The RAC Rally of the Tests – A view from inside car 80.
The plan was for Peter Blackett and I to do the Palladwr Rally as the shake down for the RAC Rally of the Tests, however, a week before the event Peter rang me from his Hospital bed with the news that he had a leg infection and that he was not fit to do the Palladwr but hopeful he would be better for the ROTT. The car was all prepared and ready to go and with less than 24 hours to go Daniel Pidgeon filled the left hand seat. The car performed well for the first half then the diff started playing up and to add to the woes we started to get severe vibration through the steering wheel. After the event it was found that an engine mount had snapped and within the diff one of the clutch plates had four of its fixings lugs snapped. A week later the engine mount repaired and the original diff fitted, the car was ready for the Tests.
With five days to go Peter announced that he was also good to go. The RAC ROTT is a 4 day regularity event and this year started in Bournemouth on Thursday 3rd and was due to finish at 4.30pm on Sunday 6th Nov. The event has been run now for a number of years as The Rally of the Test but this year The RAC returned to support the event after 56 years away.
Peter and I arrived at Bournemouth just after lunch on Thursday, we sailed through Scrutineering and signing on and while I went off to set the trips on the measured mile, Peter set about plotting the prologue route.
The prologue comprises of two tests and one regularity and the result is the basis for the reseeding for Friday morning, part of you wants to do well and get as high as possible but the down side of that is that the higher you are in the prologue result the earlier you start.
Our main competition in our class were Ross Butterworth and Andrew Fish in their 1760 Mk1 Mexico , Nick and Jonty Bloxham in their standard Mk1 Escort Mexico, Clive and Ange Martin 1600cc Escort Sport, Tim Sawyer and Andrew Deurden Escort 1600 and Robin Eyre Mansell and Peter Scott in their Nissan Sunny. Andrew McAlpine of building fame with navigator Hans Sylvan in their very neat Lancia Fulvia HF. Some of you will remember that Hans was Stig Blomvists codriver on the RAC Rallies of the late 60s early 70, so he should be no slouch.
The other Bath/HRCR crew out were Bernard Northmore who was doing the event with David Stanley in his Healey 3000. Bath member Mark Dunkerley was also competing as he had been drafted in late to Nav for Francis Galashan in the TR4a after Andy Ballantine broke is arm.
My Mexico is standard throughout, I rebuilt the car 5 years ago and the engine was re-built by Scholar Engineering who build racing engines for Formula Ford Series. Brakes & suspension are uprated and we were running Khumo R800 medium compound tyres for this event.
We were entered in the Team event under The Team Retro Speed banner in team 2 with David Alderson and Chris Moore VW Beetle and Michael Moss- James Ewing in the Fiat Abarth. Retro Speed Team 1 was made up from Tony Sheach- Rob Kiff TR4, David Stanley –Bernard Northmore Healy 3000 and Tim Sayer Andrew Deurden Escort 1600.
Starting in the dark on Thursday the first test was a short blast through the Winter gardens with all the ornamental ironwork railings. The surface was quite slippery but we nailed the first hairpin only for it all to go to pot in the first, stop in the box, with a stalled engine. We recovered but struggled round the next hairpin however, we faired better than others as one of the RS2000s took out one of the railings badly damaging the front right hand corner of the car. When we finished the test I found my water bottle stuck underneath the pedals, (note to self – make sure everything is tied down)
Next on the agenda was a run out towards Ringwood to the first regularity. Peter was on the ball from the start and we were making good progress, at one stage he instructed to me to slot left through a gate, it didn’t look right, however, he was spot on as through the farmyard was an exit road with the hidden control. We were one of the few cars to get this one right first time, we made all the controls and headed off the Karting Track. All the tests are scored on a class improvement basis in other words fastest on the test gets zero, 2nd 2 points 3 place 4 points etc. We arrived back at the Hotel to discover we had accrued 34 penalties and were re seeded 15 with a start time of 7.45am. We did not think we would stay there.
Leg 1 – Bournemouth to Bristol.
