Oxford Motor Club staged ‘The Dragon’ 12 Car Rally in the wonderful lanes between Oxford and Reading, and on the night, the organisers and competitors were blessed by clear skies and largely dry roads. This was my first time experience on a road rally with OUMF, in its unique ‘TOYO’ Golf Mk2, with Andy Doyle navigating, me helping him as ‘Co-co-Driver’! - and Ding doing what he was told in the drivers seat!
This grass roots type of rally involves problem-solving and map-reading by the co-driver, who then has to communicate clearly to guide the driver, who otherwise has no idea where he is going! For the driver there is concentration and skill involved to drive the car quickly under what can be quite adverse road conditions, with many sharp twists and turns. This makes an event very much a team effort, with little room for error, even as a beginner, if a crew is to do well.
The car we used was the OUMF Golf rally trainer, which has three bucket seats (2 in the front, one centrally in the rear) and this gave us a challenge shortly before the rally began as we had to change the broken rear springs – thankfully with the help of Phillips Tyres in Oxford. We then had a problem on the way to the start which entailed some exciting and inventive OUMF high-pressure engineering - in the dark, at the roadside! We discovered the car's alternator belt had snapped and vanished, which put Ding, Andrew and I under great pressure as the alternator on a car is a very important piece of equipment. It powers all the electrical systems on the car - and especially the lights at night! Luckily the stash of tools and spares in the boot included a new belt, and Andy ingeniously worked out an easy method of fitting it that only involved adjusting the position of the alternator. In less than 10 minutes we were back on the road and arrived at the White Hart pub in Wallingford for the start in good time.
We all signed on immediately, and were given an envelope containing all the maps and clues we would need for the rally ahead. The clues are an interesting and unique part of rallying, and are as important as the skills involved in accurate map reading. These club rallies have three different sets of clues provided which are Expert, Novice, and Beginner – and are based upon the experience of the co-driver. Ding was delighted when Andy found he had been given Beginners instead of Novice clues by mistake as it would probably mean the rally would be faster and more flowing – so suited him as the driver better! We then got the car ready inside with map reading lights set up and well-positioned because of the rally being at night. On the lanes and country roads ahead we had to make sure to keep another torch at hand at all times, to help spot code boards in some of the more inaccessible places.
The excitement on the road when the rally began gave me quite an adrenaline rush due to the quick turns, bumpy roads and the rate of progress. However I felt very secure and comfortable in my competition bucket seat, wearing a full four point race harness. All of that was part of the fun, which came also from having to be constantly aware of the roadsides too, as we had to keep an eye out for the code boards, and note down the letters on them. At the end of the rally this ensures that each crew has taken the correct route in full, and not taken any shortcuts! Crews are given hefty time penalties if these are missed. This is why it was great for a beginner like me to have a really important job to do - on which our eventual result depended!
Ding’s hopes for the rally were realised, and the slightly clearer instructions we had been given allowed him to demonstrate why he loves driving on these events so much. The open roads and clear visibility allowed the Golf to clear the ground quickly and safely. Watching the interaction between him and Andy showed me the importance of clear communication in the car that allows a skilled driver to process the information and directions as rapidly as possible.
We started in 10th position, but as the event progressed and we reached each successive marshalling post and clocked in, we found we had left more and more of the rest of the field behind us. The marshal’s role is all important and they are deployed throughout the course to keep track of the team’s progress, and make sure the crews are on route and safe. The idea of rallying is that it is not just about the fastest driver, but about finding all the code boards and keeping to the stipulated average speed. It also increases the skill of keeping aware of the road at night, accurately reading surface conditions, and managing other vehicles, pedestrians, and wild animals – like deer, badgers, hares, and foxes, of which we were lucky to spot quite a few. I found them a beautiful sight – especially one magnificent stag with large antlers - but I was also concerned that they might suddenly turn into our path and be harmed or damage the car. But Ding edged past with care and all was ok.
After 2 exciting hours, we finished, and found that we were the first crew back to the pub to enjoy a well-earned drink. When all the other crews had returned and the results were duly worked out and announced we discovered that we may have been first crew to the finish, but as we had collected some penalties we had actually been placed in 7th position overall. This news did not dampen our spirits in the least, as the rally overall had been really action-packed, thrilling, and great fun. It was also a great opportunity for both rapid problem-solving engineering situations on the car, and also solving the clues, map reading, and keeping the press-on driver on the right track. What a great way to spend a Friday evening. You’ve just got to try it!
We owe a big thank you to all the members of the Oxford Motor Club who staged this wonderful event, plus the marshals, Phillips Tyres for their assistance with the springs, and to TOYO Tires for the grip of R888R tyres that keep OUMF at the front!
Sahil Bhavnani. 1st Year Engineering - Brookes