5th December 2011
Some people might think that a last minute entry into the longest rally event now held in Britain is not ideal preparation but here’s a thought - it gives you less time to get nervous. The Oceanscan Rally Team are famous for late entries but this really was last minute. With 9 days to go before the event started in Yorkshire the team didn’t have a budget to do the event, a suitable historic spec car, an entry or co-driver but these are only minor details.
8 days to go and Ken Hunter, owner of Oceanscan kindly agreed to support the team again, a full FIA specification historic Escort was hired from Grant Shand at Rally Extreme, Colin Heppenstall accepted our late entry and Phil Clarke, an experienced co-driver agreed to sit with Keith. We also managed to get support from Pirelli which meant we would be using good tyres. The rally would start in Helmsley, Yorkshire on the evening of Dec 2nd and finish after 170 stage miles and 700 road miles in Carlisle on Dec 5th. No pace notes allowed just OS maps for stage information.
With all of the rally arrangements now in place we then had to work out the logistics of getting Keith and Phil to the start in Yorkshire but also having their road cars available in Carlisle after the finish. The plan came together and Keith picked Phil up in Carlisle on Thursday evening. Phil’s car remained in Carlisle ready for the Monday finish and the driver and co-driver set off for Yorkshire. Quickest route would have been over to Scotch corner but driver and co-driver were reminiscing over road rallying in Wales and both managed to completely miss the turning off the M6. They also missed so many following turn offs going down the M6 that they ended up in Blackburn on the M65 - good start.
Day 1 - Car arrived in Helmsley on Friday afternoon and was soon through scrutineering giving Keith a chance to adjust the seat and drive the car for the first time. Main difference for this car is the historic spec ZF gearbox which has a dog leg 1st gear location. This means that 2nd and 3rd gears are where 1st and 2nd would usually be found and 4th and 5th gears are where 3rd and 4th would usually be. After driving the car Keith commented “I think it will take a while to get used to the gearbox but the car drives really well and have already asked Grant if he will swap it for Pam’s Focus”. Due to the late entry the car had no 46 on the door but crew were slotted in to run car 15 on the road.
The rally started with a short 3 mile stage in the dark around Duncombe Park. As expected Keith found it hard to get to grips with the gear change but with another 167 stage to go a steady start was required and they completed the stage safely and without any mishaps. Next stage was into the forest complex at Dalby and this proved to be more of a test as the stage surface was very slippery being a mixture of grass and wet clay. Dalby has a lot of long straights with 90 deg corners and the surface started to break up with large potholes appearing in the braking zone before the junctions. In order to get more top speed on the long straights Keith had decided to use 15” tyres instead of 13” but this was a mistake as the 15” tyres kick back through the steering a lot more when the car hits potholes etc.. The crew were lucky as the car did hit a large pot hole when braking for a 90 deg junction into the Wood Yard and jumped sideways off the road landing between 2 trees. No damage except bent steering arm but could have been a very short rally. The Belgian crew who had won the event last year left the road in Dalby and went no further. Friday night was completed with a re-run of the Duncombe Park and Dalby stages but this time Keith used the 13” forest tyres and Friday night was completed without any further dramas with the crew finishing in 15th overall position. The Rally Extreme crew then checked the car over ready for early start on Saturday morning in the Yorkshire forests of Langdale and Gale Rigg.
Day 2 started at 8am with daylight stages for the first time. Saturday consisted of 4 runs through Langdale and Gale Rigg forest stages, 2 more runs around the short stage at Duncombe Park and then heading up to Croft for 2 stages around the circuit in the dark. The crew were getting used to the car and started to set some top 5 stage times. Only issue in Gale Rigg was a large hole about 18” deep which stretched across one of the junctions. This hole swallowed the car bending the front spoiler before throwing it back out onto the road. For the last run through Duncombe Park we decided to use gravel tyres rather than tarmac tyres and stage time was much better. Note for future – use gravel tyres on rough tarmac. Following a long road section up to Croft the car was put onto tarmac tyres and we completed the 2 x night stages around the circuit. The stage times weren’t great but we were still going. Following Croft we had 2 x forest stages 13 and 14 to complete in the dark before finishing in Carlisle for overnight halt. Stage 13 wasn’t good for the crew. Phil Collins had gone off in front of them so spectators were all over the road waving them to a near stop before they could get past. Then torrential rain so they couldn’t see as light from spotlights reflecting back off the rain and icing on the cake the screen then misted up. Keith commented “I lost all confidence in that last stage and told Phil I was happy to just get through in one piece”. The last stage on Saturday was Shephershield which was completed without drama. Crew then headed to Carlisle for the overnight halt at the Racecourse. Unfortunately the recent torrential rain had turned the grass service area into a swamp with the service vans getting stuck.
