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Simon Bentley's First Quarter Review

New member here…

 

I joined Stockport 061 as it has a really good spread of associations and I'm planning a widespread campaign in the lanes this year. I did the 061 a number of times way back and still have my bag from the Inter Association rally year.

 

In late 2023 I teamed up with Shaun Bee from Caernarfon for the Beaver Rally in North Yorkshire as my usual driver wasn't available and we went on to win it and so decided to take a stab at the Exmouth Rally where we managed a 3rd.

 

So on to 2024. I'd entered the Carpet Bagger 3 times previously and never managed a finish so with this year supposed to be the last I had to give it a go. Shaun brought the trusty Proton Coupe along, fresh from the bodyshop in its new blue suit but otherwise it was the car I'd twice sat in in 2023. To say we weren't too impressed with our seeding was an understatement, after our recent results to be down at 32 was not good on an event in such tight lanes with countless tricky triangles, I'd experienced previously on this event getting baulked by cars in front but also then getting stuck and blocking the road, the clock ticking away. Nothing we could do but try to prove them wrong. 

 

I met Shaun at Chester Services on the end of the A55 and we did the long drive down to Chard. Scrutiny at the petrol station in Chard was a breeze, the car has done countless events and Shaun as Beespeed, prep's cars for a living, then on to noise, again a breeze and signing on in the Golf Club, a bite to eat, drivers briefing, MTC0 and then the pre-plot on the well-lit table we'd bagged early on for dinner. All plotted I booked out at MTC1 (inside) and then out to the car, settled in and 10 minutes up the road in the queue for the start of the first selective.

 

If you don't know it the Bagger is renowned for a variety of reasons, it's long at 180 miles, the lanes are some of the best you'll ever find and the council haven't repaired them - ever it seems, and the route is just relentless. There's no hard nav, bent clock's or other tricks, they rely on the terrain and back to back competitive sections, you might clean one or two but everything stacks up and the seconds tick away. They usually get poor weather of some sorts and this year it was thick fog from the get go.

 

We went into the first section pretty hard, not s**t or bust, but we'd not travelled all that way to run around making up the numbers and expected to be catching cars in a while and sure enough after a couple of intermediates we came across car 30 who after a while did pull over but, and I can't say quite how, the way and where he stopped meant we drove straight past the slot we were looking for, and I was head up looking for it, realised quickly but too narrow to turn immediately, drove on turned, passed 30 going the other way and got the slot. Pressing on I realised I was starting to feel ill, and in the penultimate section of that group had to call enough. Shaun pulled over, I did the inevitable deed and we were underway again with a minute or two lost. Then he told me he was also feeling ill and finding it hard to concentrate etc. We got to the end of the section but at a reduced pace and then found somewhere to pull over. Shaun couldn't shake it and as the minutes ticked by having already dropped a few minutes I realised that with only 15 minutes to go at we were heading for OTL at the MTC that formed the start of the next competitive. A quick discussion and it was decided to call it a night, no point risking the car in the conditions if we weren't actually competing. We've put it down to the fog, and weren't the only ones, a number of crews suffered similarly, was strange, it came at you in bands that drew the focus to near vision and then you had to refocus forward.

 

The following weekend Shaun was joint CofC on the JJ Brown and had paired me up with a local, Gareth Rhys Jones who'd not been out for 5 years but is/was regarded as one of the local FWD hotshots.

 

Another decent drive though short by SW standards. I got over early and dropped in to Beespeed to see the place for the first time and a couple of the other cars in the stable. Shaun was semi working and semi on CofC duties till he discovered the waterboard had been out and dug a hole en route and then he was off and out. I'm not fully sure how but by 11pm they'd had people out and the hole filled, I don't think that would have happened in England. I went and had a bite to eat at what was going to be the finish, parked up and waited on Gareth.

 

Having done 3 Welsh events last year, two of them with Welsh drivers I guess I'm getting used to standing round like a lemon whilst all around me speak Welsh and that night was no different, but all signed on etc and a while spent with Phil from Basic Roamer showing me his latest rally clock and trips, (have to say these are great bits of kit, I rate Don Barrow for pottis but Ralitrip and Raliclok for trip/clock), and we were ready for the plot. 

