Stage rally success – signing off 2019 in style

Our final event of the 2019 season was the Rushmoor Stage Rally. Having entered the Micra at the targa rally there in November and having good results was a good move, but we knew the stage rally would use different parts of the venue.

Whilst the venue is one of our closest (just under 90 minutes away), it was still an 04:30 alarm to make sure we were there in time. The Newton brothers had saved us a spot in service so we could be together and we unloaded, passed noise and scrutineering, signed on and we were ready to go.

It did help a little knowing the venue, but conditions and the new bits were also an unknown. The organisers had recommended walking to see the split/flying finish/stop as they said it was tricky and we had done this. I tried to keep it neat and tidy but felt I’d been really slow, so to find I was about my “normal pace” off the Newtons in the Nova was pleasing after SS1.

The next couple of stages went well, but then SS4 was a little interesting. We came off the start and through the merge and all was fine, but then I couldn’t see anything except white smoke. It then became clear there was oil down and we tiptoe’d round the bend and I spotted the car in front (on their second lap) was on fire. It wasn’t a nice thing to see as we were completely helpless to warn them, but it seemed to self extinguish and they pulled off albeit leaving their mark with a trail of oil!

Coming round for our second lap, a Fiesta came through the merge just in front of us. He of course did not know about the oil… so having dropped back ready to tip toe through the 90 degree right hand bend and hairpin left, we watched him sail straight off when his car would not stop. We found out afterwards they were fine and continued after meeting the kerb and a couple of pallets.

The Newtons in the Nova unfortunately had to retire with diff issues around this time, which meant we knew we were second in class; dropping a few seconds per stage to the class leaders but with a comfortable gap of over a minute to 3rd in class. I didn’t feel I drove my best at the event and wasn’t fully pushing Muriel, but the times were ok and I think 15 months out of stage rallying did show a little. Aside from a rather interesting tank slapper over a crest on SS7 (which thankfully came back to me), the rest of the event was fairly uneventful for us.

Finishing second in class equals my best ever stage rally result. With over a two minute gap to third and just over 40 seconds off the class winners it was a good way to end our 2019 season.

Trialling the new car

Matt and I recently acquired a new car, and what better way to test it than entering it into a motorsport event! I didn’t see the car until the day before the event, I sat in it for the first time on the morning of the event as it came off the trailer and drove it for the first time when I drove it to a test. Whilst it runs, it really is a bit of a shed (and smelly inside!) but to have a car that we didn’t truly worry about was good.

There had been a lot of rain before the event and people were getting stuck in the paddock when we arrived, which there was absolutely nothing the organisers could do about apart from blocking off the boggiest bits, which they did. We unloaded near the entrance (which itself was up an interesting white) as having seen 4X4s getting stuck, we knew we had no chance in our front wheel drive tow car.

As a non-road legal car, we were in a class with various modified cars. The Rover 25 is, in reality, a bit big and long for a car trial and we were towed and winched many times during the day, often ended up stuck on the “belly” of the car. However, being out competing was good (although I’m not convinced about having to push Matt and being covered in mud!). We’re going to hang onto it for one more car trial and then it will be time to move it on.

Thanks to the organising club for some of these images.

Navigating on the Harvest Rally

For our third weekend of competing in a row, we headed down to Newton Abbot for the South Hams MC Harvest Rally. Having not finished a similar event earlier in the year, I wanted a finish under my belt before 2019 was over which saw us put in an entry.

Map 202 is Matt’s “home” map and I had heard lots of stories about what a difficult map it was to navigate on. I was a little apprehensive after the Carpetbagger but after some intensive plotting, we had everything on the map ready to go.

The first timecard went ok, we were working well together and didn’t miss any slots and I didn’t get lost on the map which is always a bonus. Unfortunately though, I was feeling rather travel sick and we ended up cutting time card two which was a shame. Having seen the results up until the end of timecard one we weren’t first and weren’t last but respectfully in the middle so it was a shame to have to cut and miss a chunk of the route, but I felt it was the only way I was going to make the finish given how I was feeling.

