Autocrossing at Bucknell

Having entered a one day event at Much Hadham a couple of weeks ago, which was unfortunately cancelled, I entered the Witney MC event at Bucknell near Bicester. As I couldn’t make the Saturday due to prior commitments (it was a two day event), I took a maximum penalty for Saturday and Sunday was for seat time.

Having walked the course prior to practice, the course had been adjusted slightly since Saturday’s runs to try and avoid some of the lumps and bumps. There were still some big ruts to find, as well as the back of the circuit looking like cobblestones in places.

I hadn’t driven the Golf quickly for a year and the back stepped out nicely on the first corner of practice which was a bit of an awakening. A couple of corners on, the front right corner of the car dug in meaning I kicked up my own dust (and stones) in front of me and I also got a little air – interesting! With first practice complete, I only had 15 minutes before my first timed run and managed to be a little neater, and quicker.

With dust a prevalent feature, the organisers decided cars would only run one at a time (rather than the normal 2 x 2 or 1 x 1 when dusty). This also meant that laps had been cut down to three rather than four, as it would taken longer to get through everyone. This still worked well and by the time a lap was complete, the dust I’d created had already cleared meaning it wasn’t an issue. I did manage to lose a wheel arch liner on my third run, which was left on the line I wanted so I ran it over a couple of times (it turns out I bent a sump guard mount, too).

Timed run two was quicker then timed run one and having struggled slightly with gear changes in practice, it all felt smoother and better. Lining up for timed run three there was a bang, and a short time later what looked like a little white smoke in the distance – or was it dust? Then a flicker of orange; someone completed unconnected to the event (and on separate land) had let off a firework which had gone along, not up. With the dry conditions, it’s not hard to work out what happened next but being a motorsport event there were plenty of people, and extinguishers, on hand which contained the situation. The organisers had added extra precautions to the motorsport event (and sent lots of reminders about the conditions/fire risk) so it was rather ironic something out of their control happened.

Having taken extra extinguishers to the other side of the field, which were needed/used, I returned to the paddock and had a quick drink before going out for timed run 3 (which can be seen here on Youtube). It was another 1.6 seconds quicker, although it had felt a little better than that! I finished the event 2nd in class and 7th overall (Clubman event).


Oxford’s Summer Scatter

I hadn’t competed on a scatter since March 2020, and whilst they were a regular part of my competing ten plus years ago when living south, not many clubs run them around here and so this was a good opportunity to get back on the maps.

The start was nearly an hour from home, and having signed on, there was a wait to receive the navigation. Novices received the information ten minutes before experts and at 8pm we got the nav and it was time for me to start plotting.

Scatter are as the name suggest; a series of locations (with questions), scattered over the map. They’re normally designed so you can’t make all the clues in the time allocated, in this event we had two hours to plot and answer questions. I had the 28 clues plotted and a route planned within 12 minutes and then it was time to go hunting. Picking the “right” route is one of the greatest strategies in a scatter; especially when different questions are worth different point values such as in this case.

We started off picking up some answers near the start (worth 5 points each) before heading out to the far west of map 164, to try and get some of the 10 and 20 point questions. It’s also a fine balance between getting answers, and not heading back too early because if you’re late, points are deducted too.

We found all the answers at the locations we went to, and the route seemed to go ok but it’s always hard to know how others have done. Having started east and headed west, I started to wonder if I should have done the opposite but it worked out well as we came home 1st in class and 3rd overall.

Returning to the Hatsford Targa

Our first attempt at the Hatsford last year was in the Micra, having blown the engine at Kemble and the MG not being back together. It was very wet, muddy and a challenging day, although it did dry out eventually.

This year, conditions couldn’t have been more different with warm weather leading up to the event meaning dry conditions and the potential for lots of dust. We had entered in the MG and were seeded at Car 5. Having arrived when the venue opened and quickly passed through scrutineering and documentation, I had 90 mins to go through the maps before the drivers’ briefing.

There were six tests planned for the day, with the first four being approximately four miles each and the last two being eight miles each, all around grass fields. The first test used a section new to us (it was cut out in the wet conditions last year) and it felt as if we got around ok. We had caught and passed the car who started 30 seconds in front and had gained a little on the car in front of that, too; with dust certainly apparent even that early on. As more cars passed through, the test “cleaned up” and later cars were setting better times.

Onto test two, which was a repeat of one, and over 90 seconds quicker and again it felt ok but this time no catching of other cars meant it was easier as we didn’t get very dusty! Unfortunately though, we were to receive 1 x 30 second penalty for both test one and test two so 60 seconds in total; we kept right of something, but not the correct something, and a bit of NAM and test layout had caught us out (I had asked after test one what our penalty was for but timing was too tight to find out before we had to go out for test two). At this point, we were sitting in the top ten but a little confused and hoping for some clean tests.

Onto test three, which was a similar start to one and two but with some changes during the tests. It was going well, although there was one field where we lost a bit of time with Matt driving to what he could see rather than what he was told (worn grass showed from the earlier tests, plus there were gates no longer used but still up – much easier for organisers in terms of setup but definitely puts the navigator into play more, and the driver must listen!). We went the right way, but lost some time. A wrong side of a stake saw another 30 second penalty here; with my head down in the map, we were at the next cone when I knew I hadn’t felt the manoeuvre I should have done and it was too late to correct.

So, three incorrect manoeuvres, halfway through the event and 90 seconds of penalties – but sitting 3rd overall showed what a tough day everyone seemed to be having.

Onto test four, a repeat of three and we needed a clean run – which we got, and quicker again. We did have a heavy landing over the jump on our nose (no photos sadly of that run through) which caused the fan blade to snap causing some bad noises and concern, but we made it through. Our first clean test of the day! After four it was time for a lunch break with the two eight mile tests to go.

Test five was first up, and this time running in an anti-clockwise direction with some more test changes. Sometimes when competing it doesn’t feel like a test clicks, and this was one of those; we got round but could see we’d dropped time to those around us, although we still sat 2nd overall. We had to stop a few times due to the dust including stopping at the split; we knew it was coming up and we could not afford to miss it. One crew moved over for us which was much appreciated but the second we caught we couldn’t get past.

The organisers took the sensible decision to reduce test six to one lap due to the dusty conditions, and with only three seconds in hand over the crew in third overall we knew we had to be on it. It was probably our best test of the event with no mistakes and a clean run. We managed to pull out eight seconds on the crew behind to hold onto second overall, which felt some achievement with our penalties!

Photos by M&H Photography.