The decision to compete on the Bagger 19 was made on the journey home from the Bagger 18. Despite the result, we both felt like we had more to give on the event. With it being billed as the final Bagger, we had to return.
The day started much much like any other rally, the only difference this time we chose to leave was much earlier. The Bagger starts just after signing on, so the sooner we got there the better prepared we would be.
After a steady run down, we got to Wellingborough Industrial Estate to find the same secluded trailer parking spot as last year, only difference this year fellow Sbeng heads Andy Davies and Michael Gilbey were nowhere to be seen. We got to scrutineering at around 4:45PM, to find ourselves about the third car there. After spending a little time checking out the various machinery that arrived, it was time to present JMB to the scrutineers. Just before leaving the service station, I brimmed the tank for the journey to the start venue. Noise went with as much ease as scrutineering. Keen not to park in the field, but on the hard standing beside it (nothing worse than wet feet on a rally!), I exited the field to park up somewhere more agreeable, only to be told to return to the field by the pub manager.
Following a short time queuing we were signed on and in receipt of the all-important 1st hand out. We found a quiet table out of the way and got to work, only to be confronted by the very same pub manager . “Cant sit here guys, these tables are reserved” off we return to the signing on room, where we joined the table of Niall Frost, Paul Bosdet and Geoff Hall.
After we finished putting all info from the 1st hand out to map, we had a bite to eat and caught up with some familiar faces in the room. With plotting complete, I went for a wander to stretch my legs and observed Geoff Hall warming up his stunning Mini Cooper. Geoff jumped out and we started talking about his car, gazing at its low stance, sliding glass windows and front seats that almost touched, there was a part of me thinking, what a brilliant and intense way to go rallying, the other part of me preferred the more spacious and higher stance that a newer car had to offer. Especially with the prospect of some 200 miles.
With the change from boots to trainers made, it was time to jump in and buckle up. The run out was pretty quiet in the car, Cadog had his head down going over the route and I was nervously contemplating the night ahead.
As Iwan and Neil got underway we lined up, received the first countdown of the night and away we went. Five minutes in, I felt happy with the tyre choice. With the weather as it was leading up to the rally, the roads were just as expected, wet, very muddy and slippery. I opted for Yokohama 035’s mainly down to the consistent grip in all conditions and resilience to punctures that they would offer.
We tried to settle into a steady rhythm from the outset. Due to the length of competitive sections, a steady eight and a half out of ten would be the order of the day, this wasn’t the type of rally to go out all guns blazing, that approach suites rallies back home (in Wales) where competitive sections are much shorter, a four minute dropper pace would have (sooner or later) found us in the trash.
As we approached around two thirds of the first third, the low fuel light came on, this only tends to happen on the Bagger, fine I thought. We carried on with no concern, sometime later the fuel level was reading very low, it was apparent by the time card that there was still a fair amount of rallying to do before the first fuel halt. As the miles went past I was getting rather anxious, I asked Cadog how much have we got left and his reply was about fifteen minutes. Another five minutes went by and with about ten minutes of rallying left, the fuel level had stopped moving, it read empty. “We’re not going to get to petrol Cadog”. The last eight minutes saw us in eco mode, short shifting to keep revs low and coasting in neutral on any downhill section. We felt like we were haemorrhaging time, but there was nothing we could do. I didn’t travel all the way down to Chard in Somerset just to run out of fuel I thought. By some miracle we got to TC19. JMB then proceeded to soldier onto the fuel halt without as much as a single misfire.
We got to the first fuel halt, and the challenging first third certainly had taken its toll on the top ten, with Andy Davies and Michael Gilbey, Milo and Dafydd-Sion Lloyd, Steve Head and Graham Raeburn and George Williams partnered with Daniel Stone taking an early bath. Although top seeds Mark Lennox and Alan James did get to fuel, they decided to call it a night after a heavy landing on one of the sharp yumps found along the route. Results has us in the lead here on 9:11 with Iwan & Neil second on 13:23 and John & Gerwyn third on 13:24. Luke Quinnell & Kayleigh Dingle were leading the novices on 37:19 with last car on the road Harvey Steele & Martin Pitt in the old Volvo 144 second on 39:09 and Darrell Denning & Matthew Hewlett in third on 40:06. After putting in a record amount of fuel in, we didn’t have much time to spare until we were off once more.
