It's 0254 in Sydney. Welcome to Australia. I can't sleep, so I've decided to share a few thoughts with you.
I'm afraid the first one is a sporting, but not a motorsporting thought. As the first member of Autosport to arrive down under since England won the Ashes, it's good to be here riding the crest of that particular wave. The WRC's only full-time English crew, Stobart Ford World Rally Team members Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin certainly thought so as they sported their England cricket caps outside the world's most famous opera house earlier this week.
Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin
Australia is a proud sporting nation and, walking around the streets of Sydney, the feeling of disappointment in Mr Richard Ponting and his mates is almost tangible. The Harbour Bridge would almost certainly have been showered in fireworks and celebratory banners had the result gone the wrong way at the Oval. But it didn't. And the bridge wore a forlorn look as it peered down on Darling Harbour on last night's late winter evening.
The good news is that, while the Ashes didn't make it south of equator, the WRC has made it back to the land of Oz. And that's very good news for rally fans. It's been close to three years since the World Rally Championship last landed on these shores and that's been to the detriment of our sport.
Since it first arrived in the WRC in 1989, Rally Australia has raised the bar in terms of sporting and commercial excellence in its arena. The event smashed preconceptions about what a round of the world championship should mean. Not content with taking flat out rallying through the streets of Western Australia's biggest city, the organisers became the first to put rally drivers alongside each other before dropping the flag on what would become the seminal Langley Park superspecial.
Like all world-class events, Rally Australia had an arrogance about it. It knew it was among the best of the best, which is why the Western Australia Government's decision to can its funding for the event came as a bolt from the blue. Suddenly, there was no Rally Australia. For all its strut and swagger, the main event had left downtown Perth, never to return to the banks of the River Swan.
In many ways, that was the best thing that could happen to this rally. It's only arriving back in the country for the first time since 2006 and meeting with some of the old boys who put this show on the road 2,500 miles east of where I'm typing today that I realise that. It seems WA just didn't understand what they'd got. And then it was gone. There was undoubtedly a breakdown in communication between rally and government officials and the upshot was a big shift across the country.
Does that sound familiar? Haven't we heard a similar story about a world rally falling out of bed with its government backers? Well, if Rally GB bounces back in the same way that Rally Australia seems - on first viewing - to have done, the shift from Wales to Newcastle will be no bad thing.
Not having been here for a few years, certain elements of Australia still catch you off guard, such as the comprehensive notices about coughing etiquette which adorn the walls of Sydney airport's arrival's lounge. Or the question from the Beagle-wielding immigration official who demanded to know if A) I'd been on a farm recently or B) if I had any wood in my bag.
Emerging from the airport, the taxi rank controller is a parody of Mr Australia. It might only be 14 degrees, but the shorts remain obstinately in place, as does the Croc Dundee hat and cheery opening gambit of 'G'day, sport'.
After that, it's time for downtown Sydney and the jaw-dropping delights which await. No matter how many times you see the Opera House and Bridge, it's still a real 'cor-blimey' moment when you get back there. That astonishing cityscape provided the perfect backdrop for the pre-event promotional pictures with championship leaders Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen among the bunch enjoying a blast around the waterfront aboard Ocean Extreme. While none of them would admit it publicly, this was manner from heaven for Rally Oz; Perth was great, but it remains a backwater compared with the east coast heavy-hitters.
As the world's fastest rally drivers wandered Sydney's city streets, there was a real feeling that this event had moved up a gear both domestically and on an international front. It's important to remember, however, that the event is based 600-odd miles north of the city in Kingscliff on the Queensland/New South Wales border. And Kingscliff is not Sydney. It remains to be seen how the event makes the transition from its two-day city break to the rural idyll which awaits the main event.
In the meantime, I'll sign off and get back to the Australian version of the media digest mag, The Week, which bears the beautiful headline: 'Stumped! Australia's Ashes debacle'.
It's good to be back.
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