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

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