Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Regis Rally - Round Twelve HRCR

The final round of the HRCR Championship was finally upon us. Although we were too many points behind the novice leaders to win there was a chance that we could battle for second overall novices. After scrutineering the night before and setting the trip, we thought we were ready, but with no route to plot or planning to be done, were we being lulled into a false sense of security.

Saturday 25th October, we headed for the start at the Ardlingbourne Country Centre near Chichester, where did the final noise test before getting our documents. However, we weren’t in the right mindset. Seren drove the car to noise and I parked my modern car up in the car park. Suddenly I receive a phone call saying I had our scrutineering form. Our idea of getting there early was so that we could get the books early, which didn’t quite go to plan. Hopefully that was the only ‘brain fart’ of the day.
After half an hour of plotting and deciphering, we were ready to take to the road. As we were waved off the start line, Seren panicked, as I hadn’t started the stopwatch, however, I kindly reminded her that we were not a regularity, we were on a link section driving to the first test at Goodwood. I couldn’t blame her, though as I was searching the car for speed tables at the time, soon to realise we had left them at home! I didn’t know what to do, so as we drove to the first few tests, we calculated the times for 20mph, 24mph and 30mph. At least it was something.
As we turned into the area designated for the first few tests, I started to feel the pressure building up – I needed to make sure I called them right and we went the right way. The tests were varied and fun, the first one being on tarmac with a few 360’s around cones and we made good time. The second test was again on tarmac but finishing up on mud and leaves. As we sprinted over the crest to the finish we slide towards the marshals, luckily stopping just before them, still astride the line and not hitting any cones.

Soon we were off on the road to begin the regularities and luckily whilst queuing for the first reg we were chatting away and mentioned we had forgotten our speed tables. Amazingly, the organisers had some spare and saved me a lot of calculating. Thank you ladies!  The regularities on this event were extremely difficult for me, making the perfect finale of the HRCR championship. They were a combination of pre – plotted and plot and bash, making the navigators have to think about everything.

The first regularity seemed quite simple with us only picking up a few penalties, however, then it was back to the tests at Goodwood. We repeated the same tests but this time we were adamant we would beat our time and indeed we did, by at least 5 seconds each time. This felt like such an achievement especially as they are all on different surfaces such as grass, mud and gravel.

Straight after these few tests, it was time for a plot and bash. I think because I spent ages worrying about it, I actually found the first one quite easy and we sailed through the reg picking up only a few penalty points. In fact this was our best timecard of the day coming 2nd Overall. I wish the whole rally was based on this one timecard as we only picked up 37 seconds over 2 regs, halving the time of some of the top crews!

The final selections of tests were held on an industrial site. Now this doesn’t sound that great, but it made the perfect venue to throw the car around. I could tell Seren had great fun on these tests and she even caught up with the car in front. I think Guy Woodcock’s lessons helped and we whizzed around to do the tests one more time before heading out for the final Plot and bash reg.

The last regularity was a complete plot and bash reg. I was completely thrown by the directions as we had to pass over grid lines and it didn’t make sense. Finally Seren pulled over and explained it was a rough guideline, not exact direction and I was able to calculate the rest of the route. This was the most challenging plot and bash to date as we were handed the route in three parts over the reg but some of the information needed for part C was given in part A meaning you had to remember what was for what. I was getting myself completely confused by the speed tables because of this but soon realised the speeds were for the whole reg and not just the first part. PHEW!

When we made it to the finish, we didn’t know how we had done, as we felt it was a challenging yet rewarding rally. The final results were posted and we were joint 13th Overall and 7th in class (bearing in mind there were 15 in our class). It was a fantastic rally and definitely a dark horse to finish the HRCR Championship on.

This meant that we did manage to finish the championship 2nd overall novices and first in our class of cars. A fantastic achievement for our first ever championship!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Throckmorton Challenge - Round Eleven HRCR

After the disappointing result on the previous HRCR round, The Vale of Clwyd Classic, it was time to take action. I have had very limited driving experience on loose surfaces which meant a real lack of confidence when tackling tests and regularties at speed on gravel and this, I believe, is what has let us down previously. 