Devon’s definition of lanes is somewhat different to mine (think pure mud and ruts!), having grown up in Hampshire and Wiltshire, but once we got back on route at petrol things went well. I had a double espresso cold coffee drink, had lots of fresh air and the rest of the event went well for us. Again the lanes were tricky but we didn’t get lost or have any wrong slots which was really pleasing. With lots to juggle from the map to special not as map junctions (NAM) we did unfortunately drop a couple of code boards where I didn’t spot the NAMs and there’s a plotting and map marking lesson for me there in the future.

We finished 8th overall on the National B rally (16th overall with the Nat B and Clubmans combined) but most importantly we finished and had a good night as a crew which was the aim.

Bouncing back at Rushmoor – overall winners!

In 2018, a retirement at the Rushmoor Targa Rally led to us calling a friend and asking to be collected on a trailer. It was the turning point that led to us buying our own trailer, and one of the lower points of us competing.

With the announcement of a stage rally at Rushmoor in December, which we entered with me driving, we decided to change our entry from the MG ZR to Muriel (our Micra) as it was a chance for me to get a bit more seat time in her and some more confidence ahead of the December event. From our experience the previous year, the tests are not as tight as the other FDMC event at Bramley in March, and so we were hoping the lack of effective handbrake on Muriel would not be an issue. The tests are a mix of tarmac, gravel and mud with 1A tyres only so an interesting challenge.

One of the keys to any targa is collecting code boards and ensuring the driver and navigator work together as a team, going the right way. The early tests showed penalties for many other crews who had not gone the right way, had hit cones or had missed boards, but Matt and I were both having a clean run and things were looking ok whenever interim results were published. We had both made a few little mistakes, but things seemed ok.

I knew I was challenging for my best result ever as a driver, but I was trying not to think about that and just enjoy the driving and get round. There was a section through some woods which I knew I was losing time on but I just tried to keep the momentum and push on where I felt more confident. The final two tests were run in the dark and I felt I lost time driving, but it was ok just nothing special.

However, then the attention switched to ensuring I sent Matt the right way and kept him calm. We knew we were about two seconds behind Ben Griffin (who was leading overall) going into the final test so it was all to play for. On the start line for the final two tests Matt found main beam wasn’t working which made me a little concerned but he was sure all would be fine. Going through the woods we had a bit of a moment but Muriel came back and all was fine. I remember shouting at him to keep it flat as we came to the finish and encouraging as much as I could but there was little else I could do.

In the paddock, we exchanged times and knew it was going to be very touch and go for our first ever targa rally win. In the end, we found that we had made back seven seconds meaning a five second lead. Ben had unfortunately missed a code board (which is not how we would want to win and thankfully was not the deciding factor) meaning we won by 25 seconds, but the time we had pulled out alone was enough and we took our first outright win with Matt driving and me navigating!

We also discovered I’d pedalled well as a driver, and I won the class (as Matt won overall I was promoted to first in class) and came 5th overall, by far and away my best result as a driver. An absolutely epic day.

 

Bonfire Targa Rally

After nearly six weeks without competing for me, it was time to head back to Wethersfield for a Targa Rally in our MG ZR. I was navigating for Matt, and he was navigating for me as per usual.

Having used some 1B tyres ineffectively in the cold and damp/wet at the Gurston Down hillclimb, and having been told there was some standing water, we opted to go for our 1A tyres for the first loop of tests thinking with more tread we would have more grip. Unfortunately, the test times showed this was a mistake and we both spent the rest of the day trying to make up lost time from the first loop having switched to the 1Bs.

There was nothing too spectacular or key of note, just trying to make up as much time as possible in our last targa of the year in the MG (next week we’re competing at Rushmoor but have swapped to the Micra as we’re doing the stage rally there in December). More seat time was good, and we enjoyed the day, just not the best results we’ve had!

MMKMC Summer Slalom

We’d never entered the MMKMC Summer Slalom before, but Ian Mepham had it as part of his stag do in 2019 and he invited me to join them for the Sunday part (the event) of his stag weekend.