“75 mile competitive section nawr”. With that in mind we both jumped out for a quick pee stop before queueing for TC21. The second third was underway, and we got into a good rhythm, my focus had improved somewhat and I felt like I was finally matching Cadog in the way of performance, all was going well with no drama until around 70 miles in. Cadog called the 9 right, I saw it in the distance and brought my speed down for it, just as I went to turn in, the front end simply pushed forward and dropped off the tarmac, okay I thought, reverse out and away we go. Wrong. Once I realised I wasn’t able to reverse out I quickly selected 1st, still no movement. I frantically tried all I could to get out but to no avail, we were stuck. How could one entrance to a field be so soft is beyond me. Very frustrating considering that when I opened the door, I stood on tar, so close yet so far. My only hope was that a fellow competitor would be willing to give us a tow. So, in anticipation, I hooked up the stricken Ibiza to a tow rope and just as this was done I see lights coming, as it got closer I read the first three letters of the plate, it was YLW. A familiar sight for sore eyes, in the form of (fellow Aberystwyth & District MC member) Richard Ty Capel and Aled Richards, a very brief discussion took place and in no time I hooked YLW up, jumped in and with one sharp pull JMB’s front tyres were back on tar. Hallelujah. Just as quick as I jumped in, I was back out to uncouple Rich and Aled to get them on their way. Thanks to you for stopping gents!
We got to the second fuel halt, although very thankful for still being in, but also concerned on how much time we lost. Never mind. During a conversation with Clark of Course, Roger Hunt he alluded to the fact we had a tidy lead. Although feeling like much longer, we lost around three minutes with our excursion. 20:56 was our time now with locals James How & Nic Jones now in second on 25:55 and John & Gerwyn still in the top three on 30:30. Harvey & Martin had taken over the novice lead and also crept into the top 10 on 1:07.01 with Darrell & Matthew in second on 3:29.34 closely followed by Graham Child & Rob Granger on 3:37.27 in the Mk1 Escort.
Hard rainfall experienced in the second third made way to strong winds during the final third, this made the roads clean and dry in places, not ideally suited to the 035’s, I was a little concerned that we’d lose time to those that were on tarmac tyres. All that could be done was to press on the best we could, to Cadog’s credit, his focus was as sharp during the last third as it was from the start. We remained en route all night, this is half the battle for the Bagger. Tail end of the last third proved to be challenging for me. The lanes were relentless, fatigue was setting in and it felt like my eyes simply had enough of processing the roads. With the low fuel light indicating that the final third must be drawing to an end, glancing at our timecard when presented to a marshal confirmed this. After a few tricky slots towards the end of the rally that proved to be a bit of a sting in the tail for some, we got to the final control. We made it!
And we had kept the lead! 23:55 was the final time with James & Nic in second on 31:55 and John & Gerwyn third on 39:25. Fourth was Owen Turner & Matt Fowle on 44:50 and fifth was Stuart Newby & Sam Spencer on 53:34. David Berry & Sophie Buckland replaced Darrell & Matthew in the novice class in second with the top novice times being 1:31.12, 4:25.54 & 4:32.09.
Speaking on behalf of us both, we are very proud to have our names added to an illustrious list of past winners. Road rallying, it’s not easy at the best of times. But the Bagger is just on another level, for navigator, driver and car. It’s sad to think that we may not get to experience another Bagger quite like that. I for one will certainly miss it. Finally, a big shoutout to our trusty chariot, JMB. She didn’t miss a beat all night.
Reian Jones, Driver – Car 8, Seat Ibiza – 1st Overall
Both very tired but over the moon!
The Ultimate Road Rally
I have known about the Carpetbagger rally and the reputation it has garnered for a number of years although it hasn’t been a consistent fixture on the road rallying calendar, disappearing in 2010 re-emerging in 2017. In 2018 Bevan Blacker and Niall Frost made the long trip south, returning with fourth overall to their name and tales of unbelievably narrow lanes of every surface imaginable, droppers of fifty plus miles and a total route mileage that beggared belief. Quite simply an event not to miss. I was keen to do the event in 2019 and when long serving Clerk of the Course and mastermind behind “The Bagger” Roger Hunt announced 2019 would be the last in its current format missing it simply wasn’t an option. Stuart Newby was also keen to see if it lived up to the hype so we agreed to do it together and with Bevan and Niall also planning a second assault we decided we’d book a cottage and make a weekend of it.
