Rali Bro Caron 2018 Review

It’s been a few days since the results were declared final at Lampeter Rugby Club on the 2018 Rali Bro Caron, and it still hasn’t quite sunk in that Andy and I have managed to win it.

Before I begin, I wish to apologise if this report overlooks many competitors. It is my intention in this report to portray the intensity of the battle at the front, and the experience of winning a rally I’ve dreamed of winning for a very, very long time with a good mate – not to be ignorant of some very fine performances elsewhere in the field, of which there were plenty!

For as long as I’ve known what a road rally was, I’ve wanted to win the Bro Caron. Luck (or maybe ability!) had never been on my side; from losing time by going too slowly through a quiet zone in 2010, through coming down with gastric flu the night before the 2011 event, to a lack of grip and then calling a triangle incorrectly and nearly falling into a slurry pit alongside local hero Stef DR in MTG last year, every time I’ve been in with a shout of a good result, something has gone wrong. So, while I can’t say I didn’t hold out much hope before this year’s event, I’ve learned to manage my own expectations… set your sights low and you can’t be disappointed!

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

A further complication to our pre-event plan was the fact that both Andy and I are hoping to have a good crack at the WAMC Road Rally Championship this year. Hard experience has taught us, and many others, that it takes a certain mindset to win that crown, and “balls to the wall” doesn’t normally work! So any notion of carrying the fight to the ultra-rapid Escorts of Kevin Davies / Alan James, Dan Lwni / Gerwyn Barry, Stef DR / Justin Bang Tidy and Rhodri Waunlwyd / Mad Max Freeman would have been WAMC suicide. We needed to keep our noses clean, stay on the right road all night, and keep ahead of the men most likely to be at the top of the table at the end of the year – Mark GT and Dylan Jenkins.

The beauty of a rally that starts three miles away from your front door, is being able to sign on nice and early, then go home to relax, and avoid much of the inevitable winding up in the start car park. Some people seem to enjoy it, and while I can’t deny that I am partial to a bit of sbeng, being able to get away from it on a rally like the Bro Caron, on which I always feel extremely nervous beforehand, is total bliss.

So, while hundreds of people shivered in Lampeter, Andy and I killed time with mum, dad and Ted back in Betws Bledrws. I took care of the usual formalities of quiet zone plotting and preparing my time and passage cards, had a cup of “special” coffee and custard doughnut (appropriate for Mr Davies!), and tried to get myself “in the zone” ahead of a night of maximum concentration on 146. We got a lift back into town with dad just in time for the competitors’ briefing, fully recharged, and ready to go.

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The route plotted really nicely, with only one amendment to factor in, and my sense of anticipation grew and grew with every plot. The selection of lanes looked absolutely awesome, with what appeared to be 12 droppers, on a mixture of familiar road rally lanes, roads I’d delivered post and groceries on in the past, lanes past old friends’ houses… what lingering nerves I may have felt had soon disappeared, and I couldn’t wait to get going. After cleaning up Andy’s portion of chips that had fallen off the dashboard while we were plotting (as a result of the vibrations of the idling IDZ), having a drink and a stretch, adjusting my seat belts and putting the batteries into my Roamerlite, I was ready.

A run out through Pencarreg village and up the mountain went quickly enough, though we were careful to obey the speed limit through Lampeter, Cwmann and along the A485, with a constant (though benign) police presence and the risk of exclusion in the event of being caught speeding on neutrals.

Already, sitting on the line at SS1, our pre-event plan to concentrate on WAMC points had gone out the window. Andy wanted to win the Bro Caron just as much as I did, if not more. His late father-in-law Greg Evans had been part of the organising team of the rally for years, and they had competed on the 2009 event together, starting back at car 89 in an XR3i. Greg was someone I looked up to a great deal; he’d helped me out massively by recommending a job with him, at Royal Mail in Lampeter, after I’d left university, and he was the first to call or message the Sunday afternoon after a rally to find out how things had gone. His sudden illness and early passing left a pretty big hole in the lives of everyone who knew him, and there aren’t many Sundays after rallies that I don’t think about what he might have made of the latest daft scrape I’d got myself into!

