Down Ampney was not a venue we planned to compete at when we planned our calendar at the start of 2017. However, the event was a round of the ACSMC championship and having entered that, we decided to head to Down Ampney. We had competed there once, in 2014, with myself driving and Matt co-driving but due to the championship we entered this event the other way round.
Matt completed scrutineering on Friday night, but it was still an early start on Saturday morning as the gates shut at 0815. Our due time at the first control was 0927 so after the compulsory briefing, we had some time sitting around and to get ready for the first stage. Then, it was time to head to SS1. We negotiated it successfully and nothing more than a cursory check over was needed before SS2. Out we went on SS2, and we improved our time and things flowed better as we both settled in.
We were 3rd in class after the first couple of stages, with a gap to the two leading cars and a cushion to the car in 4th place in class. Unfortunately the class leader blew their engine on SS4, which promoted us to 2nd in class – a better position, but we’d all rather improve our position by our own speed than the misfortune of others.
We had no real moments or drama to speak of; the stages kept going well, we had no real moments, and no car issues to worry about. After Snetterton, we had ordered some new brakes to resolve our issues. They were due a couple of weeks before the event, then it became the week of the event, then it became “sorry we’ve realised they won’t fit” a couple of days beforehand. Being conscious we may have issues, we couldn’t fully push during the day but it was better to be out competing than not.
At the end of the event, we finished over a minute behind the class winners but with a 6 min 20 second lead over 3rd in class, so a comfortable position for us. We both enjoyed the rally, and now the next steps are to re-investigate and resolve the brake issues in time for our next stage event later in the year.
Matt had entered the MG ZR in the Brands Hatch autotest, and rather than spend the evening home alone I thought why not join in too… The autotests are very popular and I was lucky to get an entry.
The events have a strict curfew of 8pm so it was a bit of a rush when we got there. It was a very damp night and my first two attempts at tests were poor with understeer and sloppy handbrake turns, but things then started to improve as I remembered how to drive on wet grass! Some tests Matt was quicker than me, but others we matched on (or I beat him!).
Unfortunately, I received a cone penalty for a test I’d done badly on first time round (it was one of the first tests I’d done), and that cost me a couple of places in class. But, it was enjoyable to be competing on a Thursday evening for a low entry fee and seat time is all good practise.
Having never competed on an Autosolo at Oxford MC’s “new” venue at Finmere (they have been there for a few years now), we entered the MG ZR to continue with our theme of having a play car and getting out on more events.
It was good to have an event only half an hour or so from home, and having scrutineered and signed-on it was time to walk the first test of the day. Having sprained my ankle a few weeks ago, limping around the course was a more accurate description but whilst having the diagrams, it’s always good to walk it and see the lines/bumps/and get a better feel for what is to come.
The Oxford MC event splits competitors into three groups so one drives, one marshals and one rests. I started off marshalling, which was good as it gave me a chance to watch everyone else and see how they were finding it. Before long it was time to get into the car, and it reminded me how much I enjoy driving the MG!
There were four tests during the day and, whilst it is two out of three runs to count, I did not have any wrong routes or cone penalties which is always good. I finished the day 3rd in class, and 13th overall; not quite my best Autosolo result but not bad for a few years away.
I’m lucky enough that I’ve managed to compete in most disciplines of motor sport, but a 4X4 trial was a new event for me. With Southern Rover Owners’ Club running a taster Tyro Trial (beginners trial) on Easter Monday, I managed to borrow a 90 inch Land Rover and enter my first 4X4 trial.
Things got off to a good start, with a 0 (a clear) on the first section which included a hub finish, a new thing to myself. The aim is to drive as far through a course as possible, starting at a 12 and with numbers going down. The further you get, the lower your score, but you cannot hit any of the course numbers on the way through or else that will be your score. If you get all the way through the twisty, challenging and often muddy sections, you “clean” it i.e. receive a score of 0.
Starting on a 0 in a vehicle I wasn’t used to driving was good, and it was on to the next section. This time, it was my turn to go first; the club rotates during the day who goes first on each section so whilst I was first on the second section of the day, I was last on other sections. We cleaned the second section too, so things were going well.
Section three was a tricky one, and I scored a one which I was disappointed in. You needed to finish with the nose of the Land Rover against the tree for a 0, and I didn’t quite have it in far enough; I suspect if it had been my own vehicle I would have been more confident but not fully knowing the length and being conscious of putting someone else’s Land Rover into a tree, I was a little cautious.
The rest of the day went well and, whilst tricky, I managed to clean all of the sections. It left me wishing that I had known about these events when we had a Series 1 Land Rover, but we didn’t. It was my best ever score on a trial (having previously done car trials) and a good way to round off the Easter weekend.
Unfortunately, where we live there are not many scatters run locally, so with an event being run on the Thursday of the Easter weekend and a Bank Holiday Friday for a lie in, we headed to Kent after work. Matt had asked me to navigate for him and with the map arriving on the day of the event, we were good to go!
Prepping the map on the way to the start probably wasn’t a good idea judging by the car sickness I felt when we arrived, but after some dinner I started to feel better and it was then time to start the event. The map references all had to be calculated from other numbers given which threw me slightly to start with, but then I started plotting and had a route down. The idea of a scatter is you are given a number of points to visit where you have to find answers to questions, but you have to plot the points and you have to figure out the route.
