Rali Mike Darowen Bro Ddyfi, then…
After plotting, Kev and I had decided there was only one way to approach it, and that was to go as hard as we dared from the word go. Try to build a lead early on, on roads we were both more familiar with, then try to hang on after petrol, on lanes that we weren’t so comfortable with.
Reports of sheet ice on higher ground, and knowing we would be using my least favourite lane on any map, anywhere in Wales (there’s a reason for that, but that’s not a story for here!), did nothing for the pre-start nerves. But the first section started in Penegoes, right next to Kev’s girlfriend’s place, so there wasn’t much to do other than enjoy the early miles.
Fastest to Howard Davies’ clock at Melinbyrhedyn (TC2), dropping only 3 seconds, was a good feeling – fair play to George Williams and Llion Tractor coming in on 14 seconds dropped – and we had a good push through the farmyard afterwards, though making sure not to take any unnecessary risks or overshoot anything. We arrived at the control at the end on 00:15.52, so I asked for 00:16.00 to negate the risk of getting stuck on the same minute as the car in front. It’s a trick that has paid off in the past, but on this occasion didn’t make any difference, since we easily cleaned the next two sections, through Bont Dolgadfan and out to the A470 at Talerddig. Steven John and Dafydd-Sion Haircut must have been on some push through the farm, fair play to them, good to see MBU back at the sharp end.
A nice long neutral (normally I hate them, but it was a chance to retrieve my mascot that had fallen into the footwell, and wash off some of the mud that had come in through the window and plastered my face on the previous farmyard!) took us to Clatter, and the start of what would prove to be a decisive section of the rally for many crews.
We were greeted on the start clock by the sight of Dorian Evans putting on his thermal socks (“bloody freezing here, gwboi”) and warned about potential black ice ahead. Sure enough, within 300 metres of taking off, there it was! And with the contour lines indicating that we were only going to get higher and higher all the way to the section finish, we were both fairly apprehensive. Didn’t stop us pushing on though!
Just after leaving TC10, Martyn Pryce’s first control of the night, we were greeted by the grim sight of Rob and Peredur, out of their car, flagging us down on a brow, their car very much worse for wear in a gateway ahead of us. They confirmed they were okay, so we continued at walking pace, on sheet ice, and got past without any issues of our own… the same couldn’t be said for a couple of loose cannons further down the order, but that’s another story! All I’m saying is, navigators driving is a recipe for disaster… and I would know!
Despite the ice, we still set a decent pace, dropping 32 seconds into Huw Lewis’ time control. 8 seconds behind and second fastest were the recovering Craig Judd and Gerwyn Barry. It’s a shame that an earlier clutch problem dropped them 3 minutes, would have been nice to have seen them in the hunt. Also of note were Mark Lennox and Ian Beamond… they’d put in some strong times the weekend before on the Bagger, and ran Dale Furniss and myself bloody close on last year’s Peak Revs, they’re a crew that seem to be able to do the business on any map, reckon their first win will come some time this year (especially now they’re fully converted to correct-wheel-drive). 5 seconds further back and 3rd fastest was good work.
Having seen Rob and Peredur come to grief, and nursing a front suspension issue, Arwel Sbidi and Dylan John opted to call it a night after TC8F, and I don’t think anyone in the field could have blamed them.
The next section very nearly proved to be our last. The ice was completely unpredictable, and seemed to materialise in places that made no sense at all. Just before TC10, after a long dry straight section, we found ourselves approaching a 45R with an open gate on the outside (guarded by a pretty hefty gatepost) at a sensible speed – I’d worked out we would clean the section so wasn’t pushing Kev too hard. He braked, and the car sped up. Tried to turn, and absolutely nothing happened. Now, I’ve normally got my head down and try to avoid looking out the windscreen too much (it’s hypnotic), so my first clue something was going wrong was when Kev let out an “oh”.
Kev saying “oh” isn’t a good thing. In fact, an “oh” from a driver like Kev is a very bad thing.
We were approaching this 45R on ice and accelerating, and there was nothing either of us could do about it. Kev had no choice. Abandon road, and hope he could throw the car through the open gate.
As soon as the left front wheel was in the trash, Kev flung the car into the gateway. The right rear wing brushed this monster gatepost, though the sound of the impact made it sound like we had ripped a wheel off. We came to a stop a few metres into the field. Tried to turn around… wheels spinning, no forward motion. B****cks.
Just as I was about to do my navigator’s duty and get out to push, Kev put the clutch in and we started to roll backwards. We rolled back to the edge of the fence, Kev put JLJ in 2nd and we slowly chugged out, back onto the tarmac, and amid much wheelspin on the ice, away we went.
As soon as the grip returned, Kev was like a man possessed. We made it to TC10 with 5 seconds to spare. Clean. Mega!
We cleaned the following section to TC11, and set off into the next section… where I promptly slotted Kev up a driveway. Arse. After carefully turning round, we pressed on, and thanked our lucky stars we only dropped 18 seconds. Could have been much worse! Credit to the three crews who cleaned it, including Mark GT and Dylan, a pairing I’m really glad to see back competing after sitting most of last year out.
