''West Wales Rally Spares Stages'' Pembrey

28th December 2008

For the first time in 3 years we returned to Pembrey to compete in the West Wales Rally Spares stages just after Christmas for a bit of fun – 5 stages with a total of 55 stage miles at the Motorsport Centre seemed a fitting distraction to the aftermath of the Christmas festivities. 
The weather leading up to the event had been particularly cold with temperatures regularly dropping below freezing during the nights and only hovering above freezing during the day. With Pembrey being low-lying and prone to flooding we were anticipating a fair bit of ice on the stage.

The morning of the rally was a perfect winter’s day – dry but crisp and cold.  Scrutineering took place with out incident allowing us to get back into service and debate which tyres to use. The stages were not as we had originally anticipated (i.e. icy) but very dry with a lick of frost.  This lead to a false sense of security thinking the stages provided more grip that they actually did; instead the frost was polished off to leave a greasy film on the roads in many areas. But that’s what rallying is about so getting on with driving is what we did…..
I say driving in the broadest of descriptions….more like pirouetting on stage 1 with 3 spins and an overshoot in to some tractor tyres, which formed a chicane, on catching the car in front – first stage of the day, an over enthusiastic driver and a lack of adhesion are never a successful combination! No damage to the car, just the stage time and the driver’s pride.

Stage 2 arrived and with the attitude of ‘right we’ve made our mistakes on the 1st run, let there be no more’….yeah, right! Fuelling gremlins set in from the first corner of stage 2 resulting in the car stalling, popping and farting on the exit of ever corner – down the straights with your foot planted to the floor everything was fine, but at nearly ever corners we had to restart the car, again losing time…Initial thoughts in the car suggested surging or even a vacuum. However that wasn’t our only problem on stage 2; on entering the circuit off the karting track on the first loop of stage 2 the driver obviously had a momentary mental by pass in judging speed, adhesion and degree of turn in required only to spin in exactly the same place as he did on stage 1, in front of exactly the same crowd but this time managed to hit a tyre stack which, ‘allegedly’ , jumped out in front of him – minor face lift to the front of the car then…..
On stage 3 the driving improved with no spins, overshoots or modifications to the bodywork or panelling but the fuelling gremlins continued to halt our progress eventually forced us to retire about 2 miles into the stage…After being towed back into service and still a little unclear to the root cause of our problem as the car was now firing up and ticking over, we re-scrutineered and entered stage 4 under the Trophy rally. 

Again on stage 4 the car spluttered and coughed on the exit of every corner eventually retiring on the entrance to the circuit at the end of the first loop. Rally over. Albeit our retirement and er, unorthodox approach to the first stage we both enjoyed the rally and the venue when things were going well and hope to return in 2009
Our thanks to our service crew, who were kept busy throughout the day - Tudor Jenkins, Jim and Bob, with an important cameo role played by Geno Cook . Thanks guys.

We were seeded car # 58 and eventually retired on stage 4 with a faulty / broken fuel pump.

"Patriot Stages" Caerwent

29th September 2008....


After a sparse year in Motorsport for both ourselves due other commitments out side of rallying, September saw us return to the Patriot Stages in Caerwent competing in our first rally together for 12 months, seeded as car # 78 out of 100.
During this time the car had undergone some significant improvements including the introduction of a Tran-X plated differential in the gearbox, Bilstein fixed platform suspension to the front of the car, along with rose jointed lower control arms and an overhauled and lowered rear beam. Adding to the mix some grippy Dunlop CR 311 tyres and our aspirations for a good days Motorsport appeared favourable!
Caerwent is renowned as a ‘good value for money’ event with some decent tarmac, good stage mileage consisting of long stages with numerous 90 degree corners shrouded with high kerbs giving this venue the notoriety of doing untold damage to wheels and suspension in a momentary lapse of concentration!

There was also quite a build up leading up to this rally on the British Rally Forum particularly as it was being run for the first time as one of the BTRDA rounds which was great news to the organisers, Forresters Car Club and the competitors alike, resulting in an over subscribed event which had filled many weeks in advance.
Our first glitch occurred at Noise control where the environment scrutineer advised that our car noise rating was higher that allowed, so it was back down to service, a few tweaks under the bonnet ‘so to speak’, together with running of the engine to get the car warm. Back up to noise and passing – tidy; thought to scrutineering and signing on with no further problems.

Stage 1 soon arrived on a warm, dry September morning and with the steady count-down of 5-4-3-2-1-GO…from Andy at the start line, the loud pedal was firmly buried into the floor of the car which was met with the screeching of tyres and the heavy aroma of burning rubber laced with petrol! Stage one came and went without any incident, albeit the need to bed in new front brake pads which did provide for panic on some of the corners. The route had also changed significantly from the previous year’s Patriot Stages; not that that was cause for concern but Stage 1 did however claim 15 crews due to mechanical gremlins and off’s. At service the car was checked and with a change of tyres all round (to a harder compound as the front tyres had gotten  pretty soft towards the end of Stage 1 and the sun was now coming out) we were ready for stage 2.

Stage 2 also came and went without incident…..well almost. As mentioned earlier the change of tyres on the rear of the car from super-soft to medium compound resulted in the rear of the car becoming unstable under braking and turning at the same time. This manifested itself on the approach to a downhill 90 left following a fast straight at an ambitious pace causing the rear on the car to slide on turning after a dab on the brakes! A swift application of opposite lock had little effect on the nose of the car, now racing towards the kerb line of the corner, so with no means of stopping before hitting the kerb, the steering wheels were straightened to prevent any terminal damage to the wheels and suspension – luckily enough no damage ensued just a loss of about 15 seconds on stage. We still managed to finished Stage 2 about 20 seconds quicker that stage 1. In service a swift change of the rear tyres back to super soft compound was made, a top up of fuel and a good spanner check of the front wheels / brakes / suspension done in preparation for stage 3. 

