Hughes rally report

In the woods (part of an army training ground) on a test against the clock

If you want to see someone go into meltdown give them 2 maps (which will need multiple refolding), a clip board with speed tables, a clip board with route instructions, a series of time cards that need to be handed to marshals in the right order and a sheet for noting down your start times and your target speed (which often changes mid-regualrity) and any code boards you pass on route. Hang two or three stopwatches and a roamer (for accurate map measuring) around his neck and put a pencil in his mouth. Squish him and all his gear into a very small, noisy and bumpy car. Throw an envelope of instructions at him and then drive up to a junction in the middle of nowhere and say, calmly, “left or right?”

After a full day and well over a hundred miles of competition the guys at the front will be separated by seconds. Anyone who competes alongside his or her spouse runs the risk of being separated full stop.

Rob (my navigator) coped admirably though we were both shattered after a day of competition. This is because the driver gets to hare about on what rallyists call “the loose”.

Spread out throughout the day, the tests take place on private land and are basically short stages. We did two rallies and we saw a real variety of test. Some were on bumpy, wet concrete at a disused airfield, one was on grass and several were on gravel between the trees. All were brilliant. My favourite was the one in a farm yard (complete with cow shed).

"On the loose!" This was a big gravelly car park for lots of tail out action

There is some effort to keep speeds down and preserve cars so, there might be a stop astride line by a huge bump that a stage car would sail over or a cone on the apex of a wooded bend to prevent too much clipping.

Wheelman and Nav are still working as a team because it is often not clear from the route diagram where you are going to go until you get there. The organisers are very careful to make sure you can’t see the course or other competitors before you start. You can hear their engines working hard though, and see the dust or mud (depending on weather) they throw into the air. This does a very good job of getting the adrenalin going and that’s before the marshal leans in front of the windscreen and counts down “Five! Four! Three! Two! One! GO!”, complete with cool rally hand signal.

My car was perfect for some of these stages and set some excellent times. In our first rally we set the second fastest on one test. I’m sure we were helped by the car being narrow.

On the rough stages we were less successful. The lowered suspension was a real hindrance and it slowed us. In several wooded sections there was a pronounced camber and we quickly realised that to stop the car permanently hitting the ground we had to drive with either the left or the right wheels on the top of the camber and swerve around potholes.

Our competitors used very accurate trip meters (special rally ones). We just wanted to have a go and so didn’t bother. At lunch we were in the top half of the table because the regularity sections were easy. As it got more complex we slid down the order and ended up nearly last. With half a mile to go we ran out of fuel (turns out the gauge doesn’t work) but otherwise it was just great fun.

On a road section. Rob probably looking at the map, me probably asking him where to go

But the best bit is that it is one of the few types of motorsport where you are definitely acting as a team. We are already planning strategies for next year.

About Shoestring

I just an ordinary guy with a busy job trying to compete in motorsport. I like to make things difficult for myself by living far away from most of the venues, using a car known to have "issues" and living in the cobble-streeted heart of a Cathedral city and therefore having no room to store a trailer or a van. This means that I have to drive to every event. Or get creative with hire vans...
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