Sunday, 29 December 2013

LeJog 2013

After we had clocked out of the Main control at Land’s End, and made our way to the first test on the most south-westerly tip of land, Elise and I wondered what on earth possessed us to tackle LeJog for the second time.  With 50 hours of driving ahead of us, spread over 74 hours and (from our experiences last year) not knowing what could happen in that time, we were nervous to say the least.

This time we had rented the 1972 BMW 1602 from HERO’s Arrive and Drive Fleet. We had rented her on two previous events and were starting to get a feel of how she handled.  A Left Hand Drive car is a slight disadvantage because it is harder to overtake but otherwise she is great fun and a bit roomier than the mini.

Land's End
As the sun rose we were flagged off the start and we began our adventure. The first test was quite simple-we had to stop astride a few lines and navigate through some cones. The test went well and we slid to a stop 17 seconds slower than the fastest car in our class.  We had winter tyres on the BMW but with warmer than expected temperatures sliding was expected.

It was straight off to the first regularity, which was a great introduction of what was to come. We thought we were doing well and had just dropped a few seconds, but at the second timing point the Marshal wrote the time in and we were actually 24 seconds off our time. This did not make any sense to Elise. We later discovered that this clock was 23 seconds out and as a result the regularity was cancelled.

Then it was on to Regularity B where we could have another bash at working out the timing. Aptly named the ‘Beast of Bodmin’ this regularity had quite a few speed changes, but because it was a Jogularity we were given the specific times that we should be at each distance. Elise and I find these slightly easier than working from speed tables and this was shown in our times –we were 2 seconds early for the first timing point and then we completely cleared (arrived at our due time so no penalty) the second timing point.

Porlock Toll Road
This was a fantastic regularity for both of us, however we aren’t good enough to maintain those scores throughout, especially as I get a little throttle happy on the straights. This means that at some controls we picked up about a 20 second penalty for being early and at others, such as the one on Porlock Toll Road (a private road) we were dropping time (late) at every control. It was an awesome road though and I hope I will drive it again, now that I know what to expect.

Plotting at the Services
Within daylight hours we had another four tests. The first was at Cornwall College, then there were two very muddy tests in Davidstow Woods and the last one was completely gravel just outside a quarry.

As darkness fell we headed up the M5 to the evening halt at Gordano Services. I was going to call it a rest halt, but with the night navigation section and 2 regularities to plot it definitely wasn’t a rest and before we could get route information there was another test to do in the services car park.

Test at Gordano Services
The Gordano test compromised of a few 360 turns around markers, then a winding route through gates and chicanes through more cones to finish. I kept a steady pace and Elise called the test perfectly which led to us being fastest in class on that particular test and 6th fastest overall! A real achievement for me as a self confessed slow driver.

No time to celebrate as , after just an hour and a half ,we were back on the road with a full tank and, after a very welcome KFC, full tummies too. We had stocked up our sugar and caffeine levels because, despite it being 7pm, we had 9 hours until we could even think of our beds in Llangollen.

We had one major issue once it got dark, our stopwatches didn’t have lights on them. We had tried to get a Brantz rally timer fitted before the event, but unfortunately we ran out of time. This meant that the regularities through Wales were a little hit and miss, but the real challenge was the navigation section. This year we were given panic envelopes in case we got lost or hadn’t had enough time to plot this section.  There was a penalty for opening them but it was less than missing out a section. It was quite tight on time as we entered the early hours and we arrived at the main control in Newtown on our maximum permitted lateness. Luckily they had extended the time by 15 minutes, but it still   meant no break as we had to head off to start the Navigation Section.

I had a lot of confidence in Elise and she didn’t let me down at all. Not only did she plot the route perfectly she called every junction and we didn’t take a wrong slot once.  I may have to start lying about how good she is so that no one steals her away from me. As the night wore on and the roads  became twistier, I just couldn’t keep up the time. We managed to complete ¾ of the controls before we started pushing on our lateness and for the last 8 controls we went over the time limit which also meant that we were OTL for the main control. It was now 5 am, so the most important thing to us at that point was our beds, and it was the comfiest bed I had ever slept in, for the whole 2 hours I got to enjoy it.

Waking up was very hard to do on Sunday Morning just two hours after arriving at the Hotel. However over breakfast we heard that we were running 10th Overall up to Gordano the day before and had managed to retain that through the dreaded Welsh night section. This boosted our spirits tremendously!