Then followed a short neutral, back onto map 135, for the run over the Dylife road.
And what a run. We must have done most of it at walking speed in 2nd gear, barely daring to accelerate or brake at all. I’m lucky enough to have driven on snow and ice around Europe last year, but the four miles of total sheet ice between TC13S and TC14 felt a hundred times worse. That said, I’m normally driving a hire car with four wheel drive, heated seats, and barely enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding, very different to JLJ! We made it through unscathed, unlike a few very unfortunate crews further back, who had it even worse than we did.
The next section was probably my favourite of the night. The lanes down to and back from Aberhosan are just immense; a navigator’s nightmare since the don’t read particularly well, but alongside a guy like Kevin Davies, in a car like JLJ… proper! Only Andrew Edwards (another navigator with a serious case of Frustrated Driver Syndrome, fair play he was on fire through here!!) managed a quicker time than us; we overshot the code board coming out of the village, but there’s no point making excuses, Eds must have been on a mission!
We cleaned the next section, made up of fast, straight-ish lanes, only having a slight moment in the big dip after the time control! The section that followed is another of my favourites, the tarmac white that brings you out on the back road to Forge. We had a good push through the farm, and managed to avoid wrong-slotting the junction that takes you back onto the yellow (I’ve had that wrong in the past, a very easy mistake to make). We cleaned it by over a minute; a nice way to end the half. Others weren’t as fortunate as we had been, with GT and Dylan losing over a minute after another car came to grief just outside the TC (I don’t feel it’s my place to relay details of this, not fair to the crew involved), though a fair few other crews came through without penalty.
So to petrol then! We both felt lucky just to make it through the first half, and hadn’t considered for one moment how we might be doing. To find out we had a lead of over a minute was quite satisfying, considering the relatively unfamiliar roads that lay ahead. I was so happy, I even gave Kev a Jaffa Cake. That’s as sincere a compliment as I can pay.
Results at Fuel were as follows;
1st – Kevin Davies & Michael Gilbey, Ford Escort – 0:03.30
2nd – Steven John Williams & Dafydd Sion Lloyd, Ford Escort – 0:04.35
3rd – Gary Roberts & Darren Ikin, Peugeot 205 – 0:04.56
4th – George Williams & Llion Williams, Ford Escort – 0:05.04
5th – Mark Lennox & Ian Beamond, Ford Escort – 0:05.14
6th – Carwyn Evans & Huw Rhys Manion, Ford Escort – 0:06.03
7th – Cadog Davies & Richard Williams, Proton Satria – 0:06.08
8th – Matt Barker & John Connor, Peugeot 206 GTi 180 – 0:06.23
9th – Einion Williams & Richard Hughes, Ford Escort – 0:06.26
10th – Mark ‘GT’ Roberts & Dylan Jenkins, Volkswagen Golf – 0:06.40
Out to Pennal to start the second half, with a nice easy run through Happy Valley. I know of two bad bits on that lane; a pair of hairpins that the map doesn’t show very well, and a dodgy left-hander that tightens over a crest, with a very inviting lane off on the right hand side. We got through unscathed, with one marshal seemingly wanting to have an interview with us (sorry for just driving off, but we had your signature!) and despite calling it, that horrible tightening left nearly caught us out. Definitely got that one logged in the memory bank! Cleaned the section by around 3 minutes, but to be fair to the organisers I’d rather that than just a long road section up onto map 124.
Through Tywyn and up to the other side of Bryncrug for the next section to Rhoslefain. To the great amusement of everyone queuing behind us, Kev took the first junction of the section (a 90R, as I had called it – honest) like it was a 30R, realised half way round it was a bit tighter than he had expected, climbed the bank, then apologised and got going again. Some boy. Once again we cleaned it, but not by as much as the previous section.
Onto to Llanegryn, and what was one of the most enjoyable sections of the second half. A fairly easy run out, through Dyfryn Dysynni, to the spectator point at Birds Rock, to TC23 and the start of one of the best droppers we will probably see this year. Around the near-impossible hairpin left on the big “natural” triangle, down through Abertrinant, then onto the tarmac white through Bwlch-y-maen back to the Talyllyn road. Let’s have it!
We had a good push on the first part, carrying as much speed as we dared through the narrow farm section, attacking the not-as-map uphill hairpins, then reining it in a bit on the fairly hairy section with the big drop on the right hand side, coming into Phil Pugh’s TC24 on 20 seconds dropped. We managed to put at least 20 seconds on almost everyone behind us, the only crew inside that margin being Kamikaze Cadog and Max Branning… and that push lasted another two miles, whereupon Cadog did what all of Reian Jones’ navigators do on the Bro Ddyfi – bin it.
Joking aside, I was sad to see a dejected looking Cadog at the finish, but he soon had a grin back on his face talking about the section from TC23 to TC24!
We cleaned the next section, past Osian’s telegraph pole (another story for another time!), down the famous not-as-map hairpins, to the section finish back on the B4405. A neutral section followed, taking us to my Least Favourite Lane on Earth.
