2013 has been a quiet year motorsport wise. After the Devils Own in March I’ve been busy with more important things (ie becoming a dad!) and other than tootling round the Lake District with someone pointing a camera at the Landy twice, the Land Rover has a quiet time doing little miles and getting a few new panels for it’s photoshoot.
However I had a sneaking suspicion that this year Wigton MC would be running a Targa rally as well as the Historic for the Solway weekend and as I’m trying to do as many different motorsport permits as possible in one vehicle and a Targa was on the “to do” list it was a small excuse (as if one was needed) to throw an entry in!
The Sunday before however was a pleasant surprise when the Entry list was released. A full Entry of 50+ rally cars which read like a “Who’s who” of crews that really excel at events like this. Not only was it shaping up to be a cracker but it also made the whole thing a bit more relaxing for me.
I admit despite being a vehicle made for comedy rather than speed I still peruse an entry and wonder how many people will turn up in a rally car of some sort and go home behind an old Land Rover. But looking at that entry for this years Solway I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch the fun and games and get to the finish with a smile at the end!
Land Rover preparation was somewhat limited although I had the month earlier gone through it all for its MOT non the less the Landy hadn’t touched the road for nigh on a month until the day before the rally.
A check of fluids and bearings etc followed by a quick blat out and then go to my local filling station and fill it with as much LPG as possible! As has been said before the Landy has never really managed to run on petrol since it was tweaked. The Bentley jetted SU never quite getting it right and of recent times I’ve not even bothered to try.
This presents a unique challenge for the Solway as although even in the rurality of the Lakes LPG is plentiful such advancements have not reached West Cumbria which, despite many many filling stations (a bizarre amount in fact) non sell LPG on a Sunday. As I managed to do the whole thing on one large tankful of gas last year I thought it’ll be right this year…….
Saturday night saw thunder and lightning in the South Lakes and I had a feeling it was pretty wet ‘oop north’ as well with the test venues getting a soaking.
In the dark I trundled north at a very sedate pace (trying to conserve as much fuel as possible) quite happy with a heater that was doing the business and some reasonable lights, both a rarity in a lot of old Landy’s after all.
A quick stop at Holmrook for a bit of extra food however revealed the first little challenge of the day. Hunting the noise at tickover pinpointed the alternator had decided that today of all days was the day to start suffering bearing failure. Time ticking though I pressed on up to Rowrah and it was appeared to be a bright and breezy morning.
As soon as I got up to the Kart track it was out with the tools to slacken the fan belt. Enough to ensure we still made electricity but relieve a bit of stress to make the alternator last. No sooner had I started with the spanners but voice of Dave Barker (of various Land Rover Magazines) says hello. Co driving in a MG B I take Dave’s advice on the alternator as he’s been around Land Rover’s all his life. The confirming nod of definite play there!
Laying on a sheet nipping everything back up underneath (no need for jacks after all!) I was warm and quite happy only to stand up and get what felt like a bucket full of water in the face! In minutes the sky had blackened and the heavens opened.
A quick pack up and through scrutineering in the bouncing rain and I hurried into the warmth of the Karting centre and the HQ for the day.
It was already packed full of marshals and rallyists and a hive of activity. Getting the rally pack I find a rare spare seat next to a gentleman marking the test diagrams. Soon as I settle James my navigator for the day turns up. His winter tyred Focus making swift work of the county length blat to Rowrah.
It became apparent this years route was quite different from previous years with inclusion of some interesting looking tests such as the motorcross track near Fultons Land Rover.
I asked the chap sat at our table if he’d done these tests before and started to mention a few bits from last year when it dawned on me I was talking to Ralph Miller who would be naving for Archie Simmonds. Given the pace difference between us I resigned myself to the fact that any advice would be quite irrelevant!
While we’d all been doing our paperwork it was becoming increasingly apparent looking out the viewing bay windows down onto the track that the rain had not eased up one bit,still putting down the sort of stuff that makes the Lakes of the Lake District!
As is often the case with Pre Historical being first to go it was down to a very hardy Keith Thomas in the supercharged Buckler Mk5 to be the first put rubber on the track. I’m a huge fan of this little car which used to belong to a work colleague and friend of mine who like this motor, wasn’t short of bravado.
The track is soaking and as Keith lines up most crews watch at the windows as the Buckler sets off …and its massive under-steer and off at the first corner! Quickly back on the power Keith is off up the track rear wheels spinning freely. There’s instantly chatter from co drivers and dare I say it a bit of teeth sucking from the odd driver. That looked very slippy indeed.
As crew after crew set out onto the track its apparent that Rowrah had attained a lack of traction hitherto unknown from previous years! Being in the Targa running at the back of the field we had an hour and 14mins from Car 0 time before it was our turn.
As the rain cleared I went out to watch a bit closer with a few friends from the Young Guns Classics group who had come up for a watch and kindly take some photos which can be seen here. John Bertrams Mexico provided some graceful slides and with good pace too but nothing quite prepares for the aural delights of that Wartburg at 859394rpm. Yes the eyes may not see what the ears are assuming but I love the fact cars like that are still competing. Variety is as they say the spice of life and all that.
