I had a ticket for Wolves v Southampton, and with Curborough only 45 minutes away and some familiar faces competing, I decided to pop in for a couple of hours for my sixth motor sport event in five weeks. A Macmillan bake sale was also organised by the Welsh Sprint & Hillclimb Championship and it was an enjoyable couple of hours in warm September sunshine. Not a venue I’ve competed before, but perhaps one for the future…!
I’ve not navigated for Matt on a 12 Car for a while (nearly two years), but I have enjoyed competing on them with Luis. However, I’m Luis’ “stand in” navigator when Lucy Fryer cannot make events, so with Luis and Lucy entered I asked Matt if he fancied entering… The slight fly in the ointment was that Matt was due to land from Jeddah at lunch time, but he was up for entering and so in our entry went. Thankfully, he landed on time and we battled our way through M25 traffic to make the start by the skin of our teeth.
With six months having passed since last navigating on a 12 Car, I knew it would take a little time to get my brain back in gear, but I struggled to plot the first section. It should have been one of the easier pieces of navigation; “pass these features that touch the road.” The clues were letters, spot heights etc and I knew (and was prepared for) crossing a map, but I couldn’t for the life of me see where “r” touched a road. It eventually turned out to be the second “r” in “Water works” but I took a long time looking for it. The rule I was taught was “if you can’t plot the navigation forwards, plot it backwards” but I couldn’t get it to work backwards either!
Being rusty, for the first few sections I didn’t manage to plot on the move until the latter half, which did help. There was another section I struggled to plot (avoiding sections of grid squares) as I struggled to see a route that worked, but eventually we got it down.
Along with nine of the twelve crews, we missed the first code board and unfortunately a mis-plot by me at the end saw us miss the last board too. The navigation worked going two different ways and if this is the case, you take the shortest route, but I hadn’t spotted the navigation worked two ways. A frustrating error and one I thought would prove costly! It was costly in terms of overall results, but to walk away with a class win was a pleasant surprise.
Having had a look back through past results, it turns out I’ve won my class on the last three 12 Cars I’ve done, but more interestingly, that’s been in three different cars with three different drivers; Ben Cutting and a Micra, Luis Gutierrez-Diaz in a MG ZR and now Matt in our MG ZR. It looks like I’ll be out on the next CMC 12 Car in November, but with Luis, so time to get some more practise in!
It may have been a weekend off from competing, but it wasn’t a weekend off from motor sport as we volunteered to help run tests at Bicester as part of the HERO Challenge. It was an early alarm call at 0515 to be at Bicester just after 0700. We were allocated Test 4, “Spitfire,” with Matt as Test Commander and us running the start.
Before the cars reached us we saw some of the normal activity of the airfield with bi-planes departing, before a busy couple of hours followed with cars arriving at least every minute, or in some cases, in little groups.
We had no real dramas to speak of, one car broke down on the test but fixed himself and got going after some time. Some of the crews were new to rallying and had attended HERO’s training day the day before, and whilst new to rallying, everybody seemed to know what they were doing by the time they reached us.
The tests were only run once so we were home by lunchtime after an enjoyable morning.
After the previous weekend stage rallying at Wethersfield, we returned for the AutoSOLO, but this time in the MG ZR. I haven’t done many AutoSOLOs recently and felt I’d been off the pace at the previous AutoSOLO at Wethersfield, so it was time to see what I could do!
I hadn’t been planning to enter this event because I’d been at T20 Finals Day (cricket) in Birmingham the day before, which had been a late night having driven home after seeing three T20 matches. I got back about midnight and it was a 6am start to get to Wethersfield, so whilst Matt drove I slept and only woke up when we reached the venue security gate…!
The tests were quite different to the recent Wethersfield AutoSOLO we’d competed on, as they were a bit more open. I think this suits me more, although for some reason on one test I became convinced I could take something flat in first and turn and use the handbrake… well perhaps I should have dabbed the brake, because I went a little wide with understeer. Never mind, sometimes it’s good to have a bold approach!
I felt things were going well and I was on the pace, and it was proved when for the first time EVER I set a fastest class test time. To beat Matt and Mark Peterson, both quick drivers who I respect, was a real achievement. Matt and I were actually trading times on tests with me beating him on quite a few and I felt things were going really well. Matt is always my main marker as we’re driving the same car, so I know the car has whatever pace he sets. I was told a number of times I “seemed more aggressive” than the previous AutoSOLO a few weeks before, and “I should do a stage rally every week before an AutoSOLO” by marshals and fellow competitors. I think it simply does go back to more seat time, more confidence, and being match fit.
