On this rally, OUMF were represented by three crews: Oli Grantham and Isaac Jarmarkier in the Fiat Cinquecento; Luke Cozier and Rob Dawson in the BMW, and Ding, Andy Doyle and myself in the TOYO Golf.
We converged on the HQ and completed all the pre-rally checks on cars and equipment in good time, and we were ready to go to Brackley for the start of the rally…but Andy was running late. In the end, with Oli and Isaac requiring their maps to be marked by the organiser before the start, they and the BMW had to set off for Brackley, leaving the Golf waiting for it’s co-driver.
About 45 minutes afterwards Andy finally arrived at HQ, leapt into the car, and we set off in unseemly haste on a record breaking run to Brackley. Just as well the weather was good and dry, and we arrived in the nick of time to Sign On, just a minute or two before the Drivers Briefing. While that was being done, I scrambled to reattach the passenger door window winder which had fallen off on the journey. (Being able to open the passenger window is ‘useful’ at the time controls – so that the marshals can mark the time cards!). With everything prepped and ready to go, we all tucked into some mini chocolate eggs that Isaac had kindly handed around.
Sitting on the start line, I was feeling very excited as I had never been involved in a 12 car rally before – and even after our enthusiastic drive to the start (!) I was unsure of exactly what to expect. Early into the first stage, when we were still getting in the groove, Ding fortunately noticed the first code board which was part of a car number plate and read ‘ERK’. This was carefully written down, and we concentrated hard on spotting these ‘correct passage checks’ for the rest of the evening – as there are usually around 20 to 30 of them in the course of the rally, and it’s a 10 minute penalty for every one you miss. Our luck stayed with us as, shortly afterwards, we rounded a bend - and narrowly missed a large buzzard that was feeding in the middle of the road.
During the next stages, we made good progress, and while there were a few wrong turns, they were mostly quickly realised and we were able to continue on the correct route. By this time, I was getting more familiar with how the driver and co-driver work together and I was slowly taking on more responsibilities. I was chiefly able to assist Andy by keeping hold of his clipboard, spare map and the sealed envelopes containing the clues – easy to lose in the dark. All this helped Andy work more efficiently on solving the clues, with no need for him to try and hold everything else at once. Also, to my delight, I was the only one of us to spot a particular code board during one of the stages - which I admit was lucky at that rate of travel!
For many of the latter stages, we spent some time either chasing or being chased by a fellow competitor in a Ford Puma. During one of these chases, we were ahead and needed to take a right turn, but we were unsure of quite how far it was until the junction. So we took a right, and the Puma followed. However, this led to a housing estate, and as we both turned around, the Puma managed to get out and on to the main road before us. The next right turn we encountered, we followed the Puma down it, only to discover that it lead to a local pub. Yet again, we both turned round, and again, the Puma managed to get out before us. At the third time of asking, we found the correct road!
Bar some swift driving, there were few other dramas before the last control and the finish of the rally, and when the Golf arrived at the pub, it was one of the first cars back and we were confident that we had made good time overall.
As the ‘co-co-driver’ in the rear race seat of the Golf I was extremely impressed that throughout the rally, the Bilstein suspension worked wonders over the very bumpy roads around north Oxfordshire, and in tandem with the incredibly grippy TOYO R888R tyres, the car delivered a surprisingly comfortable ride.
After the rally, as drivers arrived and gathered in the aptly named ‘Chequered Flag’ pub in Brackley, we found out that during the fourth stage, Luke and Rob were threatened by a man with a baseball bat who had stopped them in the middle of the road of a small village. Beating a hasty retreat, they had to find a different route, avoiding the village. Unfortunately, this effort lost them a lot of time, and as they were the last car to start, and therefore on the road, they were too late to reach the fifth control, and found that the marshals had already left. So, they ‘cut and run’ and so made their way to the final control where they explained their incident. However, having missed one of the controls, this meant they were recorded as DNF, but I think we can all agree that it was not through any fault of their own.
After the scores where calculated, the results were revealed by Chris Hambly, the rally organiser. Luke and Rob with DNF, Oli and Isaac in eighth, and Ding, Andy and myself came third. (We were tied on points with another car for second, but we lost out on distance covered without penalty, a tie break rule known as ‘ furthest cleanest’). A very good result for OUMF overall, and we were quick to thank both the organiser and his OMC helpers for staging the excellent event, and of course the marshals – as none of these exciting evenings could go ahead without their selfless and voluntary presence.
Despite the baseball bat incident, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I personally had a lot of fun - and I hope to try my hand soon at co-driving in a future rally!
2nd Year Motorsport Engineering, Oxford Brookes