Sunday, 30 March 2014

North Yorkshire Classic - Round Two HRCR

After the five and a half hour journey up to York it was straight to scrutineering and then signing on. Even though the North Yorkshire classic is a one-day HRCR event, there is still a lot of preparation.

We spent the evening plotting regularities and I became rather confused over some of the navigation, however not as confused as we would be on Sunday. With information to plot just three regularities, it didn’t take too long and we opted for an early night ready for the early start.

Sunday started with a nifty plot and bash, but to my surprise, it was instructed as tulip diagrams, which are usually my favourite type of instructions. But this was extremely confusing as not every junction was shown, meaning you had to judge when you got there as apposed to plotting as you travel. Each junction was a complete guess, but we made it to the first two timing points.  Soon we came to 20mph speed change, where we presumed we would turn off the main road. Presumption was our downfall as our trip was slightly out, meaning we turned too soon and missed out on two other timing points giving us a massive penalty. It really set our spirits back but it did relieved the pressure meaning we had more of an opportunity to understand what was expected during a plot and bash.
The first few tests near the village of Tholthorpe were quite long and intricate, which meant both navigator and driver needed to be on top form. Luckily we were able to watch a few cars before us, so we were able to get our bearings and didn’t make a single mistake.  We even had a leisurely coffee break giving us time to rethink our errors and be sure to not make them again.

It was then time for our second regularity, which was pre-plotted. This made me very happy, and I was able to keep the timing down to seconds and Seren was able to drive without worrying where to go. Then came the driver’s test. Test 5 was located in a small muddy farmyard and was quite very tight to drive around, however Seren did a fantastic job and kept a constant smooth speed throughout giving us a good time without any incidents.

Straight on from there, it was time for another pre-plotted regularity. It is funny how you develop during these rallies, because a year ago I had no idea about timing and now it doesn’t worry me, it is the tougher elements, such as plot and bash, that make my nerves fly. Saying this, on regularity three, there was a point where we needed to avoid the main road and turn right, however when we arrived at the junction, the road we needed to take looked like a main one. If it wasn’t for Seren observing that the main road was further up, we would still be doing circles of the area.  Teamwork makes the dream work!

It was then off to Duncombe Park for the last 4 tests before lunch. These tests were extremely muddy and we were sliding all over the place, but this was a fantastic opportunity to put Seren’s driving to the test and she loved every minute. I enjoyed it too, but I needed to make sure, whilst sliding, we were going the right side of the cones. The final test before lunch was a great one as it consisted of slalom through 10 cones. As the area was quite open, it was the perfect time to pick up speed and see exactly what the TR4 could do.

After lunch, it was time to fuel and then on to the second plot and bash of the day. I was terrified, as I didn’t do too well on the one in the morning; but I tried not to let this affect me. As soon as I was handed the information, I was relieved to find out it was something that could be plotted and we went the right way and on time. A great pick up from the morning.

We managed to do a complete loop and ended up back at Duncombe Park for the second round of tests. This time it was a little more slippy, so we took extra caution whilst going round as we heard a few cars had argued with a tree. Although, we took a few seconds longer, we were still smooth, a technique I am yet to acquire.  It was at this point were allowed an extra 10 minutes break, as the rally was running early. As women, this was such a relief as we were able use the facilities. We don’t mind using trees and bushes but it isn’t as easy for us to do that.

The final leg of the rally was upon us all too soon. It was time for regularity 5. This was all pre-plotted but had a ludicrous amount of speed changes, making it nearly impossible to keep track of time. We got half way through, the regularity, when I complete lost a speed change and we went the wrong way, we couldn’t catch up on the time. Amazingly, Seren is fantastic at average speed and was able to get us to the final checkpoint with only 18 seconds on the clock. 

I was apprehensive about regularity 6 as it was a plot and bash, but each section of instructions was given to you at each timing point, meaning you had to go the right way. It was extremely exhilarating, and I loved the challenge of not knowing where to go next. We even zeroed a timing point.

Overall, it was a fantastic rally and a massive learning curve for both of us. We didn’t finish with the best result as we were 49th but we came second in class. At least this means we can only improve.  I have definitely taken lots of skills away with me from the North Yorkshire, lets just hope I can put them into practice on the next one.

