However, we remained unfazed - and totally committed to ensuring that the OUMF Riley rally car remained as fast as possible and totally reliable, while the greater goal was to bond and test the team and the cars performance in the heat of serious competition ahead of the International Ypres Rally two weeks afterwards.
In the week beforehand, after two HRDC race meetings on the trot at Lydden Hill and Thruxton with the OUMF Riley racer, no element of the Q20 protected rally car was left unchecked and inspected. Lifeline kindly responded to the 11th hour discovery that the hand-held extinguisher was just out of date by re-testing and re-certificating it while a drenched Andy Doyle waited to remount his motorcycle for another soaking dash back to Oxford. Paul Phillips and the wonderful staff at Phillips Tyres, our headline sponsors, were as supportive as ever, fitting the new TOYO R888R tyres and realigning the Riley's steering following SuperPro's donation of new polyurethane bushes. The Bilstein shocks were inspected, new Mintex brake pads and SAFTEC shoes installed, the brake fluid replaced with Redline, and the 3J driveline LSD was also treated to special Redline Heavy Shock oil too. The spare gearbox was built up with the help of BMH with close ratio straight cut gears, and the engine and MOCAL cooler got a Fuchs Titan Race oil transfusion. The CARTEK isolator protected the new lightweight SuperB lithium battery and the high output Powerlite Classic alternator, and new Iridium plugs and a high performance coil from NGK were fitted. Finally the excellent Schroth Enduro belts and PIAA spotlamps were installed, the Lesonal paintwork and Pilkington heated screen were highly polished, the BTB rollcage bolts checked - and the car was ready for the big trials ahead!
The weather forecast was pretty dire as we set off Abingdon on Saturday for Signing on and Scrutineering, but to our relief - it remained dry and warm throughout the weekend, while almost everywhere else in the UK had rain. We secured our area in the service park at around 4.30pm, and when Ding and co-driver Andy Parsons had sorted all the paperwork, with only our club membership cards being questioned, we all retreated to a secluded area near the trailer park - the Bomb Hole - to set up all the tents and have a barbeque. Ahron Becquart, who had only been able to join the team at the last moment, did a great job of the cooking - and of providing interesting distractions too! As it grew dark we made our way to the main marquee and listened to the two comic acts provided for our entertainment. Oli Grantham was mistaken for Ed Sheeran and was reluctantly persuaded to give a great impression of him on stage! Much more fun was had before bed at around 1am in the morning...
The first car was flagged away at 9am, by which time the OUMF service area was looking as good as any of the other much better funded and professional teams. Testing with softer brake pads initially meant that the Riley's braking was curtailed, and its times reflected this. However, as different compounds were tried, they radically improved. A dash back to the HQ by Aidan and Bobby Bragg to get a set of harder Riley racer pads finally gave the car what it needed and it was able to really fly, surprising many more powerful younger cars. All the time it was edging up the leader board, and by lunch it was lying around 75th/100. While Dom Norman was happy with the Kent cammed-engine and the Helix clutch, all were concerned at the heat build up under the bonnet. We really appreciated the exhaust system's very effective Zircotec coating, and the GDM Coolers alloy radiator which moderated the heat so effectively, but felt that it was high time to repaint the underside of the bonnet in body colour rather than matt black. And as James Martin juggled with very hot front brake components at each service, and tried to prevent the brake debris from marking the Oxford Wheel Repairs painted wheels, plans were made to add louvres and cold air ducting before Ypres. The wear markers on the TOYO R888R's tyres were proving spot on when inflated to 26 psi all round, and braking improved still further when Andy Doyle and Ben Scothern adjusted the rear bias valve to fully open. Vlad Ardeleanu had the Racelogic VBox video and other electrical systems and KA sensors operating to give some great in car footage, and Niall Geoghegan's attention to the spares boxes and the sponsors stickers prior to the event really paid off - especially for talented cameraman Nikita Volkov whose important responsibility was to please our many kind sponsors with some great photos of the car and the team’s service area.
This was to a large extent a test event for us to try various set ups, but even thus compromised, the Riley was lying 66th overall after stage 5, and still gaining ground. It never missed a beat, and by the end of the last stage we were all stunned to find that Andy Parsons had directed it to a finish in 61st place against the cream of UK rally cars on this notoriously tough event, and with no penalty points throughout the day. The team were so efficient at striking the service area that they managed to watch the excitement - and they especially enjoyed the sight of the Riley out pacing a Mk2 Escort on the final stage!
A great result and a huge credit to this student team who were the subject of a great deal of interest and complimentary comments from observers of their meticulous servicing of the car throughout the day. We all enjoyed the rally enormously and would like to thank the Sutton and Cheam Motor Club, everyone who helped organise the event, and of course the terrific band of marshals who kept it all running so safely and smoothly from start to finish.
But no reprise of this event would be complete without a massive thank you to Paul Phillips and all our industry leading supporters and sponsors, generous well-wishers, and kind helpers - in a 1000 ways - who made it all possible for the students to gain such invaluable experience and take home such vivid memories.
And now...for the 7th time...on to Ypres!!