The meeting for this ill-fated rally was at Gipsy Lane for 6:30pm, with myself, Ben Harvey, and Ding in the TOYO Golf and James Martin, Andy Doyle, Yadash Suresh, and Joe Pearce in the Clio Cup. Our convoy swiftly took the A34 to Newbury, then onto the starting point for the rally: The Craven Arms in Enborne.
On arrival we attended the drivers briefing and were warned about the tricky road conditions caused by the near torrential downpour that had recently fallen. After a few preparatory Jaffa Cakes, we lined up in the car park, with the Clio as Car 10 in the novice class, and the Golf - as one of two beginners - lining up as Car 12. The rally started poorly with Ben and I directing Ding the wrong way almost immediately, but after a few more wrong turns we arrived at Time Control 1 (TC1). However, we were so late that the control had already decamped and left. Another competitor told us that the control had closed just before we got to it, so we pressed on to TC2 in an attempt to regain some ground. Luckily this was successful and we made the checkpoint whilst it was still manned. By this point, we were starting to get into the swing of things, and excluding the occasional wrong turning we were slowly but surely making up time on the subsequent stages.
Only ¼ mile from TC7, upon stopping at a junction onto the A4, Ding questioned whether the car was running on all cylinders. His question was answered by a cloud of steam sailing from behind us out across the junction. On pulling away, the red coolant light started flashing from the dashboard - triggering a very rapid stop. Ding hopped out, popped the bonnet, saw the coolant was low and quickly refilled it. We crawled our way to a nearby pub, where Ding begged three large bottles from the kitchen for potential coolant refills. The head gasket was suspected, and so we decided the rally was over for us and nursed the TOYO Golf back into Newbury to the finishing point at The Two Water Mills pub.
On arrival we were greeted by James making excitable gestures and lots of strange car noises. We thought this was normal - until we deciphered that he was trying to tell us that he had totally “f***** his CV joint!” after only two time controls. We joined him and the others in the delightfully warm pub to commiserate over a pint of Hobgoblin, and discuss the unusual reliability issues that had beset OUMF on this rally – especially the TOYO Golf which had been so reliable over many years of motorsport events. Then onto the more pressing issue of how to get the cars back to Oxford, 30 miles away! Many ideas were thrown around, but we opted for just going for it - and hoping for the best. After topping up the Golf’s coolant once again, we got moving…all of 2 metres before establishing the Golf now had no main or dipped beam and a ‘battery not charging’ light on the dashboard. After much deliberating and checking of fuses, we pushed on and followed by the clattering Clio, made our way out of street lit Newbury, and into the dark towards Oxford.
It was an interesting drive on the dual carriageway with no lights, which was interrupted by a prudent pit stop at Chieveley Services for more coolant in the Golf. Our convoy then made the final push back to Oxford, nursing the cars and using the slipstream of a lorry to ease the load on the stricken Golf – on which the lights unexpected returned as we rejoined the A34. With intense concentration on smooth, load-free driving we made the Oxford ring road, before the coolant warning light made another final, unwelcome showing. The Golf took on more water – but lost its lights again as the two limping cars crawled back to the barn. Amazingly they arrived injured, still alive, and - thankfully - untroubled by any agencies of enforcement on the way. The Golf was ditched and we welcomed the sweet reliability and comfort of Ding’s Astra with open arms. (Never thought I’d say that!)
So overall, it was an unsuccessful evening for OUMF, but very eventful and enjoyable all the same. We are all very grateful to Bob Muttram, all the marshals, and other members of the Dolphin Motor Club for an excellent rally.