Friday lunchtime we made the five hour trip south and after unloading headed for the local hostelry where we were joined by local driver Brendan Wellman who was more than happy to regale us with stories of impossible hairpins, hidden whites and lanes so narrow you would be brushing both hedges, all in all it sounded like we were in for an exciting night. On Saturday we had a quick drive round some of the local lanes that had been used the previous year to see what we were letting ourselves in for and even after only five miles or so it was obvious that for once Niall hadn’t been lying as even a Transit van struggled to fit down them in places. The start was half an hour from where we were staying so we ambled over to scrutineering for five o’clock and joined the queue behind a plethora of Escort’s, it’s not often Proton’s are outnumbered by Escort’s on a road rally up north but on this occasion we were at a deficit of 10:1. We sailed through scrutineering with the officials even commenting how tidy Stuart’s car was. Over to the start we slithered our way through noise test and into the field that had rather ambitiously been chosen as the competitor car park before signing on.
At signing on we were given 8 maps with “London Road Book” points marked on (essentially just numbers at junctions on the maps) that I transferred on to the 3 OS Maps, NAM diagrams with grid references for their locations and grid references for one of the middle “regularities”. The latter took some time to get on the maps as I found the 8 figure grid references rather awkward, breaking a grid square into hundredths (e.g. 45178256) when plotting with a roamer isn’t the easiest thing to do and I much prefer the more traditional ¼, ½ or ¾ approach. I was starting to get frustrated whilst plotting, not helped by a busy, poorly lit pub that didn’t have enough tables and an obnoxious landlord that took exception to almost everyone whilst spouting about how he’d been a “works driver for Pro-drive”, so after having a bite to eat I headed outside to plot in the peace of the very comfortable and well lit Satria. I finished the plotting and had chance to double check a few tricky plots with Niall Frost before the drivers briefing which helped put my mind at ease. At the drivers briefing Clerk of the Course Roger Hunt let us know a little bit more about what we were in for. With the route broken down into three legs with two petrol halts there was going to be very little non competitive motoring with the jewel in the crown being the leg between first and second petrol, 78 miles of back to back competitive sections, two hours and thirty six minutes of flat out driving, and that was before we’d dropped any time. He made no excuses for the fact that it was going to be hard night, some people would have the odd bump, others would go OTL but it was going to be a proper event and anyone that made it to the end will have earned their breakfast.
An hour and fifteen minutes before we were due to leave MTC1 we got two pages of instructions to essentially join the dots that we’d been given earlier on the marked maps. This made the plotting nice and simple and we had it all on the map with half a hour to spare which allowed me to again check a couple of potential “shortest routes” which included Waterhouse Farm, a white that was certainly the shortest route, the question was whether we could get through the building in the middle of it. We opted for the logical approach and went round it, luckily we were correct. After a short run out from the start we lined up as the 28th car on the road to tackle whatever Roger was going to throw at us. Howard Price’s Subaru powered away down the narrow lane and then it was our turn. Straight away it was clear we’d be battling for grip most of the night so some decent A035’s and an LSD were a welcome addition. After only 3 or 4 miles we approached PC1 and could see Howard stopped with his hazard warning lights on just before a 90L 90R. I assumed a car must have gone off and blocked the road but it turned out to be Her Majesty’s finest, blocking the road to see what the commotion was after a resident had called them complaining of a disturbance, 25 minutes before the first car had even passed. After 5 or 6 minutes we were away again but stuck behind cars 27, 26 and 25 with another 4 or 5 behind us. I knew that with a 75 car entry and only a handful of cars affected Force Majeure could well apply and there was no guarantee the section would be scrubbed so I told Stuart to crack on. We also needed to try and pass the cars ahead as with so many sections back to back and no chance to drop back onto our own minute we would soon start to haemorrhage time at controls. Howard Price let us past as we turned onto a white just before TC2 and we caught and passed Simon Harris shortly after the control. Ross Whittock made it easy for us to get passed when he overshot a slot left and we had no problems keeping them behind us.
After seven back to back controls we had been clean at just one of them. On the short neutral to MTC8 we passed Brendan Wellman/Daniel Pidgeon stopped with the dreaded Mal de Nav after miss-timing his tablet taking and Alun Horn was parked up trying to resolve some electric gremlins, clearly the event was already starting to take it’s toll. We also discovered Bevan and Niall had retired with a broken clutch cable. From MTC8 11 more sections took us to first petrol and we actually managed to clean four of them so figured we must be doing reasonably well. We topped up with fuel and had a quick clean the lights before heading for MTC20 and the start of the mammoth 78 mile section.
