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.

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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.

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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!

Chin

Many of us have that one person who got us involved in motorsport, or supported us in motorsport. For me, mine was Chin – a man I met and much later found out was really called Martin Chinnery.

I discovered grassroots motorsport as a teenager, and have therefore known Chin for nearly half my lifetime. I joined Sevenoaks & District Motor Club, and not much later joined their committee. I used to get the train from London to early meetings, and it was always Chin who collected me from the station and drove me back to wherever was needed – no grumbles, he was always there. We’d get dinner and catch up, and he would encourage and support me. In those days, I never managed to persuade him to use (or even turn on!) his mobile phone to let him know if my train was delayed, but he was always there patiently waiting.

I don’t recall the first time I met Chin, but having joined Sevenoaks, it was probably at my first event I attended. I do recall being persuaded by him to navigate for him on a Scatter; I didn’t think I could do it, but as always he was encouraging and supportive and persuaded me that I really could navigate for him for the first time and it really didn’t matter how I did. From then on, I kept navigating, and it spurned my desire to try and explore as many different disciplines as possible.

After a few years on the Sevenoaks committee, I took over editing the club magazine, The Acorn. Again, Chin was there to guide me along the way and help me understand how everything worked. He would collect the copies and post them out, and we’d liaise regularly for “CCC,” Chin’s Chairman’s Chat. Looking back at the issue from June 2009, it was typical Chin with a bit of everything; he was pleased to see autotests starting again, had been spending lots of time on Crystal Palace, been out on a regularity 12 Car with his good friend Andy Kilby which they won and also competed on the Miglia Quadrato. To me, this sums up Chin and the path I chose to follow thanks to his support – lots of events, lots of motorsport, lots of variation.

Motorsport is a community, but most importantly a family. In those days, Chin was working at Sebron and between him (selling me parts) and Andy Elcomb (teaching me how to service my car, by doing it for me and showing me), I was running my first Micra and keeping things going. Through good times and tricky times, he put me in touch with people and helped me with anything needed.

In 2013, I saw an advert for a “Go Motorsport Regional Development Officer” for the South East, and I thought that was a role I fancied. By this point, I’d known Chin for many years, but I remember nervously calling him as Chairman of the Regional Association to see if he would support my application. Indeed he did, and we had a good chat about it at Crystal Palace a short time afterwards. From searching through my emails, I still have his emails of encouragement, him chasing me for news after my interview (there wasn’t any at that time!) and his genuine delight when I got the role.

Not only do my weekends look the way they do thanks to Chin, but professionally, that early support led me on to greater things; three years as a Regional Development Officer for the governing body followed by three years full time at the governing body can all be traced back to his early support and encouragement when I started in the sport, and then when I decided to apply for the Regional Development Officer role.

In recent years, I didn’t see Chin as much having moved out of area, but when I did, he was always there and catching up as if we had last seen each other yesterday. The last two occasions I saw him of course revolved around motorsport. We had a great catch up after Regional Committee in February, and a couple of weeks later we headed to Kent to compete on his Scatter. Matt and I won, my first time as a driver, but actually the memory I treasure best is sitting in The Bell in Kemsing, just like he and I used to before committee meetings, catching up over a dinner table. We last conversed when he kindly sponsored me for the London Marathon, little did I know that would be our last time.

I think it’s very “Chin” to have only learnt of how Matt met him, now. In Matt’s words;

Many firsts going on in this photo.

1.) My first event in the mighty (ex. Dave Leadbetter) MkII Astra
2.) My first rally with Ian Phillips on the maps
3.) My first ‘south of the River’ Weald MC rally
4.) And then my first real encounter with Chin, I hadn’t really known Chin before and I remember meeting him at the next Weald MC 12 car where he presented me with this photo he had taken. I remember thinking at the time how nice it was of him to photo us on the rally, and then find me after the event to pass on a copy for free. Over the years I really valued my friendship with Chin, and learnt a lot about the world of clubman motorsport from him.