 

Shaun had warned me there were going to be 240 plots on 1.5hrs so I guessed pressure was on. In the end it was 225 but we knocked them out in under 50 minutes, Gareth read the nav really well to me, it makes a huge difference when a driver can interpret the next plot and simplify the plotting. The car was a Corolla T-Sport a high revving variable valve timing 1800 with about 190bhp from the factory, on a 6-speed box. It had cage, seats, harnesses etc but apart from guards is mechanically standard with full interior still in place etc.

 

After a short run out, we were into the first section, running at car 9 we shouldn't have to worry about catching anyone, being the first round of the Welsh championship, the event was way over subscribed and there were some really quick boyos out in some very serious, very expensive machinery, mainly escorts there being 8 in the top 10 and 2 T-Sport Corollas.

 

200 yards in it was plain this was going to be some ride, there'd be no wrong slots, not without ploughing through one of the crowds of spectators lining every junction, concentrate on calling everything possible and being slick at the numerous manned PCs. The first NAM was in the entranceway to a school turn in and then around the barrier to stop at the feet of the marshals for a signature. I won't put in print quite how we arrived there, but suffice to say it started about 100m from the junction and we stopped inch perfect, FWD cars aren't meant to do that. Away and down the road, and we dropped 4 seconds.

 

The next competitive had 2 intermediates but we were comfortably clean on all 3 sections. At the start of the next neutral rally radio were there and whilst they interviewed Gareth one guy quickly asked our time and me back at him for others, I wasn't sure if he said 2 were clean or car 2 was clean, but it was enough to know we were on it and in

either 2nd or 3rd place.

 

Short neutral and into the third competitive. 4 intermediates, 5 sections 4,5,4,4 & 6 minutes with only the 2nd timed to the minute. It started down a white, with one of the infamous Welsh farmyards making it a tight one, the yard had been used before but the approach on an uphill gravel track was new to everyone and hard work in a FWD car with no LSD, after approaching 2000hp has already been through tearing the surface up. Once back on to the concrete yard Gareth was lovely and neat, carrying speed though hairpins around bale barriers that didn't seem right for a FWD car.

 

Fastest times were 49 and 50 seconds, we and a few others took 55 but I took a gamble and asked for the minute dropping 5 additional seconds. This meant we were comfortably clean at the next intermediate where others were already on their minute so we set off bang on time and took fastest at the 3rd intermediate. This wouldn't always pay off by any means, but I had a hunch that though not a dropper itself the 2nd part would be tight and it’s a nuance of the rules and indeed the law that because you ignore the seconds from the previous section when going into a timed to the minute it can tighten it considerably.

 

I think the marshal at the 3rd told Gareth and he seemed even more on it on the next stretch, I learned afterwards that at some point we'd run wide onto the verge and rattled a fence including shearing a 3-4" pole (I was head down and oblivious, it wasn't the first verge we'd touched). The penultimate junction before the irtc was Tj SGW turn R, called in plenty of time but there just wasn't enough grip to slow the car enough to stop us sailing broadside through the stop and drop my side into a small ditch. With no diff we rocked back and forth as Gareth tried to get us out and I thought our rally was over but then suddenly it gripped and we popped out, amazingly got a signature from the SC monitoring the SGW and were away down the road cleaning that bit and the next.

 

A quick look over the car at the start of the neutral, no real issues, the tracking had been knocked out a fair bit but Gareth couldn't free the lock nut on the TRE to adjust it.

 

Through Criccieth on the A road before turning towards the coast and a section past the (seasonally closed) holiday park and close to the beach. Greeting us at the section start was the control where the infamous Barry Allman, and Maurice Ellison were stationed - at last English people. Alas this was where our rally ended, an electricity transmission pole getting the beater of the rear quartet when they came together, we might have been able to continue but with highly compromised NSR geometry and the bodywork likely to munch through the tyre after a while we called it a night at the end of the section having dropped a dead minute in there which was still a respectable time fastest was 31. As we headed to his parents’ house nearby, he got a call from his brother further down the field who had gone off more conclusively only feet away from "our" pole but he took the wall and gatepost with him. He took the trailer to collect his brother and his dad dropped me back to my car.

 

Whilst he was supremely quick I never felt he was pushing too hard, certainly I've been with slower drivers who have felt less in control, but the pace to run at the front of a Welsh championship round has to be experienced to be believed. I suspect the escorts with their higher power and brakes, to weight ratio are perhaps not quite so close to the edge as a relatively standard FWD - which brings me neatly to my next event in a slightly less standard FWD car.