Enter Guy Woodcock renowned rally driver, navigator and rally route coordinator extraordinaire!
Prior to scuitneering for The Throckmorton Challenge Mr Woodcock and I took the Tr4 for a drive to hopefully improve my car handling. I was nervous about sitting with someone with such credentials, I was worried that he would want me to go faster than I felt comfortable with. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I was soon at ease behind the wheel, pushing the car harder then I ever had before, with complete control and learning some invaluable tips.  Although, I didn’t emerge from the experience unscathed, I gained a small scrape across the forehead, from a rogue branch that entered through the car’s open window, during a demonstration of a 360 around a bush; it seemed a small price to pay!
The real question was would I be able to put it all into practice during the real thing.
 Preparation for the Throckmorton Challenge was, compared to previous rounds, relatively stress free, with no map plotting required and, as we were to receive half the route book in the morning, we were able to have a pleasant evening catching up with rally friends new and old.

The morning of the rally started very wet! And with a newly discovered hole in my shoe I had to hitch a lift to the car before setting off at our due time. We had picked up the rest of the route just half an hour before departure but luckily it did not seem too complicated and we had had time to start looking through it. With a change of venue from last year, we didn’t really know what to expect from Throckmorton, and it really seemed like they had made the most of the roads surrounding the start venue ‘The Vale Golf Club’ in Bishampton with a regularity starting straight out of the gate. A Jogularity, with tulip diagrams and exact times that you are due at each landmark, was the first challenge and these are one of our favourite type of regularities, so we were very happy with our times of one second late at the first control, bang on at the second, three early at the third, another zero and then seven seconds late at the final control.
A very good start for us but the real trial for me was about to start with five tests back to back at an Airfield near Throckmorton Village. With all that space available, the tests were quite long and pretty intense with a lot of stop astrides and cones to navigate around. We were second fastest in our class for the first two tests, third for the next two and then slowest in our class for the last one, but as we were only 16 seconds slower than the fastest overall car, I wasn’t too disappointed!
A brief coffee halt with another good look at the second road book was most welcome especially as the adrenaline from trying to push myself harder on the tests was coursing through me. 

Results published up to MC2 at the coffee halt revealed that we were up to 7th overall, the highest we have ever managed to climb up the leaderboard, and although an achievement, no real celebration as it was too early on in the day.
 Two more tests on the airfield followed before we were out on another regularity, this time a descriptive regularity off speed tables. Elise really did seem on top form on this reg and we only picked up six seconds over the five controls, despite a wild timing panic from me half way through, for no good reason I should add, which earned me a talking ban for the rest of the reg! I was only trying to help! Before we could blink we were back at the airfield ready for seven more of the back to back tests, now just to confuse everyone, the tests were very similar to the previous ones with most of the cones in the exact same places but some had different routes around them or directions to take. A very confusing tactic played by the organisers which unfortunately we did fall foul of. For the first time ever we completed a wrong test, completely by accident taking the wrong direction around two cones, it wasn’t until the end of the test that Elise realised our mistake correcting us just before we took the wrong side of another cone but it was too little too late and the Marshal, as judge of fact, ruled a wrong test.

Devastated would have been an understatement, and as I blamed myself for colouring it in wrong the night before, it was very hard to concentrate on the last two tests before heading to lunch. 100 penalty points were awarded to us for our mistake and we knew this meant we would be out of the running for a top ten finish.  

Results to lunch confirmed our fears as we had dropped down to 25th overall. However we did enjoy a very pleasant lunch of soup and sandwiches and decided that with just two regularities to finish the event and the sun beginning to dry everything out, we would put our all into the afternoon anyway.
The first of the afternoon regularities was another descriptive with speed tables and Elise was really showing what she was made of as a navigator once again by clearing the first timing point then picking up just four seconds over the final three. Our hearts did stop when we got stuck behind a lady trying to park a caravan in a lane but luckily it was very close to the end of the regularity and there were no more marshals to be found.

