Telford AC’s Moonbeam has quickly become one of the most popular road rallies in England. Promising crews the very best rallying lanes that Shropshire can boast, the event again boasted a full entry stuffed full of top crews and local regulars for the second round of the ANWCC and AWMMC championships. I grew up in Shropshire, so this is my home event and I was keen to get a finish after last year’s escapade into a barn. There was a special auction from Route32 with great accessories and products for the car enthusiast such as vintage gas pumps for sale, signs, old school cars and any type of restoration you can imagine ! They will be available in next event thanks to the organizers. However, a week before the event I was driverless, and most of my usual contacts were busy.
Step forward Mike Tanswell, who bravely volunteered his services. Keen to end a 30-year layoff from the overnight road rally world, as a retired navigator it was to be his first road rally from behind the wheel. For my part, I couldn’t quite believe my luck – a MkI Escort Mexico, a really beautiful yellow one, on home ground. We’d have to keep it tidy!
Fast forward to the West Mid showground in Shrewsbury, we met up with the two Brummies I had pestered into marshalling for us. Then it was the traditional long wait. I spent the time adjusting and readjusting my belts and cushion in an attempt to find a position of comfort for my bruised coccyx (one result of a big shunt from the previous weekend). When we finally got our hands on the last half of the route info, it was full of lazy errors, which really annoyed me as I’m not the fastest plotter at the best of times.
We then ran out to a carpark of a local Garden Centre, to finish plotting. The organizers have taken to splitting the plotting locations like this to keep spectators away from certain areas.
Never mind, last bit plotted, most of the errors guessed, we shot off to TC1 just up the Lordshill bank behind Snailbeach. The first section up round the back of Eastridge Woods is always a dropper, little did we know just how rough that first white would be! In previous years, the good-quality forest road down to Eastridge Woods carpark has been used. This year, we were using the lane that runs through Vessons Farm. Off the line on the Lordshill bank the modern machinery went like rockets. We followed on our minute, off the end of the asphalt and onto a green lane, ever steeper, into an uphill hairpin left for the first passage control.
Signature scribbled, a quick note about how tidy the car was, off we shot down the bank. Yikes! BIG ruts, big drop to the left, nasty expensive noises coming from the underside of the car, we both feared we’d have a very short rally indeed. Mike did well to keep it out of the ruts (we were just too low slung, suspension too soft) and thread it through the gates, we got back on the gas back up the tarmac, straining ears for unwelcome rattles. Our plan was always to be steady on the whites and save the car, but you just could not slow down, or avoid the huge holes and rocks.
Luckily, the Mexico was fine – they built them strong! A quick spin round Eastridge Woods carpark to the first NAM PC, and into the lanes proper around the back of Habberly. We were caught and passed by Andrew Sheers and Dan Petrie in car 45 the baby blue MkII on an early charge while heading over for the Gatten white. This famous white was bone dry this year, so very fast and smooth, and no sideways moment through the gate to report. Into the tight 90’s back on the tarmac, we shot off up the road only to slightly overshoot the first slot 30 left. Must remember that the road bends 30 left twice just before the junction, not once as show on the map – it isn’t like I’ve been down this road a thousand times …
This let Roger Titley and Huw Evans in car 46 through, a fetching metallic pink BMW compact, so we chased them down the Westcott white. A new one to me, the stage-prepped car got the better of us. We’d have our revenge later though! A short neutral took us through Pulverbatch, I was sad to see car 42 Andy Price and Will Hough parked up again with electrical issues in the Suzuki Swift. Reliable Japanese cars!
Off into the night again, and some very fast lanes brought us to the impossible hairpin on the Wilderley triangle. A little back and forth brought us into the passage control, and we shot off to the very narrow back lane out of Smethcott, Mike drifting the Mexico through the dusty 90’s beautifully. Then it was more typical Shropshire hill lanes up over Gogbatch and the High Park hairpin to rocket onto the top of the Long Mynd for the first time via the really fast high moor road. A real sense of exposure up here and no time to stop for windberries. I have to admit to being uncharacteristically nervous – Mike was safe as houses though, unlike the silver Proton Satira who had put it a LONG way off the road at the 45 left before the Upper Darnford cattle grid.
Down the valley road now, blind crests, to Sankey’s yard in Ratlinghope. This is where my event ended last year, glancing the steering off a steel in a slippy barn. The farm lads always lay out something different each year, and our friends in the metallic pink BMW compact were foxed. I knew exactly where we needed to go though, so we dived past and Mike threw it through the pallet chicanes, though the barn, 90 left into the back lane, over the road, hairpin left round a cattle pen, then more chicanes formed of farming odds n sods to the time control. Doing OK!
Out via Bridges and up the Stedment bank, the superior BMW power came to the fore, so we had to let Roger back through, giving chase over the Devil’s chair, down the hairpins into the traditional crowd of spectators at The Bog, we next took the narrow yellow to the steep tight downhill hairpin left over for Ridge. Down then though the S bends to more spectators at the famous Linley hairpin, we made our way up to the impossible triangle at Rhadley Hill.
Impossible of course, unless you’re in an Escort! Our friend in the BMW was again making a hash of it, so Mike just threw it up the bank inside him. Collected our signature and off we went again.