Leg one started with cold but fine weather. The first action of the day was at Bovington Tank Track with two tests to wake us up, these were fast and furious , I messed up a tight turn on the second test to drop a few seconds, I needed to be sharper. Then onto a further test at Clay Pigeon Raceway, this one was quite tight, the car was handling well and I was getting more confident after the issues on the Palladwr. Leaving The karting track we headed for the the first regularity of the day via Piddlehinton and Cerne Abbas this one had two controls that took us up to Cricket St Thomas for a coffee halt . We dropped 6 and 8 seconds respectively. Peter was calling everything correctly, but was struggling a bit with the Roamer Time + trip meter. This being his first experience with the unit. Out of coffee straight into a regularity within the grounds of Cricket St Thomas this meant that the controls could be less than 2 miles from the start. There were three controls within the estate, where we lost 1, 7 and 2 seconds. Things were starting to work in the car.
We then headed north west over the Quantocks to the second regularity of the day. This was the first of the London Map regularities. The event tries to replicate the types of navigation used in the original RAC Rally of the Test and 1″ to the mile maps were the standard at the time. The map is pre marked with set points and the idea is to plot those onto your own maps, the only problem is that the modern maps may have more or less features, so accurately transferring the information is tricky. Once these are plotted you are given the rest of the route instructions a short time before setting off. Not quite plot and bash but not far off. We fared well on this one losing 16 seconds over the 4 controls with our first zero on the 3rd control point.
We then headed into Porlock for the first of 5 tests. I always love the main hill but was not sure how the tyres would perform, I shouldn’t have worried the were superb, gripping well in the slippery conditions that is typical of Porlock. Fastest in our class was always going to be the Escort driven by Ross Butterworth with approx 160 bhp at the flywheel, his ability to get off the line was always going to be better than us and with a couple of stop in boxes on the way he would gain at least a couple of seconds each time.. What was surprising was that we were also being beaten by the Nissan Sunny, however, they were not doing so well on the regularities.
Once we arrived at lunch the interim results showed us as 1st in Class and still in the top 20 which was very encouraging. Porlock Ladies always put on a good lunch and today was no exception.
After lunch we headed for 3 more test in Porlock the first was the Worthy toll road, this was very rough with some deep potholes to catch the unwary we posted 4th fastest time in class. It was then a repeat of the two tests we had before lunch. We improved slightly but we’re still 3rd or 4th fastest on these tests.
We then headed onto Exmoor near Bampton for the first of 2 regularities, we kept our cool on the first dropping 17 seconds over 4 controls the second was a bit tougher and we managed a short wrong slot that dropped us 28secs at the first control and 3 at the second, From here across country to Smeatharpe , by this time it was starting to get dark and we still had 5 hours to go! We managed to negotiate the two test before the light faded too much, the car was still handling very well.
Then came our first major issue, we took a wrong slot towards the end of the next regularity, missing the correct turning, retracing the route we did not have enough time to make up the loss and dropped 2 minute 28 seconds resulting in a maximum. On these events they try and stop you driving like a bat out of hell by limiting your losses to 1 minute for any time loss over 60seconds. So if you lose 3 minutes your max penalty would be 1 minute. We thought we had blown it at this point as things had been going so well, but we were still only on day 1.
We then headed onto the Somerset levels towards Street for a tea time halt at Walton. George Mullins had persuaded the ladies of Walton to mimic what the Porlock Ladies had done earlier in the day. So soup and bread rolls was the order of the day, a beer would have been good!!
Then the night section, this was a jogularity and would sort the men out from the boys. The old maxim of trust your trip meter was critical on this regularity with some obscure slots that dumbfounded quite a few crews. We were on our home turf and headed to the west of Glastonbury to start the regularity that took us over the levels via Lake Village, Godney, Fenny Castle and up to Wookey onto the Mendips past Ebor Gorge, into Priddy then over the top to finish near West Harptree. The section had 10 controls in all, Peter was on top form providing me with lots of accurate info, he was excellent in calculating the speed changes and seemed very sure of some of the tight slots we had to take. Particularly those slots that took us off road through farm yards with hidden controls.