The Route
The first call of the day was the fuel station as we were definitely running on fumes into LLangollen. We were to make our way north to Carlisle, and for us it was relatively smooth running. Three regularities started the morning off and they were great. We hit most timing points within 10 seconds. One or two were slightly over that, but we made up for it with a few 0 and 1 seconds.  The tests were also fantastic, with four during daylight hours and we were never more than 17 seconds slower than the fastest person in our class.

During all this we had left Wales behind, entered England via Cheshire,  and enjoyed the test at Delamere Forest. Then it was on through Lancashire and into Yorkshire where ,of course, it was raining. Just before lunch we discovered a leak. Not a fuel or oil leak, but a rain water leak into the car via the air vents. With the heavy rain we experienced during the run in to lunch at Clapham I had quite damp feet for the afternoon. This paled into insignificance though just after dark when we came upon the Stanhope Ford Test. Elise had tackled this test last year in the mini, so I have to admit that I felt a little pressured to succeed this year in the BMW. The water seemed much faster and deeper than last year and as we approached the start line my nerves went through the roof. There was quite an impressive crowd watching so Elise and I were determined to at least give it a try!

I am not really sure how, but we got through to the other side! We were over the moon and even the smell of the putrid water couldn’t dampen our spirits. The water that had seeped through the driver’s side door, however, more than dampened my feet!

See the video of us crossing Stanhope Ford here

It was straight on to the next two tests at Eastgate Works. Despite the mini tidal wave underneath my feet every time we stopped astride a line or finish we were the fastest in class for the first of these tests and 11th fastest overall. The second got slightly confusing halfway through as one of the Triumphs had stopped just off to the side and a Mini was coming towards us from the wrong direction, but we finished the test without penalties and only dropped 16 seconds on the fastest in our class.

The last regularity of the day was cancelled due to flooded fords so after a final hill climb test it was on to the hotels at Carlisle, a long awaited glass of wine and a relatively early night.

I have come to the conclusion that it really is the smallest of things that can mean a lot when competing on these endurance events. A few moments immediately spring to mind-the German Marshal team of Matthias Huber and Michael Perner, giving out apples to all the competitors in the middle of the Welsh night section, Ian Wallace throwing Percy Pigs through our window, Kev Haworth’s infectious enthusiasm throughout and the biggest hug ever from Guy Woodcock when we arrived at Carlisle.

Morning came around far too quickly, especially as it would be 28 hours (or more) till we would see a bed again. We weren’t even half way through the mileage either, as we entered Scotland and it’s breathless scenery.

Rest and be Thankful
The highlights of Monday were definitely the tests, one of which was ‘Rest and Be Thankful’. I have marshaled, observed and been a passenger on this test on previous rallies, so I was very excited to finally, after 3 years, competitively drive it! The last but one test of the day was also awesome, at Oban airport (with a plane due to land at any moment). The surface was quite loose tarmac and the course that was set was fast. I think everyone would agree that it was a lot of fun.

I love the roads in Scotland. One minute you’re coasting along the side of a Loch with a picturesque view and your car beautifully reflected in the glass like water, and the next you are hair-pinning  up a mountain side trying to maintain 28mph. You cannot beat the feeling of arriving at a timing point just one second late, when you know you’ve put your everything into getting back on time after being stuck behind a tractor or a bus.

Night was closing in on us fast and we knew that the real test from here on in would be a personal battle against tiredness. We found out that we had dropped to 11th overall, but we were running first in our class and only had a few points between us and second in class. The aim of the game would be to maintain our steady progress, keep on time and get to the end!

Lunch had been at Loch Fyne and we had passed through Fort William and headed up the West Coast to Kyle of Loclash. Trying to keep ourselves alert and focused, Elise and I were singing and making up lyrics (most of which did not rhyme and some of which didn’t even make sense, but it worked all the same) I am very glad that no one had any microphones on us through this time though.

There were plenty of stops during the night, but the best had to be a garage that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. They had made sandwiches and there were crisps and tea or coffee. It was a very welcome surprise. Night seemed to go on forever, but we were managing to keep going, keeping tiredness at bay until about 4 am , when it started to get really hard.

