On the reserve list…

During Covid-19, we’ve found event entry lists fill up quicker than ever – often within minutes. We’d missed entries opening for the Harrow Car Club sprint, and by the time we entered we were both reserves. We were contacted by the Entries Secretary and asked if only one of us had an accepted place, who would compete, and we decided Matt as we were using the event as a shakedown for the Micra before a stage rally the following weekend.

Of course, this became the reality! As I was first reserve and the car was going to be at the event, we decided I would still turn up but that I would take my car in-case I had the option to go home again. I signed on and did everything I needed to in advance so if a space became available I was signed on and ready to go.

Just as I started to walk the course, the Entries Sec found me and said – you’re in! Someone had become ill overnight and someone else had found their car would not start coming off the trailer. I walked the course, changed and then it was time for me to compete.

My runs went well in practice, with me sitting second in class behind a Davrian with Matt third in class. I was finding more time each run, especially as the timed runs start. Going into the final timed run, I was leading the class (first time on a sprint!) and found nearly a second. Unfortunately, me leading only seemed to fire Matt up and he found pace that hadn’t been there earlier in the day and took the class win by 0.73 seconds with me in second, and the Davrian 0.81 seconds behind me.

Autocrossing a new addition to the fleet

Sometimes a car is priced well… and with that and an MOT, we have welcomed a VW Golf to the fleet. The funny thing is, it is for competition but to be used as a standard car and I love it – more than I ever thought possible! Driving it just makes me smile.

We entered the one day Autocross event (due to it being too far to do the two day event and not wanting to use accommodation) and the first time I drove the car was… to the start line. Why do I love it? It’s heavy, not the most agile, and you really really have to work it and hustle – but that makes it even more rewarding.

With dry weather, the stubble field used felt as if it got quicker during the day as it cleaned up. There were ruts in places and it had a mixture of fast sweeping bends and was a little more technical around the back. Our class comprised of a mix of “normal” standard cars and cars eligible for the standard class, but modified within the Autocross regs to get as much as possible out of them.

Neither Matt nor I were fighting for the front of the class, but the competition between us was fierce! There was a running order which we had to stick to, and our times were within a few tenths of each other most of the day – not bad for a four minute plus course. For the final run, I went before Matt, and he asked my time when I came in – and I told him. Maybe I shouldn’t have done?! It fired him up…

My final run was messy; I don’t mind making mistakes, but you should learn from them. Early on, the car jumped out of second gear which cost a little time (it had done it on one of my morning runs too but hadn’t done it again since). At that point, there is an argument I should have learnt from the mistake and held it in gear – but the counter to that is two hands on the wheel is better. On a later lap on my final run, it jumped out of gear again. From that point onwards I held it in gear, but it was too late; more time lost. (Watching videos back shows I also had too much wheel spin off the line, so something else to bear in mind for future events).

The long and short is, Matt found quite a bit of time on his final run and he beat me by two tenths. He didn’t have any issues with the car jumping out of gear through the ruts but there’s no doubt those two incidents on one run cost me more than two tenths. He finished third in class, and I was fourth in class and ninth overall. Plenty for me to think about for next time – the challenge is there aren’t too many autocross events around but I will beat him, next time!

I put together a comparison of our best runs which can be viewed on Youtube by clicking here. You can see how at points he is ahead, I am ahead etc, but being in the same car it is interesting to compare.

At the end of the day, one of the marshals came up and told us how we were the highlight of their day with the way we were driving the Golf. It didn’t make up for the two tenths of a second, but it made me smile and was good to know we’d provided some amusement and enjoyment to others.

Events are like buses…

…none for ages and then two in quick succession (yes, this was because of the pandemic, but you get the sentiment!). We entered the South Oxon Autotest at Bill Gwynne’s Rally School, the first time we had been to the venue.

This was the sort of event where the MG definitely feels sooooo much longer than the Micra! All scores counted (i.e. no “two runs at a test, best run to count”) so it was a day where it was really important to be clean, with no cone penalties or wrong tests and with a tight course, the MG length did feel more significant. The surface is loose gravel too, to make it more interesting!

Originally, Matt and I had entered as solo drivers but we had decided to change and enter the passenger classes instead, and I’m glad we did! The tests were long and despite walking them, there was a lot to remember. I think we were both glad of a “passenger” who really we did use as a navigator. The idea of moving to the passenger class originally had been me saying I wanted to sit with Matt and see how he gets the car working better than I can, particularly using the handbrake. Ian Mepham of Performance Automotive has recently upgraded the handbrake and brakes to help them work more effectively but I knew I hadn’t been getting the most out of them previously.

It was a long, hard, hot and dusty day; challenging, but worth it. I finished 3rd in class and 4th overall, beating Matt – my best result on an autotest to date. Unfortunately I threw away a position by clipping a cone on the last test which dropped me a position, but still a good result. Matt’s position had been compromised as he got a wrong test early in the morning; although he had gone back and corrected the mistake immediately, he had gone around another cone in the process so was given a wrong test (something to us to learn for next time as it can be penalised slightly differently in different clubs).

