Targa class win at Wethersfield

I’d last won my class on a Targa on 13th November 2011 so it had taken nearly seven years for me to win my class again as a driver, but finally it happened!

Winning my class all those years ago in a borrowed car meant I’d moved up to the “Master” class, as someone who had won a class. I sat in that class for five years without ever being near the front, before dropping down a class. After almost two years there, I won the class…

For this event we used Muriel (the Micra). It had turned out that I’d broken a front strut on the Wethersfield Stages, so having had to buy a new pair of front struts (with a slightly different design), this was an opportunity to shake the car down.

Matt drove first and didn’t seem to have much grip so I was a little apprehensive, but I went out and was happy with the car. The confidence I’d found in her on the stage rally was still there and I was happy with my pace.

One of the key things for me was keeping clean and tidy, and that I managed to do. Matt was finding some pace and we were trading times and I was really enjoying driving Muriel, especially her being a little smaller than the MG for twisting and turning through cones.

Coming to the last loop of tests, Matt had pipped back a few seconds on me and was slightly ahead. Having looked at the results, I had over 60 seconds ahead of the person second in class and so decided not to try as hard on the last loop, whereas Matt needed to really try to get a good result as possible.

The end result was a class win for me and 15th overall, 1 min 42 seconds ahead of 2nd in class. Matt was 3rd in class and 12th overall, just 18 seconds ahead of me. This year has proved for me how valuable seat time is as I’m now regularly trading times with Matt, so I’m looking forward to seeing what future events bring!

Photos courtesy of M&H Photography

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The Exmoor Targa Rally

Competing on The Exmoor as a Targa Rally was a new one for me, and especially being in the left hand seat. I’d competed on the event when it was an Endurance rally and marshalled on it as a Targa, but Luis Gutierrez-Diaz had asked if I could navigate for him and so down to Somerset I went.

Matt was meant to be out navigating as well but his driver had to withdraw at the last minute, and Matt couldn’t find a seat, so he marshalled instead. We stayed in Wellington the night before so it as a leisurely start for scrutineering and signing on, before the rally got underway at noon. I prepped my roadbook (with valuable assistance from Luis’ five year old daughter, Valentina), and then off we went.

The whole event was based on a Tulip roadbook including the tests in the forest. Junctions in the forests typically had manoeuvres around cones and I was a little slow and rusty at first at calling them accurately/early enough as well as ensuring we had the many code boards and passage check signatures correctly. However, we soon got into it and Luis was driving well for his first time in the forests. I’d heard that the event could be rough, but any rough sections were clearly marked both in the roadbook and with signs by the test so you could drive accordingly; particularly important for Luis as he wanted to drive the car home again afterwards!

We’d entered the Clubman event as Luis doesn’t have a competitor licence and the class was not split into engine size/experience. We seemed to be going well without too many moments and for our first Targa together, it was working! We got back to the lunch halt and then it was off for another loop of forest tests and a couple of runs up Porlock again. There was a point Luis seemed very interested in the view having not travelled to the area before, but shouting at him seemed to do the trick… He also took a route up a bank for reasons unknown, but he seemed happy enough.

From the photos taken on the day, we’re not really smiling in many/any of them. We both really enjoyed it and finished 6th Clubman which was a good result. Whilst a little bit of a trek, and it being in the middle of a busy work period, I was pleased we’d made the effort and perhaps we’ll do some more targas together in the future…

The organisers offered a small financial incentive for providing a marshal so many thanks to Rob Thomson for marshalling for us, and it was good to see lots of other familiar faces out too; some of whom contributed to the below selection of images (with latter images by M&H Photography).

 

 

Spectating at Curborough

I had a ticket for Wolves v Southampton, and with Curborough only 45 minutes away and some familiar faces competing, I decided to pop in for a couple of hours for my sixth motor sport event in five weeks. A Macmillan bake sale was also organised by the Welsh Sprint & Hillclimb Championship and it was an enjoyable couple of hours in warm September sunshine. Not a venue I’ve competed before, but perhaps one for the future…!

12 Car class win!

I’ve not navigated for Matt on a 12 Car for a while (nearly two years), but I have enjoyed competing on them with Luis. However, I’m Luis’ “stand in” navigator when Lucy Fryer cannot make events, so with Luis and Lucy entered I asked Matt if he fancied entering… The slight fly in the ointment was that Matt was due to land from Jeddah at lunch time, but he was up for entering and so in our entry went. Thankfully, he landed on time and we battled our way through M25 traffic to make the start by the skin of our teeth.

With six months having passed since last navigating on a 12 Car, I knew it would take a little time to get my brain back in gear, but I struggled to plot the first section. It should have been one of the easier pieces of navigation; “pass these features that touch the road.” The clues were letters, spot heights etc and I knew (and was prepared for) crossing a map, but I couldn’t for the life of me see where “r” touched a road. It eventually turned out to be the second “r” in “Water works” but I took a long time looking for it. The rule I was taught was “if you can’t plot the navigation forwards, plot it backwards” but I couldn’t get it to work backwards either!

