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I’ll be the first to admit that there’s no sight in rallying more exciting than watching a World Rally Car being thrown through the forest by one of the world’s greatest rally drivers. But for sheer pleasure, I’m not sure anything beats standing in a dark forest listening to the sound of an approaching rally car, then watching it trail off into the distance. Night rallying is, perhaps, rallying in its most pure form. As a road closure official, waiting in the forest on your own, it simply doesn’t get much better. Picture this …. We’ve been set up for three hours, ensuring that the roads are closed and that nobody can enter the forest and cause any unplanned incidents. It was 4pm when we were dropped off at our “private spectator point”, and in the ensuing three hours we’ve gathered enough fire wood to keep ourselves warm on a chilly winter’s night, cooked ourselves some sausages on the gas barbecue, and kicked the footy around to pass the time. Once it’s completely dark, we wait some more as the start time for the stage draws nearer.
It’s a clear night, there’s not a cloud in the sky, or a breath of wind, and right on schedule at 7.10pm we hear the first car leave the start control, some 5km away.
Having drivien into our location via the rally route, we listen to the approaching Commodore and visualise the pieces of road he’s attacking as the engine revs rise and fall, and it makes its way towards us. A couple of kilometres from us, we hear the big Holden brake hard and turn right off the main road, before heading in our direction via a tight and undulating forest track.

Luke Sytema makes a splash on his way to a Nissan Nightmoves Rally win. Photo: John Doutch

Moments later we see the flicker of headlights in the distance, and watch as the car ducks and weaves its way in and out of the trees, before finally sliding around our private corner and powering its way towards the stage finish in an ever-diminishing glare of tail lights. Even before the Commodore has reached us, however, we also hear the far off grumble of a Subaru WRX as it leaves the start and also heads in our direction. Pretty soon there are finely tuned engine notes echoing all through the forest as our senses are alive with the sounds of rallying. The pièce de résistance, however, was the performance of Luke Sytema and his Ford Escort. The sound of the Escort powering through the forest is like a Bach symphony for petrol heads, and the few minutes listening to that car alone makes the three-hour wait worthwhile. In a nutshell, we came, we saw, we conquered. Surely it doesn’t get any better than that?
But try explaining that experience to a non-rally person, and you’d probably be looked at strangely as though you have two heads.
Similarly, a circuit racing fan used to a track environment and the blare of commentators on the loud speakers would also struggle to really connect with what you’re trying to explain. Even those fans of daylight-only state or national championship rallies wouldn’t know of the sheer thrill of watching a club rally at night. If you’ve never experienced it, do yourself a favour and contact your local car club. Find out when their next night event is, and volunteer to man a road closure and experience the real ‘sounds of rallying’. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. https://youtu.be/dXEa9bWuFVM  
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