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

That considered, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much stronger the feeling of wanting to win this rally must have been for Andy, so I wasn’t about to try to pedantically remind him “we’re only here for Welsh points”. This was our Champions League final, and you don’t win anything if you’re prepared to settle for second best before you even start. Let’s have it!!

Away into the first standard section, a lane I was fairly familiar with, and we were on a reasonable pace. It would take a bit of time to rebuild confidence in each other after a frustrating Bagger rally, on which neither of us had really shown what we were capable of, despite leading the event. IDZ was now sat on lovely Dunlop A2s all round, the increased grip and traction meant she felt like a completely different car, with Andy a completely different driver.

Around the slot hairpin right onto Pant-y-fen white, the size of the crowd took my breath away, but there was no time to take in the views; two intricate code boards demanded all of my eye- and brain-power, while Andy fought to keep us pointing in the right direction on the loose, dusty gravel surface. We lost about five seconds or so stopping at the C board before the first code board, only to notice the board itself was 50m further on. Still, better safe than sorry…

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

Out of Pant-y-fen, along the not-as-map lane to Pencarreg mast, through the cattle grid triangle for PC2, and down the bumpy lane to TC2, we grew in confidence with every bend, getting in to the clock on 7 seconds dropped. Kev and Alan had already beaten us, on 2 seconds dropped, while Lwni / Gerwyn, Stef / Justin and Rhodri / Max would come in behind us clean. No time to relax, straight into the next one, the formerly-very-bumpy but now much smoother white down to the Cefnblaenau road (thanks to the efforts of Justin Jones) and down the mountain to Esgairdawe.

We reached the junction where the two tracks meet, and were confronted by the sight of a purple Golf parked in the gateway, with Mark GT and Dylan having a bit of a problem at the PC, who had apparently taken issue with Dylan’s handwriting for the two code boards on the preceding track. I’m not one to overly criticise marshals, especially given the sub-zero temperatures up there on Mynydd Pencarreg, but it’s more than a little bit harsh to pick holes in a navigator’s handwriting or spelling, especially when trying to write on a time card bouncing down a white, alongside a driver having a good go. I don’t want anyone thinking that I don’t appreciate the marshals at this control, since it’s only through their efforts and the other hardy souls along the route that we get our sport, and I’m sure a lesson has been learned.

Nevertheless, and despite my fairly appalling handwriting, we were soon underway again, albeit right on the tail of the purple Golf. We picked our way around the potholes, pushed on as hard as we dared, but the clock kept on ticking as we waited for GT and Dylan at three PCs and the next TC, where Proton pilot extraordinaire and all-round top boy Cadog Davies acknowledged that we had arrived in time to get the minute we wanted. Andy remained remarkably calm, perhaps already resigned to not winning the event, or perhaps doubly determined to make back a bit of time on the next dropper around Esgairdawe…

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

I very nearly made that classic error of not getting my codeboard signed for, but remembered just in time (thanks again for your patience, PJ!), and away we went into the mega technical section around Cwm Dawe and down to the Rhydcymerau road. The lane is extremely not-as-map, down past the Coleman family’s farm, and to a pair of tricky triangles. The first went smoothly, Andy launching IDZ perfectly around the tight slot left into the first triangle, giving way, then powering up the hill to the second, much tighter junction. Here, once again, we were hot on the tail of GT and Dylan, though it wasn’t as much of an impact since we had to do what felt like a 1000 point turn to get around the tight give way hairpin right…

With all of the tight stuff dealt with, we set about making some time back on a lane I know pretty well from my misspent youth, badly abusing my first car (a mighty 1000cc Nissan Micra) flat out all around the south half of map 146. The crowd at the second spectator point of the night was huge, with further pockets of spectators all along the next lane with it’s very dodgy not-as-map 90R/90L before PC10, and the sensation of being in what felt like a Group A Impreza (minus the turbo), with Andy as committed as he dared to be, put me in mind of early 90s WRC onboards… there aren’t many better feelings in the world than being on the pace on 146.

Finally we arrived at SF4, and we were relieved to see Nigel and Karen Davies on the clock – Nigel acknowledged our arrival into the control area while he was still dealing with GT and Dylan, meaning I didn’t have to jump out and present my time card to get a time. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we knocked the spots off and cruised away, taking stock of what we perceived to be a pretty poor time over the section.

