VCRR Winter Classic

To round off 2017, the VCRR Winter Classic was my final event of the season. A day section comprising of regularity and jogularity followed by a night regularity over Salisbury Plain was going to make for a challenging event! Brian Cammack was in the left hand seat for the first time.

We needed to be down by Warminster for 0930 so it was an early start, leaving mine just after 7. We made it down, passed noise and scrutineering, and signed on. There was plenty of pre-plot which kept Brian busy before we headed off on the first regularity.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any regularity or jogularity but after a first section of settling in, we got into it and got a good rhythm (yes, at 26mph average and other similar speeds but you get the idea) and communication going. The route chose some picturesque country side lanes through an area I’m not that familiar with, although did compete on many years ago.

Getting to the coffee/dinner halt was a relief, but we knew after that things would get harder, which they did; it was off to Salisbury Plain! We had a few pauses and checking we were on the right of many tracks, but it started off well before going downhill. We ended up cutting route but finishing was a result in itself, so a good finish to the year,

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Like buses, two class wins in 2017!

It had been five years since we last competed on the Rockingham Stages, and for that event I had driven and Matt co-drove for me. As the event was a round of both the AEMC/ASEMC and ACSMC Stage Rally Championships, we entered the 2017 event with Matt driving and myself co-driving.

The week before the rally snow was forecast and we kept a careful watch on what was expected to happen. We didn’t have any winter tyres and decided we should get some with the forecast showing no signs of easing up. It was the right decision!

The event offered a Friday night scrutineering option which we took, and we then checked into our hotel for the night just five minutes from the venue. For rallying, Saturday was a sociable start time allowing a reasonable time to get up, breakfast and to head to the circuit.

Rockingham was our first time out in Muriel since the big, enforced, rebuild. Things hadn’t quite gone smoothly in the run up to the event but we had got to the start, and it was a case of keeping fingers crossed and hoping the car was working as she should do!

I always think it’s good on any event to get the first stage/test/challenge out of the way, and to complete SS1 and find we were leading the class was a pleasant surprise. Muriel had run well, and whilst there was a long way to go, getting the first stage out of the way was good. SS2 was a repeat of SS1, and again we came in off the stage to find we’d set the fastest time in the class.

For some reason, SS3 didn’t flow that well for us and we were second in class for that stage by seven seconds, although still holding a 32 second lead. Leading the class isn’t a position we are used to; we had never won our class until Brands in January 2017 so to be leading relatively comfortably was pleasing. However, coming off SS4 our stress levels rose considerably;’ Muriel developed a misfire.

The stage was being changed from SS4 to SS5 giving us more time in service (much better than when a stage was re-used and we had less than ten minutes turn around!). Matt couldn’t get the computer and diagnostics talking to the car, but a quick phonecall and it was advised to change the throttle body. It was a busy, stressful time but Matt managed to change it and thankfully it did the trick.

SS5 was run in the dark, so as Matt changed the throttle body I’d fitted the lamp pod. Having both competed on night rallies, we enjoy night stages and catching an Evo was a good feeling. We completed SS6 and, whilst only halfway through the rally, went into day two 1st in class, 23rd overall and with a 47 second class lead.

Everyone knew it was due to snow overnight, but we’d found our hotel didn’t have an external window; we looked out onto an internal, covered, courtyard. When we got up we found it had snowed as predicted, and made our way to the circuit. Matt set about changing tyres whilst I cleared the rally car of snow and headed off for the crew briefing. We were advised they were adjusting the stage due to conditions, there would be a delay to the start time and to return for a further briefing/update in an hour. This gave the opportunity for various snow ball fights and snowman building (thanks Lil, Andy, Torah, Paul and Paul!). Upon our return, we were told the organisers had taken the difficult decision to not run the event on the Sunday. With snow still heavily falling, and with the organisers having made their best efforts to run the event, it was a proper winter’s day.

I texted Matt to let him know, and he started packing up the cars ready for us both to drive home. With results declared at the time control the previous evening, we were confirmed as winning the class; having never won the class until this year, it is great to finish off with another class win! Winning the class also helps our championship results; 3rd overall co-driver (also 1st in class) in the Jelf.com AEMC/ASEMC Stage Rally Championship and 1st in class (4th overall) in the ACSMC Stage Rally Championships for myself, and class wins for Matt in both championships too.

