First up it's Mikko Hirvonen's guide to the Great Orme road in Wales…
Mikko Hirvonen is on a roll. The lead driver of the Ford World Rally Team is powering his Focus Zetec-S along Great Orme with a grin on his face that even today's wet and windswept weather cannot shift.
"It's been a while since I last drove this road – and that was flat out under competition conditions," grins Hirvonen. "Now I can actually take in the fantastic scenery around me and really enjoy the car, the road and the drive."
The headlands of Great Orme and Little Orme in North Wales create a protected swathe of coastline that's as breathtaking as any in Britain. A designated Heritage Coast, complete with stunning geology and breathtaking landscapes, it's also home to the picture-perfect town of Llandudno. With its historic pier, fine Victorian architecture and famous gardens – not to mention the castles and historic manor houses that surround it – it's no surprise that Llandudno is Wales's favourite holiday resort.
The road that follows the jutting Great Orme peninsula is a sinewy, serpentine stretch, punctuated with blind crests, tightening corners and challenging cambers. Drive up this cliff-hugging route and there's nothing but a small rock wall to separate you from the churning sea hundreds of feet below on the right. It's a four-mile white-knuckled ride where the slightest misjudgement could end in disaster.
But it is more than just a superb road with a jaw-droppingly beautiful scenic backdrop. It was one of the few public roads in the UK used in the World Rally Championships, making it even more of a challenge for hard-charging drivers as they switched from the slippery stages in the Cambrian forests nearby to its grippy and narrow surface. It's stunning setting, demanding route and fine spectator viewing points have made it one of the most revered stages in modern rallying.
The last time Hirvonen drove this snaking strip of blacktop was in 2001, and although he's driven on hundreds of other stages in dozens of different countries since then, the road is instantly familiar to him.
"I can remember certain parts of it with real clarity," he says within a few hundred yards of setting off. "I remember roads like some people remember photographs or people's faces."
Relaxed and languid behind the wheel, Hirvonen gives a running commentary, his eyes picking up numerous points – a slight narrowing in the road, a pool of sitting water, a repaired patch of road that might be more slippery than expected and an off-camber corner – that his brain instantly processes to keep the Focus flowing along the road with smooth and precise inputs. It's a masterclass in driving technique.
While most drivers would get more than a little dry-mouthed at the thought of carving a 300bhp Focus rally car along such a treacherous route, Hirvonen positively thrives on the rush. Whether it's rocketing his Focus WRC car along the tight alpine roads on the Monte Carlo Rally or flying over the gravel stages of his homeland in Finland, Hirvonen never worries about the potential danger behind every corner.
"I never get scared," he says. "I may be driving along roads with sheer cliffs on one side – like Great Orme – or racing along narrow forest tracks with trees only inches from the car, but I never really think about that. I'm so pumped up on adrenalin that all I focus on is the road ahead and what my co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen is telling me. Nothing else matters except getting to the end of the stage quicker than anyone else."
Hirvonen knows all about going fast. Since winning the Finnish Formula 2 title in 2002, the 28 year-old Finn has impressed with his speed and consistency – arguably the two key attributes of any rally ace. And it's his ability to consistently rack up the points that helped Ford to take the manufacturers' title in 2006 and 2007 – and push hard in 2008.
Hirvonen spends much of each year travelling the world on the gruelling WRC circuit, so the last thing he wants when he has a break from racing and testing is to get on another plane for a family break. But he might well make an exception for North Wales.
"It's such a beautiful spot here. It has wonderful scenery, a real sense of history and I remember from my last visit that the people here are very friendly. And don't forget – you have great rally roads like Great Orme thrown into the package, so it's the ideal destination for keen drivers and their families!"
Tomorrow, look out for Jimmy McRae's favourite stage.