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For me, I have a lot (and many things not captured here) to thank Chin for. His guidance, advice, support and everything he did helped me get to where I am today. I will forever be grateful. Thank you for everything, Chin, and Rest In Peace.

For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite images with him from 2009.

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Autocross’ing close to “home”

I spent my teenage years growing up in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Dad and I used to look at an old airfield on the map that was a few miles away and talk about it and discuss it, and earlier this year, Bath Motor Club announced they were running an event there. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so in our entries went and it was back to my parents’ for the weekend.

The venue was an old airfield between Malmesbury and Tetbury, at Long Newnton. It was a grass field, and having only done one Autocross before on a flint field, we hoped it would be a little smoother on the car.

The format for Saturday was Practice followed by three timed runs. Practice and my first timed run both had very “green” grass, but by runs two and three it was down to dirt and more grip. I haven’t driven Muriel too much on loose, and my times were a couple of seconds a lap off Matt.

I was building up pace and timed run 3 on Saturday felt really good, but that was it for the day. The forecast was showing rain for Sunday with different times it was forecast. My first run was dry, but I made a couple of small mistakes and the seconds add up! After that, the heavens opened and by the time I went out for my second practice run, it was a mud bath, as was run three. Times were definitely not going to improve and we really seemed to be struggling for grip. Everyone was, but even with knobblies on we were going nowhere fast and others seemed to have more grip. I found it a little boring although some of the sideways was fun, but I was really struggling to do anything with the car (as you can tell from the video!).

It was a shame it didn’t stay dry, as I would like to have kept improving my times, but it was still a good weekend with a well organised event, great hospitality from Mum, more seat time and good to explore a new venue.

Videos from the weekend are available on YouTube.

Another Targa at Wethersfield

After many weeks without competing, thanks to a fantastic holiday and the London Marathon, it was time to get back in the driver and navigator seats and head to Wethersfield.

We were using the MG which had been fixed after it’s misdemeanours at the March event. Matt had run the car and tested it, but this was the first real strain it was going to be put under since.

The first loop of tests went well, but Matt took quite a bit of time out of me. I didn’t feel quite “match fit;” I wasn’t pushing the car (or myself) in the way I know I can. However, things picked up on the second run and Matt and I were trading seconds between us so I felt happier.

My first run had left me languishing down the leaderboard (27th), but with my times improving, I was climbing my way up. There were no real moments of any note, with the exception of a cone penalty in the final loop. Most of the time you know if you’ve hit a cone, but on this occasion, I genuinely have no idea what or where I’ve hit something to receive the ten second penalty.

Matt and I continued to trade times, and I finished up 11th in class and 15th overall as a driver, out of 75 starters and 63 finishers. Matt finished 6th in class and 8th overall with me in the left hand seat, so not a bad set of results for us.

Andy Manston couldn’t be at the event, so this time there aren’t any images to share. Hopefully next time there will be!

Javalin’s Jumbo Targa Rally

Two weeks on from our last targa, and a straightened and sprayed bonnet and other bent bits fixed, it was time for our first Chelmsford MC/Anglian Targa Rally of the year. Matt had found the handbrake wasn’t working properly and had got it fixed, and for the first time on a Targa we had moved from 1A to 1B tyres; everybody else seems to do it, and we decided to follow the crowd, albeit picking them up cheaply as they are second hand.

Things got a little complicated at the last minute with tow car issues the day before we were due to leave, but we managed to hire a van so we could use the trailer; and what a good decision that turned out to be! Matt had driven the MG ZR during the week and all was ok, but come scrutineering and we had a reasonable leak. It turned out the water pump had failed, and without the trailer, I’m not sure we would even have started and taken the risk.

Jamie Turner (who knows anything and everything there is to know about Rovers and MGs and many other cars besides) recommended we found some Stop Leak, as it’s easier to clean out than K Seal. We asked around, and Sheldon Furby came up with the goods; a rally paddock is a great place to be as everyone always mucks in and helps each other.