Stage 3 arrived with no hitches and with confidence restored in the grip levels of the tyres we were soon starting to pick up the pace and push on a bit. All seemed well until about 2 miles in to a 9 mile stage, there was an immediate and almighty increase in the engine noise which was absolutely deafening!! There was no loss of power from the car and all gauges were reading as expected so continue we did – with our ears perishing!! Nothing could be heard over the intercom and as certain sections of the stage had been changed during the previous service halt, some of the driving was done on sight despite Andy’s best efforts to call the route at the top of his voice and gesture the directions with his hands.  

At the finish line our ears were sore, our heads thumping, Andy’s throat was raw and our assumption that the exhaust had detached from the car was confirmed in the following service halt. Actually the exhaust had completely come off the car from the front down pipe connection and was somewhere in the stage about 2½ miles from stage start. It was at this point, fearing our rally was over without us getting into the stride of things that a frantic run up and down the service park asking all 205 rally crews if, by any slim chance, they were carrying a spare exhaust for a 205? Yeah, right!!! A resounding ‘sorry mate’ was the answer we got. Without the exhaust, the car really was too loud to drive and consequently, at 4 minutes prior to Over Time Limit, we resigned our selves to the fact that our rally was disappointingly over.  

But, amazingly our luck was to change for the better. Rob John drove his 4x4 up to us in the service area, tailgate open and a broad grin on his face, greeting us with ‘How’s it going lads? Saw this on the stage and thought you needed it? Be a shame to see you go out! Would have got it to you earlier but it was too hot to pick up’. We couldn’t believe our change of fate and after emphatically thanking Rob and nominating him as our ‘man of the match’, the service crew had the car jacked up on one side to 45 degrees and swiftly re-fitted the exhaust whilst we were belting up and plugging in our intercoms inside the car. With all 4 wheels back on the ground we quickly headed for stage start hoping to make it before OTL, which we did thanks to a late
stage start.

In the first mile of Stage 4 we tried to conquer our anxiety that the exhaust was only temporarily fixed and may fall off again!! The service halt following this stage was longer and it would be possible to weld the exhaust onto the front down pipe making a permanent connection…..we just had to get to the end with out incident and not hold back on the speed. Stage 4 did go well for us and we managed to maintain our speed with the mindset ‘if it’s going to fall off…it’s going to fall off!!’ Two corners from the end of the stage we noticed a dramatic wobble in the steering….not sure if this was a result of mounting the kerb on Stage 2 or if I had cut a corner too fiercely on Stage 4. At service it was apparent that the wheel nuts on the front axel had worked loose with the navigator’s side held in position by no more than 3 threads on each nut…if the stage had been a mile longer….In the rush of fitting the exhaust and avoiding OTL at Stage 4 start, we had failed to check and torque up the wheel nuts. The result could have been terminal to our rally. But yet again luck was on our side! 

Stage 5 arrived and with the added confidence that the exhaust was now welded on and all wheel nuts had been torqued up on all four wheels and double checked, we headed into Stage 5 keen to have an incident free, clean and fast stage… which it was. The results at the half way point in the rally (after Stage 4) indicated that we were lying about 5th in our class and about halfway up the scoreboard overall. However our hopes of finishing 3rd in our class did not seem achievable unless crews in our class ahead of us had problems.

Stage 6 was another incident free stage and we were both enjoying an entertaining rally and grateful that we were able to compete to the end. 

The penultimate stage arrived and with ¾ of the stage cleared without incident, maintaining a neat driving line as a result of good, consistent calls from Andy, our woes came back to haunt us with a vengeance! Thick black smoke was billowing out of the front and rear driver’s side wheel arches and the coolant temperature gauge was erratically bouncing from cold to boiling on the dial without the warning light illuminating… The smell entering the car had the thick and sickly aroma of differential oil…and the steering was starting to get heavy. At this point we knew that somewhere there was a power steering fluid leak. As this didn’t have any impact on damaging the car we ploughed on to the end where service would allow us to make some makeshift adjustments to allow us to complete the rally. On lifting the bonnet at service, power assisted steering oil covered the inside driver’s side of the engine bay and the underside of the bonnet thanks to the leak occurring from a fractured pipe connected into the PAS pump just under the alternator. The spinning belts and fails of the alternator helped to spread the oil around nicely. As the PAS reservoir had dumped its contents over the front-end-drivers-side of the engine bay (thankfully not the brakes) we unclipped, tied back and bunged up the hoses to allow us to do the final stage and complete the rally. 

Stage 8 was a great fun, without hitch or misfortune with both of us having a blast on the last stage. We duly arrived at the stage finish control and end of the rally jubilant in the knowledge that things could have been oh-so different if lady luck hadn’t smiled on us at Caerwent…. 

And that’s the thing with rallying…getting to the stage finish in the quickest time is one element (and an important one at that) but it’s also about ensuring the car is fit and capable of completing and continuing a rally and when things do go Pete Tong the camaraderie of the service crew, competing crew and the combined desire to get the car to the end of the rally is one uniform goal and achievement….and that speaks volumes, in our opinion, about the rallying community.

After an eventful days Motorsport at a really enjoyable, well organised, and demanding venue for car, crew and service crew, RoadsideMotorsport.co.uk managed to finish a credible 4th in class and 34th overall out of 65 finishers. We even managed to grab ‘Best Turned Out Car’ in the King of Caerwent, Patriot Stages awards.

Once again our thanks to our service crew John (Cheese) Haines and Ian Morgan, with an important cameo role played by Justin (Shaft) Wells (service crew to a fellow competitor) who all worked admirably to keep our ‘boat afloat’ on the day!! Thanks guys.