My 300th competitive event

The Kent Forestry Targa was my 300th competitive motorsport event. I’m fortunate I’ve been able to try most disciplines of motorsport, and many in both seats, currently having a 95% finishing record.

For the Kent I was navigating for Gavin Rogers in Fly, his Escort, with him navigating for me driving the MG ZR. Neither of us had competed on this event at Mereworth when it ran in 2021, although he had been there previously on the Hughes Historic whereas it was my first visit.

We started in Fly first and had a sensible but good run through the first test, at just over seven miles long. A very brief spell in the paddock saw us swap to the MG ready for me to drive. It was going ok until about five miles in when she started to feel a little odd, and it quickly became apparent there was a puncture. I drove her steadily through the test (which was quicker than stopping to change the wheel), dropping a couple of minutes in the process.

There wasn’t long in the paddock before Gavin’s second test to drive, and having changed the wheel on the MG we went back out in Fly. We were the fastest car/crew on Test 2 by eight seconds (this was a repeat of Test 1) which was pleasing! Back into the paddock, back out in the MG and I drove Test 2, this time puncture free. We thought we’d have a look at test times, and saw Gavin was clean but I had ten, yes ten, cone penalties! I knew I’d driven over the base of one cone on the first test so I expected one penalty, but not ten. Each cone is 10 seconds so it was a disappointing and frustrating situation – particularly not know what or where I’d hit anything.

The third test was different, and a bit of an overshoot into a slalom in Fly saw us drop a little time but we had a steady run through both four and five to finish 5th overall, with top ten test times all day. I picked up a few more cone penalties in the afternoon in the MG but otherwise an ok run with no further punctures to finish 34th overall. It was an enjoyable event, although I think I’m a better nav than I am a driver!

Photos by M&H Photography.

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.

Sprinting at North Weald

We normally do at least one sprint at North Weald a year, but the car we use varies. For this event it was the MGZR, which was somewhat feisty and rather tail happy!

I was a couple of seconds off the pace in practice, but sitting comfortably mid class. There were four timed runs, and I consistently improved, still sitting mid class but a little off Matt. I went out for my final timed run and improved my 1.02 seconds (my greatest improvement of the day) but it wasn’t quite enough – I finished 0.05 seconds (five hundredths) behind Matt – agonisingly close!

We finished 4th and 5th in class (out of 10), both beaten by an S2000, Fiesta ST and an Integra.

A comparison of mine and Matt’s best runs can be seen here. Whilst my best time came on my final run, Matt’s was on timed run two (out of four); he was red flagged halfway through his initial second timed run due to a broken down car on the course and so had a re-run. Even he said if he hadn’t had that re-run, who knows what the result could have been!

Photos by Nick Cook.

Competing on the East Anglian Classic

A year ago, I’d never competed on a historic rally or even done regularity. Having navigated for Gavin Rogers as Car 0 on his historic rally in August 2021, and having tried regularity on his event, I found myself intrigued and interested by a discipline I’d always thought wasn’t for me. Some conversations, learning and so on and Gavin and I entered the East Anglian Classic in his Reliant Scimitar SE5a.

It was my second historic, having unexpectedly found myself out with Claire in April on the North Yorkshire Classic. To finish the East Anglian Classic 4th in class and 6th overall was a top day’s rallying. We both had to work for it, but to drop 32 seconds over 19 regularity controls, consistent top 10 test times (our best was second fastest) and to be the best crew on the last regularity was a testament to Gavin’s teaching, some good teamwork and things coming together.

Rather than write my own version of our event, as Gavin already has written it up, here’s how it went…:

It’s been a few years since I’ve been over to the East Anglian Classic but everything worked out this year and it was good to be back on familiar territory. Run by the usual Chelmsford Motor Club organisers, the event was based in Bury St Edmunds with 5 Regularity sections and 11 Tests at farms and on farm tracks in Suffolk and Norfolk.

I had a new navigator this time, Suze Endean, on her second Historic Rally. Suze has been involved in all kinds of motorsport for 15 years, including driving and navigating on rallies, but only started learning about Historic Rallies when she helped me out on the Cotswold Historic Rally last summer. Her husband, Matt, has been involved with the East Anglian Classic for many years, so it made sense to compete on the event. There were 48 cars competing and we were seeded at 8.

We were given the first 4 Regularities to plot one hour before our start time and got everything plotted with time to spare. 

The first test was a few miles from the start, nice and simple with a few cones on a farm track. Onto the first Regularity, going smoothly and thought we were just a few seconds late at the first control but the marshal gave us a time 15s late which caused some confusion. Our mileage was correct so as we continued we had to assume that the marshals clock was wrong and that the organisers would correct the error, so we did the next section 12s quicker to make up for the incorrect clock. 

This turned out to be the right decision and the rest of the clocks were showing the right time and we were within 2s at the next controls.

Onto the second Test around a large farm / storage area with a lot of buildings and a nice smooth surface, following by a welcome coffee halt.

The second part of the morning started with 3 Tests, a short one around a building on a loose surface where we were 2nd quickest, then a long one on farm tracks and around fields which was great fun except for a very large hole nearing the end – we went through it quite fast, bounced out the other side then there was a loud crunch as the suspension settled and the chassis scraped the stony ground! We were one of 14 cars to beat the bogey time on that one. The last Test was around some more farm buildings and the edge of a field but I remembered using this a few years ago and we were fine, 8th quickest here.

The second Regularity took us to lunch and we were close at all the controls with a total of 10s dropped. Over lunch it started to rain and we had a good 30 minute break.

Interim results were published and we were happy to be lying 7th at this point, but it was very close throughout the top 10.

