Driver : Dave Hemingway
Navigator : Simon Ashton
The weekend started off badly on Thursday when the car was delivered to Pud at Woodfield Garage for a quick once-over before the rally started on Friday. What was scheduled to be a spanner check and an oil change after a 500 mile running-in session turned out to be a gearbox rebuild and change.
Friday didn’t exactly go swimmingly either. At about the time we were due to set off to the start at Helmsley, I discovered an electrical fault which pointed quite firmly at the engine management computer. After removing the dashboard and revealing the nest of wires beneath, the fault was painstakingly traced and the errant yellow wire which seemed to be causing all the problems was found to be a bad connection on the back of a relay. A new connection and the refitting of the dashboard and we were on our way, a couple of hours late to the start of the rally.
With the car scrutineered and the paperwork sorted out, it wasn’t long before we were sitting on the start line of Stage 1 and the RAC Rally 2011 had started. We were once again entered into the Open Rally which runs alongside the Historic event. Our car doesn’t qualify to be an historic because it has a more modern Vauxhall engine fitted so we and a couple of dozen similar cars thrash it out for a separate trophy.
Stage 1 was a success and we had nailed our flag to the mast with the quickest stage time in the very slippery Duncombe Park. The second stage, however was a different story and we dropped half a minute jessying about on the very rough tracks of Dalby Forest dropping us down to third and bending the steering on a particularly large hole.
Back to Duncombe and we were well on the pace through the trees but as we hit the tarmac hairpin, all was not well. We had no drive too the rear wheels. I fished about through the gears but none would drive so we attempted to freewheel the mile or so out of stage. The last 400 yards was quite a steep uphill and we quickly ground to a halt on the grass. We jacked the back end up and discovered it was a broken halfshaft so radioed through to the service crew to make them aware.
We were dragged back to Helmsley by one of the marshals (Phil Worley. Cheers Phil) and then across the service area by a 4×4 we had commandeered and Pud, Stu and the gang set about swapping the halfshaft. They had already prepared a “halfshaft broken bit removal tool” by screwing a strong magnet onto the end of a sweeping brush and once the main part of the shaft was out, started fishing about for the stub which was stuck into the diff. No joy. There were loads of bits of steel and iron filings but the last couple of inches were firmly stuck into the diff. Without further ado, the casing was removed and the axle stripped, crownwheel and pinion removed along with the halfshaft stub. It was now discovered that some errant bits of halfshaft had got into the diff and chavelled the bearing away. Job number one would be to remove the old bearing which proved quite easy with the use of an angle grinder and a hammer and chisel but where would we get a new bearing in the middle of Duncombe Park at Midnight on a Friday. (It appears the answer to this would be to see Justin from JT Motorsport who was running Tim Pearcey’s car who had a box full of second hand ones and was quite happy to hand one over and wouldn’t take anything for it. Cheers Justin)
With a suitable kit of parts, Pud and Stu rebuilt the diff, refitted a good pair of shafts, the only thing that remained was to fill it with diff oil which was borrowed from the cheeky boys, Phil and Mick Squires. Bring on day 2.
We had effectively dropped ten minutes in the Super Rally rules by missing two stages out on Friday night so it was looking like an overall win was well off the cards. Martyn Hawkswell had moved into the lead and Andy Madge was in second and both were capable of setting similar stage times to us. They had to get through the rally unscathed however so, as they say, it aint over till the fat lady sings.
We bolted Friday’s wheels and tyres on and started Saturday the way we intended to carry on with a fastest stage time through Langdale but were only fourth through Gale Rigg, possibly due to a couple of overshoots. An overshoot on Duncombe Park 3 saw us drop a handful of seconds and Martin had a couple out of us on Duncombe 4 but back in Langdale we were 16 seconds quicker than anyone and had another handful back with a quickest through Gale Rigg. so were 10:30 off the lead as we headed out of Yorkshire but more remarkably we were up to ninth overall as we were now passing other cars slower cars and some who were experiencing difficulties.
We headed up to Croft where we faced two runs of a four mile stage on nice slippery tarmac. Someone must have cheated here by putting sticky tyres on or something as Martyn had almost half a minute out of us on the first run but levelled us on the second. In our defence, the rain had started to fall as we were lining up so he may have had a drier run, and we were still on the set of worn knobblies we started the event on almost 24 hours ago. They still had a bit of tread left so we decided we’d make them last the day out and headed out to Hamsterley.
