It's the middle of Betws-y-Coed late on a Wednesday morning of Rally GB week and Sebastien Ogier is waiting patiently in traffic. Curiously, the six-time World Rally champion is moving through this most beautiful of Welsh towns totally unmolested.
Nobody's given him or his motor a second glance. Let's face it, in this rally friendly part of the world, there's nothing enormously unusual about a bloke wearing a Citroen T-shirt driving a dirty-white Subaru WRX STI. And why should anybody notice him? He's not coming until the end of the week. It's not rally time yet.
Except it is. This is the bit you and I don't normally see. This is the recce.
For the uninitiated, the recce (short for reconnaissance) is a two-day tour of the roads the cars will compete on once the rally proper gets under way. For WRC rounds, the recce runs on the Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of shakedown and the ceremonial start on Thursday. On those two days, the crews get to drive each stage twice.
In Wales, they're limited to 80km/h (50mph) in the stages, but elsewhere in the world that speed can drop as low as 50km/h (30mph) if the competitive route goes through a village. Where a rally uses public roads, they will be open, with two-way traffic flowing (although in most parts, folk are 'encouraged' to find another route rather than go against the cars on the recce).
But in Wales, where so much of the route runs across land belonging to Natural Resources Wales - the Forestry Commission anywhere else in the UK - the stages are effectively one-way. The speed limit doesn't change.
On a new rally, new stage or new section of an old stage, the first run on the recce is when the driver will dictate their notes to the co-driver. They describe the road in a pre-agreed code, with a good number of crews relating corner speed to the gear used. A 'six-right' is typically a very fast right-hander.
"The wheelbase on this is a little bit bigger than we have on the Yaris, but that's not so important." Jari-Matt Latvala
Everything is included: distance of straights, crests, jumps, corners to be cut, corners not to be cut. On the second run, the co-driver will read those notes back to the driver, who makes adjustments as necessary. If the stage is identical from one year to the next, the crew will use last year's notes and modify them if the road has been modified.
So that's what they're doing, but why is Ogier in a Subaru? It's because Citroen doesn't have a workable motor in its range to use as a recce car. Toyota uses WRXs too, while Hyundai has used BMW 120d xDrives since it arrived in the WRC in 2014.
The most recognisable - and probably incongruous - cars used on the recce were a fleet of Volvo S60s. Pressed into service by the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 15 years ago (when Volvo was owned by Ford), the fleet was only replaced at the end of last season. Today you'll find Elfyn Evans in a Focus RS.
Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala steps out of his WRX and explains. "The Subaru's a good car for us," says the Finn, who rallied a Group N-spec Subaru between 2004 and '06.
"It's not a full Group N car, but we have a [roll]cage, good suspension and brakes. The main thing on the brakes is that the anti-lock is disconnected and we have no traction control. And, of course, it has to be four-wheel drive. The wheelbase on this is a little bit bigger than we have on the Yaris, but that's not so important."
In his time at M-Sport, Latvala spent more than a few years in those tired S60s, which took on something of a cult status and even raised good money when they came up for sale. M-Sport team principal Richard Millener was as surprised as anybody.
"We took some of the tidier cars, some of the newer ones and thought we'd get some interest from people wanting to use them to recce," he says.
But instead what they got were hardcore collectors.
"Don't forget," says Millener, "through the years, we've had Colin [McRae], Carlos [Sainz], Marcus Gronholm and all sorts of heroes driving these cars. We had people coming from all over Europe to buy them."
Any mixed feelings when they went?
"We definitely break down less in the Focus!" smiles Evans.
"Having said that, for years those Volvos were bulletproof. They were good on the rougher rallies, they were so strong, that you knew if you went over something, you'd have a good idea of how it would feel in the rally car.
"Because the Volvos felt quite like rally cars, you'd get out at the end of a day on the recce with your head banging. For a day on the recce, the Focus is a much nicer place to be."
Speaking of which, Evans is comparing recce cars over a lunchtime plate of beef bourguignon in the restaurant of the Waterloo Hotel.
A mile up the road towards the Penmachno stage, rival teams squat in laybys unloading gas-fired barbies to prepare similar gastronomic mastery. The garden furniture and gazebo work a treat in the day's sunshine and offer an unrivalled view down the Conwy Valley, but when it's -20C in Sweden or 40C in Turkey, it's not quite as pleasant.
Mick Maunder runs the recces for M-Sport. He's in place and on the road a full week before the first stage of significance for his recce of the recce.
"A lot of the time it's better to be further back on the road so you can see where the cuts are coming" Hayden Paddon
"I'm at every round the Friday before," he says.
"When we did our own catering, we used to bring the easy-up and cook stuff at the side of the road for lunch on the recce. But now we have outside caterers, so we find a restaurant for the crews to use.
"I quite liked the old way of doing it, but being able to pre-order food and have the guys walk in, eat and walk out and then we drive away is quite nice too."