I’ve never been that confident (nor good!) at Autotests and this event was a multi venue Autotest on grass, tarmac and gravel. Matt had done work to try and make the handbrake on the MG better and it definitely was.

I felt I was doing ok on the gravel tests and endurance rallying was a benefit here. There’s no time or opportunity to walk the tests, so trying to remember them in a short period of time was also tricky. By the afternoon, it was time for our first tarmac test of the day – the bit I was dreading!

The handbrake was working well, and the only think we both really struggled with was the lack of lock on the MG which was noticeable in some of the tighter places. I’ve only got a video of one of my tarmac runs (and it was the slower one!) but it gives a nice indication of the day. I did unfortunately manage to slightly rearrange the rear of the MG after reversing into a bank; I’d done some great hairpin handbrake turns and was onto what would have been a very good time (considering the time with the reverse!) but didn’t quite pull it off, and reversed into a bank in the process… oops.

All that said, it was a great day and 5th in class and 10th overall was really pleasing. The class had 12 or so crews in it, and it was a far better result than I could have have expected; a top 10 is always nice as well.

Video of one of the tarmac tests is on Youtube.

Photos by M&H Photography.

 

 

Wethersfield Stages 2019

As Matt and I are not doing a stage rally championship this year, we’ve been taking it in turns to drive on stage rallies. Technically it was “my turn” to drive at Wethersfield but having driven last year, I was happy to co-drive this time and so Matt took the right hand seat.

The event got off to a slightly more eventful start than we would have liked. Having completed noise and scrutineering, as we headed to where we were staying Matt wasn’t sure where he’d put the rally car keys. We pulled over into a lay-by and started going through everything. The car was locked having put it back on the trailer but we had no idea where they were; until Matt found them on the roof of the rally car! By this time we had already called back to friends at scrutineering and were over 10 minutes down the road. Suffice to say, we were very lucky.

Completing noise, scrutineering and documentation the night before meant a slightly more relaxed start to Sunday. We were in a very competitive class with plenty of more powerful cars and we knew it was going to be a tough day. We both really enjoy Wethersfield with the mix of fast, sweeping bends which require commitment and the narrower, more technical sections.

We were sat fifth in class, and setting some competitive times but unable to keep up with the pace and power of some of the crews ahead. A retirement in front of us moved us up to fourth and whilst we were trading times with crews around us, we were starting to run out of tyres. We changed from Hankook to Dunlop rally slicks and they just didn’t seem to have the grip (nor did Matt have the confidence with them) and we were losing time. A change of strategy for SS5 and it worked; back on the pace and we had enough tyres for SS6! Matt was driving out of his skin and did the same on SS6. It was enough for us to hold on to 4th in class, a good result on a competitive day.

 

Second in class at the MCAC AutoSOLO

Bovingdon is one of the closest venues we can compete at, but I think I’ve only been there once before. Due to noise/planning restrictions at the venue, the events run from 0900 – 1300 and unfortunately on previous occasions I’ve always been off to football or had other commitments. However, a windy Saturday in August meant I finally got back there.

Matt and I were double driving the MG ZR but were in different classes, as the club does it slightly differently and splits classes into experience rather than engine size. The first test had sections where the venue is also used as a skid pan, and it was quite an understeering experience.

Things seemed to be going ok and whilst I was off the pace on the first test, Matt and I were trading times after that. Some people hadn’t read the rules on tyres and I was pleased to find I was ahead of them as they were running 1Bs (which definitely do give an advantage!).

The organisers take less entries but run just as many tests as a more traditional full day event, so whilst everything was finished by 1pm it still felt like a busy and enjoyable time competing. I finished 2nd in class, 8th overall and just pipped Matt, so a great result for me!

Videos of the various tests with me driving can be found on YouTube.

There are lots but try; video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4, video 5, video 6, video 7 or video 8.

