Driver : Dave Hemingway
Navigator : Simon Ashton
Car 75: Sarah Jane – The New Escort
This rally started way back in April for me. I’d had the new shell sitting in the garage for almost a year and the current car was deteriorating fast. A series of minor indiscretions had left it quite tatty and she was well overdue a re-shell.
Pud and Ian Emerson started fabricating the shell, fitting the roll cage, 15 inch rear inner wheel arches, seam welding and repairing the very small amount of rot that the sand blaster had unearthed.
Paint took longer than expected and when the car returned it was absolutely pristine but September. Still two months.
Parts started getting bolted on and the money started running out. It was my intention to build the new car out of the spares package from the old car but it’s amazing what bits you need. How difficult can it be to obtain a steering wheel cowl?
The proposed engine was to be a 2.0 Pinto with a steel crank and rods, 205 block and a super doper head and cam fed by twin 48 Webers or Dellorto carbs. The block turned out to be cracked and the head was more expensive than anticipated and the price of a new set of carbs looked like someone’s telephone number so a last minute decision was made and an old Crossflow was purchased from Ebay. The plan was to bolt it straight in but on inspection, it wasn’t “as listed” so required a bit of a tart up and a new set of pistons. The result is a mighty fine 138 BHP fire breathing monster. (for the less technically minded reading this, that was an act of extreme sarcasm, a BDA or well tuned Vauxhall engine will be producing about twice that BHP figure)
The engine sparked in to life on the Monday before the rally and the car moved under her own steam on the Tuesday by which time she was treated to an MOT and an MSA logbook inspection. Total miles to date 45.
Wednesday saw the main running-in session which consisted of a drive to Motoscope where she was tuned to the magical 138.3 BHP figure and then further running-in was enjoyed on the way back. (total mileage now approaching 200 due to getting lost on the way to Northallerton)
Thursday saw some finishing off work in the shape of mudflap fitting and the re-wiring of the master switch so that it actually switched masterfully.
Come Friday, she was on the trailer and en-route to a very snowy Pickering showground.
The service crew usually have a sly bet on which part of the car will be the first to suffer any form of damage but this year was special. The sweep was on how far the car would get, the lowest bet being “not even onto the trailer”. Absolutely no-one put their money on a finish. Bollocks boys!
Despite the car being built to Hysteric spec, the Hysteric Rally Car Register, in their wisdom, have decided to classify cars in International Homologated groups so they must appear as the works used to run them, “in period” which means that as the Ford works team never ran a 1600 Escort, mine is ineligible for historic motorsport. How the fek you can interpret that from the regs god only knows but that’s the rules.
Did I mention the snow yet. I assume everyone knows that the 2010 RAC was one of the snowiest on record and as we set off on a mild November morning in bright sunshine from West Yorkshire, we were already aware of road closures due to heavy snow in North Yorkshire. On the strength of this, the van was packed with Maxsport’s best 155 x 13 Hakkas all rimmed up on the RS alloys which had now been converted to gp 4 spec. Sure enough, as we passed York Racecourse there was a mild dusting which grew to a couple of inches at Barton Hill and we arrived at Pickering to greeting of about six inches of the stuff. (didn’t measure it, that’s what everyone said)
Friday 26 November Day 1
SS1 : Pickering Showground 1
Someone had used their brain here. A completely different stage with no artificial yumps, no watersplash, no fuss. Just a blast round some completely new tracks in the showground.
As we approached the start we realised that the intercom had stopped working so plugged into the backup and it all came to life. We sat on the start line contemplating the icy stage and the countdown started. A good luck shake of hands and we were away.
As we approached the first corner, a hairpin left around a pond; I realised there was very little light issuing from the new Crystal headlights so hit the high beam switch. The full beam came on without the spots. I then started waving frantically in the direction of the spot light switches and dislodged the fuse box cover which headed straight for the driver’s footwell; and when I eventually found the switches and the flood of light was released, it revealed that I’d left the braking a bit late for the spectator surrounded hairpin right. I wrestled the car round the corner and onto the straight then kept feeding it gears until it was time to start shedding speed for the next 90 right which despite being sheet ice went without a hitch, as did the next. The next corner was a 90 left back onto the old stage and this was completely overshot requiring a handbrake turn and a 90 right back onto track. Discretion being the better part of valour, the next corner into the flying finish was treated with much respect and we plodded over the line.
SS2 : Dalby 1
Despite there being almost a foot of snow in here, we set off like a scalded cat down the first straight in Dalby and it soon became evident why there was a big crowd there as we wrestled the car to a pace suitable for going round the corner. Bell’s bend had been cautioned to us and a throng of spectators greeted us. I was feeling smug as I’d not been caught out by the corner, arriving at a snails pace over the blind crest but as we hit the downhill we were sledging and the car accelerated into the snow on the outside of the bend where we had to claw out way back on. Down into the Woodyard and our minute man was still in there. Surely it can’t take a minute to get round the Woodyard? Sure enough after a few hundred yards we’d caught him and could see he was struggling with the conditions. He acknowledged our presence but there was nowhere to get off so unfortunately we had to follow him to the finish, by which time we had caught a further three cars, all five of us finishing the stage line astern.
