After serious preparation for this event, they entered the Abingdon CAR-nival Stage Rally to test and shakedown the Riley, just two weekends before they sailed. This hosts top UK crews and cars, and is a round of no less than 5 different British championships in predominately modern rally cars. The Riley – a model introduced in 1957 – finished 61st Overall out of 100 entries, without any major problems, much to the delight of both the crowds of spectators and the OUMF team.
Success in rallying depends so much on meticulous maintenance and in spite of this result, the students left nothing unchecked before Ypres, even going the extra mile by cutting louvres in the bonnet to counter the possibility of the extreme heat the team have encountered on the event in previous years. We are all very grateful for the support an of Phillips Tyres, Lesonal Paints, TOYO Tires and many, many others for the help that got them on to the ferry to Ypres on June 23rd for another great adventure.
On reaching our destination the OUMF team of 9 were welcomed by our perennial ‘Friends of the Rally’ hosts, Chris and Patricia Vershaeve who showed us the utmost care and kindness by making us at home in their home for the week ahead. In much the same way, Kris Van Moerbeke found room for us to base the Riley 1.5 in his nearby Alfa garage, and the team set about making sure the car was ‘on point’ for its first runs in anger, due on Wednesday afternoon. In fact, after their thoroughness in the UK, the team were done with prep by Monday evening, and so on Tuesday the students had time to see some historic sights. They paid their respects to the war dead at the Tyne Cot cemetery, then visited the Pool of Peace (created by a vast mine crater), and finally an open air museum of excavated WW1 trenches in the Messine Ridge battlefields. Very sobering visits indeed.
Wednesday’s Rally Shakedown event in Boezinge is very popular, and massive crowds of fans lined the stage, some waving banners reading ‘Go Riley Go!’ After several increasingly quick runs, the Riley came into service reporting underperforming brakes, and as it was close to the end anyway, it was decided to leave a full investigation until the following morning.
On Thursday, the brake system was gone through - inspected, adjusted, and re-bled – but the team was still unhappy with the brake pedal pressure. Then, while Ben Scothern was doing some final checks on the Riley’s rear axle, when he noticed a tiny weep of brake fluid coming from the union of the rear left brake cylinder. Bobby Bragg then pressed the pedal hard, while Ben examined this connection, and to his relief he found that the fluid was coming from the junction of the copper brake pipe to the wheel cylinder, and it looked like an easy fix. However, when it was disassembled, he found that not only was the hard pipe not seated properly, but that the threads had been compromised within the wheel cylinder. The spare axle was stripped for spares – only to find that the cylinders on it had questionable threads too! With three thread bare slave cylinders, the team then considered different methods of re cutting the threads into the aluminium cylinders. James Martin and Andy Doyle set about cutting a new oversize thread using an M10 x 1 tap, and a sharp new drill bit obtained at speed from nearby Eldis, the local parts emporium. This idea worked, but only after Jamie Higgins cut the thread again using a modified M10 bolt. There were no signs of a leak when it was reinstalled, and so it was bled again, and after further test pumps the pedal became a good deal firmer. Phew! Problem solved and crisis averted - and a very relieved team headed back to Chris and Patricia’s for a very well-deserved and enjoyable BBQ in the evening sunshine, in their lovely garden.
The record heatwave that had afflicted France over the previous days was evidently heading to Belgium, and by the time of the start of the rally on Friday, the temperatures in Ypres were in the mid 30’s C…and rising. However we were delighted to secure TOTAL fuel support for the rally from Katrien Verstraete at the Lemenu filling station, and this raised our spirits as we physically wilted in the heat as the Riley crested the grand rally podium in the central square of Ypres. The obligatory radio interview for the crowds was also another major photo opportunity for the TV cameras, and all the assembled media too.
On a very hot Saturday morning, with a number of the most modern rally cars already out of the event after Friday’s stages, the Riley’s crew found to their horror that the battery in the intercom had gone flat as they arrived at the time control for the first stage. It was too late to find another, so it had to be driven at speed and without pace notes…very hairy! It survived nevertheless, and there was a degree of relief when the car arrived at the start of the second stage to be told that a preceeding car had crashed and caught fire and the stage was cancelled while the accident was attended to. This gave time for a battery to be borrowed from another crew, and the Riley flew through the 3rd and 4th stages in hot pursuit of the two Golf Gti’s (!?) leading its Class. More cars dropped out as the crash/retirement rate rose in the oppressive heat, and when the Riley came in for its first service at around 1pm, the temperature was 40C in the shade - and so around 55C in the direct sun on the road - and the crew were evidently suffering from dehydration. The driver downed over 4 litres of water, but the Riley remained as cool as a cucumber, and the car shot away for another 3 blazing stages before the second service. It returned, still running superbly, and - as the infamous ‘ditches of Ypres’ claimed more victims - it was up into an amazing 16th Overall. Dare we hope it might better the 14th Overall of 2018?
The wildly excited OUMF students waved it out of the service area, and off it flew to try and catch the two Golf GTi’s over the last four long stages. The fever peaked when the team saw that the Riley had reached the start of the final stage in 14th – but still just behind the Golfs! With everything to play for, it was the class-leading Golf which blinked – and just 2kms from the finishing line, the Riley thundered past the stricken car and its crew, off the road, immobile, but clearly unharmed, and seconds later it took 13th Overall and 2nd in Class. Joy and dancing by the team followed shortly afterwards in the main square in Ypres, as the Riley mounted the finishing podium with no penalties, and its best ever result, in the toughest ever conditions. The resounding applause confirmed the OUMF Riley as the crowds favourite, and they saluted the astounding performance of the Riley – the oldest model on the event - which had eclipsed the host of Escorts, BMW M3s, Porsche 911s, Opel Asconas and Kadetts, Mercedes SLs, etc., with whom it had done battle. It was a fantastic testament to the skills and dedication of the OUMF students, and the strength and ability of the noble Riley 1.5 which has further provided us with the adventures and memories of a lifetime. Our thanks to everyone who made this feat possible. We can't wait to return next year!