The white from Cross Foxes to Aberllefenni is, and there’s no polite way of putting this, an absolute b****rd. I remember seeing Gaz Cwmtydu off here on the 2007 Bro Ddyfi that I did with dad, Reian Jones and I had a puncture here on the 2014 Mike Darowen, and of course on the 2012 Bro Ddyfi… well, once again, that’s a long story, and one I’ll tell another time… but basically I drove like a tw*t and ripped two wheels off dad’s Astra. So my respect for this lane was already fairly high before we even got there; upon arriving and seeing the road was shiny and white, I almost suggested we cut back to the finish.
Off we set, with Kev under strict instructions to Not F*cking Cut Anything!!! but, typical driver, fourth corner he has a little nibble of a right hander – BANG – that right rear had a hard night… “come on Kev!” my instruction, “sorry Mike” the sheepish reply. We crawled through it, only the last half mile of the section being suitable for anything other than second gear and tickover, getting to Carl Slate’s TC27 on 29 seconds dropped. “Sorry Mike, that was sh*te” was Kev’s assessment of the situation, but as much as we both were frustrated, equally we were glad to make it through, knowing we probably still held the lead even if our nearest rivals cleaned it.
As it turns out, 29 seconds represented the fastest time through, with only Gary Roberts / Darren Ikin and Einion Williams / Richard Hughes getting within 10 seconds of us. Not bad! I was just relieved to get through that lane without any major drama, nice to put that particular one to bed.
The slippery stuff wasn’t over, though. The next section, through the middle of Dyfi forest on the tarmac road, started off with a little black ice, which turned into full snow at the top. We needed the marshals at PC44 to push us out of their control; as I’m told almost everyone else did as well! We rode to the bottom of the hill in a Cool Runnings fashion, only with Kev at the wheel (not Sanka), we made it to the bottom shiny-side up. Fourth fastest on 27 seconds dropped seemed fair enough, we were in no mood to throw it away now, credit to Steve King / Jordan Dziadulewicz coming in fastest on 4 seconds, mega time! SJ and Dafydd-Sion took third fastest, one second behind another crew whose progress has really impressed me over the past two years (especially considering what a kn*b the navigator is), Matt Barker and John Connor on 17 seconds.
We negotiated the long section along the Dyfi and through Cemmaes with relative ease, the mud and fog proving less scary than the ice we had just got through, making it to Martyn Pryce’s second time control with a couple of minutes to spare.
There was no sign of any ice, and Howard Davies had told us he would be at TC32F, so Kev fancied a good push! Away we went. A slightly off-plot PC nearly threw us; I directed Kev down the track the marshal should have been parked on, but we are back out and down to the correct road without much time loss, 15 seconds at most. Through the two triangles of PC48 and 49, down the steep hill by Gwern-y-bwlch, and to the spot where just ten minutes ago Howard had been catching some sleep (Tyson in the course car had to wake him up!), dropping just 33 seconds, 9 ahead of GT and Dylan.
Another short neutral, to Edryd Evans’ second time control of the night, the start of the final standard section. A cheeky message to the results team (not for public consumption) took the place of Mr Evans’ signature, and away we went. The loop to the east of Darowen is mega; lots of lovely NAM stuff (lovely if you’ve used it on previous events!) and a short, fun, smooth white makes for an entertaining section. 25 seconds dropped, and we were still trying! Respect to Carwyn Pughe and Rhys Morgan – even if you know the road, you’ve still got to drive it. Strong times don’t come without effort, so 13 seconds dropped is a performance to be proud of.
We felt a little surprised to clean the last section, through Darowen itself and down to Abercegir – the road was muddy as anything, and there’s a pair of nasty 90R/90Ls on it that can catch out even the most experienced crews. We were in no mood to throw away all our hard work in the last two miles, but pushed on where it felt safe, with only Rob Mach matching our time, we were delighted to see the final SF.
Back to the Bowls Club (once we found it!!), I nearly fell over twice on the ice in the car park! Had we really been competing on that? Made the night seem all the more amazing.
Massive credit has to go to Rhodri and the DVMC team for putting on a really slick (no pun intended) event. Road choice was spot on; nothing rough, plenty of technical stuff to keep driver and nav on their toes, all controls manned, and minimal code boards – the best Bro Ddyfi I can remember competing on, and an event I won’t forget in a long time. A worthy opener to the WAMC, ANWCC and AWMMC championships, and an event deserving of a 90 car entry next year. No excuses boys and girls – this is right up there with the best events in Wales now, no doubt about it.
Results can be found here: www.britishroadrallying.com/rali-mike-darowen-bro-ddyfi-2017-results
Can’t wait for January 2018!
Michael Gilbey, Navigator – Car 3, Ford Escort Mk2 – 1st Overall
Thanks to GPrice Photographs (www.facebook.com/GPrice-Photographs), Joseph John Gilbertson (www.facebook.com/joseph.j.gilbertson), Peter Lewis (www.facebook.com/peter.lewis) & Warren Brown 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!