John O Groats
I think it was half past five in the morning when we got to a Spar shop in North West Scotland. Elise and I both had to have a quick nap (we squeezed in about 20 minutes). It wasn’t enough but it was all we could have. There was only one moment that I thought “Hmmm, perhaps I shouldn’t be driving” and that was when a flying yellow banana with brown wings hit the windscreen! Sugar and mints kept us awake through the final minutes of darkness. The long awaited sunrise brought with it a renewed sense of determination and the kick we needed. It was a beautiful and welcome sight over Northern Scotland.

1st in Class
With gritted teeth Elise and I pushed through the last two regularities, following the North coast to John O’Groats and the finish line. Being waved over that line is completely different to any other rally , as it is a real sense of personal achievement that overcomes you. It was particularly emotional for us as it marked the end of our first year of rallying and it really hit home how much we have learned and how far we have come since crossing the same line a year ago.

Finishing 11th overall and 1st in class was beyond belief and an incredible feeling. The added bonus was winning the team award alongside Andy Lane, Ian Tullie, Richard Boughton and Kevin Savage-we were so proud that we could be a part of their success.

Team KAISER BMW winning the team award
We couldn’t have done it alone though and if we could thank every single one of you personally we would! So this is to you all- everyone who waved or cheered us along the way, every single Marshal and observer who gave up their time, all the competitors who encouraged us and kept our spirits high, and not forgetting the mechanics and sweeper crews who keep everyone going as long as they can!

Team KAISER BMW at the finish

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Throckmorton 2013

What kind of exciting things can happen on a one day event based on an airfield near Worcester? With us competing, anything!
This was the first of three events that we have hired the HERO Arrive and Drive BMW 1602, we decided that we needed to practice in the same car to prepare ourselves for the tougher events that end the year, Rally of The Tests and LeJog.

I picked up the BMW from South Wales and drove it to Pershore to meet Elise from the train staion, so that we could both get a feel of the car especially as it is left hand drive.  Luckily for us, HERO had a training day on the Friday with a practice test that we could drive around a few times to get a real handle on the car.

Being the crazy challenge chasers that we are, we decided that we would try the national B event so whilst everyone on the clubman were given the whole route at signing on, in the form of jogularities and tulip diagrams. We were only given some of the route with some regularities being descriptive and we would require speed tables. Well we needed the practice!

Throckmorton is pretty straightforward, in the fact that you have 5 tests on the airfield, then you go off to do a regularity and this is repeated 3 times during the day. However, we were still pretty nervous at the start line, waiting for our minute to start the first test but once the marshal had counted us down and I hit the throttle, the first test and the following 4 tests straight after went by in a bit of a blur. miraculously we managed to complete all the right way picking up handicap points in our class from 13 seconds to 32 seconds.

Before we know it we were on our way to the first regularity start, a relatively simple jogularity with tulip diagrams. With Jogularities you are given the time due at each junction and landmark so the navigator can work out how early or late you are running in accordance to the average speed you should be maintaining. Considering the difficulty we have had with timing , the first 3 timing points were fantastic, we were 3 seconds early at the first one, 17 early for the second one (I may have been a little over zelous with my average 24mph) and the 9 seconds late on the third Then we met the car in front of us, who were a little behind their schedule and with no room to pass we came into the last timing control 30 seconds late. Comparing that to our previous regularities where we have dropped minutes at each control, we seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Back to the airfield we headed for a quick cup of coffee (tea for Elise)  before starting the next 5 tests. The tests started to get a little tricky as they were the same layout as the previous 5 but you had to take different directions around the cones and they started to get slightly longer. I also started to get more confident with the car dropping our handicap to 16 seconds on the 6th test, which means we were 16 seconds slower than the fastest person in our class, and 21 on the 7th test. We did mange to slightly miss a stop astride because of the gravel surface and gained 5 penalty points on the 8th which gave us a total of 31 seconds. No penalties on the 9th test but a 19 second handicap and we were onto to the last test of this section, one of the more complicated tests with four cones acting as a garage that you have to enter from 2 different directions during the test as well as negotiate the other cones, I was very pleased to find that we were the fastest in our class, achieving our first gold standard on a test. Woo hoo!
No time to celebrate as it was straight out for the next regularity, again a jogularity but this time with descriptive route. Things seemed to be going well as we picked up a 6, a 1 and a 3 on the first three timing points but as usual when things go well for us, something always goes horribly wrong. We reached a junction and I asked which way?, to which Elise replied “I have no idea” we were lost! Now don’t get me wrong we go the wrong way all the time but Elise always knows where we are or where we went wrong, the unusual thing was, this time, she really didn’t know. We turned around to retrace our steps only to find another car had just done exactly what we had (makes it a little easier to bear). As we made our way back along the wrong route Elise shouts turn left, it’s here I know what happened! That was that we were back on the right route although we did drop 5 minutes at the next control and because we couldn’t pick the timing back up another 28 seconds at the last one.

