The Corinium Stages 2019

After the Tour of Caerwent in March 2018 I had finished enough events as a driver and collected enough signatures on my MSA upgrade card to apply for a National A rally license.  I did this with great glee and was very pleased to receive the new license. 

The Corinium stages which is run at Down Ampney by Cirencester Car Club was next on my list of rallies to do. Down Ampney is near to home for me and is a single venue event. I decided we should go over to the venue on the day before the rally to scrutineer and leave the car in the service area. At scrutineering we discovered that the cut out switch had seized up due to the car living outside for several months between rallies. A bit of WD40 managed to solve the problem and the car passed scrutineering ok. 

The following morning we arrived back at the venue to set up in the service area and sign on. It had been raining overnight and the track was still fairly wet. It was my first experience of driving in the wet and I was fairly concerned that I would spin off at the first corner. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to get through the first lap of the first stage with no spins, even managing to prevent a spin. On the second stage I caught up another Peugeot and managed to stay with him. I can only assume the wet conditions were causing him some trouble as it was the first time I have ever managed to catch another car in a stage. I was getting to the point of being brave enough to overtake when he went the opposite way to me at a split and saved me the trouble. 

The stage got drier as the morning went on and there was no more rain during the day. The car wouldn’t start when we were leaving service to go to stage 3 and we thought perhaps the starter motor was failing. It still wouldn’t start after a bit of encouragement by tapping the starter with a hammer. We had to get a push start from a service crew across the service area from us. I daren’t turn the car off again between the service out control and the stage arrival control in case it wouldn’t re-start. During stage 3 I spun off and wasn’t quick enough the press the clutch to prevent the car stalling, however it didn’t start again ok with no need to get a push from a Marshall. It did continue to be a bit temperamental at starting after sitting in service and we had to be pushed a few more times when leaving the service area. 

There were four stages in the morning and four in the afternoon going in the opposite direction. I preferred the afternoon stages (I’m still not sure why – perhaps I prefer travelling anti-clockwise), but I wasn’t as fast in the afternoon as I was in the morning. 

I really enjoyed the event. The venue is great offering good, challenging stages that don’t feel repetitive. I will hopefully be putting in an entry for next years rally. 

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PokerStars 2018 – a more successful trip to the Isle of Man

After the disappointment of not getting to the start of the Manx National in May 2018 we decided to try again on the PokerStars rally in November. This time we entered in the blue Peugeot 205, with me in the co-drivers seat and my Dad driving.

Our previous trips to the island have prepared me for the fact that it is likely to rain heavily on the Isle of Man, particularly when you have gone there to do a rally. On this trip however, the rain was the worst I have seen.

When we completed our recce of the stages on Thursday the ford on SS3 (Brack a Broom) was a fairly fast flowing stream that made crossing it in the Skoda Octavia we used as recce car a little bit worrying. By the start of the event on Friday evening it had swelled with so much water that the rally organisers were forced to change the position of the stage start to after the ford as there were concerns that any cars crossing the ford would be washed downstream and end up in Peel harbour. This was not the only section of the stages to be water logged. At the start of SS1 (Little London) we were warned that there was deep standing water by Little London farm, but before even reaching this section we encountered very deep puddles and saw multiple cars drowned out and stopped at the side of the stage. We did spend about 2 minutes stopped on this stage behind several cars struggling to make it through the water logged area at Little London. The stage start of SS2 had also been moved about a mile further into the stage than originally planned due to standing water. On the approach to the arrival control we drove through water so deep that the bottom spot lamps of the car were underneath it. It wasn’t just on the stages that we encountered problems with the extremely wet conditions. We even saw cars drowned out on the road sections and had a few tricky moments trying to get through deep standing water. After the first 3 stages we headed back to service and were told at the service in control that stages 4, 5 and 6 had been cancelled due to the extreme weather conditions. I was very relieved at this news as I feared a second run through the stages might damage the car and end our event, but my Dad was disappointed. He had been enjoying the challenges of the conditions.

