Winning on the Exmoor

I may as well start with the key headline – 1st in class on the Exmoor Targa Rally! However, that really doesn’t tell the full story.

Tavern MC, Burnham on Sea MC and and Minehead MC combine to put on the Exmoor Targa Rally. I first did the event as a driver when it was an endurance rally, and have returned since navigating for Luis Gutierrez-Diaz.

Without a doubt, the 2021 event was one of the most challenging day of rallying I have had (but an enjoyable endurance in it’s own odd way!). It all really started the week before at the Debden Targa rally, when Luis came in from the last test with engine issues. Mike Thomas maintains and builds his car for him, and looked at it at his first opportunity, which was Thursday. By Thursday lunchtime we knew what the problem was – we needed a new engine!

With brain cogs whirring, I called a friend, Rich who had a spare we could borrow. This engine came from an ex Colin Sutton car so I contacted him to find out what he could tell me about it, but it turned out it had been his spare so we didn’t find out much – we just knew it had run to get it on and off trailers. Mike was asked to start stripping the car ready for an engine change, with the engine due for collection early on Friday morning before Luis headed to the event on Friday evening. Mike spent Friday putting the new engine in whilst Luis sorted wheels and tyres. Friday afternoon I got the message I had nervously been anticipating – the engine was in, the car was running, the event was on. Luis drives to events and so the drive to the Taunton hotel was it’s true test – and it made it!

We went through scrutineering and there was a smell of fuel, which the scrutineer asked us to look into. I asked Luis to find Owen Turner (because what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing!) whilst I borrowed tools from another crew and had instructions over the phone from both Matt and Mike into how to remove and refit the fuel filter, as I’d found a slight drip underneath it as a thorough check had led me to find this was the issue. I thought I’d got it all back together nicely and better than before, but having started the car there was a drip. Owen appeared at this point and re-did it all (whilst I watched and learnt) – in his words, if I’d done it before/had a little more confidence (so as not to over tighten it) I could have fixed it myself. So, resolved, new skill learnt and on to signing on and documentation!

Finally, on to the start line, and where to start?! Punctures, tie rod issues/wobbly wheels and more – I spent more time working on or under the bonnet of or actually underneath Luis’ car than I ever have on my own. There were points where we thought it was game over but I will never give up until I really have to. I don’t think of myself as mechanically minded, but it seems I know more than I thought I do and it all came together in a true test of perseverance. Also a special thanks to Claire Gillies, who answered when I called her, who passed me her cousin Matt Abrey’s number and who helped at the lunch halt when I needed it.

The day was well organised but hard. It’s one of those to take quite a bit from with all the challenges thrown our way, some of which may be best not spoken about. But, we got there in the end with the class win too.

On test photos by M&H Photography.


Time for a new navigator

Sometimes, there is the opportunity to give back a little in motorsport. In 2020, I’d started plans to help a friend’s daughter complete her silver Duke of Edinburgh award. Then, Covid-19 shut the UK down only a week or two later and everything went on hold.

Fast forward over 18 months and there was the opportunity to enter at the Debden Targa rally. Katie is 15 and hadn’t competed before, but had been volunteering at events when she could. Out of 70 crews, I think we were the only female crew – but most importantly, I returned her to her Dad in one piece and she is up for doing more events!

For someone who hadn’t competed before, Katie did a great job. She navigated me around to 12 clean tests, grew in confidence and on the last loop even gave me driving tips as she had been eavesdropping on Matt and his navigator’s conversation! When we were on gravel and she realised I would not hear her she switched to hand signals without prompting or pre event discussion; a switched on young lady.

I also navigated for Mike in his Mini which kept us both on our toes as it did not want to travel in a straight line. I managed to finish the day in the top half as a driver and navigator, but most importantly it was an enjoyable day.