 

Shaun had bought a Honda Civic before Xmas but the Taunton Rally was to be its maiden outing at least in his hands. Another trip over to Chester to meet up before the long run South. We got down nice and early, everything based at a motorhome company in Wellington near Taunton. After a bite to eat we dropped the car off the trailer and took it for a spin around the industrial estate. OMG its quick. An EP3 type R Civic with an M-Factory gear box and 5.8 final drive, remapped with vtech point considerably lowered it just lit up the tyres in every gear and boy the noise.

 

Noise test itself though was an easy pass as it's well silenced and only loud when "on it". Scrutiny similarly no issues. Signing on and a small amount of neutrals to plot then we killed time till the off. Once again, we bagged a table, well actually it was a salesman’s desk, signing on used the reception area and I jealously guarded my well-lit desk. We'd have 2hrs to do the plotting and drive about 15miles (mainly on dual carriageway), top up with fuel if wanted (we wanted, she's a thirsty girl and it was a long way to petrol as they'd had to move it last minute), I was going to make best use of the desk, though we had to be out by 11pm.

 

We got our route at 21.37 and either I was fastest plotting or I was at least fastest plotting of those who elected to stay at the start as I found all the bad plots and wrong info and passed them to the organisers to issue amendments from. In that respect it really was not the best of events, but from what we had on the map the route was looking excellent. We were out for 11pm with everything plotted, filled up with fuel and in the queue for the first section with time to spare - we later learnt a number of navs had struggled to get the route down in time, a good plotting environment is such a help, as is a driver who knows what he's at as I said before.

 

Into the first section, fog but not as bad as the Bagger and Shaun had his new driving glasses, let's see what this Honda can do. Wow it didn't disappoint, first 4min inter clean by over a minute, and the second which was timed to the second, but the battery light had come on. Another 4 minute, still clean but signs of steam as we stop at the control, into the next 4 minuter and the lights are starting to dim, the electric (standard) power steering is barely working and every time we stop there's clouds of steam. It's not looking good but we soldier on.

 

Then coming towards the first of a couple of NAM triangles just before the first white, despite a good seeding at 7, we catch not one but two cars, at the manned PC on the triangle we sit in the queue haemorrhaging time, we were cursing. The lead car, our minute man over shot the white so that left one to pass, and to be fair once we were back on him he pulled over and we shot past on the verge and it felt like half way up the hedge. A slippy muddy white, big potholes on Hankook wets in a car with no exhaust tunnel - it didn't hold us back, with lights fading we made it to the next control, we'd dropped 3:02. I have no idea how Shaun was able to drive as quick as he did for the next mile or two, as far as I could tell we had no lights, I couldn't see anything and eventually the engine died and fortunately we got it into a gateway before stopping. It was a long time before the 2 cars we'd passed came through even longer for the next and by then Shaun had hooked up a jump pack to allow us to drive out of the section, we dropped 4 minutes there but that was by no means slowest. With some assistance we got back to the start and away home, me monitoring MTC1 for results, 1 car did go a few seconds faster on the first dropper but it looks to be an anomaly as they were dropping minutes on easily cleanable sections but we were 11 seconds clear of the front runners despite being held up, so retired whilst leading. Turns out the auxiliary belt idler pulley bearing had failed taking the belt with it which also took out the rad. With no alternator or water pump it's a wonder we got as far as we did with no serious harm done.

 

Next, I was scheduled to do the John Robson, starting from Hexham but I just couldn't find a driver after Richard Oxley went down ill. So, I went and marshalled. Shaun was out with Kath Woodman and having known her a long time and knowing that car they were my tip for a win. But alas Kath was rusty (her words) and a couple of wrong slots cost them the win, and they scraped 2nd by 1 second. Shaun’s brother Dion taking the historic win with the organisers liberal interpretation of historic allowing him to run what is a modern spec escort in a Mk1 Cortina shell - complete with 2.7l duratec.

 

If I'm honest I'd not marshalled on a road event in a very very long time and it was interesting to observe the difference between the slick polished top crews and the lower runners, I was on intermediate controls each time and this time matters. Also, the variety of different potties and lights in use, pens v pencils and other bits and pieces. Anyway that's a few points bagged for the ANCC championship, might make a difference at the end of the year. 

