After a few weeks away for pleasure and work, the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages came around quickly. Matt had done most of the car prep prior to the Christmas period but there were still a few late nights to get everything ready.
With the event having moved to a Saturday in 2017, we decided it would still take some stress out of the Saturday morning to head down the night before for noise, scrutineering and signing on. Having completed everything, it was then time to try and get some sleep before the rally itself.
Richard and Emma Olsen had offered to service and we saw them bright and early on the Saturday morning ready for the day ahead. A Saturday rally at Brands means an earlier start (due to local noise restrictions etc and different rules for Saturday/Sunday) and we were off a little after 9am. We hadn’t known what to expect in terms of grip levels around the circuit, but we completed SS1 ok with a time that put us second in class, behind the Nova of the Newtons; higher than we expected to be.
SS2 was a stage that we would rather forget, an SOS board out on another competing car saw us stop (as per the regulations) and therefore lose significant time, and initially we dropped to fifth in class. However, due to the circumstances we were given a notional time which saw us leading the class, after problems for the Newtons on SS2.
We seemed to struggle for a clean run on a few of the stages; blocked stage on SS3, people getting stuck at the pit lane hairpin, but nothing that was within the control of the organisers and “rallying things.” We kept pushing and continued to lead, continually setting stage times second or third quickest within our class.
We know the Newtons are quicker than us, so the focus for the day became to keep pedaling as quickly as possible as they climbed the order and tried to come back for the class win. We knew how much they had to beat us by on each stage (27.3 seconds over the remaining stages, 32 seconds over the remaining stages etc) and what we needed to do.
With the Newtons seeded ahead of us, we finished SS8 with a clean and quick run and knew we had done everything we can. Thanks to the online results system, it was straight onto my mobile phone to refresh the times. No time in yet for the Newtons. Calculate our time taken. Calculate it again. Still driving to the in control. Check it again. Refresh. No Newtons. Still driving in. Recheck our time. Press refresh. No news. Refresh. Pass the main Brands Hatch entrance still on our way in. No news. Refresh. Me; “Matt……I think we’ve DONE IT!!!” followed by screams and cheers from both of us.
We’ve never won our class. We really had to work for it at Brands Hatch and get everything out of the car and us as a crew. We gave it everything we could, and the Newtons did the same. Back in service, they came over; “what did you do?” (because our time wasn’t online and they were refreshing results too). They were the first to congratulate us, and us to them too, because the battle and the pressure was fantastic, and so too was the sportsmanship.
Most people didn’t realise we’d never won our class before and they won’t quite realise what it meant to us too. We’ve had seconds, thirds, but to win the class in a big and competitive class really was fantastic. It might have been a close run thing, but we still managed to pull it off and that made for a very happy household.
Coverage of the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages will be broadcast on Motors TV on Friday 3rd February 2017.
Photos courtesy of M&H Photography.