BATS IN THE ‘EMPTY QUARTER’ – Garstang and Preston MC’s Memorial Road Rally.
There was something hugely ironic about the sign that hung over the entrance to the Officials and Signing-on venue for Garstang & Preston MC’s Memorial Rally. It read: ‘Careers and Course Advice’. Given the youthful appearance of the competitors (Maurice Ellison and a few others excepted!) it made me wonder if indeed this event (and others like it up and down the country) could indeed be the starting point for aspiring future rally professionals. Could these amateur wheel twirlers and devotees of the cartographical arts one day be striving for success at higher levels? It made me feel good just thinking about it … and a lot more charitably disposed towards those whose youth had initially set me off being grouchy about my own rapidly advancing years!
I have greatly regretted that, for the past few years, business commitments have seen me ‘on duty’ at a major trade fair in Macau, Peoples’ Republic of China, rather than out in the lanes of North Lancashire and Cumbria and on the G&PMC’s Memorial Rally, even if only as a spectator. This year, however, the Chinese had revised the dates of their event and thus given me a choice between television’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and England’s final 2014 World Cup warm up match, or a night of satisfying my curiosity as to where road rallying currently fits into the motorsport pyramid. So that was an easy choice. Dust off some old maps, tank up the Audi and head off to the start.
Honestly, I never could – and still don’t – really enjoy watching rallies. That comes from so many years of only having to spectate if either the driver or myself had screwed up or the car had gone bang and we were suddenly redundant from the proceedings. So I had no grand plan for the Memorial Rally. Just turn up, have a few reminiscent chats around the start area, go watch an early section then toddle off home to bed after paying my own homage to those past warriors of the club, Gordon Musgrave, Pete Duckworth and Paul Coombes. Yeah, right! I ended up being appointed by Chief Marshal Ian Farnworth to handle a time control that wasn’t scheduled to open until 01.18 and closed at 03.03 … plenty of time for an extended go-looksee!
I had an enjoyable catch-up with Dennis Quinn (still the fastest milkman in the west!) and wandered around doing some car spotting, where it was touching to see so many crews carrying stickers in memory of the late Paul Brereton of ‘Barrow Taxi’ fame. Dennis has, in recent years, become ‘Mister Course car’, particularly in Wales where it seems that there is the same kind of black market for that function as there is for speaker’s names and phone numbers during awards presentation season. Out of an entry of 37 cars I had expected to see the majority being Escorts but, not so, there were just two starting (one Mk1 and a Mk2) but an amazing – to me, anyway – nine Protons plus a mixed bag of hot hatches. And nobody was wearing overalls (it would appear that’s just not ‘cool’ these days), but defining something that protects its wearer from fire as ‘not cool’ seems more than just a little axiomatic.
Still, already vicariously feeling that frisson of excitement that is a feature of all pre-rally starts, I headed off to the route’s exit from Kit Brow ford. Coffee seemed like a good idea so I snucked in the back door of Forton services and got some. Radio 5 Live was telling me that the England match in Miami had been halted for over an hour due to lightning strikes around the Sun Life Stadium that is more usually home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Parking off route was easy and, saying Hi to the marshals at the control (which turned out to be a secret check), I wandered down the lane to watch the first few cars.
In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting much. But I’m delighted to report that I was 100% wrong! First, distant spotlight beams stabbed the sky and were reflected back off the fast scudding clouds that threatened rain before too long. Next came the not so far away bark of a competition exhaust and the scrape of a sumpguard on tarmac. Those old Saturday night brain synapses were firing once again and, unpredictably, I’m back in the zone. Old habits die hard. As the first car comes past (a buzzing yellow Proton that looks, sounds and even smells just like it should) I’m clicking the split timer on my faithful Breitling B1 and car 2, another Proton, is 8 seconds up on car 1. The following cars’ times gradually slip away (somebody seems to have got the seeding down pretty good) until car 8, a Ford Puma, shows up: well off the pace. It’s audibly a left front puncture and visibly the tyre is threatening to part company with the rim. Something must have gone dramatically wrong with the wheel change because, as I wandered back to my car some 6 or 7 minutes later, the Puma was still on its jack, the wheel only just being changed, with at least a couple of minutes more going on the timecard before the Ford was able to drive off.
