Remarkably, the car had been ready for the rally for some time. There were a couple of jobs that were outstanding and left until the last minute; like swapping the rear leaf springs and fitting the new front disks and pads. The car was loaded onto the trailer the night before the rally and the chase car packed, so all there was left to do on Friday morning was hook the trailer onto the van and make our way to Pickering.
We’d been watching the weather carefully and the cold spell which seemed to be gathering momentum seemed to dwindle away and we were presented with a relatively mild weekend and no matter how much of a snow dance I did, it looked like we were out of luck.
The first night consisted of a steady plod into the woods and two stages, both repeated, in the Dalby complex. Stage 1 was a blast up and down the long Riggs and Dales and through the Woodyard.
Stage 1 Dalby 1
We sat on the start line, all fired up and ready to go and slipped and slithered our way into the Woodyard through the massive crowds and away up Flax Dale, The next Rigg is apparently flat but I was very nervous on the narrow track and was backing off un-necessarily for small crests and was mistaking tufts of grass for the corners. The stage time reflected this and we were already in sixth.
Stage 2 Newclose 1
Still part of Dalby but much wider with flowing corners and wider tracks. Our pace was much better on this stage with no un-necessary backing off and our third position was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how much the leader, Alan McDowall and Gav Hestletine were in front of us. Martin Hawkswell was, as expected, taking time out of us so it looked at this early stage as though we were in a battle for third place. This looked like being tight between a handful of cars. Nick Jarvis in his Mk1 Escort, Nigel Barber in the Astra and Andy Madge in the Corrolla plus ourselves were all of a similar pace.
Dalby 2 qnd Newclose 2
A long service was had in Dalby before we ventured out into the woods again to repeat stages 1 and 2. I’d tidied my act up a little and we went 20 seconds faster than the first run of Dalby 2 and was 4th and continued with a third in Newclose 2 before we went back to Pickering for the overnight halt.
We were lying in 4th position overnight. What was looking like a four horse race for third was looking to be down to three as Nigel Barber was a minute up on us; but not to worry, the last time Nigel did the RAC we were able to turn the wick up and put some time into him to eek out a lead over him so I’m sure we’d be able to do that again.
Stage 5. Gale Rigg 1
Gale Rigg was the opening stage and we left a very foggy Pickering and climbed out onto the North York Moors and above the low-lying cloud into bright sunshine. I put the hammer down and we were second, a handful of seconds down on McDowall, a handful up on Hawkswell and we’d had 14 out of Barber. Another three stages like that and we could be up to third.
SS6 and 7 Duncombe 1 and 2
Duncombe was foggy and it was scary travelling through the trees at speed. We traversed the tricky downhill hairpins with ease but the car went airborne and straight on at the bottom of the hill, missing the slight left in favour of a trip through the barbed wire fence and down a banking into a field. To make matters worse, there were spectators leaning on the fence who took flight as we headed towards them, some falling to the ground as they fled. We stayed around to make sure that everyone got up. Only one was limping but we were hurried on our way leaving the marshals to take care of the casualty.
We were last on the stage having dropped about half a minute, and as things were tight, it dropped us to fifth overall, Andy Madge having passed us. Another trip round Duncombe proved costly as we caught our minute man who absolutely refused to let us pass and dropped us a further 20 seconds.
SS8. Gale Rigg 2
Back to Gale Rigg and we were back on the pace again. Hawkswell improved slightly to better us and we only had 4 seconds out of Barber but half a minute from Jarvis who was breathing down our necks coming out of Duncombe.
SS 9 and 10. Duncombe 3 and 4
Duncombe 3 went without a hitch. We were 6th in here but only a handful of seconds separated the top 8 crews with a pretty similar story for Duncombe 4 where we were fifth.
A short drive to Croft was spoiled somewhat by all the traffic that had diverted from a blocked A1 and joined us on what should have been a leisurely drive through Northallerton. Instead we were diverted down some country lanes in the pea souper fog and arrived via the back entrance to the circuit.
SS 11 and 12 Croft 1 and 2
Croft being an all tarmac stage, we put our best slicks on the car. Unfortunately, the slicks weren’t as new as they used to be and apparently, the compound wasn’t really suitable for a wet and cold November afternoon. I gave the steering a jerk whilst driving steadily through the service area to see how much grip they seemed to have and the back end stepped out. This was going to be interesting. Surprisingly, despite being sideways from lights to flag, and enjoying a monumental spin, we beat Hawkswell and were only 10 seconds down to McDowall but the stars of the show were Nigel Barber for winning the stage and taking 26 seconds out of us, and Jarvis who was only three behind barber. Croft 2 was pretty much a repeat but McDowall must have found his feet to win, but a further 25 were dropped to Jarvis and Barber.