With a very big block of cast iron to warm up but not waste fuel we fire up the Landy a few minutes before time and are quickly sat at the test start wondering just how slippy this will be.
Opting for rear wheel drive wherever possible as in 4wd with no centre diff the Landy can go from naturally understeery to biblically understeery. (Oversteer in 4wd requires a very long corner and a good deal of luck) I set the revs to the dizzying heights of about 2500rpm and lift the clutch. Almost no spin and off we go! Taking it slow into the first corner seems to work as once the Landys keeled over to its appropriate angle you can start to push. Turn in to fast the front can give up and it takes a long long time to come back. Even by Land Rover standards all the mods done for hill rallying back in the day make this one obese motor!
Through the back corners and cones and all is going well until the hairpin after the cones. As per usual I get round as quick as possible then plant foot to floor. It’s a mildly tweeked 2.25 engine with a lot of hard work on the clock. Rampant wheel-spin on tarmac isn’t something I’m WHOA!!!! Big flare of revs an we’re facing the wrong way instantly. I giggle a little then try and shunt the old girl back round and carry on asap. Time at the end looked like something a snooker player would be proud of but it’s just the first test it’ll be reet!
Speedo reset we head up out of the Kart centre over the potholes at the entrance and away. As per usual in an old Landy all the dials give a good jiggle over the bumps. Except the speedo doesn’t stop jiggling. It’s going mental It’s joined the alternator for the day and so tripmeter accuracy goes out the window. Glad it’s a tests only event!
I know what speed is what rpm in what gear but gauging distance is a bit more challenging so after a small diversion near Asby we make it to Fulton’s motorcross track. What a test!!!! Seeing other cars carefully balance power vs grip of the line I engage 4wd and line up.
First couple of corners and cones were fine but after that I was dearly wanting to pull on a handbrake to help get it turned into the tighter corners. With just a transmission brake which is no use you have to really slow down beyond the point of any understeer (which in the Landy’s case can be s.l.o.w) and then get on the power as soon as it’s turning in and settled. Despite the advantages of traction out of the corners we didn’t post a particularly quick time but without a doubt that was one of the best tests I’ve ever seen. Well done to organising team for getting that land!
Well and truly muck up we tootle off down the road to Wellington Market just outside Cockermouth. A big simple test on lots of slippy mud. Perfect! 4wd in again.Except having done the first couple of cones at pace I turn into the second to last cone just that bit too quick and there’s nothing. Just a big fat dollop of understeer and no lever between the seats for me to pull it round! A bit of pedal/brake/pedal brings the back out a touch as we slide down the hill and back on the throttle and back up onto the course. Silly mistake but still fun!
A few minutes through Cockermough town centre and we’re off up to Broughton Quarry. I love this test although it does depend how close the cones are placed on the top area. Too tight and we have to shunt our way round. As we arrive all is stopped. A certain Mr Iveson in his mini had given it the berries coming out of the stop/astride round the 90 left and gone off into a tree. After being extracted by a tractor and driven back down the Mini appears to survived pretty well! Thanks to the stop astride you can’t get up much speed round that corner…thankfully!
A few of us help Rob pull the front panel free from the ignition system and Rob and Les hammer the bonnet back up into a reasonable shape. Their rally continues!
We line up and given the last two tests, leave it in rear wheel drive. Landy pulls quite well up the hill and as we head over that crest into the quarry top I’m chuffed to see the cones are spread nicely. Quick loop round the first two was fine. But then I miss hear what James calls and overshoot the last cone. Hitting reverse we sit for what seems like an age trying to get traction in any direction. Soon as it’s moving though I drift Landy round only to get about 270 degrees round and the Landy goes from nice oversteer to random understeer!?! I ease off and reapply the throttle. We fishtail out of the quarry the Landy refusing to go in a straight line both of us laughing away. To the marshals we must have looked like a right pair and once again lots of time lost but I didn’t care. What a hoot!
After that we head west to the rough wet concrete of Maryport. The test was like that as well! We try our best to get round James getting into the swing of calling the cones further ahead.
After that it was another few miles back to Energus College where we met the front runners already back from North Cumbria and having lunch. The test was the worst kind for the Landy as I wound on full lock to lock (nigh on 6 turns) slowly getting round. It’s not helped as well by the fact that if James calls a cone to my left I can’t really see if we’re going left at the time! Such is the lean that all I can see usually is sky! We set out up the A595 north to Wigton and it dawns on me the road mileage was maybe a touch different to last year and fuel could be a concern.
We take it easy up to the Auction Mart to find they’d sort of tarmac’d more of the area used for the test and despite their being a few loose chippings it looked like grippy stuff and not to tight. Good stuff.
Just as we roll onto the start a thunder-shower hits as if someone upstairs just opened all the taps. The marshal runs off for his jacket and for reasons I may never know or understand opens the window on his Range Rover Classic in a rainstorm.