Not a bad way to finish off the year…

Watch us compete on SS6, a night stage, on YouTube by clicking here.

 

Can I still drive?

After the “can I still navigate?” question, exactly a month to the day after the car accident I was due to be out on the Chelmsford MC Targa Rally. I’d missed some other events due to not being up to driving such as the Bovingdon Autosolo. Again, I took medical advice and got told to give it a go, not put my life on hold and to listen to my body on the day. Those that know me know I can be a little bit stubborn, and so there was no way I was going to tell Matt if it hurt. I had heat packs, I had ice, I wanted to give it a go.

First up it was time for me to navigate for Matt. Did it hurt? Yes. Then it was my turn to drive. Did it hurt? Yes. I was concerned that sub-consciously I wouldn’t have the ability to  “go for it” but my times were respectable and being back out in the car felt good.

I don’t remember any particularly high, or low, points of the day. I remember mainly trying to ignore the pain and manage it and look after myself whilst trying to get to the finish. Ice really has been my best friend and (surprisingly) given me greater comfort than heat, and icing after tests really helped. I’d not had anywhere near as much seat time in the MG, so to be competitive in class and finish up second was pleasing. My confidence was definitely lacking a little in the first loop, but as the day wore on I got more comfortable in the car and enjoyed being back competing. I’ve missed many targas in 2017 mainly through work, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to be out more next year.

Thanks to M&H Photography for the images.

Can I still navigate?

Can I still navigate? It may sound a bit of a funny question. Some people think navigating is like getting back on a horse, but there were two reasons for my question. 1) it had been a number of months since I’d last navigated, and that was after a reasonable break and 2) just 2.5 weeks beforehand I’d been in a (non-fault) car accident which had knocked both my physical and mental confidence more than I’d cared to admit. Physically I was in constant pain, but I was also undertaking medical treatment and took medical advice about whether I should go out that evening. I know for me that “getting back on the horse” with everything was vital, and so I offered at the last minute to navigate for the first time for Ben Cutting having missed some other events I would have liked to have done due to the accident. I was originally due to navigate for Luis Guiterrez-Diaz, but unfortunately we’d withdrawn a few weeks previously after he broke his car.

I hadn’t told Ben what had happened a couple of weeks beforehand, but somebody else had because when I arrived he checked if I should be out competing. I explained I was in no fit state to drive and compete (the 75 minute drive to the start was the furthest I’d driven since the crash) but I was happy to give navigating a go and see what happened.

We didn’t have the perfect run, but for our first time out as a crew we had a good run. Every driver/navigator is slightly different but we settled into a rhythm and, whilst unfortunately missing a few codeboards, whilst in pain the pain was bearable and we came home 1st in class and 4th expert.

It was good to get back out because whilst deep down I knew “don’t be silly of course you can do it,” sometimes it’s nice/necessary to prove it to yourself. It wasn’t my best night on the maps and I always find it frustrating to miss boards, but going back over navigation in the cold light of day is always worth the effort!

My 12 car trophy and the aftermath of my written off car on the M40. This is what it looks like if you’re stationary on a motorway and the car behind doesn’t stop pushing you into the car in front…

Introducing my brother to competing

Many years ago I introduced my brother, Mark, to volunteering in motor sport but he’d never competed. Looking for “different” ideas for his birthday present, we offered him use of the MG ZR for a day, and to arrange his club membership and entry fee so he could try grassroots motor sport.

Whilst my brother may be an adult, he will always be my “baby brother” so yes, he has a driving licence, but the idea of him driving my car competitively and me sitting alongside him was still slightly amusing. Oxford MC had a Production Car Autotest at Finmere which is local to us and being less than three week’s before Mark’s birthday, it seemed an ideal event for him to have a go.

Having arrived at the venue, we got Mark to drive the car to scrutineering and then very slowly around the paddock so he had at least driven the car. We’d spoken to the organisers in advance who’d kindly organised our colour groups so that I could drive before Mark and he could see what the tests were like through passengering for me. We walked the test and gave Mark some pointers, but then it was down to him.

