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.

Navigating on the Bath Festival

The Bath Festival was a new event for me, and with Matt and I both out navigating, we took a road car to the event which should have been a nice luxury. Unfortunately we had a puncture on the way down, and having topped the tyre with air twice, ended up changing it so not quite the relaxed journey we had planned!

I was out navigating for Luis Gutierrez-Diaz in his MG ZR and having met up at scrutineering, we signed on. I went over paperwork and had the option of navigating from maps or tulips, however whichever option I chose would mean transferring some information from one to the other. I initially chose maps, but ended up using a combination of both (and relying on tulips), which had worked for us on the Exmoor and worked again on this event.

The drivers’ briefing was 1445 as the tests were running into the afternoon and evening, and before too long it was time for us to head off. The first test was around a farmyard with greasy concrete; I think I enjoyed it more than Luis! Then, it was off into the forests and we seemed to be doing ok.

Luis and I were running in the Clubman class because whilst I have a Motorsport UK competition licence, Luis doesn’t due to some additional costs from the Spanish ASN as he is Spanish. We found out we were leading the class from some messages and all seemed to be going well. There were a couple of petrol halts, but not long to get ourselves together.

When we got back to the finish we were still 1st in class but when the final results were announced we’d dropped to 2nd; it turned out one crew had been in the wrong class during the day and it was corrected on the final results. Still a very good result for us, just not quite what we thought!

The tests were very different to the Exmoor and just showed the difference in forests and regional variation; they weren’t quite as smooth, but therefore there were less manoeuvres needed to keep the average speed down. I’ve enjoyed both events, and would happily go back again.

We got home just before 0230 in the morning so a long day, but worthwhile!

Photos by M&H Photography.

Scatter win!

Matt and I both miss competing on scatters locally, and so a day off for me and Matt working in London (meaning he could get the train out to Kent) saw us enter the Sevenoaks & District Motor Club event. There aren’t any clubs near us running scatters, hence having to travel.

We decided I would navigate, which would be good practise, but the thing I always find hardest on a scatter is picking a good route and it being as efficient as possible. The idea of a scatter is that you’re given a number of clues which you have to plot, and then you drive to these points to find answers to clues at those locations. These are “scattered” over a map, hence the name, and you “just” have to be back at the finish venue by a set time.

I decided we would head West first to pick up a few “outliers” for valuable points, before using an A road to get us to the East side of the map and start, where more clues were located. This worked well, although one wrong call from me did lead to us passing over a clue as we should have been on a local road underneath the bridge!

I was a little concerned we arrived back at the pub a little too early (six minutes in hand) but there were no obvious other clues to collect, and there was a location we’d visited but couldn’t find the answer.

When results were announced, we found we were first overall which was a pleasant surprise, and a welcome result! I’ve won a few scatters as a driver but never as a navigator, so it was good to pick up a win in the left hand seat.

Taking on the Pom

The VSCC Pomeroy Trophy has been an event I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I’ve never got around to it! It’s held on or near the Goodwood Stages and as that’s a championship round we’ve prioritised that. However this year, having decided not to do stage rally championships and selected events instead, it gave the opportunity for us to enter it.

The event requires a race licence and Matt and I both have ours. Matt said he didn’t mind which car he drove, so I chose the Micra leaving him with the MG ZR. We scrutineered and signed on during Friday evening, and headed over early on Saturday ready for the day ahead. Our friend Haydn came with us in-case we needed a hand as we were running two cars, which was appreciated.

The morning involves various tests, including a slalom (held on the old start/finish straight), a speed test on the Hangar Straight and a braking test on the “new” start/finish straight. I did slightly regret not going harder in the brake test, but it was a balance between speed/time (which was measured) and ensuring I stopped in the right place (also crucial to not receive a “fail” for not stopping astride a specified line).

As fun as the morning was, the “piece de resistance” is a speed trial run on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit during the afternoon, held under race conditions (one of the reasons a race licence is needed, as well as the many cars on track). We had two warm-up laps and it was a rolling start. It was 40 minutes and we’d each been given a set number of laps we had to achieve; mine was 12. I intended to count them, but after three or four I couldn’t remember how many I was on so I soon gave up with that and just kept lapping!

I found the event mentality for the driving test interesting; I wasn’t driving on my limit, but was trying. Penalty marks could be applied for spinning, going off the track, etc and I wanted to make sure I got my laps in without pushing myself to my absolute limit. I was passed by a few cars and I passed a few, including three in four corners!

Come the end of the driving test and I’d completed my set number of laps, which was good! Matt unfortunately had a problem and had to pit (a bonnet pin came loose and the bonnet was part lifting), and he was one lap short. We both had a good day, and when results were published, it shows me as 2nd in class and 11th overall and Matt 2nd in class and 14th overall. Lessons for next time? Push harder in the brake test (probably the difference for a top 10 for me) and Matt, without his pitstop, would have had an extremely good result. Until next year!

A video of my 40 minute speed trial is available on YouTube.

Thanks to Toby Galbraith for the solo “on track” image & Sarah Tibbetts for the group shot.