The highlight of Throckmorton for me has always been the last regularity, held on the airfield, and therefore private land, which means that controls are not restricted like they are on the roads where they have to be at least two miles apart, and the organisers can put as many or as few as they like, depending on how mean they are feeling!

 It started off on the open airfield with average speeds around the 30 MPH mark which meant that you really had to push between controls to catch up time because another control could literally be just around the corner. The first control was sneakily hidden behind a wall , we dropped three seconds at this one, the next two controls were pretty close together but we managed to catch up as best we could dropping two then four second at each of these. Then the average speed dropped to 18 MPH and we knew from previous years that we were entering a complicated maze of roads and the route, although not the same as before, would definitely get interesting.

I may have preempted this a little, as we came across a control just before the twisty bit, and we were seven seconds early. There were two more controls and not a lot of distance to squeeze these in, so despite the slower speeds I was really having to push to get back on time in between them and Elise was trying to focus on going the right way as well as sort out the timing. Therefore when, after the last control, Elise claimed that we had dropped just three seconds at the penultimate control and cleared the last one, I was less than convinced and promised her that if she was, by some miracle, correct I would buy her a large glass of wine!

I did buy her a large glass wine!

She definitely deserved it, even with our huge penalty from the wrong test, we had managed an 11th overall, by far our highest HRCR result ever, and 2nd in class. We also later found out that between the National B event, which we had entered, and the Clubmans event we were the highest placing ‘Mixed Crew’ and Elise, with just 40 sesconds on regularity penalties, was joint third for the ‘Clockwatchers Trophy’ Out of nearly 100 naviagators!
A very good finish to the last but one round of the HRCR Championship and as always a huge Thank you to everyone involved, Marshals,competitors, orgainsers, photographers, spectators and mechanics, I feel a special thanks is required for Guy Woodcock I really think his advice helped us to achieve this result and hopefully my confidence will continue to grow.

Seren x x 

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Vale of Clwyd Classic - Round Ten HRCR

On Friday 6th September we made our way up to Chester for the Vale of Clwyd. Having worked the summer on a ship, my sister and I were not really in the rally mind set. By the time I arrived, Seren had already taken the car through scrutineering, done the measured mile and signed on, so all I had to do was sign on, get the books and get to work. Simple, I thought – I was wrong. The complicated plotting sections put my brain to the test almost immediately and I made many mistakes trying to focus!

An early night was in order as my head was already pounding with information. I needed to get my rest if I wanted to be able to focus tomorrow. It all felt a bit surreal, especially because we had been moved up a class to E1 – Experts!!!

The sun rose on Saturday and we headed over to the Druid Inn where the rally was based. As we were seeded car 47 we had a long wait before we were due to depart – more time to panic! Even though we had loads of time, it wasn’t until we were five minutes off our time that we realised our clock was broken. Good start to the day. This meant we needed to rely on our trusted egg timers and  remember to reset them.
Then we were off! Our first challenge was a test at Loggerheads Park and we wizzed around the cones setting a fast time. We felt so proud that we had a strong start but as soon as the regularities started, that would all change. The first regularity started straight out of the test, we had plotted the second half of it the night before but the first part was handed to us as we pulled off, relief washed over me when I saw it was descriptive, this was short lived! Even though we found the first tricky left turn arriving two seconds late, I soon realised not every junction was marked on the descriptive, making it almost impossible to navigate. Luckily, I was watching out for sneaky turns and we managed to make every control, but we picked up a few penalties as we couldn’t keep up time.

Coffee was well received, and we even had five minutes to drink it (which is unusual for us) but soon we were back on the road.  Feeling positive, we headed on to test two, ‘Farm Yard Frolics’. We shot down the lane, avoiding the cones, to arrive at a farmyard where we navigated through the buildings. Just before the final cone, I called “hairpin back left’, so we slowed right down to make the corner. However, the downward decent, gravel and mud did not make the turn easy and we managed  to wedge ourselves on the hairpin, with a metal post in front of us and on our inside. Thankfully, one of the amazing marshals came to our rescue and pushed us back as we reversed, so we could make the turn. Big thank you to those who helped!