If I’d been told in advance I’d finish 3rd in class I would have been delighted, but on the day I ended up slightly disappointed. I was fighting around for 2nd in class but a cone penalty (five seconds) cost me, apparently I ran over the base of it but I genuinely didn’t know I had, and it didn’t move/fall over so I didn’t realise I’d not had a clean run until I had the time card. Still, it was a good result and I had to work hard to ensure I kept third.
Another enjoyable day out, and a vast improvement on my AutoSOLO result a few weeks previously. Next weekend is a weekend off from competing, but we’re out marshalling instead, so still motor sport keeping us busy!
One of my favourite venues, and one of my favourite disciplines, but not a combination I’d sampled together as a driver… it was time to go stage rallying at Wethersfield! It was a tricky build up with the car not running at all (one night she was pushed home, one night she was towed home) but touch wood, Matt had resolved everything after some stressful, late nights.
When I was working towards my stage rally Clerk of the Course licence, one of the events I was involved in most heavily as a probationary CoC was Wethersfield (including designing the stages). It has a tighter, technical section (the bomb dump) and also a range of fast, sweeping bends that require commitment. I’ve co-driven for Matt there but not driven there so an event I was very much looking forward to.
The event had the option of noise test, scrutineering and signing on the day before the rally and so we headed there on Saturday afternoon. Having completed all of those, we had dinner ready for the day ahead.
SS1 went well, and I was 3rd in class which felt respectable (although I did put a wheel on the grass and was told off by Matt!). I’ve found I’ve been off the pace having come back to stage rallying (as a driver) after three years away, so to be three seconds off 2nd after one stage felt good. SS2 complete (a repeat of SS1) and I was 4th quickest in class on stage, one second behind another Micra and MG who tied for time, and still 3rd in class after the first pair of stages.
Time for SS3, and I felt I was “warmed up” now. As mentioned, the fast corners at Wethersfield do really require complete commitment (even in a Micra!) and lines and keeping speed up is so important. I took 13 seconds out of the crew 2nd in class on SS3, and moved into 2nd in class, and pulled out another 13 seconds on SS4. Things were looking and feeling good!
Wethersfield runs 30 second stages and we were finding slower cars on a later lap on nearly every stage. Quite often the speed differential was great enough that I could get round them easily (and pulled off some “round the outside” moves, shame it’s a no onboard camera venue!), and so many were good at realising they were being caught and getting out of the way. Unfortunately for three stages in a row I caught people in the (tight and narrow) bomb dump section and they didn’t realise we were there for a few bends. It’s narrow and therefore people need to make a concerted effort to get out of the way, but it’s also important to remember that whilst stage rally cars have to have a horn operable by both driver and co-driver, when you’re in a rally car with helmets on etc it can be very difficult to hear. It cost us some time, but the question was would it be too much…
On to SS5, which was similar to SS3/4 but with some changes. I’d made sure I’d eaten a little lunch, drunk lots of water and was ready, but the pace wasn’t quite there and I was 14 seconds slower than the crew behind me. Pressure on!
SS6 was a repeat of SS5 and I had an 8 second lead to keep 2nd in class. I gave it everything, as we came to the stop I told Matt if that wasn’t enough there was nothing else I had left to give. With live timing, Matt checked his phone… we’d done it! 4 seconds quicker than the crew 3rd in class, meaning we finished 2nd in class, 12 seconds ahead of them, and my best ever stage result as a driver (my previous best was 3rd).
I loved the event and was so happy with that result. It wasn’t an easy one, it pushed me hard and to my limits physically and mentally but the result was worth it. It finally feels, after time away from stage rallying and not competing quite as much, that I’m back on the pace. I’m not sure I’ll be driving on a stage rally before the end of the year but I have a number of events planned still as a driver and navigator so plenty left before year end.
Having not competed at Debden for a long time, the return came less than two months after my recent visit. Once again it was for a targa rally, in the MG with Matt and both driving/navigating for each other.
The tests were similar to our previous visit, but tighter in places; there were places where using the handbrake helped (as the surface was loose) but also places where I wouldn’t have been able to get round without the handbrake as it was very tight.
The event once again used codeboards but they were a little easier to spot than the previous event, apart from when I knew one was there but lost sight of it in the dust having done a hairpin right just in front of it!
I felt happier and more comfortable in the car than last time and enjoyed the gravel, but it was an event that never really “clicked” for me; if you’ve competed you probably know the feeling, some days you try but it just doesn’t seem to quite flow or feel right, and it was one of those days for me. There were a couple of mistakes when I was navigating for Matt that lost us a little time, which was also frustrating and cost us some time.
To finish the day 3rd in class as a driver was a pleasant surprise, matching my previous result and being better than how the day felt. Seat time is definitely valuable and this targa is one of a run of events we’ve entered in both the MG and Micra, so hopefully more to come.