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At the give way onto the B4337, Marc Hughes (Clerk of the Course) and Gary Penralltwen were present to get a bit of feedback, and see how we all were getting on. After a brief chat with GT and Dylan, we understood why we had caught them so early on, and any frustration at doing so was certainly mitigated. Marc informed us that Kev and Alan had dropped 1:24 to our 1:41, which perked us up a bit. “We’re going to have them!” was Andy’s view, and we headed off to SS5.

At the end of the first standard section, Rhodri and Max had clearly been on another level to the rest of the field, and held a healthy lead of 24 seconds over Stef and Justin, with Kev and Alan 18 seconds adrift in third. Chris Hand and Aled Richards had set a great pace in their Honda-engined Mk1 to lie fourth, 12 seconds behind Kev, while Andy and I held fifth, five seconds back. A notable performance was that of car 12, Simon Summers and Dilwyn John, with Simon clearly back in the groove after a very challenging 2017, following up his fantastic third overall, a long way from home on the Gogledd two weeks ago. Sixth place so far, 7 seconds behind Andy and I, represented a great effort.

I got my obligatory wrong-slot-on-a-neutral out of the way nice and early on, and after using a lay-by to turn around, we found our way to the start of the second standard section. A nice easy first run, quiet through Talley and Cwmdwr, picking up a trio of code boards, down to a tricky slot left in Soar, brought us to TC6 and the start of a lovely dropper down to Taliaris. The first signs of the ice that had been forecast were present on this section, and would be a warning of things to come.

Photo by Gary Jones Photography, http://www.garyphotos.zenfolio.com

Running second on the road, having moved ahead of GT and Dylan on the last neutral, meant I had the dual pleasure of sitting with Andy in IDZ, and getting to witness Kev and Alan taking off in JLJ… there are few sights and sounds in road rallying that can match it. If you haven’t had the chance to witness it first hand, get yourself along to an event in Wales this year, it’s worth the journey all by itself. Having said that, GT’s upgraded Golf took off from the previous section start like a startled rabbit – there really is class and potential throughout the field of a WAMC event, with potential event winners in all sorts of cars.

The last time I used the section from Soar to Taliaris on a road rally was in 2005, on the Darren Beynon Memorial Rally. That night, running car 2 with dad in our first Astra, the ice had been much worse, and a deceptive, tightening downhill left-hander caught us out as it turned to sheet ice halfway round, and we crashed into the outside bank – hard. I was in no mood for a repeat, and urged Andy to keep his cool down past Cefncilwg farm to the give way. He willingly obliged, and backed right off until we got to the junction. After stopping with DSO Rhodri Jenkins, we were on our way to SF7. We could probably have gone a bit quicker than the 49 seconds we dropped here but, at third fastest, just one second down on both Rhodri / Max and Lwni / Gerwyn, I was happy enough. We had managed to take 13 out of Kev / Alan, meaning the gap to them was now just 4 seconds. Game on!

Our performance through here was enough to overhaul Chris and Aled for fourth, while Rhodri and Max had opened their lead out to 33 seconds over Stef and Justin.

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

A transport section back up the B4302 to Talley brought us to Five Roads, and the start of a very enjoyable section along the Fan, then up the mega technical lane towards Maesrhiw farm. We got the tricky first give way spot on, not willing to take any chances and falling foul of a DSO. The next section is a lot of fun, down to the mega tight slot hairpin left, which we absolutely nailed – no small feat in a four wheel drive car with loads of grip. I’ve been sent a video of it… it’s almost as much fun to watch as it was to do!

After successfully negotiating the next give way, amid plenty of sbeng from Lewis ‘Spare Rib’ Morgan which got Andy fired up to chase after Kev, we had a good run through the intricate lane to TC9, arriving into the time control on 29 seconds dropped. This was good enough for joint-second-fastest alongside Rhodri and Max, 3 down on the flying Lwni and Gerwyn. Significantly, we’d taken another 5 seconds out of Kev and Alan, and moved ahead into third place, just 1 second between us after fifteen and a half miles of competition.