I admit to driving like a poofter through Hamsterley and the balding tyres couldn’t have helped. We only dropped ten seconds but lost a whopping minute in Shepherdshield. We overnighted in Carlisle 12 minutes off the lead and had somehow managed to eek our way up to 7th. The car was WOFTed, a broken leaf spring rerplaced, a dodgy windscreen wiper motor replaced with an even more dodgy one and we were away to the hotel for the night after a rather enjoyable 18 hours of rallying. The couple of pints in the bar were much appreciated by all. (WOFT is Water, oil, fuel, tyres, by the way. We were pushing the boat out and using another set of relatively new rubber)
The overnight re-seeding wasn’t kind to us. Although we were running in the correct position order, we were amongst the slower cars. Nige Barrett in the 1300 Micra moved over in the arrival at Ae to let us past and we followed a Mk1 Escort into stage. We’d had the hoof down quite heavily in the early parts of the stage and about half way through we had our minute man in our sights on the longer straights but he disappeared into a blizzard as we climbed up the dizzy heights of Whitefold Hill where in contrast to the snow free valleys below, we had been treated to a good couple of inches of snow. Despite being warned of the slippyness after junction 18, we fell off on an open 90 right before we actually caught our minute man half way to junction 20. We stayed in the ditch for an hour and were eventually put back on by spectators once enough had arrived to lift the front of the car out of the ditch. As we descended the hill, the snow cleared and we entertained the spectators with some very sideways action on the way out We were OTL by about 20 minutes so decided to head back to Dumfries and miss out Twiglees so we now had 20 minutes penalties. At service it was discovered that we had once again snapped the tailshaft of the gearbox so the whole box and propshaft was replaced with a standard unit and we headed out onto the Heathhall stage some fifteen minutes behind what we thought was the last competitor on the road. It was dusk but the spotlights were useless but we still posted the quickest stage time, just to let them know we were back.
We were effectively down to three gears as first was only useful for parking on steep hills and fifth wasn’t really suitable for the Scottish Forests in the snow and I’d also declared to Simon that the remainder of the rally should be considered fun only. We would back off on the straights, take absolutely no risks but would endeavour to go as sideways as possible wherever possible. Dropping the additional 10 minutes had dropped us down to 9th overall but with 2 minutes to 8th place 4 minutes to 7th, 6 minutes to 5th 8 minutes to 4th and a whopping 10 minutes behind 3rd. We completed Ae2 with third place, about a minute down on the leaders but still eeking a bit of time out of the cars in front despite stopping to thank the lads who had pulled us out earlier and shout “we’ve been in that ditch” to the course car who was now occupying the spot we vacated an hour or so previously.
Back to Heathhall and we topped the leader board once more on the one mile stage and then out to Twiglees where we were third, still dropping time to the leaders but making time up on the lower runners.
The road section from Twiglees to Newcastleton was about thirty miles of sheet ice over a mountain and was “interesting”. The stage start was at the top of a hill and was freezing cold and icy. The rest of the stage sort of descended through the trees and the weather had obviously warmed up as it was quite wet rather than frozen. Again we were third and eked a little more out of our rivals.
A trip in to Carlisle for another service and we decided to stick with the same tyres as we’d only really done a half a day on them and when we returned from Newcastleton 2 we overnighted in 7th place.
This time, the car needed only a minor service and we shod it with a new set of part worn boots and ventured to the bar, which was shut. Thank god for small mercies in the form of a slab of lager and Steve Carter’s hip flask.
Monday dawned cold and frosty and a glance into the distant Scottish hills told us that a sprinkling of snow could be on the cards. The Hakkas were readied. Two in the chase car and two in the Escort. We had until about ten miles from the stage to decide which tyres to run and made a last minute call in a small village to swap onto the snow tyres as an insurance policy really. We swapped the tyres in a couple of inches of slushy snow and continued behind Captain Barret who had done likewise. As we approached Kershopefoot we were greeted by a blizzard and the main roads had a covering of snow. Some spectators cars were stuck on the hill before the stage and some competitors were being towed up by 4x4s. We plodded steadily up the hill and got stuck when a car came skidding back down towards us and we had to take evasive action. We were pushed clear of the steep uphill hairpin and continued unassisted to the stage.
We arrived late at the stage but there was no rush, The course car had gone off (for the third time I understand) and was not clear of the stage yet. Some time later, the first of the historic cars ventured into the stage and 35 minutes later had cleared the 17 miles of snowy Kershope and it wasn’t long before the first of the main rally went in.
We were to start a minute behind Nige Barrett and were only 40 seconds adrift so if we caught him, we would wrestle sixth overall from him. Other numbers to muse over were that 4th place was only five minutes in front and third was only nine. If any or all of these had turned up with no snow tyres, then we stood a chance of claiming some places back. To our disappointment but in line with our expectations, the decision had been made to cancel the second running of the stage so we were left with 17 miles of rallying left. We’d caught Nige after about three miles and he politely pulled over and let us pass. We were not pulling any trees up but were obviously making progress. I was short-shifting to keep traction and on a couple of occasions found myself in fifth. We caught our two and three minute men in the finish area and had set fastest Open rally time by over a minute; but more importantly, we had taken time out of everyone who was leading us. The only person that we had no chance of catching was Mick Smith in third who had a nine minute lead over us but he’d gone off in stage and was unable to regain the track. We’d actually managed to claw our way back to third!. Andy Madge remained second, a mere 18 minutes in front of us after a scare of spending six or so minutes in a ditch and Martyn maintained a comfortable seven minute gap over Andy to emerge a very worthy winner.
We used two front and four rear tyres all weekend plus put another 17 miles of wear on the snow tyres. We need a diff rebuild and a gearbox recondition but all in all we had a brilliant weekend. Thanks to all the lads in the service crew. Pud (and Stu on Friday) Rob in the barge, Steve and Coggs in the chase car and Guy and Mick on shopping duties and of course to Simon for pointing me in the right direction for almost four days and although he maintains that I never frighten him, he has admitted to “being a little concerned” at times in Kershope.
So, as we said following our woes on Friday night, it aint over till the fat lady sings!