Being rusty, for the first few sections I didn’t manage to plot on the move until the latter half, which did help. There was another section I struggled to plot (avoiding sections of grid squares) as I struggled to see a route that worked, but eventually we got it down.

Along with nine of the twelve crews, we missed the first code board and unfortunately a mis-plot by me at the end saw us miss the last board too. The navigation worked going two different ways and if this is the case, you take the shortest route, but I hadn’t spotted the navigation worked two ways. A frustrating error and one I thought would prove costly! It was costly in terms of overall results, but to walk away with a class win was a pleasant surprise.

Having had a look back through past results, it turns out I’ve won my class on the last three 12 Cars I’ve done, but more interestingly, that’s been in three different cars with three different drivers; Ben Cutting and a Micra, Luis Gutierrez-Diaz in a MG ZR and now Matt in our MG ZR. It looks like I’ll be out on the next CMC 12 Car in November, but with Luis, so time to get some more practise in!

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Marshalling with HERO at Bicester

It may have been a weekend off from competing, but it wasn’t a weekend off from motor sport as we volunteered to help run tests at Bicester as part of the HERO Challenge. It was an early alarm call at 0515 to be at Bicester just after 0700. We were allocated Test 4, “Spitfire,” with Matt as Test Commander and us running the start.

Before the cars reached us we saw some of the normal activity of the airfield with bi-planes departing, before a busy couple of hours followed with cars arriving at least every minute, or in some cases, in little groups.

We had no real dramas to speak of, one car broke down on the test but fixed himself and got going after some time.  Some of the crews were new to rallying and had attended HERO’s training day the day before, and whilst new to rallying, everybody seemed to know what they were doing by the time they reached us.

The tests were only run once so we were home by lunchtime after an enjoyable morning.

Two weekends in a row at Wethersfield…

After the previous weekend stage rallying at Wethersfield, we returned for the AutoSOLO, but this time in the MG ZR. I haven’t done many AutoSOLOs recently and felt I’d been off the pace at the previous AutoSOLO at Wethersfield, so it was time to see what I could do!

I hadn’t been planning to enter this event because I’d been at T20 Finals Day (cricket) in Birmingham the day before, which had been a late night having driven home after seeing three T20 matches. I got back about midnight and it was a 6am start to get to Wethersfield, so whilst Matt drove I slept and only woke up when we reached the venue security gate…!

The tests were quite different to the recent Wethersfield AutoSOLO we’d competed on, as they were a bit more open. I think this suits me more, although for some reason on one test I became convinced I could take something flat in first and turn and use the handbrake… well perhaps I should have dabbed the brake, because I went a little wide with understeer. Never mind, sometimes it’s good to have a bold approach!

I felt things were going well and I was on the pace, and it was proved when for the first time EVER I set a fastest class test time. To beat Matt and Mark Peterson, both quick drivers who I respect, was a real achievement. Matt and I were actually trading times on tests with me beating him on quite a few and I felt things were going really well. Matt is always my main marker as we’re driving the same car, so I know the car has whatever pace he sets. I was told a number of times I “seemed more aggressive” than the previous AutoSOLO a few weeks before, and “I should do a stage rally every week before an AutoSOLO” by marshals and fellow competitors. I think it simply does go back to more seat time, more confidence, and being match fit.

If I’d been told in advance I’d finish 3rd in class I would have been delighted, but on the day I ended up slightly disappointed. I was fighting around for 2nd in class but a cone penalty (five seconds) cost me, apparently I ran over the base of it but I genuinely didn’t know I had, and it didn’t move/fall over so I didn’t realise I’d not had a clean run until I had the time card. Still, it was a good result and I had to work hard to ensure I kept third.

Another enjoyable day out, and a vast improvement on my AutoSOLO result a few weeks previously. Next weekend is a weekend off from competing, but we’re out marshalling instead, so still motor sport keeping us busy!

Stage rallying at Wethersfield

One of my favourite venues, and one of my favourite disciplines, but not a combination I’d sampled together as a driver… it was time to go stage rallying at Wethersfield! It was a tricky build up with the car not running at all (one night she was pushed home, one night she was towed home) but touch wood, Matt had resolved everything after some stressful, late nights.

When I was working towards my stage rally Clerk of the Course licence, one of the events I was involved in most heavily as a probationary CoC was Wethersfield (including designing the stages). It has a tighter, technical section (the bomb dump) and also a range of fast, sweeping bends that require commitment. I’ve co-driven for Matt there but not driven there so an event I was very much looking forward to.

The event had the option of noise test, scrutineering and signing on the day before the rally and so we headed there on Saturday afternoon. Having completed all of those, we had dinner ready for the day ahead.

SS1 went well, and I was 3rd in class which felt respectable (although I did put a wheel on the grass and was told off by Matt!). I’ve found I’ve been off the pace having come back to stage rallying (as a driver) after three years away, so to be three seconds off 2nd after one stage felt good. SS2 complete (a repeat of SS1) and I was 4th quickest in class on stage, one second behind another Micra and MG who tied for time, and still 3rd in class after the first pair of stages.