Road timing was tight due to the nature of the roads and we lost time but all within reason. We lost 23 on the first control and then Peter came on the ball and for the next 8 controls we averaged 3 seconds and at the final control we lost 32. If I recall this was a tricky section through a farm yard. We were a bit disappointed at the time,however, looking at the results everyone lost 20 seconds or more and our loss of 32 was well below the average as a lot of crews received maximums.
When we arrived in Bristol after negotiating some horrendous traffic we discover that we were still 1st in class, 8th post historic crew and 17th overall, with our nearest competitor in our class Ross Butterworth 11places below us. However, he was in trouble with a badly slipping clutch, a slight misfire at low revs and a blowing exhaust manifold. The following morning would see them drive slowly up the motorway to Coventry where they arranged for a garage to assists them to swop the clutch. They would not figure on our radar again on the time sheets, however, they did rejoin again after lunch on day 2 and continued to post fastest test times. Our nearest competitors now we’re the Nissan Sunny crew of Robin Eyre Maunsell and Peter Scott, some 2 minutes adrift of us. We also discovered that Nick and Jonty Bloxham had sadly retired earlier in the day with a badly misfiring engine and suspected cam issues. Tim Sawyer and Andrew Deurdan were lying 3rd in class a few places below the Nissan crew. But it was still a long way to go.
On checking the car on Saturday morning all that was needed was to top the oil level up. Our start time for Saturday was 7.46 with another 13 hour day in prospect.
Leading the event at this stage was the Alfa Romeo of John Abel and Martin Taylor on 2.42 penalties the Bubble Arched BDA Mk 1 Escort of Peter Nanketboton and Bart den Hartog on 2.53. We were down at 17 on 5.31.
Leg 2 – Bristol to Yarnfield.
On Saturday there was a short run out to the RAC building at Stoke Gifford for the ceremonial restart and a test. Flagging us off was non other than Sir Paddy Hopkirk, it was great to shake the great mans hand on the start line. The crowds at this venue were amazing with the addition of a large contingent from the press. The first test was a short affair in the car park of the RAC building.
From here we headed down towards Hallen and a much longer farmyard test. It was then a short run across the old Bridge to Chepstow racecourse for one of my favourite tests, a run round the perimeter tracks of the racecourse. Then a tricky test in the car park before the first regularity through the Wye valley towards Monmouth. We dropped 2 seconds at the first control but then things went amiss as we gained another maximum with a wrong slot, but then pulled it back a little with a 2 sec early at the next control. Onto the second regularity taking us further up the Wye Valley where we were back on course dropping 5 seconds in total.
The coffee halt was at Weston Cider Mill with the next regularity starting 100 yards up the road, where we dropped another 10 seconds. Talking to other crews at the coffee halt indicted that we were not doing too badly as others had experienced problems in the morning. We then headed north through Worcester to the old Vulcan Airfield at Throckmorton with its 2 mile long runways for three tests. The third of which involved me starting outside the car, on the go signal racing to the car, fastening the seat belts and placing both hands on the dash before I could start the engine to drive the test. My school boy training as a cross country runner came into play as I was 1 second off the pace on this test.
It was then onto two tests before lunch at Chateau Impney. The first of which was a blast up the hill in front of the hotel with a 360 round the fountain!! Great fun, however, this is where Bernard Northmore’s event ended when the arrived at the end of one of the tests with no gears.
After lunch it was a repeat of one of the tests then to a regularity with 3 controls near Tedstone Warwickshire, we were traveling through some great countryside but with not much time to look unfortunately. At this stage we had a discussion about petrol. I made the mistake of not topping up prior to the next test at Shelsey Walsh Hill climb. The petrol gauge on the Escort is not that accurate, but I estimated that I had half a tank. After Shelsey Walsh it was down to less than a quarter. Up the hill at Shelsey is always a struggle as with a standard 1600 under the bonnet it’s difficult to keep it ‘on cam’ especially when they put cones to slow your progress and stop in boxes half way up. Still it was good fun.