So we left Croft with the tail well and truly wedged between the legs. We were now two and a half minutes down on Barber and any chance of third place. Hawkswell was a further minute up the road looking quite safe in second with McDowall a further minute and a quarter clear. To make matters worse, we were back into fifth and trailing Jarvis by 12 seconds. Regrettably, our old sparring partner Andy Madge was still parked in Duncombe Park in the same place as we parked last year and suffering a similar broken half shaft but was still scoring super-rally times and would later join back in the fun.
SS 13. Hamsterley.
This stage never looks familiar and was pretty much like Dalby where I was braking hard for the straights and was nervous about dropping into one of the humongous ditches. Another 12 dropped to Barber but half a minute gained over Jarvis. We were back in fourth.
SS14 Pundershaw 1
I’m not sure exactly what happens in the fog. Whether there was a little fog cloud following us round like the Creepy Coupe off the Wacky Races or whether we just dropped on unlucky but we were 8th quickest and a minute off the pace in a 6 mile stage. Luckily Jarvis was only 6 up and Barbers were 8 so it looks as though they encountered the same mist as us. Perhaps I’m just a wuss in the fog as well as on straights?
was even worse. We were brought to a complete standstill at one point trying to work out where the stage went. Luckily, we could see a feint glimmer of a control board a few yards away which turned out to be the advance warning for the finish otherwise we may still be in there. Notable times were that we tied with Jarvis and dropped another minute to Barber, Nige Barrett taking over half a minute out of us in his Nova.
So at the end of day 2 of the 2012 Roger Albert Clark Open Rally we headed to Carlisle to the overnight halt lying a very dangerous 4th position, Nick Jarvis snapping at our heels only 11 seconds behind and we were absolutely no-where near a podium as Nigel Barber was now 3:33 in front of us. Up to the end of day 2 we have already covered the equivalent mileage to three National Championship rounds and tomorrow we have the equivalent to two more. And my bum is already starting to ache due to being sat in the same position for 14 hours in the hard rally car seat, everyone is knackered and ready for bed. And we do this for fun!
We didn’t have to wait for the alarm to wake us up as the drumming of the rain on the Premier Inn roof had already done it.
As I stated at the end of day one, we’d been able to turn the wick up and put time into Barber previously so we could possibly find the three and a half minute deficit to claw back a podium spot. Time to stop nancying around and do some of that rally driver stuff. Still quite aware that we were running on unfamiliar roads with huge ditches on each side which could swallow a car whole, we pressed on.
SS16 Glen Dhu
was part of the Kershope complex and we had 7.5 miles of it. Times were tight at the top with everyone quite similarly paced apart from MaDowall who was half a minute clear. Worse thing was that Barber had 4 out of us. This catching up lark wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
Nine miles of Newcastleton next and sixth place stage time, another 4 down on Barber. But time to start looking behind as Nick Jarvis was on a charge and brought his deficit down to 16 seconds.
Three miles of Orange trees and Everglades greeted us in the sunny Florida Valley and all the stage times were within a few seconds. We took one off Barber and five off Jarvis. Now we’re talking!
Fourteen miles of Riccarton followed and the three way battle was split by 4 seconds, in my favour, taking three from Jarvis and four from Barber. Andy Madge stuck in a sneaky top three appearance with the top two spots business as usual with McDowall and Hawkswell.
SS 20 and 21. Craik1 and 2
A pretty good 9 mile stage as we were second quickest, only 5 off Barber and Jarvis so the overall scores were pretty much as they were at the start of the day. Jarvis now trailing us by half a minute, but the next run through saw everyone improve except us so we dropped a handful.
Wauchope followed. This was a reverse of the morning’s Riccarton stage and rather than call it Notrccir, it was caller Wauchope. There was a fairly big upheaval to the event on this stage.
Alan McDowall and Gav Hestletine had opened up a lead of over five and a half minutes over their nearest rival and almost eight over third place. So we were extremely surprised to come across them hanging perilously close to falling off the edge of a ravine and into the bubbling river below. Both were out of the car and Gav was slowing us down and wielding the OK board.
As the story unfolds, they cut the inside of a hairpin a bit too close and it sucked the car in. As we passed, the front end was well down the banking and the rear of the car was at head height. Alan and Gav had climbed out of what they are describing as an Italian Job moment and were busy flagging the following cars down when the car set off down the banking on its own, crashing into the bubbling river below. Gav tells a good story of what they had to do to get it out. I’ll leave that one to him.
