Going to a WRC (World Rally Championship) race has been on my bucket list for a long time. So last year I checked that off when I headed to Alsace for the WRC Rally de France in October 3-6. This was the first rally I was a spectator, and didn't drive. An experience that I will always remember.
I experienced a lot of "firsts" on this trip. My adventure began on my flight out of New York. I took the inaugural Emirates flight from JFK to Milan. It was my first time flying Emirates and my first time to Milan.
When I got to Milan I drove through the Swiss Alps to Strasbourg, France. It was my first time really getting to see this part of Europe. It was incredibly beautiful and I was amazed at how easy it was to cross over from Italy to Switzerland, and then to France. I loved that all the drivers were completely aware of the traffic around them, and courteous to other drivers, unlike the US. Everything just flowed, even when there was traffic. I got really used traffic circles, aka rotaries, since they're everywhere and surprisingly effective because the drivers are courteous. Even though it was my first time driving in Europe it made for relaxing road trip . I was also really impressed by the selection of Haribo gummy everything (yum!), and the meat & cheese selections at the rest stops, which made the drive that much more enjoyable.
I was so excited to arrive in Strasbourg for Rallye de France! I could feel the excitement in the air . . . maybe it was just me, but it was amazing! Luckily, I learned a bit of French on my iPad prior to getting there, and was surprised that I understood enough to read street signs and buy the correct train tickets to the race.
It was Thursday - day 1 of Rallye de France and it was the spectator stage. The fence around the course was lined with people anxiously awaiting to see the cars race by. I squeezed myself into a spot, and this is what I saw . . . the Volkswagen Motorsport WRC Polo zoom by.
You could feel the crowd on pins and needles, because that was the stage that Volkswagen Motorsport drivers, Sebastain Ogier & Julien Ingrassia needed to win, to take the 2013 WRC Championship on day 1 of Rallye de France. They did it! AMAZING!!
I spent the next few days at the Zenith service park in Strasbourg, where the team's operations, hospitality, & service were based. Volkswagen Motorsport Director, Jost Capito, introduced me to the team, and I could observe and ask questions while I learned how a rally team operates at the highest level.
They explained the various functions and roles of the team members. I was in awe every second and truly honored to be there as part of their team that weekend.
I met all of their drivers, Sebastian Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen as they arrived first thing in the morning. They were all very nice, and I was admittedly speechless upon meeting them. I listened how they made their tire choices based on the conditions that day . . . rain in the forecast. Everything on this team were well thought out down to the last detail, and I wasn't surprised.
I was mesmerized by each service. I carefully watched to see how all the mechanics worked in sync. Even when there was 15 seconds left in service, no one was rushing.
While I was observing and absorbing everything, the one thing that really stood out, was the way Jost lead the team. He joked, and laughed with the team, and was well respected at the same time. When it was time to get down to business, everyone was there to accomplish the same goal. What I loved about this team, was the team dynamic. Everyone was strategically there to do what they did best, but they enjoyed it and took pride in their team. It's undoubtedly a big part of why they're winning, and continuing to do so. To me, that feeling is very Volkswagen. Of all the auto manufacturer's I've worked with, Volkswagen always seems to have the most fun while achieving their goal. I think that it's just part of the company's culture, which gives their brand that special flair that sets them apart.
By the end of the weekend, Sebastian Ogier & Julien Ingrassia not only became the 2013 WRC Champions, but they also won the Rallye de France!
The team took me along the parade march to the arena, where they were going to be introduced on the stage. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just followed along . . .
This is were I ended up with the rest of the team . . . on WRC Rallye de France stage looking out to tens-of-thousands of fans cheering on the new 2013 WRC Champions.
All I remember when I was standing up there, was hearing the fans cheer. Then I heard the team cheer around me. I felt something wet splash on me from above, then smelled champagne. I looked up and saw the Rallye de France sign through the lights shining down through the gold confetti that was falling from the sky. I had the biggest smile on my face. It was like a dream. For that moment, even though I hadn't won the rally, I felt like I did, because I was part of such an awesome team that weekend. It wasn't just Sebastian's & Julien's win, it was everyone's win.
Now I know what it feels like to stand on a WRC stage and being splashed with champagne. I wouldn't have even dared to put that on my bucket list . . . but it's checked off anyway.
That weekend was one of my best lifetime experiences. I hope to be part of their team again . . . maybe at a different rally, in another country. Next time, I'm going out to the stages and see what goes on out there.
Thanks Jost and the whole Volkswagen Motorsport WRC team for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!