Onto the next regularity near Catherton and my main concern was petrol. As most of this regularity was uphill it was difficult to preserve fuel. As if we had enough stress the gauge was now in the red and there was no way that we would be able to get in and out of the next regularity that was Ditton Priors. This is another old army base with a network of overgrown roads. We had to find petrol urgently or cut the route so we stopped to ask a farmer, Peter remembered that there was a petrol station in Ditton Priors village, the farmer confirmed this, so we headed past the start of the next section into Ditton only to find the Petrol Station closed. It was also getting dark. A friendly local told us that the owners live in the cottage next door. I went to the front door Peter to the back but we couldn’t raise anyone, then Peter noticed that there was someone in the conservatory and braved a knock at the window. A little boy appeared at the door and my thought was that his parents were not going to be very pleased to help, however, I was wrong. The dad appeared and we told him our plight, looking at the car he said ‘oh I had one of those’ and he and his wife proceeded to open the garage and we filled up. If ever you are in Ditton Priors please buy petrol at the garage!!!
We were now running very close to maximum road lateness. We retraced our route to the entrance to the old army base and found a queue of cars, some we were able to move past. When we got to the control Peter asked for a delay allowance based on our arrival time 5 minutes earlier and said I can’t get out of the car as I have a dodgy leg. To my surprise the Marshall was sympathetic and Peter got his time.
Ditton Priors was fast and furious, timed at 30 miles an hour it’s impossible to stay on time. With huge potholes to boot, you have to temper the desire to put foot to floor and practice a little more caution to protect the car. We dropped 8,9,31 and 4 seconds at the 4 controls. On checking later these losses were below the average, even some of the top crews lost large chunks at the 3rd control. We were holding our own. We still had 4 hours to go with the sting in the tail to come.
As we were still running close to our maximum lateness we had 17 road miles to navigate before the next test so it was foot to the floor to try and make up time. I love those bits!!!
The next test was two loops of cones on mixed surface, I remember Peter shouting at me as I tried to go the wrong way, I haven’t sai, but I have a bit of dyslexia when it comes to left and right!! It was a good job he shouted as we were 3rd fastest in class on this one.
After a very short break it was onto the next regularity passing through north Shropshire. This was a long regularity with 6 controls in and out of farm entrances so we had to be on our wits. We came to one small triangle which threw us, I remember driving round it three times before we finally went left then immediately right into a farm entrance, the next 1 mile appeared to be on the loose but Peter was still unsure until we came to a control. We gained another maximum here and at this stage I can remember we were both getting very tired. This was becoming one tough event.
We then headed for the sting in the tail that is Swinnerton Army camp with its maze of roads and tracks. There were to be 9 time controls a 11 passage controls in this complex, split into two time control sections. The instruction took the form of tulip diagrams with no distances and the first section was fast and furious with cars coming from all directions. We dropped 30 seconds at the first two controls then came a series of 4 passage controls, at the end of this section before PC4 I was being caught by Paul Cosby in his Porsche who was vying for the lead, although we did not know it at the time. Disaster occurred at this point as we sailed straight past a passage control at about 75 mph and did not realise until too late, the penalty- a whopping 2 minutes 30 seconds. A very costly mistake. Although this is no excuse the control was badly lit and on the right hand side of the road and we were one of only a few crew as to miss it. We made sure we got all the controls from then on. We came out of Swinnerton deflated and exhilarated at the same time, if that’s possible, we were also extremely knackered it had been a long and stressful day. I’d love to do that venue when I’m not tired. In all we must have been in this complex for about 30 minutes.
At Yarnfield the British Telecom Training Centre the overnight halt we discovered we had dropped down the order to 28th o/all 14th post historic and more disappointing second in class, 13 seconds behind Tim Sawyer and Andrew Deurden in their 1600 Escort. 3 rd in class was now the Beetle of David Alderton.
Leg 3 – Yarnfield to Chester.
Again the day started dry and we had a short run out to the JCB Manufacturing Facility at Bamford for the first of three tests. We needed every second to count today if we were to regain our Class lead of the last few days
Over the three short tests we pulled back 7 seconds on Tim and it was then onto the first of the day’s regularities at Tedersley Park. We entered the Park via a ‘no through road’ to the start of the regularity.We were clean on the first control and dropped 9 seconds overall. Peter was spot on today. Tim on the other hand missed a slot and dropped 55 seconds we were back up to 1st in class. Now we just had to keep our heads.
