Crew- Ding Boston, Ahron Becquart
We left the OUMF HQ on Saturday at around 6.30pm, and on our way to Cambridge, a quick detour saw us deliver the prop shaft for our new Riley 1.5 racer project to Clive Cocks at Bailey Morris in St Neots as he had kindly offered to refurbish it for us. Soon afterwards, and unexpectedly, another detour followed…
Unfortunately, during the journey, it became clear that Kalman’s valiant efforts to sort out the gearbox - by replacing all the bushes in the gear linkage - did not seem to have improved things as much as we had hoped they would. Sadly, a new ‘box may be on the cards…
On our way to Alan and Jo’s at Haddenham we passed several detour signs telling us that the bridge at Earith was closed for repairs. In true Ding fashion these signs were promptly ignored and we continued on our way. Once we got to Earith we discovered the bridge was actually closed - and the approach road was actually barricaded by a large lorry and some roadwork barriers. Unfortunately the contractors had overlooked barricading the adjacent village green, and the idea instantly occurred that driving over the grass was clearly the fastest way to Alan and Jo’s – so, with a quick glance from Ahron we continued on our merry way. We had just begun to edge our way round the signs and over the grass, when the man sitting in the darkened lorry (whom Ding hadn’t noticed) started to sound his horn. Unfazed we continued to the bridge, which was about 200 metres further on round a corner. Through the trees and bushes, I saw the lights of a white contractor’s pickup truck racing over the bridge. It deftly skidded to a halt broadside across the road and very effectively blocked the bridge. Three burly men in fluorescent jackets jumped out and our progress ground to a halt. The only thing missing - to have been a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster - was the lack of assault rifles in their hands. Clearly they had a sense of humour, because the first one approached Ding’s open window and laughingly said “You almost made it across, mate!” to which Ding replied “Well, it was worth a try!” We reluctantly had to turn around, and upon approaching the first lorry, the driver jumped out and made his way to the Golf. The fat swine asked what possessed Ding to drive over a closed bridge, to which Ding replied “We wanted to see how the roadworks are progressing”. The man was clearly not impressed with Ding’s sense of humour and asked if Ding was mad. He walked back a little, pompously took a picture of the Golf’s number plate on his mobile phone, and told us to be on our way. With little choice left to us, alternative route number two (or should that be one?!) was taken.
We arrived at Jo and Alan Coombs at around 2030, and soon afterwards it started snowing. Inspecting the new 4 bay garage that Alan has built almost singlehandedly, we were both astonished by the degree of craftsmanship. The 9 doors of the garage are made from solid oak over 2 inches thick, in metal frames - the kind of things you expect on a medieval castle keep. Weighing in at about half a ton per door, but perfectly balanced, the opening of the doors is possible even for a toddler. It would be easier for a burglar to knock down the walls than it would be to break down the doors!
A warm welcome awaited us upon entering the house. Jo was busy in the kitchen preparing dinner. Not surprisingly, after a two hour drive and the whole day spent at the barn, we were famished. While drinking a coffee, Ding got re-acquainted with the new member of the family, Monty the Labrador puppy, and was evidently somewhat uncomfortable with the whole idea of a pet dog! A delicious dinner was promptly served. Medium rare steak with oven-grilled potato wedges, broccoli, steamed carrots, Yorkshire pudding and cheese cauliflower, all served with a luscious red wine with a rich bouquet of blackcurrant, and nicely rounded off with a cheesecake for dessert. After a long chat lasting until the small hours of the morning, we all went to sleep in advance of what was to be an eventful day…
Having set my alarm for 6 am, I was the first to be up and about, and even had enough time to have a pre-breakfast cigarette before Ding and Alan woke up. Unfortunately it had not stopped snowing all night long, and there was a depth of 2 or 3 centimetres outside. We had a quick breakfast (Ding rummaging around the kitchen looking for cereals) and set off in convoy to pick up Andrew Bainbridge, Alan’s co-driver. On the way we refuelled the Golf and discussed the fact that our Toyo R888’s are not exactly the best choice for racing in the snow! While driving along the A14, a TVR decided to do a ‘Gandalf’ on us and tried futilely to stay ahead of the Golf. Needless to say, about 20 miles further down the A14, he gave up. We entered RAF Woodbridge at about 0800 – and were delighted to see Zip Zerihan, Paul Swindells, and Nick and Lizzie Pope already there. Quickly dumping the contents of the boot, we proceeded to go to the noise testing and the scrutineering – and passed. We returned to the service area to put up our handy tent in which to keep our tools dry. A quick Driver’s Briefing ensued, and a couple of tips were given for first time crew’s.
