Almost a month since my last competitive event, and nearly three months since I last drove on a stage rally, it was time to head to Down Ampney for a round of the ACSMC Stage Rally Championship.
I headed down after work on Friday and got to scrutineering just before 7pm. Having passed, it was off to stay locally for the night before returning early the next morning. Signing on completed and after a little breakfast, it was time to head to SS1 and finally for the first time in years, it was time to drive on a dry stage rally!
I’ve driven at Down Ampney once before, as has Matt, so I had a little idea of what to expect from the venue. SS1 went well and I felt I had confidence in the car straight away which was good, and dry conditions made a change from the two stage rallies I drove earlier this year. We went out for SS2 (a repeat of SS1) and went 15 seconds quicker – not bad going!
Down Ampney has a mix of long straights, fast sweeping corners and some tighter slower sections and I enjoyed the variety. SS3 and SS4 were successfully completed before the stages went “the other way” in the afternoon. SS4 had some moments where the car wouldn’t go into third gear and wouldn’t idle and kept cutting out after we’d finished, but having lunch and the car having an opportunity to cool down was positive. We got through SS5 and SS6 fighting closely with some other cars in class, and then it was time for the long stages of SS7 and SS8 – 9.8 miles each.
The last pair of stages had two splits in them, right on top of each other, so before going out Matt went through the stages with me so as well as him calling the route on stage, I had it in my head and knew what to expect. Getting the splits right is imperative but with only two seconds between me and the car behind in class, another Micra, we also had to be on it!
We got through SS7 with a little kiss with a pallet at the end, and successfully negotiated SS8 (including passing a BMW, who must have been suffering technical issues and moved out the way quickly). Then it was just time for results; SS7 times hadn’t been in when we’d left for SS8 so it had been a case of just going for it! It turned out the other Micra beat me by one second on SS7, but we matched times on SS8, so I held onto the class position by one second.
We finished 5th in class, 33rd overall but the key thing for me was feeling happy and confident in the car – my favourite rally of the year to date.