We set off into the next section at a fairly steady pace, I didn’t think we needed to push too hard around what looked like a fairly simple loop back to TC10. I would have been right, had I not lost concentration as the route crossed the fold in my map – a momentary lapse that caused me to overlook the next junction. We got about 200 yards up the wrong road before it clicked with me, and it took a further 300 yards to find a junction to turn around in. I’ve got myself in a couple of real jams in the past, urging drivers to spin around in narrow lanes, and was in no mood to do the same here! So now, what should have been a very easily cleanable section started to look decidedly tight…

Photo by Joseph John Gilbertson, http://www.facebook.com/joseph.j.gilbertson

Andy responded in fine fashion, attacking the remaining two miles just as hard as any dropper that had gone before, and we arrived at TC10 with a fair few seconds in hand. I’ve always preferred to get to clocks and wait on standard sections, but this one was a bit too close for comfort – after thanking Andy a hundred times for sparing my blushes, we set off on the next section to TC11 as very relieved men.

With just one fairly straightforward triangle, and two code boards, this run to Cwmdwr and over the A482 passed without incident, and brought us to Gareth Gog’s time control, the start of two back-to-back droppers. By now, Stef and Justin had retired from the fight for the lead, with the lovely MTG’s gear lever in two pieces.

The maze of lanes above the A40 near Llanwrda are some of my favourite roads anywhere in Wales, if not the world. Crews rarely spend more than twenty seconds without a difficult bend, junction or other hazard to negotiate. It’s a patch on which I’d got lost about a dozen times on various Y2K rallies through the years (before I even had half a clue what I was doing with a map in my hands – that’s still a moot point!), so I regarded the upcoming lanes with a mixture of enthusiasm and slight nervousness.

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The run across Cwm Mynys passed without incident, with Andy coping well around a couple of fairly dodgy not-as-map bends that I had logged in the memory bank and called in good time. We negotiated the slightly tricky give way just after spot height 72 properly, gave DSO and all round top man Nigel Nelson our regards, and powered on to TC12. A time of 6 seconds dropped was the fastest overall, 5 up on Lwni and Gerwyn, and 7 up on Rhodri / Max and Simon / Dilwyn. No time to relax, however, and straight into another, even tricker, section. Over the bridge, give way right, and up the hill to Llwyncelyn triangle, we negotiated it with ease and pressed on down the extremely bumpy and not-as-map lane down the steep hill to Llanwrda.

It was on this section that all of our hard work very nearly came undone. In fact, it came completely undone, and but for the strength of IDZ555, we would still be working on recovering the car…

After leaving PC27, on a not-as-map 90R/90L, we attacked as hard as we dared. Both Andy and I “sort of know” the road, it’s one we’ve both used before a few times, in both directions, and so felt confident to defy the caution in the route card and press on. I can’t deny that I was urging him on a bit.

Photo by Joseph John Gilbertson, http://www.facebook.com/joseph.j.gilbertson

We came to the last bend before SF13, a sharp 90 left. I can’t exactly recall if I called it on time or too late (standard navigator’s excuse, eh), but frankly if I’d shouted “9 LEFT” all the way down the hill, there would still have been absolutely no way we’d have made it around the bend. Andy braked, but the fine layer of dusty gravel and mud on the road meant he may as well have done nothing at all. In a last-ditch attempt to make it around the bend he launched the car sideways down the narrow, ever-tightening lane, IDZ beyond fully broadside. The right rear wheel made contact with the bank, flicking the car back around, which in turn launched us head on into the gateway on the right hand side over the road.

I shut my eyes and grabbed a tighter hold on my map board (there’s nothing worse than flying navigational equipment in an accident, other than trees coming in through the windscreen – that’s another story, and another accident), and braced against the footrest for the impact.

When it came, it felt just as horrendous as I had expected it to. I opened my eyes to see the gatepost falling away and plenty of distressed fencing, as the back end of the car settled down, with the lights pointing at crazy angles… and yet the engine was still running, no steam was billowing from the bonnet… “you alright mate?” from Andy as he engaged reverse… “yeah, I’m fine, bloody hell, are you ok?” my reply as, miraculously and effortlessly, IDZ popped out of the new entrance we’d carved into the field without even the slightest wheel spin. Into first, stalled! “Balls!” from Andy, firing her back up and launching away down the last few hundred yards to SF13.