A quick service and we were ready for stage three but at this point we were given some results which showed us to be leading the Open ally by some seven seconds. We were actually quickest on the showground by eleven seconds.
SS3 : Showground 2
A much better run this time and well prepared for it too. Slower by three seconds and we’d been demoted to second place by Matt Robinson in the Millington Escort.
SS4 : Dalby 2
It was interesting getting to this stage. We met the Kall Kwik competitors on their way out of the previous stage and we were on a single track road with passing places. Some cars were getting stuck on the way up to the stage.
We managed to drop a minute in the arrival so had generated a gap to the car in front; but no need, he was off like a shot on some new snow tyres and we only took a handful of seconds out of him by the stage finish but we were about a minute quicker than the previous run through.
Back to the showground for a WOFT before the car was put to bed in the exhibition hall and we retired to our digs in Scarborough absolutely amazed to be leading overnight by a minute and 27 seconds.
Saturday 27 November: Day 2
SS5 and SS6 : Olivers Mount 1 and 2
We were expecting to get our hides spanked quite severely here but the weather was being kind to us. The stage was icy and had been shortened to an uphill drag only because of the treacherous condition of the steep downhill Mere Hairpin. Then it was straight back round for another go at the same, but this time remembering that the slight right over the top of mountside could be taken flat if desired! We were quickest on both stages extending the lead another three seconds to Barry Wheeler in an Escort RS.
SS7 : Langdale
This was probably the deepest snow we’d seen to date and another shortened stage as the MOD had decided that rallying was too dangerous in these conditions and withdrawn the permission to exit the stage over their land at Fylingdales.
We were quickest through Langdale despite running first of the Open lot on the road and enduring fresher snow. I must say that the stages looked very pretty, if a little difficult to distinguish what was stage and what was scenery.
SS8 and SS9 : Olivers Mount 3 and 4
Wheeler and Robinson had both encountered problems so took Super Rally times in Oliver’s so it was a resurrection of previous years battles between us and Marcus Noble and his navigator, Brian Hodgson; with Phil Jobson slightly behind in third. The stage times reflected this with us leading, Marcus second and Phil third on both runs of The Mount.
The demise of Wheeler and Robinson meant that our lead had expanded vastly and we now had a 3 minute 47 second lead over Noble.
SS10 : Langdale 2
We topped the stage times by almost half a minute in here despite being stopped by the Stratos of Steve Perez as he attempted to regain the track after a visit to the scenery along the Earth Ride but we’d opened the lead to 4:11 and our gaster continued to be blabbered. Andy Madge was back on pace but an earlier setback had left him out of the running.
SS11 and SS11a : Hamsterley 1 and 2
Organising on the fly, Colin Heppenstall the rally manager had decided to add an extra stage at the last minute to compensate for lost mileage in Yorkshire. The stage was said to have eight inches of snow and was typically Keilder (despite not being in Keilder) with a domed shape to the road and deep ditches on either side, caution to be excercised in here.
Robinson was back in the rally and topped the stage times with us followed by Noble just a second apart on the first run. We topped the stage times by 40 seconds on the second run, Noble obviously encountered a delay and Robinson took a maximum.
The overall position was looking good as we had an almost five minute lead,
SS12 : Shepherdshield
Absolute disaster. We arrived in a slight flurry of snow and by the time we’d got our time and been rushed onto the start line, it was a complete whiteout. So bad that the tracks from the car who left the start a couple of minutes before us had completely snowed over and my dipped beam was proving useless. We struggled through and dropped around two minutes to Noble and Robinson who seemed to have had less troubled runs of the stage.
So we ended a very long and testing day 2 of the rally with a lead of 2:51 which is a fair margin but with two more days to go, by no means safe.
Sunday 28 November. Day 3
SS13 : Ae1
This was our worst nightmare really. The reason why we were doing so well (apart from being amazingly talented) was the fact that the lack of power we had was not really that much of a detriment in the slippy conditions. Ae had had an overnight dusting of snow and despite the surface being frozen, the grip was phenomenal. I’d made the mistake of leaving the Hakkas on where the Dunlop Knobblies would possibly have been the better choice and reduced the risk of punctures We were expexting to loose most of our lead in this stage alone. We were followed into the stage by Dave Greer in the Ascona 400 and I must admit to spending too much time looking in the mirrors for him. We also had a minor indescretion drifting wide on a left hander where the braking was left late and then further compromised by ice but luckily there was a small tree to prevent us rolling down the banking and out of the rally. Matt Robinson took well over a minute out of us but Noble only had 19 seconds so we were chuffed to monkeys with that. We also found a set of timecards that we collected, delivered to their rightful owner and now have friends for life in the shape of Warren Philiskirk and Eurig Evans who’d had a puncture in stage and suffered all the disorganisation that goes with it, dropping the timecards from an incorrectly shut door after the control being one of the common mistakes.