We topped up the coolant as much as possible, loaded the car with extra water, and off we went. We were running Car 6 and were both driving, meaning 38 tests; I’m not sure either of us were too confident we would finish.

Matt added a digital gauge to the car last year so we could monitor the coolant temperature constantly and accurately. It clearly wasn’t happy, but after the first few tests with Matt driving it started to settle and there was less steam. The tests were busy; constant instructions being given as a navigator, but things seemed to be going ok. It was then time for me to drive, and I was quicker than Matt; not by a lot, but enough!

On the second loop of tests I drove first, and I went out committed but perhaps a little too much… Wethersfield has a mix of gravel and tarmac and I had my first spin in a few years on some gravel where I carried too much speed, but straight back into first gear and I carried on leaving behind a cloud of dust. Things seemed to be going ok, but Matt was coming back at me.

We ran the car with full heaters on all day with the extra fan always on to try and keep the engine as cool as possible. I will never run with the windows down (as per the regulations) so as the sun came out, it got a little toasty inside! But, if running with the heaters on meant getting a finish, it was worth it…

Our day continued to go well and touch wood, the car was holding together but by this time Matt was taking time out of me. I completed all 19 of my tests as a driver, and then it was time for Matt’s final loop, tests 16, 17, 18 and 19. All was going well until the end of test 18; the Stop Leak had done us proud and got us so far, but it had given up. Lots of steam, lots of leaking coolant/water, but just one test and 2.4 miles left.

We had nothing to lose, so in went more water, off we went and it seemed to be another day luck was looking down on us, as we made it to the finish in a good time for the test. We left a little trail of water for people to follow back to the paddock, and having examined the car, we wouldn’t have made it through another test; we were very lucky! It also highlighted to us that buying a trailer was a good move, as we wouldn’t have made it home under our own power. On the drive back, we dropped the car at The Rover Centre, and now we’ve asked them to replace the water pump and change the cam belts, ready for our next event.

Photos by M&H Photography.

A new Targa for us… Bramley

Last year we were on holiday when Farnborough ran the Bramley Targa for the first time, but this year we were around and in our entries went in our MG ZR. The venue is a little over 75 minutes from home making it a more local event for us.

We were double driving, and didn’t quite know what to expect! Having recently bought a trailer, it was our first event using it and travelling together was an added bonus.

Scrutineered, signed on etc and it was time for us to start as we were car 3. The tests were tight, all first or second gear, but clear and easy to see where we were going. They were very slippery, with mud and leaves. Matt drove first and then it was my turn. We were both struggling with a lack of grip and a handbrake that wasn’t reliable or working properly; the car wasn’t giving much confidence but we were not too sure why, we just knew we were both finding it a little bit of a battle and it wasn’t really flowing.

On Matt’s second loop of tests, we had a little “moment” (no photographs exist!). We ended up 90 degrees to the road, nose down in a ditch… not ideal. The test had to be stopped (sorry everyone) as we were blocking it. My biggest relief was that we didn’t roll, as it was a carbon copy of a roll I once had with a tank slapper before going off, but this time luck was on our side.

We thought we were going to need a tow but some creative, woodland engineering worked and we got out with the help of many marshals. We pulled out of the way so the test could restart and it seemed we’d got away with it; a damaged bonnet, bent spot light bracket etc but no damage to the radiator. We drove out of the test and carried on; lady luck was on our side!

We didn’t have much time in service before my run, and so it was the lunch break before we tried to straighten things out (a tree and a ratchet strap did the job!). There was nothing too spectacular to talk about; I picked up more cone penalties than I’ve ever received before but things were going ok.

We finished up with 7th in class, 29th overall with me driving and 8th in class, 37th overall with Matt driving and me navigating as well as taking home the best mixed crew award. One of those days that luck was on our side, and we were extremely grateful to get a finish!

Photos by M&H Photography.