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We passed the board on 01:31:05, and my board was in marshal Dewi Foo’s hand on 01:31:09. After all of that, three bloody seconds dropped… I should have been relieved, but felt more gutted to have lost the time!

After switching off what remained of our spotlights, we sheepishly tiptoed our way down to Llanwrda, for an almost hilariously timed damage inspection on the old main road. Marc and Cadog had heard us going off, and advised us to sort out our distinctly second-hand front end before leaving the petrol halt in Llandovery. We were happy to oblige, and delighted to still be in the rally. Talk about riding your luck… we’ve probably used our entire seasonal allocation in that one incident! I’m not even the slightest bit religious or superstitious, but if ever someone above was looking after us, it was right there. Neither of us could believe we’d got away with it!

We stopped briefly outside Cameron Davies’ house in Llandovery, taking advantage of their security light to guide us as we took stock of the damage, and set about taping up the dent in the bonnet, and clear-taping over the shattered headlight and spotlight. Six inches either way and the gatepost would have easily pushed a spotlight through the grill and into the radiator, and that would have been that. We couldn’t open the bonnet, since we wouldn’t have been able to close it! The sump guard had taken the brunt of the impact, and was bent up at the front, but still intact and mounted properly.

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

At petrol, Simon Summers kindly donated a spot lamp bulb to replace one that had blown, and with our makeshift lenses complete, we were ready to start the second half after some spot level adjustment at SS14. Despite all of the drama on the last section, we had managed to reduce the deficit to Rhodri and Max to less than a minute, and with the run back to Lampeter taking in plenty of roads we both knew pretty well, we were up for the fight – however tall an order that may have been.

What had been a 17 second deficit to Kev and Alan had been turned into a 20 second advantage, and not for lack of trying on either our or their parts. Behind, Lwni and Gerwyn’s recovery drive had brought them back within 20 seconds of the podium, tied on time with Chris and Aled. Just 6 seconds behind, Simon and Dilwyn had continued to post impressive times throughout the first half, and after some minor front end repairs of their own at the halfway halt, were keen to keep that run going in the second.

Ice had been a sporadic problem in the first half, with occasional patches on higher ground. The second half took in a network of lanes that both Andy and I knew would be very icy, from previous experience. Ffarmers and Cellan sections are especially susceptible to it, the majority being at over 200m elevation, with exposed stretches and corners that have water running across them 365 days a year – water that was guaranteed to be frozen by the time we arrived. With all of this in mind, and some sense of needing to bring IDZ home in order to score WAMC points, we decided on a fairly low-risk strategy – to push only on roads we knew, and to keep a bit in reserve on the less demanding sections, avoiding any more nasty surprises.

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This strategy was to immediately bear fruit. The run to TC15 looked fairly easily cleanable on the map, but we chose to push on the wide yellow up to Siloh, meaning we’d have more time to spare on the more intricate lane towards Wern. Neither of us wanted to have to mend the spots again!

Within 300m of turning left at Siloh, the road changed colour from grey to black on the approach to a tricky right-hander. A massive ice patch. Andy scrubbed as much speed off as he could, but even at reduced pace, IDZ broke into a lurid slide, the rear left wheel deep in the ditch on the outside of the corner, the rear quarter brushing the bank, mud flying everywhere, the front of the car pointing at the sky. Down a gear, plenty of revs, and she popped back onto the road, clear of the ice patch, with the two of us unsure whether to laugh or cry with relief!

Down to Anwen Davies’ time control, and after asking if the rear left corner had sustained any damage (it hadn’t), we were off into a really fun section past Cwmargenau. I know this road really well, having delivered groceries along it in a LWB Sprinter van for a few months. Granted, IDZ is a slightly smaller bus, but every little bit of experience helps!