Elise x

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Alfa Adventures on The Tour of Cheshire - Round One HRCR

Scruitineering and signing on for the Tour of Cheshire, the first one day round of the HRCR championship, was on Friday 28th February 2014. Elise and I were really looking forward to it especially as it is so popular, we only made the reserve list and found out the week before that they had managed to convince the MSA to let them run a few more cars.
Our only issue was that on the Friday morning we were in Monte Carlo, where the ‘Winter Challenge’ had finished the night before. Elise had competed in a TR4 finishing 10th overall and 3rd in class and I was helping out with the event. So in true jet set fashion we flew straight in from Monte Carlo (Easy-Jet) picked up the car and headed off to begin our first rally of the season together.
The downside of this was that the ‘Winter Challenge,’ a tough five day event from Coventry to Monte Carlo consisting of very long days, had left us both on the verge of exhaustion. Picking up the 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV which I had never driven before quickly proved the adverse effects driving tired can have. In my short experience driving classic cars I have realized that you have to feel the car and drive them pro- actively otherwise the car doesn’t perform well, and each car is different. Due to my overtiredness I really struggled to find the Alpha’s rhythm and drive her and in true ‘bad workmen’ fashion I, of course, blamed the car!
Elise was also struggling, with no time the previous week for anything else but ‘The Winter Challenge’ after scruitineering and signing on (which was fantastically quick and easy) we had the entire route to plot. This is extremely difficult when the squiggly lines on the map are dancing in front of your eyes!
Luckily a very generous fellow competitor had offered us hospitality for the weekend and after a fantastic Chinese take away we all had an early night hoping that Saturday everything would be better.
Feeling a lot more human we made our way to the measured distance with Elise trying to finish the days plotting in the back of the car. We quickly calibrated the trip to match the organisers and made it back to the start of the event before first car.
Eighty cars and crews were taking part in the rally and the event is seeded by experience, Elise and I were running with number 51 as novice competitors, so we watched as the top crews set off, enjoying a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea (coffee for me). At 9.21 am we were waved off the start line, at the Bickerton Poacher in Beeston, and began the first competitive section which was a regularity set at 24mph. This should have been easy however two junctions after the manned start we found ourselves behind a horse box who seemed to know the regularity route, with no passing places and reaching a top speed of 20 mph we dropped 2 minutes at the first control. These things always happen and as a ‘force Major’ there was nothing we could do about it. Disappointed we began the second regularity before completing two tests at near Shrewsbury and then a much needed cup of coffee.

We then had two more regularities and three tests before lunch, one test at Chowley Oak and the other two at Beeston Cattle Market. The first of these two regularities was alright with two timing points, we were eight seconds early for the first and 15 late for the second. The difficulty of working from speed tables is that once you see a Marshal in front of you, you have to guess the distance to them to be able to work out the exact time you should be at that point. The majority of the time we run two seconds early so Elise tells me to keep up the pace when we see a Marshal, that way we keep the average speed and use the two seconds to come to a stop (in theory). Something worked on the second regularity, as we hit the only timing control one second late.

At lunch we were running 54th overall but as we are competing more for the experience than anything else we carried on regardless hoping to improve our timings and driving ability. There was more plotting to complete before the afternoon section so we got to work whilst enjoying a very welcome bowl of homemade vegetable soup and selection of sandwiches.

The afternoon sections went a lot better for us, we were both getting into the groove and I was starting to get into the rhythm of the Alpha. We had some great regularities, with lots of timing points but we were getting to the controls within 5 seconds and the tests were great fun, mostly on loose gravel, the top drivers were putting on a spectacular show.

The highlight of the afternoon was the regularity test held at Delamere Forrest, it was instructed as a Jogularity so we were given the times we needed to be at each distance but the distances were never more than 0.06 of a mile apart and each one had a direction. Elise concentrated on the route, and it is a good job she did. There were three loops of the course but each one was slightly different, sometimes you had to drive through buildings with the controls hidden inside. Cars were going everywhere, it was brilliant!

Later on we got to repeat that test as a normal driving test, trying to go a little but faster. The whole event ended with a long test at Beeston Cattle Market before heading back to The Bickerton Poacher for results, awards and dinner.

We were very surprised to finish 27th overall and 2nd in class, especially after the disastrous morning. Luckily the ‘Tour of Cheshire’ have a joker that cancels out your worst lateness result at a timing point. This scrubbed us of the 118 seconds that the horsebox cost us and boosted us up the results.

A fantastic one day event and a great start to the HRCR Championship, bring on round two!