Crews were having to service wherever their vans had sunk in the field which isn’t ideal but we found our crew and with no problems to fix on the car headed to the B+B and to find something to eat. Not ideal eating Chinese takeaway at midnight but needs must! The crew had moved up and were now lying 8th overall.
Day 3 started at 08-15hrs and would be the longest day of the rally both in stage miles and late finish time back in Carlisle after 22-00hrs. The crew were looking forward to the stages in Scotland and despite warnings of snow the first runs through AE and Twiglees stages were mostly clear of the white stuff. Ae had a short section by junction 18 which was packed snow but rest of stage was in fantastic condition. Twiglees also has some packed snow but again was mostly in excellent condition. Crew set top 5 times again and then headed back to Carlisle for service. Car was fine again but did need new brake pads fitted front and rear due to wear. Cars then headed back north for the second run through Ae where the crew were very happy being 2nd quickest. After AE 2 the crews headed back down to Carlisle for another service before returning north to complete Twiglees 2 but now in the dark. The temperature had now dropped and the stage became very slippery so sensible approach and get through without going off. Next stage was Newcastleton before long run back down to Carlisle for service and then back to Newcastleton again. The snow on the road section had now frozen and even getting to Newcastleton was difficult as car was struggling to get up hills on the road section. The crew had to put one of the wheels in the verge to try and get traction on a couple of the hills but they made it to the start and once on the gravel road there was more grip. The crew had moved up during the daylight stages but lost a lot of time in this stage. Keith commented “ I should be able to drive in the dark, I used to win night road rallies in Wales but OK it was a long time ago. Losing all of the time we made up today is really frustrating but we are still going and tomorrow is another long day”. Following Newcastleton 1 the crews headed back down to Carlisle before driving back up again for the last stage of the day Newcastleton 2. In this stage the crew had a problem when the intercom stopped working but they got through safely and had more moments on the icy road section back to Carlisle. The intercom was fixed in the overnight service – faulty battery and then finally back to B&B around midnight. The crew finished the day 6th overall and also 1st in the FIA classification for the type of car they were using.
Day 4 starts again at 08-15hrs. A real sting in the tail was planned for Monday morning with 2 x long 18 mile stages in Kershope but the weather decided to play its part. When the crews gathered to start in Carlisle it was raining but reports were that the Kershope stage was covered in several inches of snow and organising cars were struggling to get through the stage due to compacting snow and ice. The snow on the road section to the stage seemed quite wet so Keith decided to gamble on running narrow gravel tyres instead of snow tyres. Turned out the snow was wetter as this area was lower down and once the roads started to climb up into the forest area the temperature dropped and the snow became icier. The crew nearly didn’t get to the stage start as car couldn’t get up one of the inclines on the access road but 6 spectators appeared from nowhere and pushed the car up the hill. David Stokes who was lying 2nd overall also made the same tyre choice as Keith and Phil but everyone else was on full snow tyres.
On the stage start line it looked quite promising with gravel appearing through the snow but once the crew got going the stage was by now covered in 10” of snow with ice where previous cars had made 2 tracks but once front wheels catch the deep snow it pulls the car further off the road and into even deeper snow. The crew did the best they could on the tyres and only had one major moments, 40 yard slide 90deg to road but as they were about to go into the trees the front of the car decided to turn back towards the road, power on and car popped back into the ruts – one relieved crew who were very pleased to see the end of this stage. Their time was actually pretty good considering the wrong tyres. They set another top 5 time and beat David Stokes on same tyres by 1 minute. The rally had a ceremonial finish planned in Carlisle City centre so due to the rally now running behind schedule the organisers decided to cancel the second running of Kershope and the cars headed back down to Carlisle for the last time.
After a very challenging event the team finished 6th overall and 1st in the FIA class. Keith and Phil were especially pleased with the beautiful FIA trophies which they received - picture below. The event was won by professional driver Gwyndaf Evans in the Viking Motorsport entered Escort. Tim Pearcey came second after a fantastic time through the last stage which moved him up from 3rd with David Stokes then finishing in the 3rd position.
Special thanks go to main sponsor Ken Hunter at Oceanscan. The Rally Extreme team for providing a fantastic car to use and excellent on event support, our chase crew Dave and Mark who took care of any issues, Pirelli tyres for providing a great tyre, Mike/Jill for providing exceptional accommodation in Yorkshire and Keith’s wife Pamela for continuing to support him.More news...