SS14 : Twiglees 1
An inch of snow was said to have fallen in here but it was more slippy than white. Hakkas was the better choice in here but it was touch and go. I upped the pace a little and enjoyed the way the Escort handled in the conditions. We took fifth fastest stage time, over half a minute down on Robinson, Madge and Wheeler but most importantly, 44 seconds ahead of Noble. Our lead was back up to 3:16.
SS15 : Heathall 1
Not too much to go wrong in here as it’s only half a mile long. We’d bolted the knobblies on for the next run through Ae and it was quite slippery and we spun on the hairpin. We were 8th quickest, only 5 off Robinson but 7 quicker than Noble.
SS16 : Ae 2
Now on Knobblies and with a new “wing man” in the shape of Philliskirk who had slotted into the gap between us and the chasing Noble. Warren saluting and clicking his heels as he reported for duty at the arrival. ( I hope no-one thinks we take this rallying seriously by the way?) This forest, on both runs had tested the performance of the car. The axle is obviously not suited to the 6500 rpm we were obtaining from the crossflow as the top speed we registered was 75mph. I think we had 116 on the same straight last year!. Keep feeding it gears and try not to slow for anything and the car was capable of pressing on quite admirably and we exited the stage having dropped only 37 seconds to Marcus.
Most impressed by our speed was our new wing man. He came to us after the stage and told us that he was worried for us. He was expecting to catch us quite early on in the 17 miles of Ae but it hadn’t happened. Approaching the end of the stage he said that he was getting worried as he hadn’t seen us anywhere and still couldn’t see us on the long straights and was quite relieved to see us sitting on the finish line when he got there, but absolutely amazed that we’d held him off for the whole stage. Thanks for the compliment, Warren. Much appreciated.
SS17 : Heathhall 2
Disappointed by our lack of talent on the previous run through here, we were determined to get it right this time; and so we did, setting the fastest time at 1:15 and eking six back from Noble.
SS18 : Twiglees 2
Still on the knobblies for this run meant that we could use more of the scenery than the previous run and despite dropping half a minute to Andy Madge who was on a charge, we gained half a minute from Noble. Night had fallen so the times and the temperatures weren’t as hot as the previous run.
Back to Carlisle for an unscheduled service halt as Newcastleton 1 had been cancelled due to the lack of emergency crew who were snowed-in somewhere north of Edinburgh. The re-arranged time schedule allowed the crews from Ae to install themselves in Newcastleton by the time we all arrived.
SS20 : Newcastleton 2
We’d arrived here with 3:26 cushion and it was now starting to look like we could pull this off. There was over 12 inches of snow in these forests so power was going to be no advantage but bravery was. I wasn’t planning to use bravery in here and hoped that no-one else was. It’s also worth noting that by this time, we had been told that tomorrow’s stages in Keilder were off and we had a five miler in Kershope that we were to use twice which had a similar 12 inches of snow to Newcastleton. I had 15 miles survive with a three and a half minute cushion.
Well anyway, we were fourth in here dropping 28 seconds to Marcus in the process so we went to bed with 2:58 lead.
Monday 29 November. Day 4
An oil leak had been discovered the previous night stemming from a stripped thread in the sump plug (well it was a shyte thread that was stripped when it was nipped up) so we spent some time trying to source one unsuccessfully so Pud decided to make one out of some toilet roll middles, a sheet of sticky back plastic and some rubber gloves, or so it seemed. A suspension bolt, nut from the spares box, five minutes with the mig and a tube of loktite and we were good to go. The car was left overnight and we oiled it up in the morning and headed out to Newcastleton.
Kershope 1 and 2
We entered the stage fairly well up the running order and the snow was still pretty fresh. Despite plodding round, we still managed to lose it on a downhill 30 left and drifted well into the undergrowth but the car miraculously scrabbled its way back on. We headed round for a second go not knowing what Marcus had done but we were aware that some of the hysterics had taken two minutes off us. Don’t panic.
Luckily, Marcus had decided that he was happy with second place and plodded round almost as casually as we dis taking 14 from us on the first run but dropping 20 to us on the second attempt.
Back to the holding control in Carlisle and we were hugged by Colin Heppenstall then shepherded into the winner’s convoy for the parade into Carlisle City Centre where Simon and myself were allowed to spray each other with the worlds finest champagne.