Seren x

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Winter Challenge 2014

The Winter Challenge 2014 started from Race Retro in Coventry and over five days, travelled through France to arrive at Monte Carlo. I was in car number 7, a HERO Arrive and Drive TR4, with Patrick Burke.

On Saturday 22rd February, we made sure the car was scrutineered and our trip was accurately set for the measure distance, all ready for the start of the rally on Sunday. I was a little apprehensive as this was my first competitive event without my sister and I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do, as we work together as a team on the timing and speed. However, I didn’t have much time to procrastinate as I had maps to plot and regularities to understand.

Before we knew it, Sunday morning had arrived and I spent ages sorting out my side of the car, checking I had pens and pencils accessible and my maps were easily found. I have always struggled with timing on these events, but thanks to Brantz, my trouble would soon be over. The Brantz rally timer displays rally time and a stopwatch and are fitted in front of the navigator. Not only is it easier as it frees your hands from holding stopwatches; its display is LED meaning you can keep a record of time, even at night. I can honestly say we would never have finished in the top ten if it weren’t for the timer.

Day 1 Race Retro - Portsmouth

It was time to be waved off the start line to commence The Winter Challenge 2014.

Kicking of the start, we headed over to the National B circuit at Race Retro, to do a lap as our first test. It was a huge thrill throwing the car into the corners and I felt a bit like a professional team with Kev Haworth making announcements across the audience. Straight after this exhilarating start we made our way south to Portsmouth via Fosse Way. This is one of my favourite roads, as it is a roman road, which goes on for mile after mile making it a great road to drive. However, we soon turned off to start our first regularity of the event, Pillerton Prior.

One thing we noticed was that due to the torrential rain a few roads were flooded but still passable. This meant that we had to wade though sections of water and I started to think maybe we should have been in a boat instead. However, it didn’t change our spirits as we headed to coffee. It was noticeable that our coffee stop in Newbridge at the Rose Revived Pub, had been affected by the floods, and the River Thames next to us was on the brink of bursting its banks once again, luckily the rain had subsided for a few days meaning, we could all enjoy the views and a fresh cup of coffee.

The final regularity of the day brought high spirits to the car of number 7 as we only picked up a few seconds penalty, cheering me up and proving to myself that I can actually navigate. Taking us into dinner (on time) we enjoyed our final British meal before heading to the ship in Portsmouth to take us to France by morning. Although, as we had to wait for the ship to load, Patrick and I found ourselves amusing each other by practicing our accents for the next day. I don’t think I am quite a native Italian yet!

Day 2 Caen - Bourges

As the angelic harp music began to play, I realised that I was no longer in a dream and had to wake up at 5 to begin the French section of the Winter Challenge. After spending a few hours the night before comparing maps, we all had minimal sleep. However, the thought of a fresh continental breakfast at Bénoville was a motivational step for my sleepy mind.

It was then time to restart the rally with a series of short regularities. I thought they would break us in gently, but I was wrong. The navigation off the Michelin 50,000 maps was extremely difficult; meaning cars were driving everywhere to find the correct route. This did mean that you could determine the accuracy and concentration of the navigators. This wasn’t the only difficultly, when navigating with someone new, you must discuss how you wish things to be called. I didn’t realise that left and right changed depending on what mood the driver was in. This proved rather difficult when navigating, but we soon came up with hand gestures to decipher the correct direction.

The tests were definitely a highlight as we were able to test the cars limits by going around two different Kart circuits. We were pretty quick on the first test in Aunay Le Bois at Ouest Karting by only taking 42 seconds to go round. There was a fantastic atmosphere at both test venues especially at Circuits de Val de la Loire. This was because the sun was shining and as coffee looked over the circuit, we were all able to watch each other drive the lap.

Lunch at Rest L’Arbors was an inspiring one as it was situated on the Mulsanne straight. As the sun was beating down, we were all able to enjoy this historic spot and also grab some time to do some plotting on the roof of the cars.

It was soon time to make our way through the Loire valley with a selection of regularities. As this part of France is relatively flat, the navigator had most the work, analysing the roads and making sure we went the right way (difficult when your map doesn’t show every road). I was relieved when I found out that I wasn’t the only one having difficulties with navigation, little did I know, this was the easy bit.

Day two came to an early finish (compared to the following two nights). Even though it was only 7pm, we were all looking forward to our beds. However, not all of us had an early finish. Car 16, managed to get a puncture on the final road section on the motorway to the hotel and ended up being over an hour late, not only racking up penalties but also meaning a late night for them too. At this point, we were running 9th overall and I was so happy as I felt we had dropped time and were running behind. Luckily, so had everyone else, meaning we were in the top 10!