I made for petrol on what was, for me, another trip down memory lane. The memory concerned the late, but much missed, Peter Kirk: a hard man with a heart of gold and an uncompromising but hugely successful rally driver. God only knows how many nights I had sat on the Kirkby Motors forecourt, readying map folds for the next sections, checking timecards, comparing times or sometimes plotting re-routes. More happy memories, for sure.
It was time to head off and fulfil my unexpected duties as a marshal. I duly turned up, elegantly early, toTC19 at White Moss. This is an area that is North Lancashire’s ‘Rubʿal Khali’ in Arabic, or as translated to English, the ‘Empty Quarter’! There might have been a Bedouin encampment somewhere nearby as I could hear the sheep bleating but I never found it. My only other company was a contingent of manic low flying bats and an owl hooting from the boughs of a tree. It almost made me wonder if there was any truth in all those Vampire television shows to which my other half is addicted.
Parked up, I put the control board out. That wasn’t, initially, as easy to do as it sounds. The stake on my board had been cut off square, rather than into a sharp point. Then I had an ‘eureka’ moment. My Audi’s favourite trick is, over time, to bond its 18 inch alloy rims onto the hubs (I only found this out when I came back to Manchester Airport after a business trip and discovered a flat tyre – it was raining in monsoon proportions at the time!) and the recommended dealer treatment of copper-slipping the hub only works for a short period. So, in a Pound store, I found a medium sized rubber hammer and stuck that away in the spare wheel well. Turns out it works just fine on Control boards! Next, read the excellently clear paperwork supplied in my pack together with the thoughtful addition of a free Pirelli pen (although the compound of the ink used was not disclosed!) and make a reminder to self: ‘When all else fails, RTFM: read the frig**ng manual!’. That’s it – I’m ready.
Course car and zero car came through on schedule and made me consider the logistics of handling a torch, pen, clock and check sheet with one pair of hands. Solution? Tape the check sheet to the Audi’s rear window and hope to be able to fill it in with the passage of each car. My (mid-point in the competitive section) control was easily on clean, meaning I had chance to talk to competitors and get a sense of how the rally was going. So, here’s why I decided to sit down and write this in the first place. Everybody (those doing well, those doing not so well and those in between) were just so …. well, so ‘nice’. And also polite: and some were even kind enough to remember an old-has been that last saw competitive action nigh on two decades ago. It was a joy to be out and involved once again. Then, the heavens decided to open! The cars had frightened the bats away and got the owl to stop its infernal hooting but the rain did nothing for my check sheet … that ended up as unreadable paper mâché and I ended up with a soggy woollen hat and rising damp that went up as far as my a**e cheeks. The downpour ceased just as I received my final ‘customer’ of the night (er, ‘morning’) but the course closing car showed up on schedule, bringing news of the happenings of the event so far and being kind enough not to pass comment on the mess that was my check sheet. And that, for me at least, was that.
I journeyed home via Hornby and over the Redwell Road (scene of much debauchery and great music many years ago) with a happy heart. No matter that it took until Tuesday to discover that the event had been won by Car 19, Dave Whitaker/Steve Butler in a Honda Civic (er, what did I say about the accuracy of the seeding?), I enjoyed myself immensely. What worries me somewhat is that even though I have mellowed – a bit – over the years I could sense that the old addiction is still there: I’d better book a meeting at RA (Rallyholics Anonymous) before I once again run the risk of falling prey to that old ‘Saturday Night Fever’.
And, before I go, a quick plug. This year sees the 50th Anniversary of the original Garstang & District Motor Club (now G&PMC) and a BIG celebration is currently being planned. In keeping with the ‘old lags’ theme of 50 years going strong, my old mate Mal Graham and I are going to team up for a ‘Night of Road and Stage’. Date and venue to be confirmed but currently pencilled in for Friday 17th October. More details to follow … so put it in your diary and Watch This Space.
