The last day of May found us travelling down to the heart of Kent. Traffic around the M25 meant a long drive, but it didn’t beat the adventures up to Yorkshire for some of the previous rounds. We did arrive in plenty of time though and were one of the first to be scrutineered, leaving us adequate time to do the measured distance and then even time to relax! This felt very unusual to us the evening before a rally.
On Sunday 1st June we made our way down to Homelands football ground, just outside Ashford, where the Hughes Rally was based. Nerves were running away with us, as we hadn’t received any information to plot prior to the event. One hour before our start time, we were able to collect the route information, however we only received half the plotting as some was to be done en route. This terrified me, as it wasn’t a typical plot and bash. We were expected to pre-plot some of it as we were making our way to the regularity and the rest during the regularity, which sounds easy but it was actually a lot harder than I thought.
The day commenced with a regularity taking us out of the football ground and around the fields of Kent. It was an OK start with 4 early then 28 late, but I am usually rusty to begin with. Our next challenge was for the drivers, tackling three tests around an Industrial Estate, however the dirt ground meant that grip was minimal, giving everyone an early wake up call. We decided to take it easy, which meant we had time penalties but at least we went the right way.
The second regularity of the day taught me a lesson about precision. It was a simple piece to plot, however I didn’t acknowledge all aspects of the grid squares we needed to pass through and ended up making us take a detour through a village. Luckily we didn’t miss any timing points, but we picked up 2 minutes in delay as I thought we were on the right route. Major mistake.
Luckily Seren was able to loose a few seconds on Test 4 around a farm and came in with a pretty quick time. Her seconds were greatly appreciated when I miss calculated our speed on the next reg, thinking we were running early only to recalculate and tell her we were 30 seconds late. Seren tried to catch up time and arrived at the timing point only 15 seconds late.
The roads were fantastic with very little traffic and amazing views but for us so far our day was not going too well. At lunch we were running 29th Overall and 4th in Class. A lot to improve on, and a lot to do if we were going to make our way up the leader board. We have always been told ‘anything can happen on a rally’ but after the morning we’d had it was very difficult to stay positive.
Regularity D was directed by tulip diagrams just like the first regularity, but I took on board the things I had learnt from the morning, this time I ran off the top trip and only zeroed the bottom one when encountering a speed change, this made it much easier with less calculations and giving us minimal seconds. Massive progress from the morning.
It was then time for the moment Seren had been dreading – The Grass Tests! Seren had never driven on grass before, which meant these tests were extremely daunting. Whilst I was trying to plot the next two regularities, Seren was observing how the other cars handled on the grass. She was lucky there was a slight queue. The built up nervous energy turned out to be a benefit and we glided through the grass tests and got the back end out as we did our 360 round the final cone. Definitely a bit of fun for the all drivers.
As the day was drawing to a close, I knew the pressure was on me for the last two regularities. Regularity E was a jogularity - my favourite, as there is little calculating to do. this was reflected in our times with only 2 seconds picked over 4 controls – our best Jogularity to date! At one point we had thought it was over, a local farmer decided to move his cows across the road. As we pulled up to a stop just behind the cows, we thought ‘why us?’ but at that exact moment the farmer and his dog ushered the cows off the road and into the farmyard. My emotions have never been so different within such a short space of time and as we were accidentally running 10 seconds early before the cows, we were back on time.
The final regularity of the day was definitely the sting in the tail. We had been given half of the regularity to plot as we left lunch, so I had got most of that bit under control whilst waiting for the tests, however, there was a little confusion over a diamond on the route. Luckily a few other navigators had the same issue and we grouped together and choose the most popular route. The second half of the route was handed out at he start of the regularity, but it was extremely difficult to plot. With numerous speed changes, turns and loops off the main road, Seren had to memorise where she was going and regulate her own speed to start off, so that I would have a chance of getting the route on the map. Somehow, with Seren’s help I was able to get it down and I just had to hope I had done it right (well it all joined up).
Finally, we made it back to Homelands, where we handed in our time card and hoped we hadn’t dropped too far down. When they posted the results, we were shocked and amazed to see that we were now running 21st overall and 1st in class. The sting in the tail really had done its job. Not only this, we had also won 1st Overall Novice, meaning we had completely turned our day around. It was a fantastic recovery. After the Hughes, I strongly agree that you should never give up.
It was a great event, with new challenges for both crew members, making it fun, yet exhilarating. One for the diary next year!