The final day was far more relaxed and we seemed to have much more time in the car. On the next test we took another 3 out of Tim and then 8 seconds on the next regularity to Tim’s 55 second loss, we now had a good buffer.
The next link section took us for a short blast up the M6 to junction 14 then towards Eccleshall to the Mill at Worston for coffee.
The next test was at Market Drayton Cattle Market this was a fast and furious test in and out of the farm buildings, one wrong move and you collected a wall. Again we were faster than Tim Sawyer pulling out another 3 seconds.We pulled even further ahead on the next regularity when Tim dropped a further 40 seconds.
The next test at Rednal Karting circuit, a fast flowing test with two laps of the circuit then onto gravel to the finish. Controlled slides were the order of the day. From here via Oswestry to a tricky little regularity at Gwarnant that took us to Llangollen for the lunch halt in the White Waters Hotel.
We were entertained here by the antics of car no 27 the Porsche 356B of
Jon Miles and Andy Elcombe. On arriving at lunch they parked up on a slight slope forgetting to apply the handbrake. As soon as they got out of the car it rolled off the road onto a muddy bank above the lawn. They were soon pulled out with no damage but red faces were evident.
Straight after lunch was another regularity with some very tricky farmyard slots that caught out many. Across the 6 controls we dropped 42 seconds, we still had enough in hand and would later learn that Tim our nearest rival lost 43 seconds again due to farm traffic, a hay Lorry. Sometimes it goes your way and others it doesn’t. Then there was a short run to another cattle market test, this time we were second fastest. We nearing the end and were feeling a bit more confident that we had done enough. One more regularity to go and a final test.
The last regularity was Alwyn Valley and started straight out of afternoon coffee at the Druid Inn near Ruthin. This was to become the final sting in the tail and would shake up the top order a bit. The route instruction was to turn left and tee left within a few hundred metres of the start, this happened to be a lay bye, so trusting your trip was important. Peter then told me to turn left at .49 miles and at .45 was a right turn which we took. Wrong!! We should have gone on another .4 and found a hidden farm track. Once we realised our mistake we retraced the route and found the control to drop 34 seconds. Tim on the other hand knew this turning as it had been used a couple of weeks earlier on the Vale of Clwyd. They dropped 1 second and they started reading us in. We dropped 11 to Tim’s 3 at the next control and 20 to their 9 on the next. At this control the Marshall told us that he was the last control so we cruised the rest of the route to find another ‘live’ control. At the previous control the Marshall must have said ‘the the next control was the last’, but we misheard him. Another 28 seconds lost. The last test was cancelled as the cows in the farmyard had got exited at seeing so much fantastic machinery driving past. There was no more to do but wait for the results to be posted.
When they were were 1st in Class 8 by a margin of 43 seconds and 13th post historic. Tim Sawyer and Andrew Deurdan were 2nd in class with David Alderton in his Blue Beetle 3 rd in class.
The car had run perfectly for the whole event only needing only 1/2 ltr of oil at the end, thank goodness for the Palladwr shakedown and thanks to Andy Collard of AC Services Bridgwater for coming to the rescue.
We are still to receive our trophies as both of us had to get back home that evening for early Monday appointments. But we were very satisfied with the result, it was a brilliant event very slickly run with very few hiccups apart from the drivers brain forgetting to fill the car up!! I have already lodged an early entry for next years event that runs from Chester to Harrogate.
Well done Peter we made a good team.
Winners overall were Andy Lane and Richard Crozier 8.27 in their Volvo Amazon, 2nd place 8 seconds adrift were Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan in their Porsche 368B.
Mike Tanswell, Driver – Car 80, Ford Escort Mexico Mk1 – Class 8 Winner & 13th post Historic
Thanks to Francesco & Roberta Rastrelli (www.francescorastrelli.com), Islwyns Motorsport Photography (www.facebook.com/Islwyns-motorsport-photography), RallySport Media (www.rallysportmedia.com), Track Action Photography (www.facebook.com/Track-Action-Photography) & Tony Large (www.tonylarge.net) for all of the photos. Make sure you check out their pages for more examples and for details on how to purchase yourself a copy!