Lunchtime! We do love our food so we had been looking forward to lunch, hot pork baguettes with apple sauce, lovely.  After lunch it was onto another set of tests on the airfield, we took them nice and steady, completing all without penalty and picking up handicaps of 15 – 32 seconds. The last test of the day was rather exciting, as we entered the ‘garage’ we slid sideways toward the cones, not wanting to pick up any penalties I hit the brakes, stopping millimeters from the cones, but as I tried to put the BMW into reverse so we could carry on I realized the car had stalled, I know I’m a girl but before you ask yes I did depress the clutch! We think it was a fuel surge that cut the engine from the rather abrupt stop. So it was Marshals to the Rescue, they gave us a push so I could drop start the car, but it was to no avail. Elise and I jumped out the car to help push her out of the way of the next lot of competitors but as we are pushing her backwards one of the Marshals jumps in to try starting her backwards. Success! Thanking our saviours we jumped in the car and completed the test with no penalties! (just a large time handicap).
With just two more regularities to go we could almost see the finish line, the first of these regs was back on public roads and this time using speed tables but something must be working as we picked up a 6, a 3, a 4 and then an 18 at the timing controls. Getting better!

The last regularty of the day was on the airfield itself which means it was on private land, a fact the organisers used to place controls as close together as the want, on public roads they have to be at least 2 miles apart. We had heard about this ‘Sting in the Tail’ as Clerk of the Course Peter Nedin calls it and decided we would concentrate on the direction more than the timing. As we began the regularity, things were going well I was maintaining the average speed well and as we rounded the corner to see a Marshal Elise said we were bang on time, we very nearly cleared the first timing point, but came away with 1 second instead, the second timing point we picked up 9 as it was quite close with some tight corners, but again at the third we picked up just 1 second (Yeah Baby!) from that point in the navigation got very tricky so we gave up on the timing and just drove the route, we dropped quite a few seconds but did manage to go the right way and out of everyone on the event, nearly 100 cars we were 18th on that reg.

Then it was over we came 4th in class and 28th overall picking up the Top All Ladies crew at the Awards. All in all a great day and we learnt a lot, which will hopefully help us on the tough events to come. As always a big thank you to all the Marshals (especially the ones who gave us a push) everyone who organizes and makes the events possible and those who support us too.


Monday, 9 September 2013

Vale of Clwyd Classic

 A one day rally in North Wales with Guy Woodcock as Clerk of the Course, wasn’t going to be a piece of cake and The Vale of Clwyd Classic definitely lived up to its expectations.
I drove the 1964 Triumph TR4 up to Llanferres on Friday morning ready to calibrate the trip, scruitineer the car and sign on to the event that evening.  Although the drive up was fantastic, the weather staying dry and roads through Wales an absolute pleasure to travel on, the rain soon began to pelt down. With the forecasters predicting the downpour to last all day Saturday, we were dreading poor viability and very slippery conditions for the rally.

After plotting as much of the route we had been given, we headed to The West Chester Holiday Inn where we were staying for an early night as an even earlier morning start was soon upon us.

We made our way to The Druid’s Inn in Llanferres, a beautiful country pub where the rally was to start and finish, ready for the drivers briefing at 08.10am and with our start time being 09.31 we had plenty of time to work ourselves into a nervous mess after hearing Guy explain how slippery the roads and tests were after yesterdays downpour. We were, however, pleased that the rain had decided to hold off for a bit which meant a dry start to our day, which was to consist of 13 tests and 7 regularities.

The rally began with a very short drive to Loggerheads and the first test around a car park, we completed this correctly in 44 seconds which was less than double the bogey time and were very happy with that but had no time to reflect on this as it was straight off for the first regularity.  As we were counted down to begin the first reg, they handed us the instructions, luckily it was tulip diagrams which we are familiar with but with no time to look through them and see what challenges lay ahead we didn’t know how we were going to fair.