It was greasy in the morning, and those conditions really suited me. After the first round of tests, I was first overall! Mark drove his first set of tests without any mistakes or cone penalties and enjoyed it.

As the day went on, the venue dried out which was a shame for me; I was quicker in the slippier conditions and started to drop down the results. Mark was growing in confidence and even had the car sideways a few times. His times were getting closer to mine, and you could see and feel the improvements in his driving.

He said he really enjoyed his day, and hopefully he’ll be able to borrow our car in the future. As much as I teased him, it was really enjoyable to be competing alongside him and I’m glad we could give him the opportunity. He wasn’t last, and did well for his first competitive motor sport event.

Videos are on Youtube of both myself and Mark driving.

Girls just want to have fun!

Chelmsford MC announced a new, multi-venue Targa Rally for September and Matt and I discussed whether we’d enter. We have two road rally legal cars, but for various reasons including tyres (or lack of suitable tyres in our current stock) and bits and pieces we decided we wouldn’t enter together. We thought we’d either enter and navigate for other people, or volunteer to help. A quick scan of the entry list showed Claire Gillies as not having a navigator lined up and having had a laugh many years ago double driving our Micra, a quick text saw us team up for this event.

With Southampton playing on the Saturday at home, and Matt offering to run a test, we both headed to Southampton so I could go to football. It was then time to head cross-country where Claire had dinner waiting having scrutineered that afternoon, before a look at the paperwork she’d collected and bed.

An early start on the Sunday morning saw us head to the start where I signed on and started thinking about the day ahead whilst getting my paperwork in order. The first test was at the hotel/start venue, and after the compulsory briefing it didn’t seem that long before we were lining up. Claire had recently bought a 106, and it was good to get the first, short test out of the way and on with the rally.

There were too many tests to list them all in detail, but it felt like we were going well as we caught cars on various tests having started at least a minute behind them. There was an unfortunate moment where we caught someone and I thought I’d tap the horn with my foot to let them know we were there. Unfortunately the horn got stuck on which resulted in me shouting “it’s broken it won’t shut up” and Claire telling me to “get off the horn” and thinking I’d developed anger issues, which wasn’t the case!

At lunch we could see the results were going well for us, but there was still a long way to go. We carried on with our “keep going” philosophy and whilst the car was making some funny noises, it seemed to be going ok and we were still in the event.

By the end, we found we were 4th in class and 17th overall, a result I think we would both have happily taken pre event. The car might not have been happy if we’d done the rally again the following day, but I’m sure we could have improved on that result with more seat/crew time together! It was a thoroughly enjoyable event and good to compete with Claire again, over six years since we first competed together.

Thanks to M&H Photography for the images.

Wethersfield. Time for an expensive rebuild…

Wethersfield. One of my favourite venues. One of my least favourite rallying days.

Sometimes, things go wrong and you have to wonder if staying in bed would have been a better option, and perhaps Wethersfield was one of those occasions. When the highlight was the pre-rally carvery the night before with friends, perhaps that is saying something.

We headed to Wethersfield the day before the rally, and passed scrutineering without any issues. However, the noise test was due to be held on the day of the rally. I was happily waiting in service only to see Matt coming back from noise shaking his head and saying we’d failed noise. My “pardon?” wasn’t a pun, just more in disbelief. We were servicing next to the Newtons who had Ian Mepham servicing for them, and thanks to their SuperTrapp and assistance, we just in the nick of time managed to fit the SuperTrapp to the car, get back to noise, pass, and get all our paperwork in order ready to rally for the day ahead.

Things started off ok, and I was enjoying being back out at Wethersfield having helped organise events there in the past. We weren’t setting spectacular times, but the stages seemed to be flowing, Matt was driving with commitment and things were going ok. Nothing spectacular, but we were getting round. Then it was time for SS4, not even half way through the day. Part way through the stage Matt eased up and “no clutch” came across the intercom. We limped to the finish, keeping out of the way of fellow competitors, and pulled into service.

We don’t have our own trailer, or access to one, so then came the discussion about getting home as we drive the rally car and service car to and from events. There was oil coming from somewhere, and I completed the necessary paperwork whilst Matt packed up from the rally. Matt decided the car was driveable, but he’d avoid motorways and take the longer, more scenic route, home.