The rain did stop late on Friday evening and by Saturday morning it was looking a lot drier. We had a good run through the stages on Saturday with only one minor mishap. As the stages dried out further over the course of the day we were able to go faster and got caught out by some mud on a medium right and ended up sliding gracefully into a wall on the outside of the corner. There was no damage and we carried on, but this little off cost us about 20 seconds. We finished the rally 3rd in our class. It was the first time I’d won a trophy on a Manx rally, which was very exciting and made slogging through all the water on Friday night very much worth the effort.

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Galway Summer Rally 2018

It had been 18 months since the blue Peugeot 205 XS (Betsy) had been out on a rally. The last event being the Hall Trophy rally in November 2016. She has been modified to compete in Ireland and the Galway summer rally was both mine and her first event over there.

There were three stages, each repeated three times. We had chosen to use Pattersons Pacenotes and it has been a while since we last used them on tarmac. We made a few minor changes during the recce on the Saturday, but were happy with them overall. After the recce we headed to scrutineering. It felt a little strange not to have to go to noise check first. As usual scrutineering made us a little apprehensive but the scrutineers put us at ease and explained the paperwork we had to fill in to give the specification of the seats, belts, fire extinguishers etc. The car then had to go into Parc Ferme and remain there until the start of the event.

Sunday morning was an early start to pick up Frank, who had kindly volunteered to be service crew for us. He dropped us off at Rally HQ in Galway for the drivers briefing and headed off to the service area at Tuam. After the drivers’ briefing we got a lift to Parc Ferme from a friend of Frank’s to go and start the event.

The first loop of the three stages went well. It was nice to be back in the blue car on some good, fast roads. After the fourth stage the car wasn’t ticking over very well and cut out a few times. Frank and a friend of his who had come to help out changed the spark plugs and that seemed to cure the problem. The next time we came into service there wasn’t a lot to do, just a quick change of tyres and re-fuel. We had started the day on wets in case of rain, but these were no longer needed.

The second and third passes through the stages were excellent fun and we really enjoyed them. It was a very nice surprise to find out that we were running 1st in class. We finished the day 1st in class, which we were very happy with. What a great end to my first Irish rally. It gave us a boost after the disappointments on previous events this year.

Thanks to Galway Motor Club for a fantastic, well organised rally and some great stages. We hope to be back next year. Thanks also to Frank for so much help and advice on rallying in Ireland and for being service crew.

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Red Car. The highs and the lows.

Since the Red Car’s completion last summer we have entered five rallies in it. Three of them with me as the driver and two with my dad as the driver. Of the five rallies entered only three were finished…the ones with me as driver. My dad is now starting to take this personally. The red car behaved impeccably on the JRT Enville stages, Hall Trophy Rally and Tour of Caerwent, but unfortunately we weren’t so lucky on the Cambrian and the Chris Kelly Memorial Rally (IOM).

On the Cambrian a gear box fault saw us out of the event on stage 5. The gearbox oil all drained out and 5th gear seized up. The teeth that broke off 5th gear caused damage to the others and the whole box seized up. Although we were annoyed not to finish we were finding the event very hard going due to extremely rough roads which were causing damage to the car.

The bigger disappointment came on the Chris Kelly in May on the Isle of Man. After several weeks of hard work prepping the car, days spent making pacenotes and all the effort to get to the event the cam belt snapped in service just 1 hour and 45 minutes before our start time. With the help of Heidi in rally HQ and another competitor (sorry, I can’t remember his name) we managed to find someone with a spare cam belt for a Peugeot 205. Adrian Drury and Cat Lund in car 102 were very kind to help us push the car all the way across the paddock to their service spot so it could be worked on under cover – the rain was torrential. Cat’s friend Mark came to lend a hand and did an amazing job in trying to help us achieve the impossible and start the event. Despite best efforts from my dad, Mark and Adrian’s service crew we didn’t make it out on the event – the engine was damaged when the belt snapped. We spent Friday night chatting to crews in the service area and wishing we were out rallying. On Saturday we went out spectating, which was fun, but not quite the same as competing.

