It had been five years since we last competed on the Rockingham Stages, and for that event I had driven and Matt co-drove for me. As the event was a round of both the AEMC/ASEMC and ACSMC Stage Rally Championships, we entered the 2017 event with Matt driving and myself co-driving.
The week before the rally snow was forecast and we kept a careful watch on what was expected to happen. We didn’t have any winter tyres and decided we should get some with the forecast showing no signs of easing up. It was the right decision!
The event offered a Friday night scrutineering option which we took, and we then checked into our hotel for the night just five minutes from the venue. For rallying, Saturday was a sociable start time allowing a reasonable time to get up, breakfast and to head to the circuit.
Rockingham was our first time out in Muriel since the big, enforced, rebuild. Things hadn’t quite gone smoothly in the run up to the event but we had got to the start, and it was a case of keeping fingers crossed and hoping the car was working as she should do!
I always think it’s good on any event to get the first stage/test/challenge out of the way, and to complete SS1 and find we were leading the class was a pleasant surprise. Muriel had run well, and whilst there was a long way to go, getting the first stage out of the way was good. SS2 was a repeat of SS1, and again we came in off the stage to find we’d set the fastest time in the class.
For some reason, SS3 didn’t flow that well for us and we were second in class for that stage by seven seconds, although still holding a 32 second lead. Leading the class isn’t a position we are used to; we had never won our class until Brands in January 2017 so to be leading relatively comfortably was pleasing. However, coming off SS4 our stress levels rose considerably;’ Muriel developed a misfire.
The stage was being changed from SS4 to SS5 giving us more time in service (much better than when a stage was re-used and we had less than ten minutes turn around!). Matt couldn’t get the computer and diagnostics talking to the car, but a quick phonecall and it was advised to change the throttle body. It was a busy, stressful time but Matt managed to change it and thankfully it did the trick.
SS5 was run in the dark, so as Matt changed the throttle body I’d fitted the lamp pod. Having both competed on night rallies, we enjoy night stages and catching an Evo was a good feeling. We completed SS6 and, whilst only halfway through the rally, went into day two 1st in class, 23rd overall and with a 47 second class lead.
Everyone knew it was due to snow overnight, but we’d found our hotel didn’t have an external window; we looked out onto an internal, covered, courtyard. When we got up we found it had snowed as predicted, and made our way to the circuit. Matt set about changing tyres whilst I cleared the rally car of snow and headed off for the crew briefing. We were advised they were adjusting the stage due to conditions, there would be a delay to the start time and to return for a further briefing/update in an hour. This gave the opportunity for various snow ball fights and snowman building (thanks Lil, Andy, Torah, Paul and Paul!). Upon our return, we were told the organisers had taken the difficult decision to not run the event on the Sunday. With snow still heavily falling, and with the organisers having made their best efforts to run the event, it was a proper winter’s day.
I texted Matt to let him know, and he started packing up the cars ready for us both to drive home. With results declared at the time control the previous evening, we were confirmed as winning the class; having never won the class until this year, it is great to finish off with another class win! Winning the class also helps our championship results; 3rd overall co-driver (also 1st in class) in the Jelf.com AEMC/ASEMC Stage Rally Championship and 1st in class (4th overall) in the ACSMC Stage Rally Championships for myself, and class wins for Matt in both championships too.
Not a bad way to finish off the year…