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!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The 1000 Mile Trial - Part One, London to Edinburgh

Elise and I both love driving and the experience we have gained competing in classic cars over the last year has been amazing, so when HERO announced that they were running a vintage car rally and that it was recreating one of the first motoring events in the UK we were so excited.

We hired HERO’s newly acquired 1934 Austin 7 for the London to Edinburgh and back trial, I took it out on the summer trial as a shakedown a few weeks prior to the 1000 Mile Trial and despite a few mechanical issues, my navigator Sean and I finished the event and really enjoyed the two days.

This was to be seven long days in the car to complete the journey, if the car made it all the way round, and Elise and I had agreed that it was probably going to be our toughest challenge to date. Driving an older car requires a lot more focus and effort than usual, not to mention that you are completely open to the elements.

Scruitineering was held at the start venue, Woodcote Park in Epsom, on Saturday 12th July. The country home of the Royal Automobile Club, close enough to London where the original event started but not too close that competitors would meet London traffic. We calibrated the trip against the measured distance and Elise had her first go at driving a vintage vehicle, she found going forward ok but struggled with reversing.

The evening culminated in a welcome dinner with all the cars taking part lined up on the green outside. Everyone was in high spirits and anticipation filled the air.

Sunday 13th July
London to Cheltenham

The day began damp and overcast, we packed up the groundsheet and jumped in the car ready to begin the daunting drive ahead, planning to take each day as it came.

The drive to the start arch was a mere 50m but straight away we realized that the battery wasn’t charging, the left nearside brake was catching and the trip connection was loose and we hadn’t even officially begun.

There was no time to dilly dally about though as soon as we were waved off the start line, with the original events flag (114 years old), it was straight into a test which comprised of a hillclimb in the grounds of Woodcote Park and recording a few codeboards.

All too soon we were out in the Surrey countryside beginning our journey north towards Cheltenham. Due to being one of the smallest engines on the event it wasn’t long before cars started to overtake us and with the trip acting very temperamental, we weren’t looking forward to the practice regularity or the following regs.

Our prediction that we would get wet if it rained came true with a sudden brief downpour, it took us 2mins 15 sec to get our full waterproofs on and carry on down the road. It was then that a funny noise began under the car. It sounded like something scrapping or catching so we stopped and checked the underside of the car, nothing! I drove with Elise running alongside to try and work out the noise. Nothing.

With the mechanics at least an hour behind us we chose to carry on at a slightly slower pace, if we could get to lunch even if it meant skipping the regs, the mechanics would know what was wrong. We continued for twenty minutes until there was a bang and something fell off the car. At the time we had no clue what we had lost, we looked for the unknown piece of car, and checked the bits we could in the engine, but to no avail.

She was still running ok so we pushed on just hoping that it wasn’t anything too important. Approaching our half an hour penalty free lateness we were debating skipping the regularities but that would require going off route and if the car did break down we would never be found. With our trip having given up completely we decided to just drive through the regularities without doing the timing to see if we could make up on lost time.

Lunch was a glorious sight to see after such a stressful morning and we managed to clock in with under a minute before the half an hour lateness was over. The mechanics started work on the car and we rushed in to grab a quick bite to eat. It was such a treat to find out that even though we were really late we still had 45 minutes for lunch.

Turns out the thing that fell off the car was the sensor for the trip hence why that had stopped working. Luckily the mechanics had a spare and fitted it during the lunch break. All of the mechanics are absolutely fantastic and we owe a lot to them since we began rallying so a big thank you goes out to them!

We were starting to get used to the fact that the other cars would always overtake us and that we would be bordering on our lateness at each stop, afternoon coffee was a dash in to get the time and push on. It was a shock to us that the car made it to the end of the day and we hadn’t yet picked up any road penalties. Results to the end of day 1 saw us 28th overall and 4th in class. Can’t believe the car made it this far!

Monday 14th July
Cheltenham to Preston

We woke on the Monday a little apprehensive of what the day might bring. We were delighted we had finished the first day, but we then realised we had 6 more to go. If we were going to get to the end, we needed to be aware of everything the car required and make sure we NEVER went wrong, because we wouldn’t be able to turn the car around quick enough.

After leaving Cheltenham, we started the morning with a quick swimming session. Both my sister and I looked at each other when we saw the ford, thinking we wouldn’t make it through. However, if we didn’t try, we couldn’t judge. As we edged closer, we were suddenly engulfed and the water covered the exhaust. Our hearts raced as we were submerged into the water and it was 5cm off coming into the car, a close call, but we made it through, catching the secret check on the way out.

It was then off to Throckmorton where two tests waited for us. As Elise looked over the navigation, she realised the next text was not an easy one. Not only was it long, it was also difficult navigation wise and needed a lot of concentration from both sides of the car, although, this did lack slightly. As the marshal commanded ‘Go’, we sped off the start line (at 5mph) to find the first cone. Sneakily, it was hidden amongst some bushes making almost impossible to see until you were on top of it. Sharply, we turned in and Elise stated ‘Keep left of A’, but at the last minute I remember it was go through A and we perfectly executed the first cone and we emerged from the bushes, even though it was a bit confusing which side of the bush we went, as the bushes weren’t marked on the diagram.

The test continued around Throckmorton, until we approached cone E, Elise remarked to go through gate E, but for some reason I wanted to go right of E. At the last second Elise looked up and yelled ‘through, through E’ and we pulled through just in time. Finally, after 5 minutes of twisting and turning around the airfield, we made it to the end of the test. Both Elise and I were relieved we had actually done it correctly even with our last minute corrections.