Dave Orrick – Author of Night Moves & ex Motoring News Reporter & Competitor
Go Hard or Go Home – we managed both of those statements
Saturday night saw myself and Jason Crook enter the Garstang and Preston Memorial Rally starting from Myerscough College.
With my old car being off the road with building the new one I looked to hire a car and spent most of the previous months agreeing deals with people of rental first up was a Honda civic off the BRF. I then tried contacting them a few weeks before and no answer or return of calls a grade a time waster. Next up was a firm in Aberystwyth about a mk2 and just about the same amount of messing things weren’t looking to good.Then out of the blue came a call from my good friend Myles Gleave saying that I could borrow his car of I wanted as I already had his navigator so I may as well make it a full house so the lads set about rebuilding his 205 after his little excursion on the Clywd. I was still at work so he boys at Newton Motorsport and Myles all put in late nights and early mornings to make sure we were doing thanks lads your dedication to the sport and also in getting me out is second to none as always. The only comment I got on leaving to collect Jason was if you don’t win this rally tonight don’t ever grace this workshop again I’m kind of hoping they where joking.
After a good bit of craic at the start venue we were handed the route and Jason set about plotting it soon having it down in around 40 mins.
This years route was pretty much the same as last year taking in lanes all local to me passing friends and family’s farms, houses and pubs so I was hoping for a good result the only thing that concerned us was the seeding being placed at car 15 wasn’t ideal especially when we had lead the event last year and finished in the top ten with a lad sat at the side of me whom had won the event on more than one occasion and in the same car. But hey ho.
On to the start just outside Home Farm Ellel Kev Howarth was manning this control and with a 5,4,3,2,1 we where off and charging hard ninety left under the bridge miss left and ninety left up the hill to ninety right flat for 600 then ninety left then a flat out run to catch the first car in front of us just at the first control not bad going I’d say in less than a couple of miles.
Next up was a run down to kit brow passed the fishery’s slotting left down passed the fleece and into the smith green lane and up to the next control just before slotting right to go down to kit brow still chasing our minute man from control to control. As we passed the farm at kit brow we saw our good friends Jem Dale and James parked up on top of the hedge waiving us on we pressed on down kit brow lane and through the ford sadly steaming all the windows up and having to crawl then down to Alex Willan at the end of the lane to his secret check. Windows soon de misted we set about catching our man again and where soon on him by Steve Brocks control.
Taking our minute again we headed out down Stocka Bank to Caton then onto Halton Park having a good fast run through there up until this point we where cleaning sections with at least a minute to spare and in some bits a lot more.
Now time for the dropper a run down Locka Lane and through Gunnerthwaite a quick blast from Neil Bye and a slot left onto Locka Lane and down we went a good pace keeping it tidy but pressing on all the same last year myself and Terry Martin set the quickest time down here and I intended doing the same the after all the slippy stuff we took a fast right into fast left and the car just shot left as of something had broken in the front end sending us into the banking up the wall and over into our side blocking the road and spilling petrol all over the end of our rally and our chances of bettering last years results. Its a law of averages that if you are gong to push on eventually you will have an off and I suppose my time was this years GP, luckily enough the car isn’t too bad and after a bit of body work she will be back out on close inspection we have found the steering rack to be smashed and a flat tyre but these could of been done in the crash, so who knows.
Until next year!! I would like to take this opportunity to thank all that stopped to make sure we where both ok all the Marshall’s that made the event a success. All the team at Garstang & Preston MC for putting on another top quality route. All the lads at Newton Motorsport, Myles Gleave and finally Jason Crook, we will get that finish one day I’m sure just hope I haven’t put you off with my flamboyant driving style!
The biggest well done goes out to my friends Ticker and Steve on the win a cracking result making ticker the fastest man in the Northwest! (According to Tyco anyhow.)
Steve Hudson, Driver – Car 15, Peugeot 205
Thanks to Joseph John Gilbertson (http://www.facebook.com/joseph.j.gilbertson) for all of the photos! Make sure you head to his website for more examples and also for details on how to purchase yourself a copy!