As we queued up there was a lot of cars seeded around us missing, either they had retired or were running so late they hadn’t been able to restart on time. We didn’t see any results but after speaking to Gary Evans we discovered we were only a couple of minutes behind them so must be doing okay. We were in fact 10th overall at this stage with 19:54 dropped. With over two and half hours of non stop driving before the next proper stop we reminded ourselves that we were driving for a finish and cracked on. Out the 17 controls on this section we were clean at just 4 and I can only recall having more than 30 seconds to wait on one occasion. At one control we arrived and stopped at the board with two minutes to spare so both jumped out to water the grass verge. I got back in, checked my adding up and realised we should have been in on 17, not 19 and it was now 18! In my defense it was a minute worth losing as I’m not sure I could have done another 30 miles with a full bladder. We saw surprisingly few cars on this section other than a few broken down. We caught and passed Stan Featherstone who was struggling for power in the Fiesta owing to ECU trouble but other than him it was, as Roger had warned, a somewhat lonely night. With so many miles covered it all became a bit of a blur. We had one or two minor wrong slots, usually when I misinterpreted a junction but nothing cost us more than a minute or so and as we knew it was a marathon not a sprint. I kept reminding myself it wasn’t going to cost us the rally and I needed to concentrate on carrying on, not self deprecating. Other than hitting a compression hard enough to jar my neck the only other drama on this section was a very difficult to negotiate white. I had plotted PC33 on a 90L with a SSW depart as part of the pre plot information, then took the shortest route to the next point which included going up a short white rather than round a loop, logical enough. When we arrived at PC33 the codeboard was just after the 90L and in fact just beyond the entrance to the white. This should have been a give away but I have a rule that I never question my plotting, not because I’m so smug I think I’m never wrong, but if you begin to question yourself where do you draw the line? I told Stuart to slot right up the white and he duly obliged, getting up it was a different matter! Not only was it uphill but it was muddy and deeply rutted and I was convinced we were going to get stuck. Luckily the tight diff, some skillful driving and a bit of limiter bashing got us up it. I have since checked my plotting and I was wrong, the PC plotted onto the entrance of the white and the SSW depart meant we missed it out.
We also had some confusion at TC33 when we arrived at some marshals but there was no control board. I spotted a board facing the wrong way further down the road and asked if we’d come in WD to which the marshal replied “yes, but so has everyone else so I think our instructions were wrong”. At second petrol there were even fewer crews and a quick glance at the results showed us 7th overall, a very pleasing position that we now had to try and maintain. After a quick splash and dash we headed to MTC37 and had just under 15 minutes to wait for our time and saw just two or three cars including car 13 that for some reason started 30 seconds into a minute. It was clear that those left running at this stage were in the minority and we were determined not to join the long list of retirements. The final section was the shortest of the three, luckily so as by now my concentration was starting to wane. We had a couple of stupid wrong slots including one up a farm driveway just before TC38 that cost us the best part of two minutes but we made sure to just keep focusing on a finish. Eventually we made it to the final control, both delighted to have finished and with the car in one piece. The results showed us 6th overall but after I queried our time for the fist section owing to the police hold up we were given a notional time that moved us up to 5th overall out of the 22 finishers. The result was far better than anything we could have expected. Before the event I thought if we got to the finish and maintained a reasonable pace a top 15 might be possible but I had never dreamt a top 5 would be achievable on the toughest event I have ever competed on against a real who’s who of British Road Rallying that included dozens of rally and championship winners. Credit of course has to go to Stuart who worked right up to the last minute to make sure the car was ready and other than a misfire following one ford it was faultless all night. He drove quickly but sensibly and kept us out of trouble all night.
Roger Hunt and his team had done a superb job, organising what is without doubt the best road rally I have ever competed on. The marshals had also done an excellent job, standing out in the wind and rain on a very cold night for a field that became increasing small and spread out as the night wore on. I sincerely hope the Bagger returns in some format in the future, but if it doesn’t I am pleased to have been a part of the final running.
Sam Spencer, Navigator – Car 28, Proton Satria GTi – 5th Overall
Thanks to Jez Turner (www.facebook.com/jez.turner.161), M&H Photography (www.mandhphotography.co.uk) & Motion Media (www.facebook.com/motionmediauk1) for all of the images. Make sure you check out their pages for more examples and for details on how to purchase yourself a copy!