to be exact, and almost scaling somebody's fence in order to get a good photograph of a sporty looking maroon GT with racing stripes. Luckily I was able to curb my enthusiasm before I got into any serious trouble with any of neighbourhood residents. Let me assure you it's twice a benign burden when your profession and hobby cembraces automobiles and photography in unison.
So, I'm often in a 'surreptitious state of alert' when passing through Greenwich Park. Even though I broke my Olympus camera last month and haven't got around to procuring a new one, I always have my mobile phone camera within reach on a hair- trigger-mode, having learned with great difficulty to adapt to its limitations.
Aside from bare trees and fallen amber leaves in Greenwich Park being instrumental in reminding me that I live in a wonderful part of the world ( till I move to California or Cannes), I have been fortunate from time to time to encounter some rare automobiles parked, in the Park.
Prior to this weekend, the last car to demand my interest was a 2009 Nissan Fairlady Z parked on the tarmac during this year's annual Thai festival in Greenwich Park. I reckoned the car is rarer than a Nissan GT-R in London so I indulged in an impromptu examination of its ergonomic layout. However, as I mentioned earlier, yesterday my discovery in the Park was a WRC EVO2 Skoda Octavia, Circa 1999.
The car had no safety roll cage. Furthermore, it had all front and rear seats in place, which indicated to me it is not currently being ‘raced’ competitively. Aside from that, everything else about the car, including its original white rimmed rally wheels, was a bold declaration of a glorious racing past.
On both right and left rear windows, there was the name M. Hiemar (AB+) written above another name, A. Schwarz (O+), with AB+ and O+ being blood types in case of a serious accident. Armed with these bite size facts I couldn't help but dig deeper into the history of the car. For even if this particular model turned out to be slightly inauthentic, I was certain it would open up a much larger narrative. I wasn't mistaken.
At the centre of this narrative is 46 year old German Rally Driver Armin Schwarz alongside his Co-Driver Manfred Hiemer, who both raced this (Skoda Works) Skoda Octavia EVO2 between 1999 and 2001 in the WRC. Armin Schwarz's Rallying career can be traced back to 1987; however he's had an eventful career leading up to the present.
He recently participated in the 2008 SCORE International Off Road Racing event, featuring in the Unlimited Class races of both the Baja 500 and 1000.
He started racing with Co Driver Manfred Hiemer in 1998. However, the Skoda Octavia EVO2 stats during 1999 WRC season are so unimpressive one could appear flummoxed as to why the Germans stayed with the car for two more seasons before moving on to Hyundai in 2002.
Of the nine stages of the 1999 season, the Skoda finished only one stage in 12th place without some sort of accident or technical failure. The 2000-01 seasons were marginally better with stage wins in each season but mediocre success overall. It's almost fair to assume even the elements conspired against the Skoda Octavia Rally bid.
In its final year during the Argentine stage of the WRC the car was parked up only for a Fire Truck of all things, to tip over crush the parked car seriously injuring Skoda's CEO Jens Pohlman in the process.
When the German Rallying team of Schwarz and Hiemer returned to Skoda Works in 2004 , they joined mid season with a Skoda Fabia 2003 WRC homologation. While the Schwartz and Hiemer have moved on to bigger and better things, it's good to see bits of their Rallying legacy in unassuming places like Greenwich Park.