The usual convoy run through all the stages was cancelled due to the number of entries, so we were sent off straight to the queue for the start. It was still snowing, so the road surface was very wet, and the grass was covered with snow – but nothing our faithful TOYO 888’s couldn’t handle, surely?! We preceded trough the first stage, but unfortunately I did not anticipate the layout, and the cones to be so tricky, so we missed an unmarked cone right after a square left hander. The next couple of stages were dealt with in a better manner as I became accustomed to judging the distances on the unscaled map of the stages.
Upon arriving back at the service park after the first loop of 5 stages, we discovered that we had got a maximum penalty time for the first stage as we had missed the unmarked cone. I wish I could say I was relieved when I saw that we were not the only ones caught off guard by the placement of that particular cone. In the meantime Alan came back to the service park and discovered that he had a broken clutch cable – but he decided to carry on regardless! After about an hours break, we left again to complete the second loop of stages. By this time I had a better idea of what the format of the event was like and we set a blistering pace along the stages, even coming close to having the fastest time in two stages! On Stage 9 we discovered we did not have our fast speed window wipers anymore - as we ploughed our way through a massive water splash just before a substantial metal gate! We had to slow down a lot to allow the water to clear the windscreen so that we could see where we were going.
On our way back to the service park we saw what has become our new unofficial OUMF mascot, the infamous Hungarian vadas menyét scampering across the road. However, Ding assured me it was actually a stoat – a close relation. On arrival back at the service park we had a quick lunch and a chat with Chris Moore and Tom Jenkins – and discovered we had a flat front tyre. Upon closer inspection we found a lump of brass sticking out of the tread, and on pulling it with a pair of pliers, we found it was in fact a spent 5.56 blank shell case - probably left behind by a careless engineer as the base is now used as a training ground for the 23rd Engineer Regiment. We changed the wheel, but our directional 888 spare was for the right hand side - and our puncture was on the rear left! Making do with it, as the only wheel available, we made our way to the last loop of stages. Again we continued our rise up the leader board, thanks to a fastest time and a couple of other good runs - as I became used to this exciting new type of motorsport, and Ding learned how to understand Flemish.
After the last stage, we volunteered to help the marshals with the gathering of the cones spread across the airfield, and arrived back for the prize-giving about half an hour later. The ceremony started with the trophies from the 2012 championship, and Ding was pleased to accept the overall Masters Championship trophy that the OUMF TOYO Golf won last year, with Sarah Cunningham and John Puliston as co-drivers. Tom Jenkins and Chris Moore did very well to win the Masters Class this time in their Citroen Xsara, and the venerable OUMF TOYO Golf came in 11th overall, and a close 4th in the Masters Class – just a couple of seconds shy of 3rd and another trophy! Another cracking event behind us, we made our way back to Oxford - but only after getting stuck in a traffic jam on the M12 for an hour due to a accident.
On our return to Oxford we heard from Alan that he had broken the Clio’s gearbox close to the end of the rally, but still managed to finish the event with just fifth gear - and no clutch. He had managed to limp home sans clutch and in fifth gear alone – but only by jamming the gearstick in place with his left knee and not stopping for anything! He had then got another gearbox from the local scrap yard the next day, and replaced it singlehandedly on the Monday night, in freezing snowy conditions, and with few tools. The guy is a legend!
Many thanks are due to Alan and Jo for their fantastic hospitality; to the Chelmsford Motor Club for organising another of these excellent events; to TOYO Tires, Phillips Tyres and all our many supporters - and especially to the Marshals. Their fortitude and good nature in the face of the grim weather was exemplary – and we salute them!