Day 3 Bourges – Valence

Before the sun rose over the hills, we were up and raring to go. The lack of sleep was starting to get to me, but I had to make sure I stayed on top form, which can prove difficult when reading a map in a car for 14 hours a day. However, I didn’t want to let anyone down, as we were doing so well. Thirty minutes before our check out time, we were given the route for the day, and I sat down and started plotting. It is so exhilarating, knowing you have only half an hour to plot but unnerving if you don’t plot it all or don’t understand it.

As there were no more tests on the Winter Challenge, the majority of the work lay on the navigator to decode the map and direct the driver in the right direction. Not only this but, I had to make sure we were on time, one thing I have always struggled to do as a navigator. Little did I know that this rally would teach me how to master timing and to understand how or why we were early or late. This was an asset to my skills but was only relevant when we were on the right road. Let’s just say it was extremely easy to get lost, but that was the challenge.

Not only did you have to follow the maps, you needed to make sure the route was on there. Sometimes we were given handouts in the morning containing the regularity route, meaning you had to remember to transfer across to that sheet. Not only this, but you need to make sure you acknowledged the regularity start and read the information as they were not always where you presumed they would be.

Most of the day’s regularities were sneaky and needing expert concentration. The fourth regularity through Vernusse took us through farms and woods to find hidden timing points. Although they were fun to do, I was relieved when they were over and that we had gone the right way. The hardest part for me, after overcoming the complexity of the maps, was dealing with the speed changes. On regularity six through Pouzol, we had to change our speed half way through. This completely confused me and we ended up making a wrong turn and picking up a minute penalty. I was not amused, but you must make mistakes to improve.

Just before dinner and as we started to head up some mountains, we had a short but complicated regularity. Membrun, Reg eight, consisted of three speed changes, fading light and intercut navigation and boy was it hard. Trying to work out our speed and at what time we would make each speed change, I was able to calculate the correct time to change speed, (finally sounding like I know what I am doing) however remembering to start the stopwatch at the right time proved to be harder than it seemed.

The night section through Lalousvesc, shuffled the competition around, as it was extremely tough. Not only was it dark, but also we were tired and loosing motivation. Keeping the driver motivated it one of the hardest things I have had to do as you are concentrating so hard yourself to make sure you are going the right way. Then the fog set in! We couldn’t even see the white lines on the road in front of us and when you make a wrong slot, you have no hope, because turning around in the dark is terrifying as you can’t see behind you. However, seeing a marshal standing down a tiny road just after a hairpin to go over a bridge makes you the happiest navigator in the world. You know you are on the right track.

Amazingly we hit every checkpoint, admittedly after getting extremely lost and managing to navigate us out of many situations to get us on the right road again. (Don’t tell my driver). Somehow we ended up being 6th overall. Ecstatic, I made my way to bed; motivated for the rest of the rally, as I had proved to myself I could get through anything.

Day 4 Valence – St Raphael

 A new day brought more challenges and as it is called the Winter Challenge, we had to find the snow! We didn’t just find snow, oh no, as we headed up into the Cols, the snow became deeper and deeper. So deep in fact, that some regularities were canceled because the roads were impassable. This was a real challenge for drivers and I completely respect them for not only driving in such tough conditions but also not taking it out on the navigators. The most difficult part for the navigators was over; it was now the driver’s turn.

Hairpins in snow are not easy, every driver felt the back end go at some point, even changing gear was a challenge and for us, and as we headed down to coffee at Vassieux-en-Vercors, a little slip and we spun into the snow bank. Luckily there was a just a field the other side. We tried everything we could to get ourselves out, but we were wedged and facing up hill making it nearly impossible to push ourselves out. We thought that maybe putting the snow chains on would help the situation but this ended up with Patrick covered in mud. As luck would have it, we were only 2km from the coffee break so we were able to call on assistance to pull us out. The mechanics saved the day, towing us out and by chance my sister, Seren was helping the assistance crew, so it was a nice opportunity to say hi before whizzing off to catch up time.

This meant we had picked up penalties, but this was the last of our troubles, as about an hour later our clutch failed as we began the fifth regularity of the day through Saint Benoit en Diois. Despite all this, we managed to only get a 1o second penalty. We spent the rest of the morning going up and down the Cols, pumping the clutch to find the bite to change gear. Difficult enough on its own, but with snow, ice, hairpins and tiredness setting in, we had to stay focused. I cannot believe the control Patrick had of the car on the snow and with no clutch.  Even though he is not a fan of icy conditions, he made it look so easy and was able to correct a slight slide just like any professional rally driver. One day I hope to be as skilled, so I can share my knowledge with others.

