Single Venue, Mixed Fortunes

This weekend I helped out a mate who was doing a rally at the MIRA test facility in Warwickshire. It was a single venue event, the stages made up of differing combinations of the test track and its access roads. It’s a popular one with the crews as it has lots of silky smooth tarmac that they can really attack on and bar the Armco, there’s not that much to hit.

My day started relatively early, Marcus’s (driver) co-driver Colin picked me up on the A5 at about 6.30am, just 10 mins down the road from MIRA. He’d come from the northeast, having left at about 3am, so my 6am start didn’t seem so bad all of a sudden.

The gate staff let us in to the venue at around 7am. We went off to the service park to set up while Marcus and Colin took the car and thier kit off to be scrutineered. The car in question was an all singing, all dancing 1400 Peugeot 205 Rallye with a specially built 1400cc engine running on Yamaha R1 bike carbs. It was only the second event with the car (but we knew how quick it was from competing against the previous owner). Event 1 ended badly with a bottom arm failure resulting in an unexpected meeting of 205 and tree, with the Pug coming off worst. In the weeks before MIRA, by some miracle the car was straightened up, re-prepped and made ready for the event.

We had high hopes as Marcus and Colin set off for stage 1, as Marcus had finished 2nd in class on this event last year in a car that wasn’t nearly as quick as the 205. The stage 1 result was mixed. The car was running well but Marcus had accidentally hit the engine kill switch a couple of times when going for first gear. It was decided that 1st wouldn’t be used from this point on!

Stage 2 is where things began to get interesting. Once we’d sent the guys back out, I wandered down to have a quick watch. I saw a few crews through before Marcus arrived. The corner was a 90 left round a straw bale leading to a short straight with a small bump on the exit of the corner. Marcus turned in, booted it and exited the corner. As they hit this small bump (with a bit of lock still on) I heard a loud CRACK. The 205 then began to coast, with Marcus revving the car but it wasn’t really going anywhere. Instantly I thought either clutch or gearbox, I didn’t know if he’d even make the end of the stage. I legged it to the stop control where they’d just managed to arrive. Turns out it was the CV joint on the driver’s side driveshaft that had broken and they’d crawled through the last 1/2 mile of the stage with 1 wheel drive. We pushed the car back in to service and got to work. We had about 50 mins before stage 3 started so we were in a bit of a rush. Trying to change a drive shaft when there’s a red-hot brake disc on the end of it isn’t easy, or much fun. However it was swapped out with a couple of minutes to spare and we sent the car on its way.

Despite the dramas we were sitting about 7th in class at this point, within striking distance of the top 3. The middle stages of the day went very well. Marcus steadily recovered the time lost on stages 1&2 and was setting times good enough for 2nd in class. The leader in class A was a Vauxhall Nova driven by Andrew Egger. We had no chance of catching him, he was on a mission and actually finished 10th overall, in amongst the Imprezas and Mk2 Escorts. A heroic performance.

No, we ignore Mr Egger, our fight was for 2nd and Marcus continued plugging away, setting good times. It was a very hot day for an April and the car was feeling it. To draw the heat away from the engine we had the heaters on max, lovely when it’s 18C ambient and you’re working hard behind the wheel in 3 layers of Nomex. Rather them than me! The thermostat read fine though and we just made sure we bled off any air that was in the system after each stage (there may have been a small airlock in the system) but it was fine.

2 stages, about 18 miles to go. While refueling, torquing up the wheels etc, a media type, we think from Motorpsort News, wandered over. The fact that we have been in the exact same position the previous year (2nd to Mr Egger by a huge margin) seemed to amuse him. However, after Marcus told him of our strife throughout the day, this appeared to pique the journo’s interest and he started scribbling in his notepad. Yay, it looked like we might get a mention in that week’s comic. Then came stage 8, the last one of the rally.

We sent Marcus & Colin off with simply holding station in mind. We were 2nd, about 1 minute ahead of 3rd place; a comfortable gap with only 9 or so miles to go. The service park was within sight of the middle of the stage so once we got packed up we stood watching for Marcus. The Metro 6r4 that he’d been behind on the road all day came through, so we knew Marcus would be 30 seconds or so behind it. Then we saw a white Nova. Where was our guy? Then a Mk2 Escort came through. Seriously, where was Marcus?  We shared some pensive looks, surely he hasn’t gone off, he had a massive lead? At that point the ambulance and recovery vehicles sped out of the service park. Shit. Were they for our car?

Then, the phone call. We instantly thought the worse, if they’ve gone off, God I hope they’re ok. They weren’t off, the engine had gone with only 2 miles to go. And when I say gone, I mean GONE. While cruising, simply to hold position, one of the connecting rods decided that it was no longer content with moving up and down and decided to follow a path of it’s own choosing. It fired itself through the engine block which instantly showered the exhaust manifold in oil. This immediately caught light, the car was on fire. It took both the handheld and the plumbed in extinguishers to kill the fire, brave work by Marcus but I guess the adrenaline was pumping and rally cars are expensive. The fire damage wasn’t too bad, but the bigger story was the extra holes now in the engine block.

Note the new holes, gulp.

We were gutted. Instead of waiting round to pick up a trophy for 2nd in class we waited for every car to go through the stage so the trucks could recover the 205. Pissing oil out of the bottom, the engine bay looked a mess, everyone was crestfallen.

The engine is off to the builders, they can expect quite a bill, but we had such a good day up to that point. Such is life I guess, but fate can be very cruel sometimes.

Quick mention for our sponsors, without which we couldn’t even go rallying:

Tinsley Joiners

Rodgers Plant Hire

Taylor Signs

Samson Fire Protection

*All photos kindly provided by www.rally-media.co.uk

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