I found it extremely clever how we started test three exactly how we started test two, but then turned off, it was quite exciting and a great use of space, although my appreciation dropped when we entered a very rough patch on test three and I couldn’t even read the road book.

Regularity two started and finished well, with all our times within 15 seconds of each other, except one. A fast ‘stage rally’ section through a forest where we were expected to keep a constant speed of 29 mph! Impossible for us when we were already running late, so we ended up with one minute penalty.
It was then time for a sprint of five tests before lunch. My favourite of these was test seven on a field, it was madness just sliding around doing 360s on the grass. I could tell Seren was enjoying herself and we finished the test in 1.51 which was faster than some other top crews! Maybe grass tests are our calling.  Saying that, on Test 8, we drove round the Car Park test in a speedy 53 seconds again on par with the top crews. We are slowly but surely getting quicker.

It was a quick stop at lunch, as we needed to head up the A55 for 15 minutes to top up on fuel, as the designated fuel station was unexpectedly closed. It was a little bit annoying as I could have done with a break but fuel was needed for the afternoon.
The afternoon was a big challenge with five more regularities and four tests waiting for us. The first few tests were ones we had done before but backwards. These tests were difficult as they were set on forest tracks, which were extremely muddy. We were slipping everywhere, so we just took them slowly and incurred the time penalty. After tackling the majority of tests, it was then time to encounter the regularities. A real test for my mind and focus.

There were three long regularities in a row and all were given to us during the day, which meant we had to plot them en route. The plotting wasn’t too difficult except where we had to visit spot heights and I wasn’t sure where the spot height fell on the map. Eventually, we made a team decision and went with the longest route, which luckily was correct. I really struggled with following route I had plotted. I had marked the right way; just focusing on the route was difficult. The hardest regularity for me was on the London Map where we had to follow roads specifically on that map. It was hard because new roads weren’t shown. I was comparing maps as we went but complicated junctions were practically impossible.

My favourite regularity of the day was surprisingly the herringbone. When I first started rallying, I hated them, however, I found this one easy to plot and loved that it wiggled around a selection of roads. Amazingly it was one of our best regularities picking up 59 seconds over all controls. This was a massive step up from our other regularities where we were picking up minutes at every control.

Finally it was time for the last regularity, which was plot and bash. Usually, I am quite good at this but for some reason I couldn’t plot this one. I turned to Seren after the first timing point and said, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t know where to go’. I could tell she was annoyed but she kept a cool head as we tried to work it out. In the end we just decided to drive and I would judge each road as we came across it. It seemed to work and we finally ended up back at the pub.

After a head-spinning day we had made it back and we were quite exited about our results as we felt we had a productive day and had visited all the controls, a big improvement on last year. However, when the results were finalized we were extremely disappointed. We were 8th in class and 43rd overall. I think this proves we were not ready to be Experts. A fantastic rally but I think we have a lot to work on, if we are to compete against our new class. 

Elise x x

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The 1000 Mile Trial - Part Two, Edinburgh to London

Read Part One here

Day 4
Wednesday 16th
Edinburgh to Hexham

Although the weather was a little grey and dismal, a much appreciated lie in with a 10.30 am start and last nights amazing dinner onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia kept the grins plastered on our faces.

A very short link section took us to Whitekirk Golf Course which turned out to be an early lunch stop, we were definitely not used to this relaxed atmosphere on an event. When Elise clocked out of the lunch hall and ran out to jump in the car she found that I was not in my usual ready state with the car running and pulled up outside the door to meet her. This was due to the fact that a certain other Austin 7 crew had emptied an entire basket of golf balls into the foot well of our car. The gauntlet had been thrown!

The regularity sections were getting tougher with more plotting and greater opportunities to make mistakes. A hidden turn just before a ford that took you over the bridge instead caught a lot of crews out, and as it was a timing point, those who turned around after the ford to get the control lost time and unfortunately others missed it altogether. Elise called it and I was relieved not to be going through another ford, we were just a few seconds late at that control.