Photo by Gary Jones Photography, http://www.garyphotos.zenfolio.com

We pushed hard along the narrow, intricate and very not-as-map lane, nailing the tight hairpin right after PC29, powering through the twisty section after the Wern junction, back down the hill to the give way right (near to where we had passed on the penultimate section before petrol), and into TC16, clean by ten seconds. Once again, the organisers kept us on our toes by sending us straight into another dropper, around the Blaen-y-cwm loop, back to the give way (where Reian Jones and I had crashed going the other way years ago), up the deceptive slot right straight after, finally slotting right onto the nasty and very not-as-map lane to Hafod ford and SF17.

There are three bad bends on the last stretch that aren’t on the map, an undulating left-right-left section lined with trees, just begging a driver to trust his navigator’s assurance that “it just looks straight down here”… IDZ hopped from crest to crest, the grip and stopping power of the Impreza meant this section held no fear for us, splashing through the ford and into SF17, and the relieved face of Delun, Andy’s fiancee, on the clock. With five seconds in hand, we’d cleaned it. As had been the case for Gavin Edwards and I on the Gogledd, Andy and I were enjoying these sections we were cleaning just as much as any we were dropping time on, though Dorian Evans, observing the control, seemed a little annoyed we (and others) had managed it! I understand that organisers want to get time out of us anywhere they can, but I loved those 5 miles we cleaned all the same!

Little did we know, behind us, the complexion of the rally had altered dramatically. We hadn’t been the only crew caught out by the ice patch in Siloh… rally leaders Rhodri and Max hadn’t been as lucky as us, climbing the bank and rolling their Escort Mk2. Both driver and navigator emerged unscathed, but the same couldn’t be said for poor NHK. With the car immobile, and the road blocked, the sections to SF17 had to be scrubbed, and Rhodri and Max’s rally ended there and then. Both Andy and I were shocked to hear of their demise, as we arrived at SS18, but had no idea that we had inherited the lead. Another crew to fall out of the battle at the sharp end were Chris and Aled, with oil pump issues causing their lovely yellow Mk1 to come to a halt.

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

Indeed, we were concerned that the ice was only going to get worse, and tiptoed through the next section, around Froodvale and past the bottom of Pumsaint. One particularly bad bend, a 90 left with a track straight ahead, would have been very easy to disappear up… we arrived at TC19 with a just handful of seconds to spare, but managed to stay clean. After a brief chat with Alun Ginn and Nick Evans at the time control, we were away, onto the fairly easy run around to TC20 above Esgairdawe.

We were doing our best to keep the tension down in the car, but by now I was starting to feel nervous. The ice was getting worse, and the next section through Esgairdawe and back up the Egg Farm road – despite being my former post route! – doesn’t read very nicely, is extremely bumpy, and would doubtless be extremely slippery. An important aspect of navigating is mental strength. I think, in previous years, I’d have probably let my concentration levels drop and made a daft mistake, but I was determined to keep it all together this time, call the bends as best I could, and try to keep the pressure off Andy as well.

We slightly overshot the slot for the Egg Farm road, needing a quick reverse to get going in the right direction, which I was pretty sheepish about – I’d been urging Andy to keep going until the street light and the slot, definitely my fault! I attempted to make up for it by pushing him on past Tre Domen farm, only for IDZ to break sideways on yet another awful path of ice. I can’t say we weren’t enjoying ourselves, but we would both be glad if and when we made it back to Lampeter! Into SF21, just before the steep crest where dad had had a big crash in an Astra while navigating years ago (Gilbeys and smashed Astras – notice a pattern emerging?!), we pulled up with five seconds in hand. Sweet relief!!

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

As a result of losing the Siloh to Hafod ford section, just looking at the results sheet would give the impression the second half was pretty easy, which certainly wasn’t the case. Going into the final standard section, we still had a cushion of 20 seconds over Kev and Alan, with Lwni and Gerwyn up to third, and Simon and Dilwyn now fourth.

Ffarmers (“tarmac white”) and Oxen Hall are two absolutely classic sections – guaranteed to take time out of any crew in any car, any time of the year. As a sting in the tail, there aren’t many roads in Wales that can compare.

With a childhood friend of mine living on Craig Twrch, and having spent many a fun hour driving around and around those lanes in my youth, I knew two things – firstly, if we had a clean run we should be able to set a good time, and secondly, the ice was going to be horrendous, especially down to Ffarmers ford. Ah well, here goes nothing!!

