Back into the fold – Bath Festival Targa 2018 Preparation

“Only a few months”

That is how long I told my Nan that I needed to store the rally car in her garage while we moved house.

2 years later Ken the nova was finally released from his dark and lonely prison after being forgotten in the excitement of other hobbies and an extended garage build at the new house. A quick check over and the 26 year old engine fired up on the third crank, and then flew straight though a MOT.

This sudden call to action has been driven by the growth of Targa road rallying over the last few years, to the point where there is a new targa rally championship being run by the ASWMC. The good news is that this includes many of the old endurance rallies on which we have had so much fun in the past.

So on the the Bath Festival Targa in a few weeks, we last competed on this event two years ago when it was run as a full road rally, we particularly enjoyed the forest tests that are likely to be used this year.

So we are really looking forward to getting back out and trying to remember how to drive again!

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Bath Festival Road Rally 2016

The 2016 Bath Festival 5a

A year had passed since the last Bath Festival and somehow having forgotten how delightfully horrible you feel the Monday after an all-night road rally, I foolhardily put an entry in for the 2016 event. This edition was to be very much like the last, 120 miles of forests, white’s, farmyards and slippery lanes all based just south of Bath. Word had spread after the superb event 12 months ago and this time the 60 car entry was full in a matter of weeks, the organisers even managed to wrangle with the MSA to extend the entry to a maximum of 70 cars, with 66 actually starting on the night.

Queuing up at scrutinering it was clear that the pace was going to be scorching when a 2 litre MK2 escort popped and burbled up behind me to join the progressively more expensive and shiny line of stage car refugees. The fabled Welsh crews had come over the Seven Bridge in force and had brought along some serious weaponry in a brazen attempt to raid and plunder Bath Motor Clubs silverware. These were definitely not the usual little 1400 endurance cars we are used to!

The 2016 Bath Festival 4

Signing on yielded 6 pages of grid refs, diagrams, maps, time cards and other seemly vital paperwork. The intense sound of 2B pencils being sharpened helped focused the mind for the seemingly epic plotting job ahead. With that thankfully out the way we headed out to the cars to find beautiful but ominous ice patterns emerging on the still clean paintwork.  A quick half naked run around a sub zero car park at midnight in February did the trick of jolting a sleepy brain into action before strapping in and setting off into the dark.

The opening gambit was a 15 mile section using the gravel whites and other rights of way up on Salisbury plain. As we flew blindly past the famous white horse landmark we could have done with some jumping legs ourselves as we rattled flat chat over some pretty serous pot holes, Nick was not wrong when he said that we were lucky for once not to have proper bucket seats fitted, Vauxhalls finest standard 25 year old padding did a great job of comforting both our bottoms! You either go flat out over this terrain in a feeble attempt to “float” over the holes or slow right down, whatever you do, do not change your mind half way through! Needless to say that flat was the order of the day.

After this we visited the woods around the normally tranquil longleat forest, home to lions, tigers and holidaying family’s, all who were probably now being kept awake by the bark of numerous cars tearing around in the dark close to their respective enclosures. Several miss slots due to us both being out of practice cost us over 3 minutes, however after a mile long section of sweeping 3rd gear corners with the back end dancing sideways just on the wrong side of grip we couldn’t care less.

The 2016 Bath Festival 3 - Copy

Out of the forests and on to the road rally proper, this was just as fast and frantic as expected with lots of visits to farm yards, showground’s, long way triangles, whites and other hazards to take time out of you. Run with sections timed to the second we very rarely had to wait for our due time, with us dropping a few seconds at most controls. The top crews were also dropping time but just that little bit less, it could be down to having quicker cars, less hesitation in the corners or simply just being much much more awesome, but to come so close felt pretty good to us mere mortals.

As the sun started brighten the edges of the distant horizon we came to the end of the last section and suddenly 5 hours of non-stop rallying was complete. The last time I did an event that was anywhere near as full on as this was the now mythical Carpetbagger of old, praise indeed for the organisers.