 

The following weekend the Amigos Rally of Derbyshire. I've done the event many times since my first (as a driver) in 1995, with a few different drivers in a variety of cars and it never disappoints, always something fresh and challenging.


A bit nearer to home this one, I met Shaun, who'd brought the Honda at the start venue the Great British Car Journey just outside Derby. This made for a fab venue with noise, scrutiny and signing on all on site and the cafe was open right through till all the cars had left. Once again, I bagged a table - this is becoming a bit of a theme.


Pre-plot Once again we got it all down in good time and joined the queue to depart the car park in good time. Seeded at 8 directly behind Adrian Green and Ian Gibbins, both of whom I've had many a dice with and Ian nav'ed for me last time I drove. Early on in the first section we caught them and as promised at the start, they promptly pulled over to let us through, couldn't have asked for better.


A little further on we see Sam Spencer and Kris Coombes (who'd beaten Shaun the weekend before) coming WD back to a secret check (Sam on foot, Kris doing his best to make progress in the car) so that was at least two of the top 7 starters that we were bearing. As the rally unfolded and we caught up with or saw stricken by the side of the road others of those cars that started in front of us, we knew things were looking up.

Black Toyota Corolla through a ford on a country road

A puncture in a neutral with 2 comps before petrol meant we dropped back down the running order having changed both fronts to matching sizes. But all penalty free so nothing of concern. It was around then that we lost the handbrake, not helpful with those tight hairpins, on private land.


With three cars in front of us running on the same minute we were quickly catching the tail ender and loosing time over those last two sections before petrol. Lesson learned I'll be dropping time if that situation unfolds again to give myself a cushion.


Into petrol, and boy did she need it, the light had been on for both of the previous competitive - back out and into the final sections. Lesson learnt I gave us a 2-minute gap to minimise the chance of catching the guy in front and it worked - a clean run to the finish, though still hampered by the lack of hydraulic handbrake.


We never believed we stood a hope of running with David Iwan Jones and Sambo Collis and couldn't. I'm told Iwan has won the Welsh championship in both seats and of the current crop of competitors, I not sure Sam's knowledge of map 119 can be beaten. Apparently, he'd been pestering Iwan for a while to come do the Derbyshire and fair play to the pair of them they were in a different class and beat us by 7:52, however we had 5.13 in hand over Kris Coombes which put us 2nd OA.

Grey Toyota Corolla with nearside rear quarter damage

No rally for me the next weekend but I was servicing for Jon and Jack Atherton in their Avenger on the East Riding Stages. Over 7 years since it was last run Chris Worral and I had put on a good number of hours repressing the car. All new safety gear as of course everything was out of date. Seized brakes, with fluid turned to jelly to deal with. Fuel system full of rubbish blocking jets etc and all the usual prep jobs to do. At one point we'd looked to pull the entry but with no reserves there'd be no refund so we pushed on and got the car finished on Friday. I took the car through scrutiny whilst John and Jack went off the recce, and it flew straight through. Back to service, fit the tracker cradle, gave the car a good clean and polish and all windows rainexed etc then home for the night. 


Back to Leconfield for 8.30, all good and with the car sent on its way we nipped out for a spot of spectating on SS1. Back in time for them returning after SS4 we gave the car a check over, but they'd had a trouble-free run so only precautionary checks to do.


Once again, we went out for a watch on SS7 at the same location as before but this time once they'd been through we moved on to SS9 as we didn't need to be back for service. We'd been tracking their progress via WhatsApp location sharing and after a while it became apparent they'd stopped near the end of SS8. 2 minutes later we got THE call. After much tooing and froing we got access to the still closed roads but long closed stage to recover the and a quick tow back to service to be loaded up. We suspect it is more debris in the fuel system to blame, but Jon and Jack had enjoyed the day. They'd done most of the stage mileage and the 3 of us servicing had had a good day out together too. That was all we were there for and never had any aspirations of competing and getting a result, it's not always about that.

Avenger on East Riding Stages (a closed road stage rally in February)

March looks slightly quieter at the moment. First up the Bro Caron, the next round of the Welsh and an ANWCC counter too and then back to the SW for the Primrose rally, we've unfinished business down there - both with Shaun in the Civic. On the 22nd I'm running a 12car with my daughter for my local club De Lacy MC.


Still leaves a couple of weekends free - might find another event or two yet!!


Blue Proton parked up ready to start a road rally

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