Photo by A&A Photography, https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-A-Photography/143714758999128

The first lane and give way are always nice and slippery with gravel, and after another dose of Spare Rib DSO sbeng, we were off along the undulating lane from Llanycrwys to the famous White House slot hairpin right, and down to the ford. As expected, the ice ranged from ‘patchy’ to ‘sheet’ on the way down, and the approach itself was like a glacier. Despite Andy’s best efforts to keep her in line, IDZ broke away, sliding my-side-first towards the river crossing… it was only upon entering the ford itself that he had enough grip to pull her back straight, but not after plenty of Afon Twrch had come in through my open window… cheers! Standard Navigator Reactions had kicked in, with self-preservation coming second to MAP PRESERVATION, my efforts in turning the map board up and away from the wave meaning that, while my map stayed bone dry, my face was now wetter than an otter’s pocket…

No time to dry my upper body, we have a dropper to tackle… past Cae Caradog, around the not-as-map kink where dad and I had almost rolled on the 2005 Barcud, down to the slot 90 left onto the famous tarmac white, a road that takes no prisoners, especially coming the other way! Through the second ford, up the hill, collecting the codeboard, and up further still, hard on the brakes at the grit box for the give way right. Justin Jones, who Stef and I had been chasing last year, manned the DSO check, and after getting his signature, away we went, around the corner to the next give way, where Stef and Justin were watching. Over the big crest, around the 90 right, and into TC23. On another night, we’d probably have been annoyed at dropping 50 seconds – good enough for second fastest – and 18 seconds slower than Lwni and Gerwyn, but given the ice, we were happy enough. Indeed, Kev had suffered just as much as we had with the ice, and dropped exactly one minute.

The outcome of Lwni and Gerwyn’s astounding time around Ffarmers was that they were now up to second place, 21 seconds behind us with one dropper to go, and 9 up on Kev and Alan. Simon and Dilwyn held fourth, while GT and Dylan’s fine recovery efforts from twelfth at petrol had seen them claw their way back to fifth.

Photo by A&A Photography, https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-A-Photography/143714758999128

A relaxed run around Cellan Impossible, over Sarn Helen (using the deceptive slot left off the mountain that’s claimed plenty of scalps over the years) through Cellan village – passing the house of my childhood best friend – and back up towards Sarn Helen once again brought us to TC24, the start of the final competitive section of the night, Nigel and Karen Davies’ second control. We both agreed that we were to take no risks from here, with the emphasis on getting every junction, bend and control spot on, and we would see where we ended up back at the Rugby Club.

Almost immediately, yet another extensive ice patch almost brought our night to an end. The road past Ty’n-y-gwndwn farm lane is ALWAYS wet, so I warned Andy of the possibility of ice, and he had the sense (and no shortage of ability) to put the front left wheel into the inside ditch and hook the car around, with the benefit of four wheel drive enabling us to get a good drive out of the corner once the grip had – temporarily – returned. After stopping for a DSO, placed to slow us down before a tricky, icy 90 right where it had been anticipated plenty of spectators would go, we pulled away to find the bend itself was like a skating rink. Another spot of ditch-hooking got us round, and away to the give way back onto Sarn Helen.

The following slot right, into the road past Oxen Hall down to Pont Glanrhyd, is an absolute nightmare. Many have sailed past it without even realising they’d missed it. I was in no mood to join that club, and warned Andy as to it’s mean, deceptive nature. As luck would have it, a fair few spectators, wearing reflective clothing, had chosen to stand on the side of the road, giving away the location of the slot, and we took it with confidence.

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

The lane itself is fantastically narrow, technical and deceptive. Several of the bends are barely wide enough to get a car around, and normally Andy would have been using the handbrake to aid turn-in. This being the very last section, he chose to drive a bit more reservedly, keeping a bit back, in an attempt to avoid breaking a driveshaft or sliding and puncturing on the sharp stones buried in the banks lining the lane. A big crowd had gathered on the 90 right before the narrow bridge, which could only mean one thing… more ice! Andy was careful to pick his way around this corner, and sure enough, it was very slippery.

