Driving at Down Ampney

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.

Videos from six of the eight stages are available on YouTube by clicking here.

IMG_1419

Advertisements

Scatter rally in Kent

It had been a year since Matt and I last competed on a scatter, and having seen Sevenoaks & District MC were running their last one of the winter series we decided to head to Kent for the evening.

I wanted to drive, as did Matt, but eventually I persuaded him that it really was his turn to be on the maps (I did navigate for him on the scatter last year!). Having had a quick dinner at the pub, it was time for Matt to plot the clues and figure out where we were going.

Many of the lanes were still flooded and pretty muddy, and whilst we struggled to find a few clues at the locations we visited we did manage to find the majority at locations we went to. It was a good and enjoyable evening without getting lost and we finished 4th overall. The chocolate and bunch of tulips at the finish were appreciated!

First 12 Car of 2018

Having driven on a couple of events in 2018, it was time to swap back to the left hand seat and navigate for Luis Gutierrez-Diaz on a 12 Car. When Luis’ normal navigator, Lucy, cannot make it, I’m the stand in!

The event started in the Stansted area and whilst the M25 was a little unkind I made it in time for some dinner as well as signing on and completing the pre-plot. Luis has bought a new car since I last navigated for him, and it turned out to be a little over a year since I’d last navigated for him. I’d only done one 12 Car since, so I was feeling a bit rusty!

I’d bought (and prepped) the two maps needed and before we knew it, it was time to go. The event started with clues relating to roads of arrival, depart and miss (YyY, YYy for those navigators reading this) which is one of my weakest areas. Thankfully there were not too many clues and I managed to get it sorted, but I felt slightly in at the deep end!

We were doing ok until a herringbone really got my brain working (see here for examples) but I got it working in the end. It felt like we were going ok, and we were picking up code boards (letters which prove we had gone the correct route) which is always a reassurance.

Whilst I took my time on some of the navigation, I managed to get it all down and plotted for the route and didn’t have to guess anything, which can sometimes happen on a bad night! To get back to the pub and find we had collected all the boards, it was great to finish 1st in class and 2nd overall – my best result since my return to navigating last year and first clean run (getting all the boards) in years, since I used to regularly do these events.

Phil Collings Memorial South Downs Stages

A few weeks after Brands Hatch it was time to head to Goodwood. Matt and I have both driven there before, but not for a while as we have helped and tried to put something back for the last couple of years. It would have helped us in 2017 to have competed as it was and still is a round of both championships we’re doing, so we decided to enter in 2018.

Richard and Emma Olsen offered to service for us as they were heading to the event, which was great as it took a little pressure off us again. At Goodwood, noise, scrutineering and signing on are all held on the morning of the event so it was an early start to get to the circuit. Once completed, it was time for the competitor briefing and then out for SS1.

The first stages of the dry were damp but no ice, so it was rally slicks to start with. It was good to be back in the car, on an event that felt quite different to Brands – there are more faster, flowing sections than Brands Hatch with various chicanes etc around the stage.

The whole day went fairly well with us without any major errors in either seat, but the pace simply wasn’t there disappointingly. It started to rain heavily part way through the day so we changed to wets, and I seemed to lose a fair bit of time on these next two stages where I guess at the time I didn’t have full confidence in the car/my ability behind the wheel!

Whilst my pace was disappointing, being back out competing again so soon and with a bit more confidence and seat time under my belt was good, and I still enjoyed the day. I compete for fun and know some of what I’d do differently next time if the same event was to run tomorrow! Goodwood is always a very social event so it was good to catch up with friends too who had come to watch.

You can view onboards from our event here. We filmed both day and night stages, and one films our faces/helmets instead of the view out of the car as something a little different!

 

Photos thanks to M&H Photography

Back in the (stage rally) driving seat!

After nearly three years away from driving on stage rallies (March 2015 at Bovington), it was time to get back in the driving seat! A mixture of things; illness, Matt and I swapping seats etc, meant I had been out of the stage rally driving seat for longer than intended.