The afternoon started with the 3rd Regularity and we got back into the same rhythm, dropping a few seconds here and there. This took us back to the longer farm Test run in the opposite direction. The organisers had added more marshals to slow us down and halfway through the test it felt like the Scimitar started misfiring and we lost a bit of time here. I parked on the road section and checked the plugs leads were attached, then looked underneath and found the exhaust manifold had been flattened and was blowing from one pipe, hence the strange sounds.

We continued onto the next Test which was at the same farm, then effected a temporary repair with a drinks can and some wire to reduce the noise. The 3rd farm test followed and everything was fine on this one, and we were still 7th but on the same time as an MX5 behind us.

The final section started with us going back to the smoother test around the buildings, then the 4th Regularity where everything worked very well and we only dropped 1s at each of the 3 controls.

The final Test was back at the first venue, slightly quicker than the first time, and the event finished with a harder Regularity, 35 tulips for Suze to plot as I was driving along at a steady 26mph (or something similar!)

We were both dreading this section as it can make a lot of difference to the results but Suze got it all plotted in the first few miles, and checked it a few more times. We got slightly confused at one point going through a very large farm / lorry yard, but trusted the map that said there was a public road through there, came out the other side and were spot on at the next control.

Concentrating hard on the right speeds, we were spot on at the 2nd control, then just 2s early at the 3rd control, which was a great way to finish the event.

All of this moved us up one place to 6th overall, just 2s ahead of the MX5.

We had a very good day – except for the exhaust problem, neither of us made any mistakes and we were lucky not to meet anyone in the wrong place out on the roads.

Many thanks to the organisers, marshals and especially Suze who is now keen to do some more.

Photos by M&H Photography.

Stage rallying the rebuilt Micra

After issues on Clacton (new diff and alternator required) and lots of work by Matt, Muriel was back up and running a little over a month after breaking on Clacton. It was my turn to drive her and it was off to Down Ampney, a venue I’ve competed at a few times on stage rallies both driving and co-driving.

On SS3 I thought I had wheel spin, just the once, whilst using up some old worn Hankooks; I thought perhaps I was too heavy with my right foot. On SS4 I knew it wasn’t with the clutch repeatedly slipping… it was a new clutch too.

This event was the longest of the three run at Down Ampney, being ten stages and 75 miles. It wasn’t quite the day I had hoped for, but still a useful exercise as it required a new driving style to nurse her home and really made me think about my driving and adapt to the situation. We finished, 7th in class out of 13 finishers / 19 starters, but one of those days where finishing felt an achievement in itself, with many retirements and our own issues to manage! Never quit…

It was an enjoyable sociable day servicing with friends, but clearly now more work to be done. We don’t have any plans for Muriel for a few months so now time to get to the bottom of the issue.

Videos from the event are available here; SS4, SS10.

Back to a targa rally at Debden

It’s been over six months since my last targa rally at Debden, and for this event I was teaming up to double drive with Cath Woodman for the first time. We’ve known each other for a long time, and she’s a very good navigator, so I wondered when I was navving for her what tips I might pick up!

I was driving first in the MG, and we had a good first loop, picking up all the code boards and secret checks which the organisers had thrown in to keep us on our toes. Then it was my turn to navigate for Cath in her BMW, and being back in RWD made me smile. We had a clean run as well and got round happily.

My driving runs were fairly clean; I had a half spin, but I was happy with my pace. Debden is a mix of tarmac and gravel and it was one of those days where the MG and I felt nicely in tune with each other. Cath was spot on with all her calls and it really helped to give me the confidence to push on. For our first time competing together, it just clicked which was great.

Going into the last loop of tests driving, I knew it was very close to make the top ten overall. Although I tried hard, we didn’t quite make it and finished 8th in class and 11th overall, just two seconds off a top ten finish. I almost made a mistake a couple of corners from the end on the very last test but a shout from Cath to get me going the right way (she’d called it correctly originally, I just had listening issues!) sorted us out for a good day’s rallying.

Photos by M&H Photography.

Double driving at Kemble

I’d never driven at a Targa Rally at Kemble, but have driven on an autosolo and navved as course car on a historic and competitively on targa rallies. This was a single venue event and part of the ASWMC targa championship, so I’d entered navigating for Mike Thomas and also as a driver with Rob Thomson alongside. Rob hadn’t competed on a targa before but I’d persuaded him to marshal on both the Exmoor and the Bath Festival, so it was good to give him the chance to try one.

I was driving first with Rob alongside, and we got around ok with a couple of pauses to ensure we went the right way. Then it was my turn to nav for Mike. We were about half way through the test, hit a bit of a bump and something was clearly wrong. It turned out the top arm in situ adjustment had ripped the thread out (or in simpler terms, the suspension arm was damaged and we had a wonky wheel!). Less than two minutes into the rally, and we retired.

As a driver the day was a little better. Kemble tests are very busy with lots for Rob to call and code boards and passage checks as well. We had a wrong side of a cone in the afternoon (20 second penalty) and finished 4th in class and 7th overall.

On display at Coventry Transport Museum

In 2021, I saw that Coventry Transport Museum were planning an exhibition on women in motorsport for 2022.

Having spoken to the curator, Liz, I shared the information with fellow female competitors, volunteers and officials who I’ve got to know over my years in motorsport. I was pleasantly surprised to find I know over 50 women and many of them contributed to the exhibition.

As well as putting people in touch with the museum and providing some information on my motorsport involvement, I loaned a couple of my items to the exhibition. I’d never been to the museum so it was a good day out; slightly surreal seeing myself on display but interesting to learn more about transport history, too, with lots of interesting vehicles on display. My Great Grandfather worked for Francis Bennett motorcycles in Coventry, which added another interesting family angle.