The sprint last week had used text messages to update on timings and results (as results cannot be printed/put on screens etc to stop congregation) and this event used a timing app, available on mobile phones. Both seemed to work well and good to do something very different to the previous weekend.

The return of competing!

Competing in real life – I’d been looking forward to it so much. But then, when the time came – I felt unsure. I’ve got used to having to shield…the changes of life… I’m not saying I like them, but the “new normal” has become familiar. There is a new way of doing things from filling out forms and electronic signing on, and so it felt odd to turn up at North Weald and not have anything to do or queues to join, and just needing to get ready to drive.

We entered the event in our MG ZR which Matt has been working hard on during lockdown to help find more performance (for the details, you’re best off heading to his blog at http://www.mattendean.co.uk).

There were 12 cars in our class with a real mix from Abarths to an S2000 to a Porsche 924. I got in a couple of reasonable practice runs, but I was quite a bit (in sprinting terms, as it was a few seconds) off Matt. This was the first time I’d really driven a car in real life (PS4 doesn’t count!) since March – and I don’t just mean competing, I’ve not even been driving on the road. I thought I might be a bit rusty, but I wanted to find more time!

There were three timed runs with the best run to count, and I started to find a bit more pace. My first timed run saw me slightly quicker than Matt but his second timed run was quicker than me. By our third and final timed run, I’d found more pace to finish 1.86 seconds behind Matt. Still quite a gap in sprinting terms, but it had narrowed during the day.

Going into the final run, the battle for 4th in class was very close with me on 87.64, Mike Thomas in a Proton Satria on 87.86 and Rich Baker on 87.90 in his BMW 320 – less than three tenths between us. Whilst I had the lead, the pressure was on…! I managed to find nearly seven tenths and get down to a 86.97, Mike only found a little to finish on 87.60 and Rich did not manage to improve his time, as he spun.

As much as our inter-house battle is fun, there were 12 of us in the class. Matt finished 3rd in class and I was 4th in the end which were results we were really pleased with. On the day, we were both beaten by an S2000 and a Ford Fiesta 1600T. Our class was 1601 – 2300cc and we are at the lower end of that with no turbo and 1796cc, so pleasing results all round.

Motorsport in lockdown

After four months in lockdown, like many others, I’ve missed my sport. It’s hard to know how much of it is missing the sport and competing and how much is missing friends and the social side, and exactly where the balance lies. However it lies, it’s certainly been a change for everyone (for all the right reasons) as we adjust to a new way of living.

Fairly early on into lockdown we decided to buy a PS4 and steering wheel, pedals and seat. That has proved fun and interesting, and we deliberately went for PS4 games that were more sims than games (Project Cars 2.0 and Dirt Rally 2.0) and it has provided entertainment.

Aside from the PS4, the one thing I’ve really enjoyed is doing a variety of scatters and the like, using clues, plotting and then finding answers via Google Earth or Street View, across a variety of clubs.

My first event came about by accident, when with about two minutes before an event I teamed up with Lucy Fryer. It took me a little while to find a reliable grid reference website that was free for use (I use Streetmap) but we had a good night.

From there, we progressed with the highlight of our seven events together being winning consecutive events; a 1st overall on the Ilkley & District MC Raven Scatter in May followed by winning the South Oxon Car Club Virtual Walkabout a week later.

The Ilkley events made up a Championship, and we came fifth overall which was a great result. The virtual events really did give something to look forward to on a Wednesday evening (as well as a proving a challenge!). The irony is, Lucy and I have now competed together virtually (seven events) far more than we have in real life (one event).

We competed on events run by three clubs over the seven events we did and they would all have been a considerable effort to organise, so I’m grateful for the enjoyment, entertainment and problem solving challenges to keep me occupied and amused.

That winning feeling

Three events in eight days – it was a busy week!

Having navigated for Mike on a Scatter and had Matt navigate for me on a 12 Car, it was my turn to navigate for Matt on a 12 Car.

It was one of those weeks that had been extremely busy and I wasn’t truly feeling competing on the Friday evening. I’ve had it before, and they’ve ended up being the best nights and this one proved to be no exception!

It was our first SOCC event and having signed on, we were ready to go. The first lot of navigation just clicked, as did the next section, and the next section. Nights where everything clicks feel rare! It was all going well, until a particular lay-by where I just couldn’t get the next section to work. I tried, and tried, but was convinced I had been too slow and had cost us a good night. I got it down eventually, but it had cost us many minutes.

We got back to the pub where the club had put a buffet on, and it was results time. We were first! A real relief having thought I’d been too slow at plotting, and a great team effort. Matt commented on how well it had gone, my confidence and my improvement in map calling. I’ve always been able to do it, but the more events, the more knowledge and experience grows and maybe, just maybe, it’s starting to show. It was one of my most enjoyable events on the maps in a long time, especially having been disappointed with some minor mistakes costing the win the week before with Mike on the Scatter.