A short neutral down the A488, more lanes interspersed with some fast B road, and we were out over the high hill country west of Clun. Long fast straights, tight corners, we found ourselves in a crowd of Escorts. This for me, truly, was rallying heaven! I vividly recall sitting waiting to book into a neutral time control outside Bishop’s Castle, in a crowd of burbling Escorts, middle of the night, everyone smiling and chatting relaxed for the last section to petrol. The smell of Castrol and petrol. Bliss. Pity about my arse, which was really beginning to hurt!
No dramas to petrol, topped up with fuel, swapping tall tales of daring do. Glad to see Andy Price had got his Suzuki Swift going again, after the navigator rewired it roadside with a bit of agricultural know how! Booking out of the main control at petrol, someone ran up shouting that our back right tyre looked flat – it was! Quick nip round to the air hose and we shot off out to Norbury for the next section. Cars everywhere because the route info was lousy, then everyone jostling around in the queue on a narrow yellow trying to regain road order.
A quick dash down the Onny valley and out over the Wentnor moor brought us to TC22 and our Brummie mates, then another rough white to the foot of Asterton Bank. Alan Horn and Aled Jones in car 35, a vivid lime green Astra, caught and passed us up the bank to the Glider station (1 in 3 – we just don’t have the horses!), so we chased him over the top of the Long Mynd to Pole Cottage, before slotting left onto the Stanbatch white – a slot I know very well having spectated here for 20 odd years. So we got the slot right, while the Astra shot into the car park to the derision of the assembled speccies.
The Stanbatch white drops off the Long Mynd as steeply as Asterton Bank gains it, so we took it steady to save the car, stopping halfway down to let a lunatic in a green Astra through. Then it was over to Medlicott and up an even rougher white back up onto the top of the Long Mynd via Pole Bank. A TC at the top of the Burway, we went via a neutral out through Church Stretton.
The next section took us from the foot of the Caer Caradoc out down the roman road: 3k flat out, threading it between the hedges and skipping over fords. Then via the hairpins round the back of the Lawley, we took to the Hoar Edge white. Mike was getting into his stride now, and was overtaking cars on whites! Down Yell Bank took us to some more NAM stuff round Chatwall. Follow the arrows was the aim of the game, but once we re-emerged onto the lane, it wasn’t at all clear where we needed to go to find the next section of NAM ‘follow arrows’. Andy and Will in the Swift went left, we went right. After 6 or 700m it was clear this wasn’t right. We span it round, as did the MkII following us.
Back to the junction, we found Andy and Will coming back up the slot they’d taken, and at this moment Roger and Huw in the BMW arrived down the lane we’d all arrived from earlier. Nobody had a clue, so I thought we may as well go down the slot we hadn’t taken, see if we could spot the PC from the lane, then go back to figure out how to get to it. Luckily, a bit further than Andy and Will had gone, was an arrow onto a field edge track. Phew! One NAM diagram would have put pay to all the confusion – or some slightly less cryptic route info!
Out into some quick lanes round Plaish, we had a really big sideways moment: the back right had gone flat. It was a timed to the second section, so we pushed on to the next TC, hoping we could make up time in the next timed to the minute section. Stopped outside the next TC, not the fastest wheel change ever with 6 minutes dropped. Still, that wasn’t the aim of the game tonight.
That said, neither was what happened next in the plan. Getting a bit over enthusiastic to recover time lost, the navigator encouraged the driver to throw it into a slot 90 left. Oops. A bit too dusty – understeer into the hedge bending the anti roll bar and stuffing the wing into the hedge. One moment of being a bit silly when we’d been so sensible all night!
Chastened, the route took us into the easier lanes around the back of Condover, and into the final few miles. Rallying an Escort into a beautiful dawn, verges lined with daffodils, a blood red moon low on the horizon and the south Shropshire hills as a backdrop lit by first light of a clear morning. The experience will stay with me for a very long time.
Cheers Mike. Loved it. Pre-plot road rallying, sideways in the lanes. It’s just bloody brilliant!
It was tight at the top with just 38 seconds separating the top 3. Ian ‘Dude’ Roberts and Gwawr Hughes in car 3 took the honours with strong performances in their VW Golf into TC4 and TC28, to edge out the orange Peugeot 106 of Jonty and Nick Bloxham. Last year’s winners Mark ‘GT’ Roberts and Steve Price placed their purple VW Golf into 3rd overall. The retro award went to the Escort crew of Nic Morris and Martin Phasey in 4th, while Dan and Nick Darkin kept the bigger machinery honest in the 1400 Nova for 10th. A storming drive from locals Richard Poole and Owen Morgan brought them in 11th in their Ford Sierra for first semi expert crew. Nick Skidmore and Chris Jones survived running out of petrol meters from the pumps to pick up the novice award, with a very tidy run in the bright orange Mexico 10 minutes ahead of the next challenger.
Andrew Lowe, Nav – car 44, Ford Escort MkI Mexico – 24th overall
Thanks to Power Shot Photography (www.facebook.com/powershotphotography1) for all of the photos! Make sure you head to their website to see some more examples and information on how to purchase a copy!