Wales Rally GB 'reinvigorated' after move north
The Wales Rally GB has got under way with a new home, and high hopes that the competition will be reinvigorated.
The final event of the World Rally Championship season has moved from its previous base in Cardiff to Flintshire.
In the rally, 160 high-performance cars and their drivers will be stretched to the limits by the forests of Snowdonia, Denbighshire and mid Wales.
A ceremony in Conwy marked the rally's start before special stages were held in three pitch-black forests.
"It won't be an easy challenge for sure, but one we are very much looking forward too," said Elfyn Evans, from Dolgellau, Gwynedd, who is the son of Welsh rallying hero Gwyndaf Evans.
Evans, 24, is in 10th place in the WRC 2 class championship.
"Each world championship rally is difficult in its own right, and this rally is very difficult for its weather conditions and road conditions," he said.
"Of course, I'm very happy it is in north Wales, and the routes will still of course be a huge challenge even with a little bit of local knowledge - it won't be an easy one."
Wales Rally GB has its roots in a race that dates back to 1932, when for many years it was known as the RAC Rally, and would move around Britain.
But the new rally became a firm fixture, running in Wales alone from 2000. Before 2008 all the stages were in south and south-west Wales.
With the new set-up, a rally HQ and massive service centre to cater for the cars, drivers and support staff has been built at Queensferry.
The £250,000 service centre has a prime location next to the Toyota engine plant, and the company has helped back the venture.
"We thought it was time for a change. We were very fortunate in finding this venue in Deeside," said Andrew Coe, the chief executive of International Motor Sports, which runs the Wales Rally GB.
"We've invested a lot of money to make the site suitable for the big trucks and all the sort of mobile village that come along with the World Rally Championship these days."
He said the new location should open up the rally to an entirely new audience, including motorsport fans from cities in the north of England, such as nearby Liverpool and Manchester.
The organisers are also aiming to be far more family-friendly, with reduced ticket prices for youngsters, and a series of Rallyfest events, bringing music and entertainment to spectator stages of the rally at the Sweet Lamb complex near Llanidloes on Friday, then at Chirk Castle on Saturday and Kinmel Park near Abergele on Sunday.
"We wanted to breath fresh life into what's always been one of the world's greatest rallies," said Coe.
The Welsh government is one of the key partners for the rally, and the Sport and Culture Minister John Griffiths will be waving the starter's flag at the ceremonial start to the rally in Conwy.
"I'm delighted that Wales is playing host to yet another world-class sporting event," said the minister.
"The spectacular scenery and landscapes of north Wales will provide not only a stern test for the world's best drivers but also a perfect backdrop for promoting Wales on the international stage."
The rally ends on Sunday, with the final stage twisting its way around the Great Orme headland at Llandudno.