I was more organised for Race 2 (which was actually Race 3 but let's not complicate things. Adam Lockwood in car 11 and I shared the sixth row of the grid and the race was expected to be a flat out bash between us both as the rest of the Mk1s were starting a few rows back. Our race was made even more exciting as we were getting held up by faster cars. If you don't know already, guess who won. No cheating and looking at the results.
Here's race 1 from what has now become Round 1 of the 2018 MR2 Championship. Different to before, we are now in classes. Class A for Mk1 MR2s being the slowest. I'm supposed to be on the 5th row of the grid but missed the call to go to the start whilst trying to work out what a fluid leak on the car (and being a complete numpty) was so am instructed to start from the back. Which made for an interesting race.
Cambrian rally today. The sun shone and the skies were blue. Llandudno, The Great Orme and our Welsh friends were good hosts. Rough stages and a hard day’s rall...ying. Simon Ashton on the maps as navigator (rather than on the notes as narrator!) did a sterling job where the maps were good. Every corner is a surprise and no two corners are the same. We are both pleased with 40th and 5th in class for only my 4th time in Wales over the last 25 years and the first ever in this part, and only a handful of seconds off the pace in each stage. (A slack handful if I’m honest) Thanks to Pud, Simon Law and Rob Hart for spannering and to everyone who offered encouragement along the way. Not sure what happened with the clutch. We were struggling for gears on the last three stages and the starter exited stage left shortly after the start ramp but we soldiered on.
The RAC Rally to date.
I was tempted to say a few words at the award ceremony on Monday but I tend to get a bit nervous or emotional; and there’s no way I’d ha...ve stood for the drunken fellow heckling so I decided to wind Colin up and pretend I wanted to; but in fairness I think he was disappointed that I didn’t. No one else was.
When “A proper rally” was being considered in 2002 / 2003, I was one of the first to volunteer my services as an assistant. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I was all for taking on a job on the organising team and helping it on its way. I was refused point blank. “You’ve got a car; you’re doing it” came the reply.
No pressure then.
I’d been running YTJ for a few years back then and she was getting a little tired, and the asthmatic Pinto was no match for the new fangled twin cam powered beasties with Vauxhall engines in so I’d already made the decision that if you can’t beat em, join em. Pud at Woodfield Garage performed miracles on the car with hand-made floors and a gearbox tunnel, a state of the art dashboard and the Vauxhall Engine and Sierra gearbox combination. We were too far down the road to turn the car into a hysteric so we forged on with the a changed plan; to build a car that would be capable of reaching the end of the Roger Albert Clark Rally.
In 2004, I was quite ambitious about my talents and had decided that I could have a go against Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Steve Bannister and Malcolmm Wilson. I wasn’t far wrong either. I was among the leading drivers during the first day, swapping times with the best of them in Rother Valley and Gisburn, but it all went a bit Pete Tong when we hit the forests proper in the dark in Keilder and we spent 30 minutes in a ditch with bent steering and a sore thumb as I learned the hard way that don’t cut really means don’t cut. We soldiered on and crossed the line in Sheffield but for some reason we had been excluded overnight whilst we battered the car back together and were not there to raise appeal within the 30 minutes.
Further preparation made the car better over the following years and we were rewarded in 2008 with the key retirement of Mick Jones who was trouncing us substantially when his diff expired and handed us the victory in the open.
Snow was the deciding factor in 2010 when we stuck the grass track tyres on that had littered the service van for the previous six years and along with a substantial spill kit, we were en-route to another victory in the freezing temperatures and 18 inches of snow, this time in a full historic spec brand shiny new car called Sarah Jane. Despite being full Gp4 spec, the car was still not allowed in the main event because the BDG engine I asked Father Christmas for turned out to be a pack of Pringle underpants and a Crossflow off Ebay had to suffice. The laws that be decided that they never built a Gp4 car and put a crossflow in it so I was back in the Open Rally and the glass rose bowl was ours.
2011 was character-building for us. Sarah Jane had been retired following an insurance inspection when the value was announced and I simply could not afford to put her through a forest again. The spares package was raided and YTJ was rebuilt with all the dents knocked out, the holes welded up and a bucket of filler in the roof and she rose from the ashes once more and was christened Phoenix. A snapped halfshaft on the opening night saw us at the wayside until the course was closed and a marshal dragged us back to service where we carried on. We’d dropped over 20 minutes so were last overall but managed to claw a lot of that back to most of the competitors and finally clinched the last spot on the podium as a result of it snowing on the last day and the grass track tyres and the spill kit had another airing.
There are a handful of competitors who have started all twelve RACs but I’m the only one to reach the end of them all. I’m pretty proud of that and most of the credit must go to Pud. Paul Wood from Woodfield Garage. The preparation of the car is phenomenal. I know I don’t exactly wring the car’s neck all the way round; I learned the limit of my talents fairly early on; and that there is only one winner if you take the Keilder undergrowth on, and it’s not the car.
So 2017 was a huge dilemma for me. A fairly significant day in my life as I reached the ripe old age of 50 on the day of scrutineering. The other half was quite understanding. We moved my birthday forwards and I was free to scrutineer on the big day. The organising team had laid out my own special scrutineering area which was decorated with balloons and bunting and presented me with a card and a present. I was a bit choked to be honest and would like to thank my mates and the organising team for putting it together for me. The evening involved a rally car parade around Leominster and then an evening reception with most of Herefordshire’s mayors and The Lord Lieutenant who welcomed us on behalf of The Queen. All the dignitaries were announced by the Town Crier in full formal wear including tricorn hat, who later went on to call up the driver of car 50 of the rally so that I could be presented with a birthday cake by the mayoral party. A brief speech was given by me but as I said previously, I’m not too good at that sort of thing.
The rally was arguably the best ever and certainly the most demanding. I type this two days later with aches from areas I didn’t know could ache. We were on the pace of the eventual winner of the Open Rally having dropped only 16 seconds to him on day 1 and about the same on the first half of day 2 before I ran out of talent and planted it in a bog at the side of a straight piece of road. Spectators managed to drag us out after just under half an hour of hard work and head scratching and we continued the rally at a much more relaxed pace after that and managed to drag Phoenix home on the podium once more with another fine third place in the Open.
Many thanks to all the organisers for putting on the event, the marshals and all rally personnel for knocking the stakes in and standing out in the cold and especially Colin and Nicola and the rally hierarchy for sticking their necks out and having faith in us competitors.
I have to give an absolutely huge thanks and congratulations to our team. The hardest part of a weekend of laying in the mud and sleep deprivation is all getting on with each other and we even managed that this year. It’s my round tonight. Our crew consist of Pud Wood who is a mechanical genius and the backbone of the team, Simon Law and Steve Carter in the chase car and service, Rob Hart and Mike Hart on the service crew and to Simon sat beside me on the maps (yes maps) who never made a bad call all weekend (well hardly, apparently there’s a lot of “not as maps” in Greskine 1, but not Greskine 2 strangely.) Seriously, huge respect to Simon for the amount of info I get off the maps, it’s just a pity I ignore it and drive steady.
I was thinking of making 2019 a little more challenging for the team by entering in a Mk1 MR2 but I’m told I’m not allowed. They prefer not to be busy!
Thanks to everyone and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did.
There were awards last weekend for the leading crews who contested the rally using maps rather than route notes.
The top four finishers were:
1 Dave Hemingway/S...imon Ashton
2 Stephen Higgins/Sam Spencer
3 Andy Madge/Mike Smith
4 Steve Graham/Tony Graham
Congratulations to all of them for taking on the challenge!