We were very happy to finish 20th overall in such a well supported event, without the small errors at the start we would have been about 15th and amongst the other highest finishing 1400’s. To move much higher in a field as good as this may need a little more grunt than the 80bhp wielded by “Ken” the little white rot box! Does anybody have a spare 1.8 Corsa SRI engine floating about?

In the end the spoils of the night were indeed taken back across the river into dragon country by Paul Tod and David ‘Garth’ Powell in a very flash non turbo Subaru Impreza, they were chased all night by a brace of trick MK2 Escorts and powerful 206 GTI’s but the 4×4 just giving them an edge in the forests.

 

Exmoor Targa Rally 2015

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Having entered this event last year when it was an endurance rally I knew that this year’s version which was running as a “Targa rally” was going to be good, for those who don’t know, a targa is basically a road rally where the competitive element is completely off road using  tests, to keep the speeds down to road rally type average speeds the tests have code boards, passage controls and lots of slippery slaloms!

The Exmoor used four runs up the 2.5 miles of Porlock Toll road and two laps of three different gravel forest tests of around 6, 2 and 8 miles long. Be sure that these tests are not micky mouse or like an autosolo and in fact cover much of the same ground as the Somerset stages. With people like Jamie Jukes (who did the Isle of Man rally two weeks ago in his Super 1600 Swift!) on the 44 car entry list, the pace was going to be quick.

With Ashley my regular navigator having a go at driving on this event I called on my father, he used to be an accomplished driver but also has only sat in the silly seat a few times. Southsea Motor Club was well represented with Ashley Aslett and his dad Rob out in the hastily repaired MGZR after an altercation with a post van a few weeks before, Jimmy Jackson and Rowan Corney were out in the rapid red Clio and Nick Clark was out navigating for ex local Mike Saywell in his 106 Rallye.

The event itself was one of the best I have done since swapping seats and having a go at twiddling the steering thingy and stomping on the pedalmabobs , the gravel tracks were in fantastic  condition and the weather even played ball all day, it was lovely to have “issues” with dust and a blinding low sun in October.

We Absolutely loved Porlock toll road and had a right blast up the hill, luckily I remembered it well from last year so we pushed hard and were amazed when after the first 2 tests we were apparently 4th OA!  Now Ken (the nova) does have a few trick bits bolted on but is still basically a 24 year old, 80hp, 1400cc rust box, so to be quicker than some proper escorts and people in cars with 2x the power means we must have been doing something right! Remember next year guys – flat through the toll booth!

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Unfortunately it wouldn’t last long as I drove like a granny on the next three long gravel tests. Dad hadn’t been out since the bustard nearly a year ago and I have only done a few road rallies and a CMC airfield targa since then so the first gravel tests were very much a case of remembering how to drive on the loose again, really fun but very slow and driving straight past a code board in the excitement of it all doesn’t really help, getting us a minute penalty.

Back to Porlock for two more runs through a rearranged test and we set a few more great times (8th and 5th) in the little nova. I then had a quiet word with myself and with some good advice from the old man we set some much better times on the 2nd run through the three forests, particularly on the last 8 miler (12th fastest) where we didn’t get bulked by any slower cars. As they (whoever “they “ are?) say everything started to finally click, just a little too late.

In the end we finished a very happy 17th, and would have been 14th without me missing the code board. However that’s rallying and we didn’t really care as we both had such a fun time and had surprised ourselves with the pace on the tarmac. Dad already has said that we must put it in the calendar for next year. And I thought he was supposed to be retiring and putting his feet up!!

Amazing to see what someone like Jamie Jukes can do, to win by a margin of nearly two minutes is incredible, so a well done to him and his nav Ross. Apart from the guys out at the front, it was also incredibly tight throughout the field, with just over 4 minutes covering from 5th to 20th after 90 minutes of rallying.

Long may the targa rally format and in particular the Exmoor live on!