We’re very grateful to the man from ERO who gave us the cam belt – we tried to find you in service on Friday night and on Saturday but kept missing you. Thanks also to Adrian and Cat, Mark and the other chaps who worked on the car and to Heidi for not letting us give up without trying to fix the car. My brother Michael and Peter, my uncle, tried their best to keep our spirits up and got thoroughly soaked helping us push the car around. I’m hopeful that it won’t be our last trip to the Isle of Man and that next time will be more successful.

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Tour of Caerwent 2018

The Tour of Caerwent fitted quite nicely into my rallying plans for this year and is only an hours travel from home, so was a good choice for my third event as a driver. Before submitting my entry I watched some YouTube video’s from previous years and was pretty excited at the idea of doing 10 mile stages without laps, splits or merges. My entry was accepted and I was seeded at car 81. The day before the rally the scrutineers, the ladies at signing on and fellow competitors all had the same piece of advice for me – ‘don’t cut!’ The roads all have kerb stones which are ready and waiting to cause damage if not respected. As I’d never been to Caerwent before one of the ladies at signing on gave me lots of advice about how to drive there, including the apparent randomness of the junction numbers and a warning about the infamous ‘quarry’. If I wasn’t apprehensive before I was then!

With the words ‘don’t cut!’ still ringing in my ears I started the first stage and promptly cut a corner…thankfully the kerb was kind to me and no damage was sustained. I found my first visit to the quarry a little nerve racking, but I got through it o.k. On each subsequent pass I managed to go a little faster. After the first two stages I was really enjoying the challenges of Caerwent, despite getting a little lost on one of the stages and ending up doing a bit of mud plugging trying to find the road again. On one of the stages I had a spin at a 90 left, but, despite stalling I didn’t loose too much time.

I had track day tyres on the car as I’d had trouble getting any heat into the slicks I used at Blyton. On the track day tyres I managed to get heat into the fronts and even the rears were luke warm! I felt like I was going much better on this event than at Angelsey and Blyton.

On the last stage of the day I had a near miss when I lost the car under breaking at a 90 left, slid onto the grass and nearly tipped over the edge of a bank. I avoided rolling as the car wedged on a tussock of grass and finally came to a stop teetering on the edge of the bank. I hardly dared to move in case it over balanced and we ended up on the roof. We eventually got the car back on the road and carried on to complete the stage, managing to drop only 3 minutes 15 seconds, which meant we didn’t get a stage maximum. It took a while for the adrenaline to subside though!

I ended the day 51st Overall and 16th in class 3. And I now have enough signatures on my upgrade card to get a National A license! Happy days :-)

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JRT Enville Stages and Hall Trophy Rally 2017

I’m pleased to say I’ve now driven in two rallies and not been last in either.

On the Enville Stages rally at Anglesey Circuit in July I was seeded 64 and was happy to finish 48th overall and 19th in class C. I learnt that I need to be more consistent with speed and braking and that the car will go round corners much faster than I was willing to! I managed to improve on my stage times by about 20 seconds on each second pass. One of the photographers took a brilliant photo of me going over a jump with all 4 wheels off the ground, which I’m quite proud of. Overall I had a really good day and didn’t manage to make my Dad, who was sitting in the co-drivers seat, feel travel sick. He did say he was feeling hoarse from shouting at me to go faster and remember to use the brakes though…there were times when I was arriving at corners and forgetting that the brakes existed at all, definitely something to work on.