Alnwick Castle was the setting for the afternoon coffee halt, which was used as Hogwarts for the first two Harry Potter Films. Unfortunately we had to give the broomstick flying a miss, but the scones, jam and cream were divine. A huge downpour just as our time to leave approached resulted in two very drenched sisters heading south towards Slaley Hall near Newcastle.

Competitively, we were mostly the slowest car on the tests, in our class, but at this point we felt it was more important to finish than push it. On the regularities we were fine if the roads were flat dropping a handful of seconds at controls but if there were any hills we had no hope and just tried to keep within the minute (which was a struggle in itself). No wrong turns though.

Still 14th Overall and Second in Class, we can’t believe that we have made it this far!

Day 5
Thursday 17th
Hexham to Leeds

In the early hours of Thursday morning we plotted our revenge from Day 4’s golf ball incident. With the hotels help we made a ‘just married’ sign and stuck it to the back of Marcus Atkinson and Angus Forsyth’s Austin 7, then tied some plastic bottles to the underside of the car. Hoping that they wouldn’t notice either and perhaps be fooled into thinking the car was making funny noises.

It worked perfectly! Completely unaware of the sign, or the numerous spectators giggling, they drove straight to the mechanics as the “exhaust seemed to be rattling” Although the bottles didn’t last for more than 100 metres, they kept the sign on all day. Worthy opponents and members of our Team ‘Austin Powers’.

The afternoon Coffee Halt was held at the fantastic Bowes museum at Barnard Castle. An absolutely fantastic setting and with all the cars parked out the front it felt like a step back in time. It would have been very easy to forget that we were on a rally, visiting these amazing venues and driving brilliant roads.
However, the competitive elements were getting harder, the Byland Abbey regularity was no exception with a hidden layby over a crest that concealed a timing point followed by a right turn that looked like a drive way. Many crews struggled on this regularity with even some top crews making mistakes. We managed to go the right way but with the average speeds hitting 30mph in most places we couldn’t quite keep up to time in our little Austin.

The day ended with two tests at Harewood Hill climb. It’s a long circular test combining a downhill run before the hill climb back up and the organisers and included various stops within marked boxes and cones to dodge. With many more powerful cars behind us in the queue I was really worried that they would catch us and I would hold them up so I asked if it was possible to leave a gap before letting any other cars go. They had already come to the same conclusion and gave us a minute and thirty seconds gap before letting another car go which meant that no one caught us during the test. Phew.

A short drive, which should have been quite relaxing, soon became a drama when on a short up-hill section the car died on us. Car 34 Paul Gregory and Nick Savage were a few cars behind us and pulled in to check if we were ok. Our first guess was, that without a fuel gauge in the car, we may have run out of fuel. Having struggled, in first gear, up the hillclimb test twice we had used a lot more fuel than we thought. To our utter amazement Paul and Nick had a spare can of fuel in their car. We poured it into the tank but as we were trying to start the car on a hill there was no luck. The only option was to push her over the hill and drop start her in second gear. A huge thank you to Car 34 for all their help I have no idea what we would have done if they hadn’t been there.

Unbelievably we still had no road penalties and the car only needed a quick oil top up. We can’t believe that she is still going!

Day 6
Friday 18th July
Leeds to Towcester
The morning of the 6th day we were greeted with ‘you are in trouble this time’. Both my sister and I were confused, but when we looked outside we saw Little George ( the other Austin) covered in branches and a cleaning sign, we realised many competitors had jumped to conclusions thinking that we were playing a joke on our fellow team mates. Luckily for us, the culprits owned up and confessed to taking Little George inside the hotel before hiding it in front of the hotel. Very funny.

Just as we were about to head off down the motorway, we were appointed a ‘Motorway buddy’ as it had become apparent that we were too small and slow to be seen on such fast busy roads. We were appointed Stephen and Colette Owens, who kindly drove behind us for the entire motorway section (even when we went around the roundabout twice). A big thank you to them.  

Our first test was around a Kart circuit, letting us pick up a little bit of speed, however, what we thought was fast, was slow to everyone else as we were lapped on our second run around. Crossing the finish line, we were told that fuel was spilling out as we went round corners and we thought we might have ruptured the fuel tank. That meant engine off and a push around the corner to find out the problem. It was soon clear that the fuel was pouring out from the cap when we turned corners- now the only problem was we didn’t know how much fuel we had.

