Rally enthusiast Ondřej was among the fans who were given a unique experience by the ŠKODA Motorsport team, as a thank you for their great support during this season. He took a ride in the FABIA R5 evo, driven by last year’s WRC 2 champion Jan Kopecký. Read Ondřej’s authentic impressions of his breathtaking drive:
Since its debut in 2015, I’ve seen it in person on many World Rally Championship rounds. I can recognize it by its sound, whether it’s coming to me from the deep Welsh woods or Finnish forests. In Spain, I saw the mechanics quickly changing it from the gravel to the tarmac specification, on the ŠKODA Motorsport tour, I got familiar with each step of its build. I became quite good at finding the right spot along the stage to see it going sideways through the corner. I’ve had the honour of a short chat with all the drivers who have taken world titles in it, and I was even present when Kalle Rovanperä described his driving impressions of the revamped evo version to Thiery Neuville.
In all humility, I really think I know the FABIA R5 well from the outside. The offer of a ride alongside Jan Kopecký, however, took my relationship with the car to another level. ŠKODA Motorsport invited us to the tight, twisty forest circuit of Bělá pod Bezdězem. It suited me, as thanks to my job, I’ve had the opportunity of driving lots of kilometres here in many different cars, often ones even more powerful than the 290 PS FABIA R5. At least this gives me an opportunity to compare.
The moment when you’re walking towards a rally car with its engine running and the passenger door open, is much more intense than visiting the team’s factory or all the rallies combined. This exact R5 is one of the two hot rally cars with which the team cemented its constructor’s title in WRC 2 Pro at the RallyRACC Catalunya. There wasn’t enough time to change the settings after return from the rally, so the car has just been washed and everything has been tightened after that gruelling tarmac-gravel combination rally. I’m settling in the passenger’s seat and the mechanic helps me to fasten my safety harness. I give a thumbs-up signal to Jan that I’m ready. Inside, however, I’m not so sure.
The launch and acceleration on first three gears are quite intensive. The sequential gearbox’s shifts feel wonderfully mechanical, almost without any pause. After a fast left-hander, we come into sweeping right turn, followed by a downhill among the trees. The level of grip on heated dry tyres is phenomenal and the FABIA R5 evo is leaning on its sticky outer tyres like they’re a wall. To be honest, I was expecting a bit of understeer from the locking-diff 4x4, but there’s nothing like that. Just seemingly endless grip.
I only come to realize the real pace of the rally car in the downhill through the forest in the back section of the circuit. At speeds where any civilian car would already by rolling into the trees, the ŠKODA FABIA R5 sticks to the track surface like glue and moves at speed that I never dreamed of here. Completely calm, without any intrusive movements from the suspension. Jan controls the car with measured arm movements and it all, in fact, seems almost serene.
After a tight right-hander, we enter the lower straight. I kind of expected more sideways action, but I have to admit that the huge pine on the outer side is really close. On the straight, we are racing through the fourth and fifth. The acceleration is not so intensive anymore, so I finally have some time to exhale and start thinking about the way the FABIA R5 really works. In the end, I’m not surprised by the acceleration or the braking. You kind of expect that from a rally car. I’m most impressed by the directness of the car. I suddenly understand all that talk about the tyres, because here, you clearly feel any difference in grip, as if you were rubbing sand paper of different grit sizes. Everything is beautifully obvious.
In the car’s lateral movements, you can feel, precisely to the last centimetre, where the slide ends and the tyre regains grip. And there isn’t that typical “kick” from the suspension that you get in a civilian car. A short pull of the handbrake in the U-turn on a roundabout is perfectly clean and precise. Hard braking, blocking the rear wheels, turn-around and full acceleration are connected into one fluent move, during which your bottom is constantly able to read the tyres’ grip. The directness of this car is simply fantastic. That’s my biggest impression from my few hot kilometres in the ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo rally car. You just can’t compare this racing car to anything else. Not even remotely. Bělá has shown this to the fullest. Thanks a lot for the ride of my life!