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CMC Jumbo Targa Rally 2015

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All the way back in November 2013 I competed on a newish event, it was called a targa rally and was basically a road rally held completely off road at an airfield, imagine lots of tests from 1 to 3 miles long with a 30mph average and a few passage controls to help keep the speeds down a little. Oh and the best bit is that you can compete in your standard road rally car with no need for roll cages, helmets, race suits, MSA licences, log books, Bar tests etc (however a basic level of safety gear is recommended).  Naturally these are incredibly popular especially when you can also double drive your car so that you both get to drive and navigate for each other through the day, sharing the cost to make it even cheaper and giving you a real action packed day!

The tests are a typically range from larger faster autosolo type layouts to much more flowing but tight stage rally type affairs, either way the entries are about £50 and you get between 30 and 45 mins of competitive action for your cash, I have to say these events are quite similar to some single venue stage rallies for much less cost! Chelmsford Motor Club has pioneered these events and the latest was the “Javelin Jumbo Targa” held at Wethersfield airfield on the 19th of April.

After navigating for me back on the 2013 targa Emma fancied having a go at driving on one of these events so two entries were put in for both of us, Jimmy Jackson and Rowan Corney were also (quite easily) talked into coming to play as well. As Wethersfield is the other side of Stansted airport we drove up in the nova the day before (no trailers here!) and booked into a cheap Travel Inn for the night.

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On arrival at the airfield I knew we were in for a good day as the test layouts looked fantastic and used the infamous “bomb dump”, there was also a full entry of 75 cars as well which made my seeding at car 11 look optimistic! Off to the first loop of three tests and after a small wake up call for both me driving and Emma on the maps we were having load of fun sliding the car around on the completely unsuitable gravel suspension and nearly dead tyres I had found at the back of the garage.

A quick swap and it was Emma’s turn to drive, having only driven the car once before on a loose autotest 3 years ago Emma had a bit of a moment on the 3rd corner when some understeer then oversteer caught her out resulting in a comedy slow speed spin and stall. However after this she steadily improved whilst learning how the car reacted to her ever improving control.

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Jimmy and Rowan seemed to be getting on well and had smiles on their faces whenever we saw them, really getting into it while playing with tire pressures and working out how to drive the tests better on the next runs. I steadily upped the pace a little and was starting to get the times I was expecting, but then took too many liberties on one test and hit a curb puncturing straight away. Made it to the end of the test but this meant the only tyres we had left to use were the worn knobblies I had taken just in case it was wet or muddy, not much help when its sunny, dry and 99% smooth tarmac! At least it made the marshals laugh as we rocked up to the start lines of the tests with the car in full gravel mode!

At the end of the day Emma had shown a huge improvement on every test and with a little coaching ended getting within 6% of my time on one the tests on the last loop, she finished 61st OA beating some much more experienced competitors.  At the end of the last test she turned to me with a big grin and asked when the next event was, well all I could say was that it is good job I am about to marry her!

After putting the knobblies on it was a tall ask for me to improve too much on the last loop of tests but had fun sliding around all the same. I finished  15thOA and 1st EA (Expert under 1400cc class), a pretty good result considering the competition which was made up of mostly quite serious road rally cars with some even more serious sticky tyres (eBay search now underway!), we were also the 3rd under 1400 car which was a nice accolade for the 23 year old Nova which was starting to sound a bit rattily towards the end of the day.

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Bath Festival Road Rally 2015

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After hearing great things about the Bath Festival Road Rally in 2014 I was very keen to get an entry on what is becoming a must do event, the plan was to join up with Nick Clarke again and try to recreate our success on the myotis last year, unfortunately Nick was sadly side lined at the last minute due to illness. So on the morning of the event I put a call out to all and sundry to find a navigator, step forward Rich McLachlan who having been a regular driver and a navigator in the past fancied a run out.