By the time he made it home, the gearbox was making horrific noises and having started to take the car apart, the engine needs a rebuild too. Not something we had planned, and a rather expensive time coming up I fear… A day to forget.

Thanks to M&H Photography for the images.

Autotesting and BBQ’ing

Autotesting and BBQ’ing… two things which go well together!

Oxford MC have, for many years, run a summer autotest with a BBQ. It’s not just any old BBQ; the Blackwells make the effort to purchase meat from their local butcher, make all the chutneys, salads and accompaniments themselves, and many items of produce have been homegrown on their allotment. They cook everything on the day, and it’s all included in the entry fee (which is no higher than other events) – what an effort!

We hadn’t done the event for a number of years, and the only thing missing was the weather. Someone had missed the memo that the end of July should be warm and sunny, and instead whilst the first few crews got dry runs, for most the event was held in heavy rain. The ground was best described as a mud bath, and the marshals, whilst suitably attired, couldn’t help but get a little damp.

At first the tests tackled were all about keeping momentum and going forwards, not sideways, but by late afternoon with very muddy conditions just keeping going and not getting stuck was the name of the game. Despite the weather it was an enjoyable event, just a little more sun next year would be appreciated by all!

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Boundless by CSMA Autotest

Matt and I have not competed on many autotests that allow a passenger, but the Boundless by CSMA event was one that did. As he is often quicker than me on grass I thought it would be useful to sit alongside him, and vice versa, to get quicker. We had a pact we wouldn’t talk to each other unless the other person was about to do a wrong test, as that’s what we are used to, so having scrutineered, signed on and walked the tests it was time to crack on.

The grass in the field used was quite long, so early tests were somewhat slippery. The handbrake on the MG is not too bad and proved useful to get the front of the car turning in when it wanted to understeer.

The tests themselves were a little more complex than other autotests I have done recently, and so I made sure I walked them as many times as possible prior to starting and luckily, I got the tests correct all day without a wrong route. There were a couple of times I asked Matt “which way?!” but it all seemed to work out in the end.

We were both in a slightly odd position where we weren’t really fighting for the positions in front, but both had a small gap behind to maintain (and not lose with any silly mistakes!). We finished up consecutively in the results with Matt sixth and myself seventh, and I also took home the Best Beginner award due to the regs for this event.

Targa Rallying at Woodbridge

I hadn’t visited Woodbridge in over a year, and that was for a stage rally in May 2016. Given it’s location we headed to Ipswich the night before to make things easier for the Sunday early morning start. Using the MG ZR gave the benefit that we could travel together in the same car (not possible in the Micra with spares etc) and with the event a week after stage rallying at Down Ampney, it made life easier for Matt in terms of preparing and packing cars.

We were seeded as Car 4, which felt a little high! Matt drove the first set of three tests first and things seemed to go ok, it was very much a team event with good input needed from the navigator and some tough bits and pieces to call/explain/instruct on as quickly as possible. It was then my turn to drive, and having not driven the MG on a targa before it was good to be in the right hand seat. All was going ok, until test three when we had a page turn on the test. In the heat of the moment, things happen and unfortunately Matt turned the page the wrong way and then was unsure where we were. We stopped (it’s better to go slower the right way than quicker the wrong way due to the penalties) and I ended up grabbing the map, finding where we were and off we went.

Matt was hugely apologetic at the end of the test, but these things happen and whilst yes it may have cost me a few places, such is life. It was then time for tests 4, 5 and 6 which were the same as we had just done, and this time it was my turn to complete these first. They were all completed without any issues, and then it was time to swap seats so I could navigate for Matt.

The day continued with no real dramas and we both completed all 12 of the tests. There were a few rough bits at Woodbridge and more than once we thought we had punctured a tyre, but thankfully hadn’t. We had the normal “turn left, turn left, LEFT NOW” as Matt went to sail on by and I started to shout louder and louder, but no real dramas.

As classes are split by experience and class, Matt and I were in different classes with him as a Master (having won his class in the last five years) and myself as an Expert. We both finished 5th in class which was ok, but we both had lost time early in the day which didn’t truly help our positions by the end of the event.

The 2017 Tostig Targa Rally 32