The feeling and atmosphere on the recce is quite different to the rally. There's no media, no stress and no hassle. If the recce car breaks down - and they often do - they're fixed out of the back of the van at the side of the road.
Hayden Paddon's co-driver John Kennard (below) enjoys this aspect of the sport.
"It's like an old rally," he says.
"I was working at Prodrive with the Subaru team in the days before the central service park and we would tour around the country looking for somewhere to service. That's what we still have to do on the recce.
"We have a road book to follow from stage to stage on the recce, but there's still the feeling that things are a bit more flexible, like they used to be on rallies."
Kennard's chat is cut short, as Paddon is ready to move on - they're first on the road today. There's no official start time at the stages for recce, but the crews are given a window in which they have to start.
"There's absolutely no advantage being first in," Paddon says.
"In fact, a lot of the time it's better to be further back on the road so you can see where the cuts are coming. Timing on a recce's a fine line - you don't want to be too close to the front as you can then end up waiting at the start of the next stage for the window to open."
And once you're in those stages, it's all about getting the notes right.
"One of the most important aspects of the recce is the consistency," says Paddon, now back in the car and behind a steering wheel decorated with tape. He points to the tape and adds: "That's why I use these. This system was started by 'Possum' Bourne [Paddon's hero and Asia Pacific rally champion] and I took it from him.
"Basically, the tape is numbered and when we turn into a corner, the number at the top of the [steering] wheel defines that note. I've used this all of my career, but I'm really surprised how many other guys are doing it as well now.
"We're not in the recce to start farting about, it's all about finding the line and keeping the rhythm to bring the flow of notes" Elfyn Evans
"I don't look at the tape nearly as much as I did at the start of my career - you get a feel for the steering input and what that means for the notes - but it's great to have it there for a back-up.
"It does make your notes consistent. When a 'two' comes to the top of the wheel, left or right, the steering input for a 'two' corner will always be the same."
The best way to get consistent notes is to get a good flow in the car on the recce.
Evans says: "The 80km/h limit is fine in most places. In some of the slower sections, it's enough and you can feel the car starting to slide.
"But we're not in the recce to start farting about, it's all about finding the line and keeping the rhythm to bring the flow of notes."
Changing speed limits can be a source of frustration in the stages.
Latvala adds: "On some rallies you are going from 50 to 60 to 80 then back to 50, it can be a bit frustrating - especially if you get caught at the wrong speed. The car's speed is tracked and monitored by the organisers and we have an alarm which warns us if we go into a slower zone too fast. We have three seconds to get under the limit and then we get fined.
"It can be tricky when you have cars coming towards you as well. I remember a lot of years ago, I was on the Ulster Rally in 2003. I was on a narrow section of road and coming quite quickly - not too fast - but quite quickly and there was a local car in the road. We stopped, there was no damage and no problem, but while I was trying to get past, the lady was quite angry.
"She wound down the window and started to shout, 'What the hell are you doing?' I was driving a left-hand-drive recce car and she was in a right-hand-drive car, so she was shouting at Miikka [Anttila, co-driver]. Miikka wound the window down and said, 'Why are you shouting at me - the driver's over there!' I found the first gear..."
It's in these two days before the start, with drivers in tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts, the foundations of a Sunday afternoon result are laid. Make a mistake here and you'll pay for it in a few days.
Autosport's recce experience
Did I want to do the recce for Rally Finland? Er... yes. Definitely yes.
I'd talked about doing a recce for a while when M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson told me in 2009 to stop prevaricating and get on with it. The one stipulation was that I had a pencil rather than a steering wheel in my hand.
Adam Gould, a one-time leading light of British national rallying, would be my driver for the two days. We would join Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala as part of the factory Ford team for two days on the fastest stages in the world.
"It was one of the most intense two days of my entire life"
That is, until I saw the schedule. The alarm was set at four, for a departure just before five. Back in those days, there wasn't a road book, but Latvala's co-driver Miikka Anttila assured me we'd be fine.
"Just follow us," he said. Fair enough. How hard can it be?
I told myself it would be a morning of dictation followed by an afternoon of me reading Adam a story. No bother.
I don't have the space to go into the complexities and quite how wrong I was, but suffice to say it was one of the most intense two days of my entire life. Writing notes on a bumpy road is a silly idea at the best of times, but then trying to decipher a) my handwriting and b) the apparently unintelligible code I'd so diligently tried to write down a couple of hours earlier was ridiculously hard.
And then there's the whole 80km/h thing. That doesn't sound a lot, but don't forget, if the physics allowed, you could do 80km/h through a hairpin. At times, it's fair to say, Adam was having more fun than me.
Somehow we'd found ourselves ahead of Hirvonen on the road. I noticed Adam looking in the mirror as we progressed through the early part of Ouninpohja. I kept reading, but was slightly alarmed to see a Volvo overtaking us in a ditch.
Best bit? Mikko didn't even remember that moment. That's life on the recce.