Elise began great and we were running just 10 seconds early when we reached a fantastic road sweeping down the side of a hill and I may have got a little carried away forgetting to stick to the 22 mph average speed so I wasn’t surprised as we rounded the corner to find a control and Elise screaming at me that we were running really early, Luckily however we had had an issue with a sheep on the corner and came into the control just 6 seconds early.  Admittedly it did go slightly downhill from there on the regularity but we didn’t wrong slot, just need to work on our timings a little more.

Tests 2 and 3 were at a cattle market and were rather slippery, however we completed both within the target time and without any faults and carried on our way to regularity 2.  As we traveled to the regularity following the tulip diagrams in our road book, we reached a left turn with the description CARE and QUIET NARROW ROAD, it was of course a very narrow road, and as luck would have it half way along it we met 2 cars reversing back down the lane away from a tractor towing a trailer. Reversing any car nearly half a mile down a twisty winding lane is difficult at the best of times but when you’ve only been driving said car for 2 days it is interesting, eventually I came to a driveway I could pull into and we were off again to the start of reg 2. The instructions for this reg were in the form of a herringbone but we had been given it the night before so Elise had plotted it on the map and she navigated it very well but the timings went out the widow a little as there were 4 speed changes.

Test 4 was very tight around what seemed like someone’s back yard, we completed it in 51 seconds which wasn’t the fastest, but we completed it again with no faults. Regularity 3 was something completely different for us as again during the countdown to start they handed us the instructions, and on the word go I began to drive whilst Elise plotted the route from, what I can only describe as, a long string of numbers which turned out to be spot heights that we had to travel through in order and without passing through any other spot heights on the map.  I couldn’t believe how quickly she managed to plot the route whilst I was just driving to the next junction and we only missed one sneaky slot which meant we missed a code board.

Test 5 was a repeat of tests 2 and 3 combined and with no mistakes we completed it in a time of 2.23 well under the 4 min target time. Regularity 4 turned out to be our best regularity of the event, we had to plot it using gridlines that we were to cross in a specific order, with 5 timing points and 4 speed changes we were within 24 seconds of every control with one being just 3 seconds out.

We were having a great time navigating the roads of North Wales and the event was challenging in an exhilarating way, regularity 5 was definitely the highlight of this when we received the instructions at the start of the reg as a ‘Deelarity’ where you have to navigate as you see it with not all junctions included. This was by far Elise’s favourite and it started off really well, the first timing point we were 5 seconds out and then the second 21 seconds, disaster in the form of a white van then struck as between the next three timing points he drove at a constant 5 mph, a real blow to us trying to maintain an average 20 mph. It felt as if he was doing it on purpose with junction after junction of him going the same way and passing many lay bys, which he could of pulled over in. It was a nightmare but it happens to everyone and we took the total penalties for the last 2 timing points with a pinch of salt, the positive being we had gone the right way.

Tests 6 and 7 were very muddy with test 6 taking an unusual route through some sheep pens and test 7 where we had to come to a complete stop due to a herd of cows on the track, we were feeling unlucky at this point. Test 7 also included a reversing maneuver but this was nothing compared to the reversing we had to do in the lane earlier in the day.

Tests 8,9 and 10 were challenging but again we completed all within the target time and without faults and so we arrived at lunch on quite a high and looking forward to getting back in the car for the afternoon.

The afternoon went very quickly with tests 11, 12 and 13 being repeats of those earlier in the day and we managed to improve our time on them all. After the tests we received the final instructions for the last regularity of the day which they had aptly named “Sting in the Tail” so throughout the remaining driving and regularity 6 Elsie was desperately trying to plot the last challenge. Regularity 6 was interesting as it began on the map, which we had plotted the night before, then jumped to a jogularity. It had 10 intermediate timing controls in it and although most of out timings were quite out we did manage a 4 and a 7 seconds.

All too soon it was time for the last Regularity, the 7th of the day. Elise had plotted as much as she could but there were three sections that had her confused, luckily there were 3 cars in front which meant we had 3 minutes to see if I could decipher the strange information. As we began the reg we had a route and we were going to stick to it. There was just one instruction we still didn’t understand ‘ new road not on map’, we figured that we couldn’t plot a route that wasn’t on the map and we would just have to deal with it when we got there.

In the end we missed the new road, which meant we missed a timing point but we were very pleased with the rest of the regularity. We finished 49th overall and 4th in class but 1st out of the all ladies crews as we were the only ones!.

It was a brilliant event, we thoroughly enjoyed and we hope that we can compete again next year.