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