IMG_4245

Hillclimbing at Gurston Down

Matt and I did our first hillclimb at Loton Park in 2018, and on that day I’d had a target (for myself) of being under 70 seconds. I finished on 70.09 seconds and that nine hundredths meant I wanted to head back this year.

Whilst it’s really important to remember the majority of motorsport is run by volunteers, it was extremely disappointing to have entered one of Loton’s July events in February, including full payment, only to be told two weeks before the event that we did not have entries due to being oversubscribed. Unfortunately polite email inquiries as to where their entries selection was available and when we would receive a refund went unanswered. Having a selection policy/way of prioritising entries is absolutely reasonable and completely normal, but the fact it doesn’t appear to be available makes it very disappointing in situations like ours. It meant it was time to cancel the hotel room and look for another event; and Gurston it was!

Given we (read, Matt!) had prepped the car and we were expecting to be away it seemed a shame not to compete so finding another option was great. We found a B&B for Gurston and that was that, a new plan was formed. We were never going to make scrutineering on the Friday night and various factors (a set of house keys left at work, traffic etc) meant we got down fairly late on Friday evening, but with enough time for a very good dinner in the pub connected to the B&B; we’d recommend The Penruddocke Arms in Dinton if needed (don’t judge a book by it’s cover!).

Come Saturday morning, the ground was damp. We didn’t have much spare time between signing on/scrutineering/the new drivers’ briefing and only walked just over half the hill but it was enough to see the crucial parts and first couple of bends, up to and including “the technical section.” I’d been put down as going first where we were double driving. We turned up for the new drivers briefing only to find it wasn’t taking place, so then it was a bit of a rush having hung around as I was due up the hill in the first batch.

Gurston is one of the few UK hillclimb venues which starts off downhill, into a fast approach tricky left hand bend, where carrying speed is key. Off I went on my first run, and I felt cautious and early on the brakes. The track briefly straightens before heading right and up hill and having been cautious, I went hard on the brakes there, but I had nothing. Off and back on the brake worked and I got it slowed down, took a poor line and a cut on the second part of the right hander, enjoyed wheelspin heading up to the left hand bendand was just about staying on top of slightly jittery car. I got to the top and texted Matt – “I think we need to change tyres for your run!” and before long it was time to head down.

Matt and I had agreed the tyres we would run, as on a rally we would choose them in damp but no standing water conditions (as Gurston was), but there simply wasn’t enough time to get any warmth into them on a hillclimb with the damp. I got back to the paddock and a quick tyre change it was, and after Matt’s run he reported that the car felt good.

By the time it came to my second practice run, I went off and wow – the car felt a world of difference! Confidence on the brakes, confidence in corners, it was simply so much more enjoyable. Four seconds off my time was the result and I was happy.

The sun was coming out for the first of my timed runs, but Matt and I agreed that as the tyres were a known quantity and doing the job, we’d get a “banker” in and then see if we could swap back for the final run.

We managed to do that, and by the end of the day I’d found over five seconds from where I’d started off. I really enjoyed trying more time through Hollow and into the technical section and could happily have done another run, but that was it, day over. I enjoyed the venue and event, and it was good to be out competing again.

Car

 

Midsummer Debden Targa Rally

The Wickford AC targa rally came on a busy weekend for East Anglian motorsport. Matt and I marshalled on Chelmsford MC’s East Anglian Classic on the Saturday, which was a long day (three hours to get to our first test, and then hours in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees after a dash across Norfolk for our second location).

Unfortunately I think the targa rally is one of those days better off forgotten, with a mixture of some interesting results and penalties, the trailer needing a tyre changed on the way home followed by a taxi driver managing to drive into the trailer causing damage. If things come in threes, I’m going to count those as my three!

The positives are that having had to have some injections last week, I had them in my right arm not my left. This is important because Debden requires a LOT of handbrake turns, more than any other venue/event I compete at, and the injections therefore didn’t impact anything. Other positives are it was a beautiful sunny day, there were proper toilets (not portaloos) and I got to catch up with friends. Onto the next event!