I was so excited about the next test as it requires mental and  physical concentration. The Jacob’s Ladder test looks simple, however with the route left blank for you to plot the fastest route, it can become confusing. We felt we had a bit of an advantage with such a small car and we were right as we ended up being the 7th fastest overall.

It was then time for lunch at Belvoir Castle, and what a treat it was. The stunning castle could be seen for miles and we weaved our way through the countryside, finally falling upon the Castle. Dinning in such a grand castle with so much history made my day and there was even the original motor from the family still in use. However, we didn’t have long to take in our surroundings as it was time to test our fuel level with a stick, as we had no fuel gauge. Luckily we hadn’t lost too much fuel.

The next test took place on the grounds of Belvoir castle, however there was a long delay because a fairground ride was making its way up the road. This meant we had an extra half an hour to enjoy the views from the castle and do a spot of sunbathing in the sweltering heat. Eventually it was our turn, the route guided itself through a forest track to then open out for the final part of the test. A fantastic way to start after lunch.

Regularity 6.3 was our best regularity so far because the majority of our timings on the other regs were effected by hills. As we were now getting further south, the land had started to flatten out. Over 4 timing points we picked up 23 seconds as follows

3 early
1 late
19 late
1 late

Not a bad result for an Austin 7 and we were so pleased with how little seconds we picked up. However, because of the delay at lunch, we were now on our lateness at the beautiful Foxton Locks.  Obviously the delay carries over, but because we were so slow, we felt it was safer to press on to the next and final test of the day.

The fast circuit test looked fantastic with the sun shining and supporters lining the test. The test consisted of two laps of the circuit in the fasted possible time. As there were no other classic cars waiting, we were able to take our time around the test and have some fun. We crossed the finish line with our faces beaming with delight as we had completed the test in 2 minutes 16 seconds. It was then time to head to the hotel near Silverstone where we would spend our final night.

Amazed with how far we had come in the Austin 7, we arrived at the hotel placing 1st in class and 11th overall. We still couldn’t believe we only had one day left and what a penultimate night. As we sat outside with a rewarding glass of wine, a terrific thunderstorm lined the horizon. I felt like I was abroad sitting outside and in the distance a storm of rain and lighting raged on for our entertainment.

Day 7
Saturday 19th
Towcester to London

 final day began slightly wet and miserable but that didn’t affect our moods at all. Excited yet nervous as just seven hours of driving stood between us and completing the entire Thousand Mile Trial. Could we get there without going wrong? Would we maintain our class position? But the biggest question of all was if the car would make it. Without a doubt it was a miracle that we had made it so far already but being so close to the end our desire to finish was immense.

The first two tests of the day were slippery due to the rain. A covered passage that we had to drive through on the first test caught out a few crews as you could see the finish line before turning into the passage, an easy mistake to make.

With the rain stopping and starting we had perfected our pit stop change into our all weather gear and could complete it all and get going again in under one minute.  As we approached London the weather began to clear up, by the time we reached Woodcote Park the sun was shinning down on us.

Our mantra for the whole day was just to make it to the end. We were so aware of the car and our surroundings, listening out for any knocks or rattles that may impede our progress. Of course, we did have a little drama just as we approached the final test. It was as if the fuel was struggling to through (before anyone asks we had just filled her up) almost like the Austin knew she was so close to the end.
The atmosphere at the start of the final test was incredible, with just a downhill test to the finish line. Adrenaline and excitement was coursing through our veins as we rolled to a stop at the finish line, completing the 1000 Mile circuit to Edinburgh and back in a 1934 Austin 7.

Completely thrilled to be part of such an incredible event and amazed that we had completed it all. With the added bonus of finishing 11th Overall and 1st in our class. What an achievement!

A huge thank you to everyone that made this happen, every single one of you! Some experiences you never ever forget and you all made this possible for us, we couldn’t have done it without any of you!