We got something down, and then it was time to head off. We found the first few clues ok but then we started to struggle. We’d stop and check we had calculated the grid reference correctly (we had), re-plotted to check I’d done it accurately (we had) and then we’d continue if we were still stuck. We ended up visiting more points than we had answers for, where we didn’t find them all, and made it back to the pub a little early having struggled with a couple of later clues. We finished 4th (we had been 3rd but post event scores were re-checked) by 5 points, so just one additional answer would have made a difference for us in overall placings. A 1am walk through the front door was a late one, but it was worth the trip down to do our first scatter, with me on the map, in a while.
I’ve never competed on a 20/20 and when Matt asked if I fancied it, I said yes. It would mean going from Southampton (after football) to Kent but it was all doable. Then they moved the football match from 3pm on Saturday to 5.30pm and I had to decide between the two… eventually I went for the 20/20 and on the night, Matt drove to Kent as I watched the match on my phone.
After dinner at the M20 services, scrutineering and signing on, it was time to wait until our start time. Novices were given navigation in advance, but it still wasn’t enough time to plot everything. When we do navigational events it tends to be me in the left hand seat, so it was a nice change for once!
The beginning of the event went well, we weren’t dropping time, we were passing code boards so knew we were on the right route, and we were getting to the controls. Then we got to a wooded section… As we drove up, another car on the event went past going the other way. Then we took a turn that we thought was correct. It wasn’t. Then ensued a very long time of driving around the same village in a loop unable to find the correct way. We weren’t the only ones, with four or five other crews also doing the same.
We knew we were going to have to “cut route” to stay within the allowed time, but the road we thought we’d use (a yellow) was gated. It turns out you can go through there, but we didn’t know that and so turned around upon finding the gate. We made it to some later controls, but missed a number of controls and code boards. By the end of the night, we were not last but not our finest result, on what was my 150th competitive event. We got home at 0545 so it was a rather late one for us!
Having moved locally to Castle Combe when I was 7, I think of Combe as my “home track.” I’ve watched many race meetings there, but had never thought about competing there myself, until 2017.
Three sprints are run at Castle Combe each year, one of 1.75 laps per run, one of 1 lap per run and one of 0.75 lap per run so it made sense to aim for the 1.75 laps per run event. It meant we headed to Combe at the end of March, and the sprint took place exactly ten years to the day from when I had first ever competed. My first event was a Sevenoaks & District MC car trial on 25th March 2007, and the Castle Combe sprint was my 149th competitive event since I started competing.
I was down to be the first car out on track at the sprint, so we arrived early for scrutineering and signing on. It left me with a little over 45 minutes before the compulsory drivers’ briefing, and so I decided to walk the track. Whilst I’ve visited Combe many times, the opportunity to walk the 1.85 mile track and have a proper look at it was a good one. I really wanted to have a good look at Avon Rise and Quarry, as I knew they could prove to be tricky.
Before long, it was time to line up for my first run, where for a brief period I would be the only car on track. I drove the rally car in competition once in 2016 (a targa) and it had been around two years since I had driven her hard on tarmac, so I was curious as to how it would go. Then that was it, green light and off. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th…over Avon rise, brake, down to third, through Quarry, back on it and up to 4th, brake and 3rd for the chicane, confidence lift through Old Paddock (not needed with hindsight), 4th, almost snatching 5th before Tower, remember late turn in… And on it went.
5th in the rally car is not a gear I have used in competition before, but Combe needed it at least twice. After practice, I was 3rd in class (out of five). Not far off 2nd, but quite a way off Matt leading the class. I knew where I could find time and what I had done wrong, so it was time to wait for my first timed run; the first run that really mattered as it would count towards the final results.
My first timed run seemed to go well, and I had found 2.5 seconds but it was a scrappy run. Mistakes in a few places, including Quarry and Tower, cost me time and I wanted to go again but that’s not how sprinting works. I watched Matt’s runs, and then went to spectate at Camp corner with my Dad and a friend of his between my runs.
A car came off the circuit after their run and as it went past we could see it was on fire, it looked like a small brake fire at that point. I looked up to the next marshals post and could see the marshals radioing it in and at that point Dad and I started sprinting to the paddock. There was a moment of we might be first there/the marshals might need help/we might be able to get extra extinguishers/you can’t just watch.
As it happens we were first on scene, and running down the Camp bank I spotted fire extinguishers at Avon Bridge. “Purple coat lady” aka a spectator helped grab them before Dad and I extinguished the fire. I’ve had training before but never had to tackle a real fire in an uncontrolled situation and there was a horrible moment of thinking the whole car was going to go up.
It’s interesting how it all happened so quickly because you can have lots of training but you never know how you will react until you are in that situation. Certainly given I was competing it was not the sort of thing I was expecting!
Marshals came running with extinguishers and the rescue crew turned up although it was out by then. We just happened to be that little closer and able to get there first. The main thing is the driver was ok, cars are fixable and nobody was hurt (bar some annoying smoke inhalation for myself, if only it had been a still day! Thanks to the Combe med team for the checkover).
Helping to put out a fire, Castle Combe sprint, 25th March 2017
Putting out a fire on a fellow competitor’s car, Castle Combe Sprint, 25th March 2017
Thanks to Richard Handley for the photographs.
After that excitement, it was not that long until my second timed run. I felt that I linked things together; it was not perfect, but I knew I had been braking too early into Camp and it felt less scrappy. I’d hoped that with a more flowing run I would have been quicker, but no; 0.16 slower! Somewhat disappointing, but my earlier run and the times of everybody else saw me 3rd in class (out of five) by the end of the day.
Unfortunately, the SD Card on the Go Pro corrupted meaning I do not have any onboard footage of my runs, but Matt did capture me once on the start finish straight as I passed.
Having not sprinted for a couple of years or driven the Micra for a while, I’m happy overall with how the event went but definitely need some more seat time as there’s plenty more to get out of the car.