Time for SS3, and I felt I was “warmed up” now. As mentioned, the fast corners at Wethersfield do really require complete commitment (even in a Micra!) and lines and keeping speed up is so important. I took 13 seconds out of the crew 2nd in class on SS3, and moved into 2nd in class, and pulled out another 13 seconds on SS4. Things were looking and feeling good!

Wethersfield runs 30 second stages and we were finding slower cars on a later lap on nearly every stage. Quite often the speed differential was great enough that I could get round them easily (and pulled off some “round the outside” moves, shame it’s a no onboard camera venue!), and so many were good at realising they were being caught and getting out of the way. Unfortunately for three stages in a row I caught people in the (tight and narrow) bomb dump section and they didn’t realise we were there for a few bends. It’s narrow and therefore people need to make a concerted effort to get out of the way, but it’s also important to remember that whilst stage rally cars have to have a horn operable by both driver and co-driver, when you’re in a rally car with helmets on etc it can be very difficult to hear. It cost us some time, but the question was would it be too much…

On to SS5, which was similar to SS3/4 but with some changes. I’d made sure I’d eaten a little lunch, drunk lots of water and was ready, but the pace wasn’t quite there and I was 14 seconds slower than the crew behind me. Pressure on!

SS6 was a repeat of SS5 and I had an 8 second lead to keep 2nd in class. I gave it everything, as we came to the stop I told Matt if that wasn’t enough there was nothing else I had left to give. With live timing, Matt checked his phone… we’d done it! 4 seconds quicker than the crew 3rd in class, meaning we finished 2nd in class, 12 seconds ahead of them, and my best ever stage result as a driver (my previous best was 3rd).

I loved the event and was so happy with that result. It wasn’t an easy one, it pushed me hard and to my limits physically and mentally but the result was worth it. It finally feels, after time away from stage rallying and not competing quite as much, that I’m back on the pace. I’m not sure I’ll be driving on a stage rally before the end of the year but I have a number of events planned still as a driver and navigator so plenty left before year end.

 

Sideways at Debden

Having not competed at Debden for a long time, the return came less than two months after my recent visit. Once again it was for a targa rally, in the MG with Matt and both driving/navigating for each other.

The tests were similar to our previous visit, but tighter in places; there were places where using the handbrake helped (as the surface was loose) but also places where I wouldn’t have been able to get round without the handbrake as it was very tight.

The event once again used codeboards but they were a little easier to spot than the previous event, apart from when I knew one was there but lost sight of it in the dust having done a hairpin right just in front of it!

I felt happier and more comfortable in the car than last time and enjoyed the gravel, but it was an event that never really “clicked” for me; if you’ve competed you probably know the feeling, some days you try but it just doesn’t seem to quite flow or feel right, and it was one of those days for me. There were a couple of mistakes when I was navigating for Matt that lost us a little time, which was also frustrating and cost us some time.

To finish the day 3rd in class as a driver was a pleasant surprise, matching my previous result and being better than how the day felt. Seat time is definitely valuable and this targa is one of a run of events we’ve entered in both the MG and Micra, so hopefully more to come.

AutoSOLO’ing at Wethersfield

I thought it had been a while since I’d done one of the Anglia Motor Sports Club (AMSC) Autotests or AutoSOLOs, and looking back my last one was April 2014, so there’d definitely been a bit of a gap.

Matt had arranged a surprise weekend away as the event was on our wedding anniversary, so it wasn’t quite such an early start on the day which was a bonus. Scrutineered, signed on and having had a bacon roll we walked the tests. They were all quite straightforward (and numbered which helps!) but looked tight and technical in places.

Because Wethersfield has lots of space, the event runs with four different tests set up and you complete one test before moving to the next one. This is good in terms of flow, but I definitely found it hard to keep “re-learning” each test. I’ve not done many of these events in recent years but the ones I have done you get to do the test more than once in quick succession which helps so I’m a little out of practise. Thankfully, I didn’t get any wrong routes on the day but I did pick up a cone penalty.

The AMSC events have a “all runs to count” rule which is different from the events I normally do (where you can drop your worst run) so it’s important to do clean runs and not make mistakes so one cone penalty over the whole day is not too disappointing. Photos and videos aren’t allowed at Wethersfield so none to share from the day, but it was good to be back out competing before a couple of events driving and one event marshalling in September currently planned.

A soggy day marshalling

After all the weeks with a recent heatwave, when it came to marshalling at Bovington for the stage rally things had definitely turned! Whilst we only marshalled on the Saturday of the two day rally, I understand things were worse on the Sunday but the Saturday still meant full waterproofs all day with a mixture of constant drizzle to heavy rain.

Our marshalling point was between a 90 left and a 90 right bend and the changing conditions made it interesting. Nobody went off where we were, or even spun, but there were definitely some moments with some more spectacular than others. As it got wetter, it was noticeable how much quicker the four wheel drive cars were compared to the Escorts so it was no surprise to see at the end of Sunday, with wetter conditions, that a four wheel drive had taken the overall win.

We might compete at Bovington later in the year but in the meantime, it was good to be out marshalling and giving a little something back. With Saints playing at home on the Sunday, I stayed down south which worked out well and was a good weekend combining motor sport and football.