The Hall Trophy Rally at Blyton on 25th November was great fun. It was a very cold day, but no rain (or snow), so we made the right choice leaving the wets at home. I was seeded 57 with 18 other cars behind me. As we were starting at 30 second intervals I was a little worried about having to let other cars pass me. I was determined that none of the 1L Micra’s seeded behind me would catch me though. I had trouble getting off the line on the first stage, but once I got going I was happy with how it went. I felt much more confident and in control than on the Enville Stages. I was about 15 seconds quicker on the second pass through that stage. On stage 3 I had a big spin just before a hairpin left and stalled the car. Once I got running again I tried hard not to slow down on the rest of the stage. Miraculously, the car didn’t hit any cones whilst spinning. With no spin on stage 4 I was 7 seconds quicker. My time on stage 6 was 4 seconds slower than stage 5. Quite a few other cars caught me up on stage 6 and at one point three overtook me at once. After the break when the stages were turned round I found it more tricky and my stage times were slower on stages 7 and 8. A long righthand corner not far from the start nearly caught me out both times but I managed not to spin. By stage 8 it has started to get dark so I got my first experience of rallying at night. This was a whole different game and a big learning curve. I find it difficult enough to find my way through lots of cones in the daylight, but at night the reflective parts lit up in the spot lamps and made it even more difficult. Add to that, being dazzled by everyone else’s lights and you have a real challenge. On stages 9 and 10 I went faster and put in better stage times than on 7 and 8. Perhaps it’s easier to be brave through corners when you can’t see where your going as easily?! I finished the day 56th overall and 9th in class, which I was very happy with. Now I need to decide which rally I will do next. I only need one more signature on my license upgrade card and I can apply for a National A license.

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A day at Rally School

On 18th June I spent the day at Phil Price Rally school doing an intensive 1 day course and my BARS test. It was an early start from my house to get to the rally school for 8:30am. The course started with Phil giving an introduction to rallying. He talked through all the basics including warning signs, yellow flag procedure, stage starts and finishes, timing, lateness, safety equipment for the car, helmets and HANS devices, time cards, road book and pacenotes and the importance of marshals. He also explained the role of the co-driver. Following this everyone for the BARS test got given the test paper to complete. After this we had an introduction to driving the cars. Phil explained the techniques needed to drive sideways on gravel. Then it was time to go outside and get into the cars! For the first go we all got to do a few laps of the track to get used to the layout and how the cars handle. Whilst we were waiting between goes Phil drove each of us round the forest rally stage to get an idea of the route for later when we would get a chance to drive. The stage is brilliant, about 3 miles with lots of good corners and some fresh air drops! After going round the stage with Phil it was back down to the track to get some practice in the cars. I initially found it hard to use enough power to get the car sideways, but started to get the hang of it on my second and third go. It was then a case of building up some speed to drive more smoothly. By the time we stopped for lunch I thought I was going quite fast, but my dad had taken a video of me and it looked very slow! After lunch I tried to go faster but forgot all the techniques I’d learnt and spun off a few times. Bert and John the two instructors were very patient with me and kept reminding me what I needed to do. We all got to have a go at driving round the forest stage with Phil in his dual control car. It was a bit strange going round in a dual control car. Phil had already done a lot of the braking and steering before I had chance to, which was probably a good thing! I really enjoyed going round the stage, it was good to try and practice some of the techniques I’d learnt on the track. Towards the end of the course we did some timed laps in both directions with penalties for hitting tyres or spinning off. My first laps were fairly steady, but I didn’t hit any tyres. My second laps weren’t so good and I spun off twice, which I wasn’t happy with. Thankfully we got to have another go to beat our slowest time and I managed to improve on mine a lot. I had an amazing day and passed my BARS test – a good job because I’d put in an entry for the JRT Enville stages on 2nd July before going to the rally school day! I’d like to thank everyone at Phil Price rally school for a brilliant day and excellent tuition. I can really recommend it to anyone looking for a good rally school (whether you want to do the BARS test or just have a rally driving experience). You get so much time in the cars and it’s really great fun. With the BARS test done I had my first event to look forward to! 

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A plan for 2017

This year I’m planning to do the BARS course and test so that I can get my novice drivers license. I have already purchased a ‘Go Rallying’ pack and now need to learn how to be a rally driver…not a small task!