I really enjoyed the 12 Car, and with the benefit of hindsight I’m so glad we did three events in eight days with three different crew combinations, because little did we know how much things would change with lockdown and competing again is currently an unknown prospect.

Two nights out in a row

Following navigating for Mike the night before on a Scatter, it was Matt’s turn to navigate for me on a local 12 Car. It was an event and start venue we had been to before, and I knew there was a tricky lay-by slot that the organisers could use early on. Instead, however, they took us in the opposite direction – where there was another tricky slot that saw us drop some time and caused a little confusion and debate on the correct route.

I had the benefit of having navigated the night before and being “match fresh,” but it was nice to drive too; that’s the challenge of having two drivers in the house. We soon righted ourselves, and like the night before, the lanes were really flooded. Some of them were like nothing I’d driven through before, but we got round.

The organisers did a good job in challenging conditions with reroutes etc required, and it was good to be out driving with Matt alongside again. We finished second in class which was a pleasing result.

The event went through lanes in an area where I used to live (and which formed part of my old commute), so it was good to drive some familiar areas and again, know some of the trickier junctions and tricks the organisers could play!

Clueless in Kent

With Matt due to be away with work (his trip ended up being cancelled due to Covid-19), I agreed to navigate for Mike Thomas on a 7oaks Scatter in Kent.

It had been pouring all week and we expected to find the lanes flooded, and they sure were! I was wearing almost knee high waterproof boots and at one particularly large puddle offered to wade through to see if it was passable – it was, but it was at that moment I discovered a hole in my boots…

Mike and I hadn’t competed together before, and one of the things I can find hardest on a scatter is cryptic clues and, of course, planning a good route. The clue planning had shown my lack of knowledge of roman numerals (swiftly resolved the following week with the addition of a new crib sheet for my nav bag!) but with Mike’s help, we’d got everything plotted.

It felt like we were having a good night, but unfortunately there were a couple of locations we got to and we couldn’t find the clues. We knew we had answered 24 questions which was the maximum score for the night, but it was all going to come down to whether we’d got the answers right.

The long and short of it was we got two wrong when we had been at the right locations – one was a maths error on my part. The clue was “add up the mileage on the signpost” and I had 31.5 when it should have been 32 – frustrating when you know you have been in the right place! I’d just miscalculated all the different distances to the local villages, there had been more than 12 and I’d miscalculated when doing it on paper (I felt a calculator wasn’t in the spirit of things!).

The second question we got wrong was “what is the make and type of padlock?” We got the make correct, but not the type and so whilst we’d been to both locations, we got 0 points for those answers.

With Matt’s work trip cancelled, he had entered with Kevin Ablitt on the maps. They beat us by one correct question – two wrong answers and two clues we couldn’t find cost us the win. I like to learn from events, but that was a rather frustrating result.

Second is good but it could, and should, have been better!

Heading back “home”

Competing on the Bath Festival is always enjoyable as it is a well run event, but for me, it’s also a chance to head back to some of the lanes and haunts of my childhood. We moved to Wiltshire when I was 7 so whilst I’m from Hampshire and a Southampton supporter through and through, Wiltshire comes a close second and there were many familiar areas.

I was navigating for Luis Gutierrez-Diaz in his MG ZR, and he passed through scrutineering and noise before I met him at signing on. Having signed on, it was time to go through the road books and highlight anything I thought was pertinent and before I knew it, it was time to start.

The tests were a mix of farms, forests and other venues such as Castle Combe circuit. I don’t mind navigating from road books but without a tripmeter, I still have some work to do on always being able to confidently estimate distances once I’ve called them, especially with few references at times! My sweet distribution to marshals can at times also be a little wayward, but that’s another story, and one to also work on…

Matt was out marshalling on the event, and it was good to see him along with our friends the Mephams and many other familiar faces. There were no real “moments” to speak of, but there were some epic venues such as Castle Combe which utilised as much of the venue as possible.

Our result was not quite as good as 2019, but respectable none the less. We also performed our first wheel change as a crew with needing to change both front tyres during the day which I think we did very quickly – there wasn’t much time to be saved!

A great event as always, and a 3rd in class was a good result to back it up.

Photos by M&H Photography.


Whilst the husband is away…

…the cat will play!

With Matt away on a work trip, the opportunity to go to Essex for a 12 Car was tempting and with Lucy Fryer free, we decided to team up and formed the first all female crew on a Chelmsford MC 12 Car for many years.

The M25 was kind (it was closed but after I’d passed through!) and I had plenty of time to get petrol and dinner, as well as the normal scrutineering, signing on checks etc.

Lucy is a very good navigator, so I was hoping I would be up to scratch as it is a team game! She may have a different viewpoint, but I think I listened fairly well all evening; we seemed to be picking up code boards and it didn’t take too long for us to settle into a rhythm.

We had a few moments of double checking/sense checking but saw few other crews and had what felt a reasonable night, although we knew we had dropped a little time.

We finished 2nd in class and 3rd overall, which was a great way to start our competing together and a very good result. Hopefully, we might get to do another event together in the future and may find some fellow female crews!