So with 22 of the 24 stages complete, we had a new leader. Martin Hawkswell led Nigel Barber by 2:07, we were a further 3:56 down (see the charge was paying off) with Nick Jarvis a further 33 seconds behind.
SS23. Florida 2
Darkness fell and we headed for a reverse of the morning’s Florida stage. Although not really that far off the pace, I was fast developing a dislike for the dark stages which I once loved and found we had dropped nine seconds to Jarvis and it looked like our newly acquired third place could be in jeopardy. RAC Rally safe mode was perhaps a little too safe. We had 26 seconds clear and over 17 miles of Kershope to hold it off for.
Final Stage. SS24 Kershope.
We were delayed for half an hour at the beginning of the stage and it brought back some happy memories. The last time we were here was in 2010 when we were holding a massive lead in the Open Rally and there were six inches of snow on the ground. Cars were being towed up the hill into the stage and the ones that couldn’t make it into stage were being lowered back down again on a rope. This year it was a balmy 10 degrees so we had no chance of the snow I had wished for. The crack was fierce as we all tried to out psyche each other. The delay was caused as Captain Barrett had gone missing mid-stage and was suspected to be well off. He was in fact parked up on the narrow bit after he’d crossed the bridge into England where’ he’s drowned the car out in some deep water.
Nick Jarvis was to start the stage a minute behind us with a deficit of 26 seconds. His pace was easy. Go like stink until you see an Escort in front of you then you’re third. Ours was a little more difficult but basically the same principal in reverse. Go fast enough to not be able to see an Escort in the mirrors. My dislike of the dark was increasing and I’d been messing around with the spotlights trying to get more light on to the road directly in front of the car so would lose out on the longer straights or whilst cornering, I think I preferred it so will have a mess around with this over the winter months on the road. The first bit of the stage was tight and twisty, predominantly narrow and pretty much down hill. All my least favourite attributes. I’m not allowed to look I my mirror whilst driving on a stage but every now and then I caught a glimpse of a white light in the mirror. This made me lose concentration so I was going even slower as a result. I worked out that the white light was from Simon’s Potti and it was lighting the rear hoop of the roll cage up. I knocked the mirror out of line and started concentrating again. We dropped down the hill to the side of the river and then over the bridge into England where we hairpinned left and set off back up the opposite side of the tight, twisty valley we had just come down. Quite soon we saw two sets of headlights, less than 15 seconds apart and certainly less than a minute behind us. I decided that a little more pace was necessary and put the hammer down. The valley bottom road was tight and twisty but I knew there wasn’t much to catch us out so pressed on. The roads opened up and climbed steeply uphill and further into England and after a few more miles we crested the hills and onto open moorland. Although a glimpse in the mirror was now out of the question, we could see our minute man going the other way across the valley head and when we arrived at his location, there was no sign of the two cars that were following us. As we dropped back into the trees and down towards the stage finish, I felt comfortable on the tight and twisty bits and threw the car about with ease as we dropped down to the finish. We got our time and pulled a few yards clear of the line where a raft of reporters were hustling to ask questions. We clocked our finish time and knew that if more than 34 seconds elapsed before the next car arrived that we had maintained our third position. A minute went by; then another. By this time we were being asked to leave the control by the marshals so we did as requested, quite happy that it appeared that we had done what was necessary to maintain our third place.
It was about 30 miles back to Carlisle but once we’d climbed the hill out of the stage and could see the glow of the street lights in the distance, the phone chimed up with internet reception and I refreshed the results page. There were only the first three results in, showing us as third. We waited and waited but still there was no update. Eventually, more times appeared on the results sheet but none for Nick Jarvis. It transpired that he had being giving it some pasty in an all or nothing kind of way, saw us going the other way up the valley and clocked us to be thirty seconds in front so gone all out to catch us. In the meantime, behind Nick and also suffering from the same Red Mist Syndrome was Steve Magson. Steve apparently rolled out shortly after entering England and Nick, having lost sight of us had missed a tight right-hander and gone straight on requiring the help of a few dozen spectators to get him back on the road again.
So, another RAC Rally and another third place in the Open. Not a superb performance by any stretch of the imagination and possibly some of the most pedestrian driving that I have ever done; but once again, Phoenix made it to the finish and between us we have now completed every single one of the nine Roger Albert Clark rallies since it’s inception back in 2004.