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.

 

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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Myotis Road Rally 2014 – Kicking up a dust storm on the plain

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After years of people telling me that the Myotis was a must do rally, I finally got a chance this year as my first non-endurance Nat B road rally (and only 5th “proper” rally driving ever), and what an amazing and unique experience it was! Devizes and District motor club are very fortunate to have the use of Salisbury Plain and hold an all-night road rally every year, covering an area the size of the Isle of Wight and containing 100’s of miles of gravel tracks for tanks to practice war on, it is truly an amazing venue. 120 miles of gravel rallying for £90? Yes please!

With Nick Clarke in the nova with me for the first time we had a good start with only one slight miss slot that was easy to miss due to some cones half way across the correct track. As soon as we got to the 1st test we could see that there was going to be carnage due to the 1 minute starts and people doing second runs filtering back into the queue, there was no way everyone from car 15 back wasn’t going to end up OTL, 30 second starts next time please! We enjoyed the first run as it wasn’t to dusty but on the 2nd run we followed about 4 cars around the whole thing in a cloud of dust, so were very slow L.  The poor girl doing the lollypop control was still smiling, not that we could really see her though the dust! Thank you to all the marshals who got coated all night, you are very much appreciated!

On the 2nd run though the test the nova started to misfire, and 5 miles into the next competitive section died completely, we had bounced a HT lead off, easy fix but it still wouldn’t start, found an intermittent spark on 2 cylinders and so had a good look at the dizzy but no obvious issues (unlike the Ross in 2013 where we destroyed a rotor arm), we changed the rotor arm for a spare just in case and it fired up first time! Due to being OTL we then cut to petrol where we were the 10th car in.

As we thought we had missed so much of the route we even thought about going home, glad we didn’t as it would turn out that after the rally that the sections we missed would be scrubbed due to most the cars also being OTL and cutting route after the delay at the test.

So, we carried on just for the crack, really enjoying some lovely little tight sections through some woods and some amazing fast wide open tracks with epic cambered 90 deg turns, only a few times did we find ourselves looking for junctions or code boards.  We seemed to be as quick if not quicker than the cars around us (now we were running 10th on the road) and those who were quicker seemed to be going the wrong way most of the time!

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Got to the end knackered and coated in dust, but with some big smiles. After getting to the hotel we saw the results at petrol where we were about 4th from last (which didn’t have the sections scrubbed yet) and decided that there was no point hanging around. I am ever so embarrassed by this decision now and wish to apologise to the organisers and other competitors who did stay until the end.

On the drive home (in the nova – no trailers here) the heavens opened up 12 hours too late and did a good job of cleaning the outside of the car for me, just need to work out how to remove the 5kg of powdered Salisbury Plain from inside the car now . . . .

After a few hours’ sleep I had a message saying congrats on coming 3rd overall, quite a surprise for sure as I’m pretty new to this driving game. No doubt that it was mostly down to Nick who did a faultless job all night and managed to guide us perfectly through the dusty carnage.

Goes to prove that it is worth keeping going whatever happens, as you never know what is going to transpire, and you might be having a bad night but everyone else’s might just be worse!

Being brought up navigating on the original endurance rallies and events like the Wessex “Funky Elephant” I can’t say that I thought the tracks were that rough, a quite a few pot holes out there but most could be avoided with a bit of care, and in general the tracks were very  good. Maybe a few arrows might help with some of the missed slots but at the end of the day it is a “navigational rally” so the navigator will always be important, and going the right way is always going to be more important than being the fastest!

Southwest Endurance Rally 2014

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Well what a great day Ashley and I had!

Having navigated on the original SW enduros years ago with my dad in the blue KA, I was expecting the forests to be good, but they were even better than I remember! This was only my 3rd rally driving and first on proper forestry tracks so we were in learning mode all day, but was happy with some 12th fastest times and finishing the day part of the rally 13th out of the 29 people in total that were doing the daytime tests. Rallying with sunglasses on was a novelty for me!

We only had a few moments all day, one of which when we hit the 1 foot diameter x 2 foot long log forming part of the last chicane on the first test, punching it quite away down the track. Slightly bent the lower front valance but no major functional damage. Other than that we had a great time driving on the 50+ miles of selectifs which were all on high quality super smooth forestry Commission tracks based both on Dartmoor and to the north west of Oakhampton. Several times on the 2nd run through the selectifs we were playing “don’t lift” on some very quick corners and trying to see how late we could brake into the marshals and chicanes, loved that one girl at a PC jumped backwards as we braked from 4th gear into her control as she said the sump guard was sparking from all the stones hitting it!

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Onto the 30 mile long road rally night section and we were always going to be taking it easy to make sure we got to the last selectifs, however once in those lanes we started to get into the groove and managed to complete the whole route with no major issues and just dropping a few minutes here and there, Ashley did a fine job with not one missed slot or mistake, the lad has potential! We dropped 4 minutes while a black nova had to get plucked out of a 1.5 foot deep puddle on a white but this wouldn’t have made a difference in the results so no matter.

The first 1.5 miles of the road rally were unbelievable, I have never seen such a lane, the sign at the bottom “no motor vehicles” was not inspiring confidence, I don’t think you could walk up it if you tried and god only knows how the bigger rovers and such managed to get up it! However the car did sound lovely revving hard in those tight steep sided lanes. 30 miles of road rally may not sound like much but I don’t think I got out of 2nd gear very much as the roads were so tight and twisty! These roads were by far the craziest I have ever competed on and that includes navigating on 5 of the legendry Carpetbaggers in the past. South Hams Motor Club are very lucky!

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We arrived at the last 3 selecifs at about 2am, they were based in Haldon forest near the Exeter racecourse and again were lovely and smooth, having not been used for rallying for years, we had a big sideways moment in 3rd gear at the end of the penultimate selective that we were lucky to recover. Then onto the finish (for us) at the petrol. Some die hard people were continuing on to do the full 120 mile primrose night rally, however I couldn’t imagine doing the rest of the road rally at that point as I was 100% shot!

Very happy with 7th overall in the shorter endurance rally but most of all we had learnt so much and had a great day with some even greater people, lovely to be part of such a nice scene again.

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