As the wait for live motorsport action goes on, FIA World Rallycross Championship presenter and reporter Neil Cole gave us the lowdown in the emotions that he and the drivers experience post-race.
Often, Cole is the first to talk to the race winner just moments after he or she have pushed a 600BHP Supercar to their limit with their heart rate pumping through the roof and adrenaline rushing through the body.
He tries to describe the feelings and what he goes through during those moments: “Oh man. Especially right now (during the coronavirus outbreak) I REALLY miss that – it’s a full-on sensory experience, and it’s definitely not compliant with social distancing .
“There’s so much going on in a very short space of time. The door sill is always packed with dust/mud, and sometimes if there’s been contact, the door is buckled and hard to open. Once the door opens it is HOT and smelly in there, usually a whiff of clutch or brakes or smoke or spilled energy drink.
“Even the coolest customers (Sebastien Loeb, Johan Kristoffersson) are really pumped at that moment, their left knee jiggling, toes on the brake pedal. The driver is usually communicating on team radio up until they unplug the Peltor and take off their helmet, bulging eyes scanning the readings on the dashboard.
“I am a distraction, an inconvenience. It is usually at this point – based on what I can read from eye contact with the driver – that the 6 question options that are whirling around my mind settle on the correct one; I wait for the live producer in my ear to count down from 5 4 3 2 1… cue Neil…“
It is an experience only a few have gone through and Cole loves the job. Commonly, not all drivers stop the car to speak to him so there can be confusion and a lot happens in the lead up to an interview: “It’s a health and safety nightmare.
“These guys have done everything they can to cook the brakes in the last four minutes, and the visibility out of that windscreen/visor/rollcage combo is not designed to spot a small man waving a microphone.
“I need to defy my evasive action instincts to make the cars stop for me. Depending on the temperament of the driver, or the proximity to the Final (quick turnaround, so any time spent talking to me is time not spent re-prepping the car etc.) there is also the very real danger that they will NOT stop, so I end up diving out of the way.“
Cole speaks to all the drivers as well as numerous team personnel. Access for the media to speak to the drivers is very open and anyone who has been to a World RX event will know that you can get very close to the teams and the cars.
Asked about who the best driver to speak to is, Cole said: “I’m going to sound really lame here, but pretty much any of them. That’s not a diplomatic get-out though – one of the reasons I love the World Rallycross Championship is just how open everyone is, how keen they are to speak to me.
“They understand my need to get an interview as I am LIVE on air; they all watch all the livestreams and share them, so they know their fans are watching; and they all love their job so are keen to talk about it.
“That is rare: I’ve worked across most motorsports – two wheels, four wheels, circuit, off-road, endurance, electric – and there is not another grid or paddock I’ve ever known to be as free as the World Rallycross field of drivers.
He says that there have been multiple memorable interviews post-race and quite often through the weekend he has to take a pause, thinking that he is almost in a dream: “Pretty much every race weekend I have a ‘moment’ – in the middle of all the adrenalin, the pressure, the chaos – where I need to take a deep breath, look around and say -‘This may possibly be the coolest place to be in the world right now.’
“But Bucky Lasek borrowing my skateboard at Trois-Rivieres, Canada 2018 and then sending me a video of him doing a 360 flip on, that’s up there.“
In terms of moments with racing drivers, Cole added: “There have been so many – especially when you consider I did it for many years at stage-ends on the WRC too.
“The big ones are when somebody has done enough to win a title, and I am the first human they speak to. I will never forget Mattias Ekstrom, Estering, 2016 – there was a lot of maths going on in my ear to confirm whether or not he had done enough to win the championship, and I was the one who told him the news “You ARE World Rallycross Champion” and he was so flooded with emotion, it was extraordinary.
“It was like his whole career, his whole life transmitted across his face, involuntarily. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a massive emotional flake, I cry easy, so the eye contact, adrenalin, emotion got to me then as well.“
Cole has visited all 24 venues the FIA World Rallycross Championship has visited. Many rallycross fans adore the Magic Weekend at Holjes in the summer and Cole explains what makes the World RX of Sweden so special: “There’s definitely something about Holjes.
“I’ve always had an affinity with Sweden since my days presenting for MTV Nordic, long before motorsport, and the racing there is always dramatic – two jumps! the banking at Velodrome! – plus: the fact that the fans are in their own Midsommar world that’s a cross between Glastonbury and Mad Max gives it that extra edge.”
Unfortunately there is no British round on the calendar this year for the first time in the championship’s short history. However, planning permission for Lydden Hill to be restored and redeveloped was granted earlier this year. Could the championship return to the much-loved Lydden Hill?
“I hear there are big changes afoot at Lydden Hill to help bring the infrastructure up to the level required for the World Championship to go back there. You cannot argue with the heritage, culture and track dynamics of that gnarly corner of Kent. I hope we go back there some day.“
The World Rallycross Championship has moved away from being a manufacturer sport and back to the old grassroots of privateer teams which creates excitement on and off the track. You would think things were more restrictive with manufacturers in the paddock but Cole says otherwise: “It’s about the same, honestly.
“Sometimes if it’s all smaller privateer teams it’s harder to speak to the driver you want in the paddock because they’re busy being team boss and spannering on the car at the same time.
“Audi, Volkswagen, Peugeot all had certain rules about where we could point the camera, certain places we couldn’t go, certain routines we had to got through – but as soon as we showed we were respectful and compliant, they never had to police us at all.“
Every race across the weekend is shown live across the World RX’s official social media platforms and on television outlets throughout the world. It is a stark contrast to the coverage for the inaugural season in 2014.
Cole tells the story of what he and the broadcast team aim to deliver every race weekend: “The fundamentals of the coverage are the same, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and the sport itself, the format, rules and regulationss etc, evolved holistically as a made-for-TV product.
“But investment from IMG and NEP and all shareholders, plus a huge amount of hard work from the small team at each event, have led to the groundbreaking point where we now livestream every session of a rallycross weekend, which – when we started doing that – was a huge and pioneering undertaking, and now is the standard others try to match.
“We aim to make a full-on broadcast-quality TV product which happens to be free to watch online, and the fans have responded.
“It’s brilliant to come off-air and see the huge numbers of livestream views we get – relative to our size and reach, we regularly out-perform much bigger, better-established motorsport series’ livestreams – and I honestly believe that’s because we work hard to make the streams as all-round well-produced and entertaining as possible.
“Damn I miss it. Stay safe everybody – the more you stay indoors, the quicker we can go racing again.”