Out of the trickiest part, onto the fairly quick stretch to the next village, around the not-as-map 60L/60R kink, the 90L/90R over crest past Gwarffynnon lane, give way left, over the bridge, through the last PC of the night and down to Rhydian Windy Corner’s final TC. We’d been careful, but still felt confident that we’d set a good time. If anyone was to beat us, fair play to them!

As it transpired, nobody did! Our time of 25 seconds dropped was 4 faster than Kev and Alan, and (not that we knew it yet!) enough to seal victory. But what of Lwni and Gerwyn? After taking 18 out of us around Ffarmers, it was certainly not unthinkable for them to take a bit more, was it?

Photo by A&A Photography, https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-A-Photography/143714758999128

Sadly, we’ll never know. The 90 right after the DSO that we had barely got around was to be their undoing, with CON sliding off the road, breaking a track control arm, and ending their charge on the spot. For the second year in a row, their results sheet was to show a handful of fails, for missing controls and limping back to Lampeter Rugby Club. As much as their demise meant we were secure in the lead, both Andy and I were absolutely gutted for the pair of them. To suffer such bad luck so close to the end, for two years in a row, is fairly soul destroying, and we hope to have another good fight with them somewhere else this year.

Neither of us had any idea we’d won it, as we drove back to Lampeter. The conflicting reports of who-was-doing-what that we’d heard at various controls through the night meant we were completely in the dark. Back to the rugby club, and a glance at the first half results gave us some hope. Second at petrol to Rhodri and Max, and knowing that they had retired, taking into account that we’d had a pretty decent second half, meant things looked fairly good!

Indeed, when the overall positions were posted a short time later, we saw that we’d done it. My head was spinning, and indeed still is. After a fun hour and a half of recounting our exploits with various other crews – which flew past faster than any event I can ever remember – Dorian was giving his thanks and well-deserved praise to the rest of the LDMC team, then calling our names out to collect our awards. Neither of us were really able to think straight, but with Andy the more eloquent of us, and with the pressure behind my eyes threatening to break if I gave what we’d just managed to achieve much thought, he paid tribute to the event, the organisers and the marshals, and dedicated our victory to Greg, a sentiment I completely shared.

Photo by Sonya Jones Rally Photography, https://www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography

Managing to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing, but never thought you’d ever be able to do, feels pretty strange. I’m somewhere between floating on air and looking ahead to the next one at the moment; maybe in years to come I’ll look back on this report, and that night, and it will have sunk in. I just hope I’ll have stopped my head from spinning in time for Rally Llyn in a few weeks’ time…

To the team at Lampeter and District Motor Club, I can’t thank you enough for putting on an absolutely awesome road rally. Organising an event takes months of hard work, plenty of willing and able volunteers, and the need to jump through plenty of hoops; I know I speak for all 180 of us competitors who started on Saturday night when I say your efforts are truly appreciated. I doubt you’ll have any trouble filling the event next year, and deservedly so. I’m looking forward to it already, and I know Andy is too.

I’ve had the great privilege to sit with some very talented drivers, and in some immensely capable cars, over the course of the 307 rallies that I’ve competed on so far. It would be impossible, not to mention pretty unfair, to name a favourite – I respect the efforts of every driver I’ve sat with, and to be honest there have been very few events I haven’t enjoyed at least one small thing about. What I will say is that Andy Davies, and his absolute babe of a Subaru Impreza IDZ555, most certainly rank among the very best road rally drivers and cars anywhere in the country, of any era of road rallying. It’s a privilege to navigate for him, and to take our first win together on the Bro Caron feels like a dream. Rali Llyn can’t come soon enough!

Photo by A&A Photography, https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-A-Photography/143714758999128


Thanks for taking the time to read this, it was quite good fun to recount the night’s adventure we had, and I reiterate my apology for only concentrating on a handful of crews at the sharp end of the field. See you all again in Pwllheli next month!

Michael Gilbey, Navigator – Car 3, Subaru Impreza – 1st Overall

Thanks to A&A Photography (www.facebook.com/pages/A-A-Photography), Gary Jones Photography (www.garyphotos.zenfolio.com), Joseph John Gilbertson (www.facebook.com/joseph.j.gilbertson) & Sonya Jones Rally Photography (www.facebook.com/s.jones.rallyphotography) 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!