This is a bit like continuing to play Golf in a thunderstorm. Yes chances are it’ll work out alright but should it go wrong you’ll be cursing a god of electricity of some sort be it Thor the god of thunder or in this case Lucas the Prince of darkness.
I knock the engine off to save fuel.
The rain continues for sometime but I was happy knowing that when we did get set off on that test it may have been slightly shorter (even if it was a few microns) than it had been for other competitors due to tectonic movement over such a time period.
Being not to tight the Landy could be driven round the cones in 2nd with the foot well and truly buried and boy was that tarmac grippy! The evidence being a Landy on even more of a leaning mission than normal. Left the auction mart knowing I couldn’t have got another second out of that Landy round there!
The next test as West Back industrial estate had been worrying me since I’d seen the diagram in the morning. It was on tarmac and it looked tight. We decided we’d pull up and have a look at how others were doing it and get a feel for the Landy would fit. Except when we rolled round the corner I was looking at the Red5 motorsport crew that had set up to watch/run the test and found myself at the test start with no rally car in front!
So with no choice we just lined up and set off. I shouldn’t have worried. The cones were laid in such a way that you didn’t have to handbrake round them even in a vehicle with such bad lock as ours so we had a right blast swaying too and fro all flat in 2nd gear. Not a bad time either!
Up at Kirkbride Airfield was 3 tests 1 repeated. A chance for the big boys to stretch legs and for me at least not to have to do too many about tight cones etc. By this time James re writing some of the diagrams into pure notes for like a lad! It seemed to work well for us.
It was great to see some of the fast lads giving it 100% round the airfield and I thoroughly enjoyed slaloming the Landy round. The 180 turn at the back of the second test is always a shunt reverse job for us but non the less we were happy with how things were going. Dave Agnew’s 911 seemed to really get into it’s stride here and flew round.
Back down to Maryport and Energus we slid about but we made a uncharacteristic error WD’ing the test at Energus. That said we were so slow round there anyway….
By this point the fuel gauge had already hit empty and I knew from last year that it hit empty as we finished at Rowrah and I made it home without having to go and fetch the trailer! This year however 8 miles before Rowrah the needle hit the end stop. Hmmm. What was also apparent was the sound of a slipping fanbelt every time we lifted revs from tick over. The voltmeter would flicker a touch but seemed to be on the healthy side mostly.
Either way it wasn’t going to change anything on the final 2 lap split/merge blat round the track! The track wasn’t quite as sodden or slippy as the morning and was just right to allow a bit of playing. We got round as fast as possible with a good bit (for a Landy) of opposite lock coming out of the corners. The little “S” bend just after the main building got taken in 3rd on the 2nd lap definitely making up a few seconds. Didn’t think it would do 3rd round that corner in the wet!
Parked up engine off and surveyed what was now a very muddy Land Rover!
We watched some of the Targa boys go round and went in for a generous portion of Pie and chips! Excellent end to an excellent event.
Wigton MC really pulled out the stops this year with some fantastic tests and a well run event once again.
Despite taking the overall win Archie claimed this was going to be his last rally but I hope that he’ll do a Rolling Stones job and return just to remind everyone what can be done!
James and I tootled off into the evening and as I headed south the main beam switch failed…at least the alternator wouldn’t have to power those extra watts. Climbing ever slower over the fells I was getting that familiar feeling when you run low on LPG as less and less of the throttle did anything until finally only about 10% of throttle travel would do anything.
I as reversed into the space next to my garage the Landy dropped a cylinder or two and the voltmeter went with it. It spluttered backwards into it’s place to be cleaned and died. No fuel, not much electricity. Job done!
Not sure when I’ll next be out there’s obviously a bit of titivation to be done but I’m just too busy at the moment even when the Landy’s sorted. Regardless though every effort will be made to have that Landy see sawing it’s way up Barbon Hillclimb next June!
So the “to do list” now stands thus:
Autotest Production Car
Autotest – Black Beck Grass 2013 WigtonMC
Hillrally – Chandlers Tour of Lincs 2002
Point to Point
Comp Safari – ARC Nationals 2000
Cross Country Vehicle Trial – CROC Seatle 1997
Tyro Trial – Park Gate Santon Bridge 2013 NL4x4
Gymkhana – War of the Roses 2005
Training Race Event?
12 Car Rally
Targa Rally – Solway Targa 2013
Road Rally Navigational – Devils Own Rally 2013-04-03
Road Rally Historic – Solway Historic 2011
Road Timed to less than 1 minute
Special Stage Rally – Malcolm Wilson Rally 2005
Multi Use Special Stage Rally
Rally Time Trial
Speed (Hillclimb or Sprint)
Phil Griffiths, Driver – Car 74, Land Rover (36th overall)
Thanks to Stephen McEvoy (www.facebook.com/Stephen.J.McEvoy) for all of the photos! Head over to their website for more photos and for contact details to buy yourself a copy!