After introductions Rich and I got down to the epic job of pre plotting the intricate route from the 8 pages of grid references! This took a good 2+ hours in total but meant the rest of the night would be about the lanes and not any tricky instructions. Just before the off we thought it would be a good idea seeing if Rich could fit in the diminutive Nova with his tall 6.2” frame, after some adjustments we got him in. Then a quick change of tyres to some £35 2 year old knobblies I had with me as that’s what everyone else was running – proper cheap motorsport!

We were seeded car 30 out of a great 60 entries including some hotshot welsh crews, no one can deny that the southern road rally scene is having a bit of a revival at the moment!  22:30 came around and we were off! To start there were 4 short tests around a showground, a farm and a small forest, we didn’t go mad but were still faster than some of guys we regularly compete with in our 1400 endurance cars. Rich seemed to enjoy himself with the nova nice and sideways everywhere.

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Then onto the rally proper, this event used regulatory sections and for those not familiar this means sections can be timed to the second and you get double penalties if you are early (if you want more information please ask at the next club night) what it does do however is to make the poor navigator work hard as they have to be very sure on entry times into controls, we got a bit excited at the beginning after being late into the first few controls only to check in 56 seconds early at the next giving us a 1:52 min penalty, Lesson learnt!

The lanes were slippery, muddy, wet, dry, tight, open, cold, icy then to top it off foggy right at the end when everybody was getting tired! Add in a few farms and other off road excursions it added up to a formidable 100 mile route. Most the dropper sections were a few miles long with passage controls, code boards (number plates), give ways, RLO’s, triangles, farms and time controls. All designed to make you drop time, fast and frantic is the word!

After the 3rd timecard (out of 4) we were an amazing 14th overall, only 11:52 minutes behind the leader. However in the cruel world of rallying a marshal didn’t countersign one of our code boards on the very last section of the night, we didn’t spot it and the onus is on the crew to make sure it happens every time, this gave us a fail, which dropped us down to 21st overall out of 43 finishers, still a respectable result in the company and on my 2nd ever Nat B Road event driving but without the fail we would have been 13th for sure! Rallying is full of if’s, but’s and maybes!

Great Bustard 2014 – Muddy Fields and Foggy Forests

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With Ashley unable to take the time off work, my dad stepped in to navigate for me on the 2014 Great bustard and what an event it is! There is no doubt that The Great Bustard is one of those must do events, if only to slide around the famous muddy worthy farm of Glastonbury festival fame, a venue unique to endurance rallying. It is also very well run so thanks to all the organisers and marshals. We were really impressed that there were marshals on every PC and no code boards! A great job by all the team at Salisbury and Shaftesbury Car club.

With dad not having been on an event for a while and over 6 years since being any kind of navigator we went into the 14.5 mile long Worthy 1 test with the simple aim to get further than last year (we got 10 miles before the gearbox went bang). The first of many lovely fast jumps had dad’s glasses off his head and under the seat so we had to drive most of it blind, he could see the tulips in the road book but not the ball or arrows showing which way to go!

We got to slate barn and dad remembered it from when we did it years before and convinced me that it was flat along the straight and through the kinks by the tree just after the start, that and a big moment at the 90 left + right at the end gave us an 8th fastest time, I can see why people love this test! We even eyed up a solar installation half way round wondering that if we took some of the panels out maybe we could get Mr Aslett some work!

Onto some lovely concrete farmyard tests which were very slippery then back to worthy for two more 14.5 mile long runs through but reversed and changed this time, with glasses tightly strapped to dads head we gave them really good runs to go 10th and 11th fastest, I particularly enjoyed running around in the twilight with mist just starting to make an appearance in the spot lights on the edges of the fields. I think atmospheric is the right word!

After this the fog descended with vengeance giving pretty poor visibility everywhere, this gave me a horrid headache and I drove like a granny on the first runs around some forestry woods and more farmyard tests, on the second loop we enjoyed them much more knowing where to go in the gloom. Our result after all 85 miles of selectives was 13th overall which is much better than I was expecting. Our aim now was just to get to the end knowing that the night section was going to be tough on dad.

