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