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.