Throckmorton was not over yet. The next test was a Le Mans Start, consisting of one member of the crew to run and jump into the car as quickly as possible, to then complete the test in the fasted time. We nominated Elise, and she eagerly ran over to the starting X. The count down started and I could feel the adrenaline pumping to finally hear, ‘GO’. Elise ran over and was in the car in a speedy 6 seconds, much to my surprise, therefore I was not ready for the marshal to say go, meaning we lost a few seconds whilst I started up the car (although with our small engine, I doubt we were the quickest).

As we made our way further up the country towards Preston we encountered Shelsey Walsh Hill climb, an iconic motorsport hill climb, just after afternoon coffee. We hopped in the car and immediately started the hill climb with no time for preparation. Elise wasn’t ready with the test diagram, but we both soon noticed this would not be a problem as we had little power. The spark plugs had become dirty, causing us to do the slowest hill climb of the event. As we chugged up the hill in first gear, we had time to chat to the marshals on the way and even crack some jokes. When we made it to the top, a lovely marshal greeted us and waved us back down Shelsey Walsh. I must say, we were a lot quicker at going down and probably halved our time.
The final regularity of the day was a challenge as it was the first regularity, solely on maps with speed tables. For some strange reason, Elise found it just as easy as the jogularities and managed to collect only a few seconds. Even the sneaky ‘white’ road was spotted and we were only delayed due to questioning and a rough surface.

The final test of the day was a quick dash on a private concrete road leading to Arley Hall. It was superb way to finish the day leading us straight to high tea as we watched the final cars stop astride the end of the test. It was then time to head towards Preston, where we would be spending the night. As we pulled into the hotel, we took the Austin to the mechanics to change the spark plugs and to make sure there where no other mechanical problems. As we turned up after being stuck in the M6 traffic, I had a fantastic surprise from my boyfriend Sean, turning up at the hotel. It was amazing to see him and thank you to all those involved, it truly brightened up the day.
Still, I can’t believe we had completed two days in an Austin 7. Even with our slowest hill climb, we had climbed up the leaderboard and ended up 14th overall and 2nd in class.

Tuesday 15th July 
Preston – Edinburgh

We kicked off the day with a fast test at Waters Farm where we were greeted by many known faces in classic car rallying. It was fantastic seeing so many familiar faces, however we were concentrating so hard on making sure we went the right way. As we drove the long straight to the finish line, I was aware that our brakes were not the most effective, therefore I had to pump them to make sure we stopped. Even doing this, the car continued to roll onwards towards the finish line. It was at this point Elise didn’t think we were ever going to stop. As the finish line was on a slight downward hill, it meant all braking power was relying on the little Austin and we stopped JUST on the line – luckily.
Our first tea stop was at Tebay services just off the motorway. After having the oil leaking all over us, we were eager to get there early, however, we arrived with 5 minutes to spare and rushed the car to the mechanics where one of the other Austins – Little George, was waiting. Whilst the mechanics analysed the car to find the problem, the other Austin pulled up to the mechanics. It was ironic how all the Austins discovered slight mechanical problems at the same time, so we had a team Austin celebration. Luckily, all problems were minor and once we had a plastic water bottle over the oil breather, our issue was solved.  

Finally, we had made it to the Scottish borders, with a glorious stop at Bowhill House in Selkirk. Elise loved this place as we could see it as we drove down a hill for the end of the regularity. As we were running only a few seconds late on this regularity, Elise took the time to enjoy the view and point out this stunning mansion. Little did she know we would be having lunch here.  As usual, we drove the Austin to the mechanics but this time it was because she kept stalling for no reason. It had been extremely difficult on the tests, as I had to keep heel toeing her to make sure we didn’t stall on a stop astride. The mechanics saved us again by tweaking the fuel to air ratio, meaning we could complete another day.

The morning regularities were starting to get a little more competitive, meaning Elise had to completely concentrate to make sure we went the right way and stayed on time. Although for us in out little Austin, things were about to get really tough. With only 750cc the hills were a massive challenge meaning we started to lose minutes as soon as we came across a hill. This was really setting us back as we would pick up 64 seconds on one regularity but 60 seconds were from one control. It was such a disappointment to us as we were trying our best but could only chug up the hills. I felt like we were in a canal boat competing against powerboats when the big Bentley’s sailed past us. One good thing was that we saw everyone everyday making it extremely sociable. However, only sociable on the roads, because we were always late for coffee and lunch, so it was a quick pit stop then back on the road.

At last, Edinburgh was in sight as we made our way down one of the main routes into the city. Little did we know that our 50 mph is extremely slow for some people. As the dual carriageway became a single road, all we could see behind us were cars and lorries. We were holding up LORRIES!!!! It did feel good to not be held up for once but it was a little embarrassing to have such a long tail back. We did plan to pull over, however our biggest fear was that we would never make it back onto the road, as we were so small and slow.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was waiting for our arrival as we all glammed ourselves up ready for a celebration of making it half way. It was absolutely spectacular to be honoured with boarding and dinning on the Royal Yacht and we both had such a fantastic evening, finishing it off with some positive results. We had moved up to 13th overall and 2nd in class. Amazing considering how slow we could be, even the other Austin’s over took us on the straights. With this in mind we headed for bed, hopeful for the days to come, but overwhelmed with the fact that we were still going and had made it to Scotland!

Read Part Two here