The Fogularity road rally started OK but I wasn’t comfortable pressing on in the pea soup so we took it very easy, after one of the whites we had a massive vibration and stopped to check it out, we found that an OSF wheel stud had sheared and the other three nuts were loose and about to disappear off the ends of the studs. Good job we stopped straight away but it cost time to sort out putting us close to OTL.

We managed to get to the last road rally route section through worthy farm with a bit of time left but a single wrong turn right at the end pushed us over OTL at TC7 so to get a finish we cut straight to the end from there missing the last few miles and 4 TC’s.

If we had not had the stud issue we probably would have just about finished without cutting and I think we would have been around 15th overall, but as it was we finished 1st clubman (out of 2 finishers) and picked up an embarrassingly large pot for basically just finishing. Dad did a great job and I think both surprised and enjoyed himself, only a few times did he get excitable and sound concerned with my driving and I think he was impressed with our pace at times in what is really an underpowered 23 year old car.

The Bournemouth Endurance Rally 2014

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Well that was a proper adventure!

Graham, Rob, Charlotte and their army of organisers, marshals and helpers pulled of a massive task and organised a whole new Endurance Road Rally event from scratch al Bovington training grounds, which has to be one of the most unusual venues around. If you don’t know, this is where the army go to teach soldiers to play tanks. Graham had managed to find over 110 miles of tests inside the grounds alone with more to come for next year.

And what an amazing venue for messing about in cars with your mates it was! The place had everything, fast concrete, gravel, sand, grass, fast, slow, open, twisty, technical, everything you could want on an endurance rally really. Some of it did cut up but until you chuck a load of cars at something how is anybody to know what will happen. All the issues were sorted quickly and I’m sure will be learnt from for next time.

We had a great start to the rally and enjoyed getting the mandatory road rally regularity out the way early (not my favourite part), having to stop for 4 tractors in 15 miles of road rally must be some kind of record? Either way the only time lost was our own fault, so no complaints there.

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Really enjoyed the first loop of tests at Bovington and particularly the Woolbridge test with its perfect twisty gravel track full of flowing 2nd gear 90 degree turns. We were pleasantly surprised to see that we were running 9th after 8 of the 21 tests!

Onto the second loop, we were going really well catching a few cars here and there until on selective ten I ran out of talent and lost the back end in a lovely wooded part near the start, we hit the bank quite hard and unfortunately there must have been a stump or rock on the inside as it destroyed the driver’s side lower ball joint, bent the rear suspension beam and ripped the rear tire sidewall to shreds. Luckily I had a spare ball joint in the car (as they are known to be weak) and once everything had cooled down I managed to change it on the side of the track. In the end we missed three further selectives to cut back to within OTL but had a car that could be driven, albeit a little crabby.

The next couple of tests were spent learning the now very interesting handling. With about 20 degree rear toe out on the driver’s side, right hand bends were ok but as soon as you turned left the back end tried to come around, lots of fun and not as bad time wise as I thought it was going to be.

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We were really just carrying on for the laugh and had a ball on the last tests, catching people left right and centre, however there was a lot of bulking going on costing us several minutes stuck behind people, and this was only made worse as our horn had fallen off at some point. An air horn is on the list of things to buy now! We had the pleasure of following a classic mini for part of the last test, and they were great in moving over so quickly when we caught them. We were having a “take the brains out” last selective of the day and set 9th fastest time!

We also had a fantastic drag race down the wide tarmac with Jeremy Harris in his 106 rallye which is actually my old road car that I sold to him over 6 years ago. Unfortunately the old nova lost that particular battle, but the marshals seemed to like it!

So with 4 maximums and several tests taken very slowly just after the impromptu suspension rebuild we still finished in 20th place out of 42 starters and 34 finishers, but most importantly with big smiles on our faces! When we crashed we were running in 11th place and our times after the incident were still close to that kind of pace even with the damage so it’s one of those famous cases of what could have been

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