For 2018, our plans are for me to drive in the championships and Matt to co-drive, so with Brands Hatch opening both the AEMC/ASEMC and ACSMC championships it was an early start to the year. I took Friday afternoon off and headed to Brands Hatch for noise, scrutineering and signing on to take a little pressure off Saturday morning.

When Saturday morning came, it was a cold morning. Richard and Emma Olsen were helping us to service and it’s always great to have people there to help as it takes the pressure off us a little. After the compulsory crew briefing, before long it was time for SS1. I knew it was cold and slippery, but aside from one lockup and an overshoot early on things went ok. Chatting it through afterwards, Matt and I realised I’d not driven on rally slicks before and not in the damp; they were the right tyres from the options we had given there was no standing water, but I hadn’t appreciated the bit of time they take to warm up!

The stages after SS1 all merge into one a little bit, but the day went well. I started to enjoy more and more being back in the car, I started to build up the confidence in the car and things were going well. I was in a position of being behind 4th in class but ahead of 6th in class with a bit of a cushion either side, so it was a case of not doing anything silly! Because Brands is a single venue, by it’s nature you sometimes see other cars on laps, and Ian Crocker pictured me passing another car up the inside going the “wrong way” (i.e. the opposite to normal circuit direction) at Druids.

27022071_10156205654619201_5095778683194133766_o

Photo thanks to Ian Crocker

There was one particularly sideways moment going through Graham Hill Bend which was captured on our onboard, with Matt shouting “power power power” and me “flat” in return, but thankfully she (the car) came back and we carried on our way. As the day continued, it got wetter and wetter and we changed to wets in the afternoon which were tyres we hadn’t run before (some Dunlops, not out and out rally wets – unfortunately out of budget!). These worked well and it was definitely the right choice to swap with the standing water appearing.

To finish 5th in class and 53rd overall was a good return. Unfortunately with the nature of these single venue events sometimes other people’s events can impact on your own and we finished one second behind the car in front. We did get impacted by others getting stuck at the hairpin and some other incidents, but that’s the nature of these events, and you don’t know who else has had similar challenges too!

You can view an onboard from our MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages, including the sideways moment, by clicking here.

Photos thanks to M&H Photography

VCRR Winter Classic

To round off 2017, the VCRR Winter Classic was my final event of the season. A day section comprising of regularity and jogularity followed by a night regularity over Salisbury Plain was going to make for a challenging event! Brian Cammack was in the left hand seat for the first time.

We needed to be down by Warminster for 0930 so it was an early start, leaving mine just after 7. We made it down, passed noise and scrutineering, and signed on. There was plenty of pre-plot which kept Brian busy before we headed off on the first regularity.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any regularity or jogularity but after a first section of settling in, we got into it and got a good rhythm (yes, at 26mph average and other similar speeds but you get the idea) and communication going. The route chose some picturesque country side lanes through an area I’m not that familiar with, although did compete on many years ago.

Getting to the coffee/dinner halt was a relief, but we knew after that things would get harder, which they did; it was off to Salisbury Plain! We had a few pauses and checking we were on the right of many tracks, but it started off well before going downhill. We ended up cutting route but finishing was a result in itself, so a good finish to the year,

Like buses, two class wins in 2017!

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…

Watch us compete on SS6, a night stage, on YouTube by clicking here.

 

Can I still drive?

After the “can I still navigate?” question, exactly a month to the day after the car accident I was due to be out on the Chelmsford MC Targa Rally. I’d missed some other events due to not being up to driving such as the Bovingdon Autosolo. Again, I took medical advice and got told to give it a go, not put my life on hold and to listen to my body on the day. Those that know me know I can be a little bit stubborn, and so there was no way I was going to tell Matt if it hurt. I had heat packs, I had ice, I wanted to give it a go.

First up it was time for me to navigate for Matt. Did it hurt? Yes. Then it was my turn to drive. Did it hurt? Yes. I was concerned that sub-consciously I wouldn’t have the ability to  “go for it” but my times were respectable and being back out in the car felt good.