At lunch, in Le Motte Chalancon, Dave and his mechanical crew managed to fix our clutch and we were on our way to St Raphael.  Adrenaline was running high at this point as we didn’t know how much more snow there would be, but we did know that there was going to be a lot more hairpins and a lot more steep mountains.

We seemed to be on top form, by only picking up minimal seconds. Over the four regularities through Col de la Pigière and L’Asse we only picked up 27 seconds and even cleared L’Asse regularity. It was a fantastic afternoon, however as night set in once more, we had the challenge of tackling darkness making the evening a completely different story. We made a wrong slot on the final regularity through Claviers, meaning we ended up being on our minute putting us down to 9th.

Day 5 St Raphael – Monte Carlo

The final stretch of the Winter Challenge took us up the Cols to the finish at the famous Col de Turini. With only seven regularities, we were able to enjoy to stunning roads, views and company. Even the sun had come out to give us extra spirit on the final day.

The morning section was superb with only a few seconds collected on Tanneron and Logis Neuf. We zeroed a few timing points, and hurled round corners on mountain paths to tiny villages located on the top with spectacular views keeping us in high spirits and urging us on to the finish. We even began to sing in the car!

My favourite regularity of the event was Aiglun. It was located on a narrow, twisty road on the side of a mountain, which dodged in and out of the side through tight tunnels. It was exhilarating to drive through, but difficult to keep up speed. This was no match for Patrick though, as we cleared the regularity and were able to enjoy a quick coffee in the village at the top, looking over at the top crews completing the regularity.

The last regularity up the Col de Turini was upon us, with 4 timing points, it would be difficult to stay on time. As we surged up the twisty road, we became submerged in snow, portraying just how high we had climbed. The higher we climbed, the harder the reg, however we managed to make it to the end of the regularity with only 34 seconds! Not only this, we had made it to the finish of The Winter Challenge 2014.

As we arrived across the finish line, there was a joyful crowd of supporters who had gathered to congratulate all those who had made it, and it made you realise just how challenging this rally had been. It was a thrilling rally, with many challenges that you never could have imagined. 

Although it wasn’t over yet!

We had all made it to the top of the Col de Turini, but what goes up, must come down. As we had to get the cars onto a transporter in Monte Carlo, we decided the best decision was to convoy back down the side of the mountain. It was spectacular. Five cars weaving their way down the side on the mountain, hairpin after hairpin until will entered Monte Carlo.

As Monte Carlo is quite intricate with roads slipping into mountains, it would have been almost impossible to navigate off a map, so we moved onto our first tulips of the event. It was strange as I found it a different way of thinking from maps, and I had to quickly adjust to being told the information.

As we made our way onto the Motorway, it was a chance to pick up some speed; however, Car 1 quickly put their hazards on and pulled over to the hard shoulder with car troubles. Luckily for them, the rally had finished, but it ended up just being out a fuel, so no major mechanics were required, just a leisurely tow down into the city of Monte Carlo. The issue with classic cars is the fact that they are so unpredictable, but that is what makes the sport so different and competitive. Not only is it the skill of the crew, but also the endurance of the car. Every car breaks down at some point.

Eventually we dropped the car off and caught a local bus down the road to the Hermitage Hotel. We arrived with just enough time to have a quick tour of Monte Carlo and the Formula1 track before changing into our black tie attire for our dinner at the Café du Paris. With views of Monte Carlo and a well deserved drink in hand, it was a picturesque way of finishing of a tough, yet exhilarating rally.

Patrick and I won two awards; best mixed crew and 3rd in class, ending up 10th overall. It was a fantastic experience and I have learnt so much about navigating and even driving in such extreme conditions. I just hope I can put everything I have learnt into practice.

Thank you to all the marshals and organisers for putting up with the elements at its worst and to all the navigators who answered my silly questions when I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. As well as my sister for motivating me this far and for not giving up on my navigational abilities. Not forgetting Brantz for the amazing rally timer that assisted me with my superb result and of course the mechanics for keeping everyone on the road as best they could. None of this would have been possible without any of you. Last but not least thank you to Patrick for putting up with me for five days straight, there is a competitor in him yet!