The venue was in North Norfolk which does have hills. Well, little ones. I had bought a foot pump and pressure gauge especially because I had read that one trick is to lower tyre pressures to increase traction. I also put the spare diff, some tools and a spare driveshaft in the boot, ostensibly in case they were needed but really in the name of traction. Serious triallers often use Midgets with a boot full of parts and twin spare wheels on the lid.
They also have raised suspension while mine is lowered.
We arrived in plenty of time, ready to walk the course and work out the best route. Then immediately fail scrutineering. The last event was the hugely bumpy grass autotest and the battery bracket has fallen off and is missing.
Rob, appointed Master Bodger after his heroic fabrication of a beam breaker from a clipboard at Silverstone, is about to set to with bungees when I discover the bracket under the battery. The nuts were still tight – so tight the bracket was bent. That it had come off shows just how brutal the car’s recent life had been. Unfortunately this was not to be the first mechanical problem of the day…
It is easy to see where we are supposed to go as we attack the first test. Potter up a gentle slope, plunge down into a hole not unlike a bomb crater, turn left, along a bit and then right, then hoof it up and out. Well, up anyway. We got pretty close to the top before coming to a halt, engine roaring and wheels spinning. We fail to convince the marshal that we had made it to the second gate from the top but not bad for a first go.
Then came the hard bit. Reversing down the hill and getting out of the hole. In the middle of the world’s most awkward thirty point turn the engine went flat and unresponsive and I got worried. Turned out the end of the exhaust was buried in the hill. I like repairs that are as easy as driving forwards!
The next test is much longer and starts at the top of a slope of at least a one in three. Going down is easy in today‘s dry weather. A loop round and then a weave back up between the trees and over the crest. In theory anyway.
This was the most frustrating hill because we so nearly did it brilliantly. Momentum is critical and early on the hill you need to go fast in order to carry enough speed for later. In the Midget this produces dramatic oversteer; fantastic fun and our undoing. Rules are that if you touch a gate as you go through it, that’s the score you get. On every attempt at the second hill the rear of the car swung wide and clipped a gate so despite making it over the top we got the same score as if we had got stuck half way up.
This was also the only test where ground clearance was an issue. To get over the top we had to skid the car on its bottom / exhaust / axle with the rear wheels briefly pawing the air. This may explain what happened on the next hill.
The third hill was long and very steep with narrow gates and an awkward 90 degree turn near the top. Like most of the people there, Rob and I were double driving (ie taking it in turns) and had both failed at the first attempt. On the next go I decided to show Rob what passengers can do to help. What they can do is bounce up and down in their seat like a demented kangaroo. According to the on line guide this is known as “bouncing”. Told you it wasn’t complicated.
Bouncing massively increases traction and, as hills steepen, wheelspin builds and the car slows to a noisy stop an energetic passenger can give it a sudden bite and send it scurrying to the top of the hill.
My car is perfect for bouncing – the roll cage provides a handle and, with my assistance, Rob clears the hill. Time for him to repay the favour and we set off. With Rob bouncing like a jack hammer, I am approaching the top for the first time. Suddenly the engine revs shoot up and the car rolls backwards. Something big in the axle has broken.
We roll into the paddock and optimistically I set to work. With the wheel off and the drum removed I pull out the driveshaft to find its splines twisted like a helta skelta. I could fit the spare but a fiddle with the diff produced a terrible graunching. I briefly consider trying to change the diff but with limited tools and no clean oil to go in I decide on a better plan.
We get a tow from a fellow competitor round the corner to a lovely pub, call the breakdown people and wait for a lift home.
What killed the diff? Midget axles are week and this one had already been through a season of standing starts in rallies, hillclimbs and sprints so whether it would have gone without the bouncing I don’t know. I do know that it was full of some fairly substantial pieces.
A premature end to an otherwise fun day. Everybody should have a go at it at least once. I’m definitely going to do it again. Once I’ve rebuilt the axle.