I don’t remember any particularly high, or low, points of the day. I remember mainly trying to ignore the pain and manage it and look after myself whilst trying to get to the finish. Ice really has been my best friend and (surprisingly) given me greater comfort than heat, and icing after tests really helped. I’d not had anywhere near as much seat time in the MG, so to be competitive in class and finish up second was pleasing. My confidence was definitely lacking a little in the first loop, but as the day wore on I got more comfortable in the car and enjoyed being back competing. I’ve missed many targas in 2017 mainly through work, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to be out more next year.

Thanks to M&H Photography for the images.

Can I still navigate?

Can I still navigate? It may sound a bit of a funny question. Some people think navigating is like getting back on a horse, but there were two reasons for my question. 1) it had been a number of months since I’d last navigated, and that was after a reasonable break and 2) just 2.5 weeks beforehand I’d been in a (non-fault) car accident which had knocked both my physical and mental confidence more than I’d cared to admit. Physically I was in constant pain, but I was also undertaking medical treatment and took medical advice about whether I should go out that evening. I know for me that “getting back on the horse” with everything was vital, and so I offered at the last minute to navigate for the first time for Ben Cutting having missed some other events I would have liked to have done due to the accident. I was originally due to navigate for Luis Guiterrez-Diaz, but unfortunately we’d withdrawn a few weeks previously after he broke his car.

I hadn’t told Ben what had happened a couple of weeks beforehand, but somebody else had because when I arrived he checked if I should be out competing. I explained I was in no fit state to drive and compete (the 75 minute drive to the start was the furthest I’d driven since the crash) but I was happy to give navigating a go and see what happened.

We didn’t have the perfect run, but for our first time out as a crew we had a good run. Every driver/navigator is slightly different but we settled into a rhythm and, whilst unfortunately missing a few codeboards, whilst in pain the pain was bearable and we came home 1st in class and 4th expert.

It was good to get back out because whilst deep down I knew “don’t be silly of course you can do it,” sometimes it’s nice/necessary to prove it to yourself. It wasn’t my best night on the maps and I always find it frustrating to miss boards, but going back over navigation in the cold light of day is always worth the effort!

My 12 car trophy and the aftermath of my written off car on the M40. This is what it looks like if you’re stationary on a motorway and the car behind doesn’t stop pushing you into the car in front…

Introducing my brother to competing

Many years ago I introduced my brother, Mark, to volunteering in motor sport but he’d never competed. Looking for “different” ideas for his birthday present, we offered him use of the MG ZR for a day, and to arrange his club membership and entry fee so he could try grassroots motor sport.

Whilst my brother may be an adult, he will always be my “baby brother” so yes, he has a driving licence, but the idea of him driving my car competitively and me sitting alongside him was still slightly amusing. Oxford MC had a Production Car Autotest at Finmere which is local to us and being less than three week’s before Mark’s birthday, it seemed an ideal event for him to have a go.

Having arrived at the venue, we got Mark to drive the car to scrutineering and then very slowly around the paddock so he had at least driven the car. We’d spoken to the organisers in advance who’d kindly organised our colour groups so that I could drive before Mark and he could see what the tests were like through passengering for me. We walked the test and gave Mark some pointers, but then it was down to him.

It was greasy in the morning, and those conditions really suited me. After the first round of tests, I was first overall! Mark drove his first set of tests without any mistakes or cone penalties and enjoyed it.

As the day went on, the venue dried out which was a shame for me; I was quicker in the slippier conditions and started to drop down the results. Mark was growing in confidence and even had the car sideways a few times. His times were getting closer to mine, and you could see and feel the improvements in his driving.

He said he really enjoyed his day, and hopefully he’ll be able to borrow our car in the future. As much as I teased him, it was really enjoyable to be competing alongside him and I’m glad we could give him the opportunity. He wasn’t last, and did well for his first competitive motor sport event.

Videos are on Youtube of both myself and Mark driving.