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Solway Coast Rally 2016, PokerStars Rally 2016 and Hall Trophy Rally 2016

We competed in 3 rallies in the second half of 2016. The first of these, the Solway Coast rally in August was great fun. We had an early start and a long drive up to Kirkcudbright for the event, but we agreed it was worth it. The stages were brilliant and the car went well. We ended the day 4th in class.

We didn’t fair so well on the PokerStars. I made a mistake in the notes on stage 1, which meant we ended up going through a cone chicane. After that the car took a while to start and wasn’t running too well. We got to the end of leg 1, despite the terrible weather conditions, but decided not to continue on the 2nd day. At least I got 1 run through Druidale, although fairly slow due to so much rain and fog. When Patrick took the car to the rolling road a few weeks later he found that thankfully the engine fault wasn’t related to the close encounter with the cones.

To make up for the disappointment of the PokerStars we put in a late entry for the Hall Trophy Rally at Blyton. Single venues are not normally our thing (due to potential confusion caused by cone blindness)) and it was a long time since I’d done one. I had a brilliant time and really enjoyed the short, fast stages. We had two slight mishaps, once running over a tyre on the inside of a corner and once nearly missing a split. Apart from that the day went well. The last stage was cancelled as it had got too foggy and dark to run.

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Manx National 2016

I was very excited to return to the Isle of Man, having had such a good time competing in the Pokerstars Rally in November 2015. We had spent a while before leaving going over the route to see which parts we already had pacenotes for and made these into a booklet in preparation for the recce days. We recce’d the route on Wednesday and Thursday and found that we were happy with the notes we had made by Thursday lunchtime. We spent Thursday evening going through noise check, scrutineering and signing on and after this made sure that all the pacenotes were in order and we had written all the splits and merges in the correct places! As we had already scrutineered we had time on Friday morning for some tourist activities and took a steam train ride from Douglas to Port Erin. We were back at the Grandstand service area for 5pm to check over the car and fit the lights before starting leg one. Our due time at MC1 in Ramsey was 20:00 and we headed over to Ramsey at about 18:45. The 2 short stages along the seafront and over the swing bridge at Ramsey were great fun and a good start to the event. By the time we reached stage 3 (St Judes) it was already getting dark and we had a brilliant time doing the laps in the dusk. My favourite stage of the evening was Tholt-y-Will and my dad was very pleased with our stage time (although he assures me it is better downhill than up!). What we didn’t realise was the stage had been stopped shortly after we left the start line and the cars behind us went through in convoy. This meant that we got a notional time, which was a little bit disappointing, but couldn’t be helped. We finished the first day without any incidents and were pleased with all our stage times. I especially enjoyed doing stages in the dark and was glad I managed to keep up with the notes!

The following morning we arrived at the Grandstand to find out our start time for the morning after the re-seed. We were disappointed that 2 of the longer stages (Knocksharry 1+2) had had to be cancelled due to lack of marshalls, but were keen to get going again to do the stages from the previous evening in daylight so we could compare our times. We were having a good run through Baldwins 1 and got nearly to the end of the stage when we had to stop due to an accident blocking the road and had to drive the rest of the way to the finish in convoy. On the second run through later in the day we managed a full stage and got a time we were very pleased with. St Judes and Tholt-y-Will were fun in the daylight, but we were faster on both of them in the dark! We nearly spun at a hairpin when my dad had a Brian the Chimp moment (those who have read Guy Martin’s autobiography will understand!) but we came out of it unscathed. Apart from this we had a successful day with no mechanical mishaps (apart from an occasionally intermittent intercom, which didn’t impact too much on my ability to read the notes!).

Although we didn’t win any prizes and lost a chunk of stage miles (due to lack of marshalls) we had a brilliant time competing in the event. We both think that the Isle of Man is one of the best places to rally and are hoping to go back in November to compete in the Pokerstars again.

We’d like to thank Terry for lending us a car to make pacenotes in and babysitting the rally car, service vehicle and trailer at his workshop whilst we went out to do the recce days. It was very much appreciated!

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