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Monday, 2 April 2012

SMC Stages - Weeton Army Camp

SMC Stages, nr Blackpool -25th March 2012 
Mike Taylor and Samantha Bartlett
After a poor result at Anglesey on the Lee Holland stages due to the handling issues and a stage maximum, we were going over the Lotusbits Lotus Sunbeam to prepare it for the next rally at MIRA.

We received a phone call from the SMC stages entry secretary asking if would we like a late entry for Weeton on Sunday. It is not like us to enter an event at the last minute – we normally set the schedule at the beginning of the year… 
It sounded a good idea but the rally was only 3 days away – we needed a co-driver and service crew at very short notice. Service crew Sam was up for it as his car was not ready for Santa Pod “run what you brung” and Ben got a pass out from Carly. Sam (Samantha) was up for co-driving as she wanted more ANWCC championship points to stay ahead of Heather Stamper.  Game on!

We , thankfully, had an uneventful trip up the M6 arriving early.  We unloaded and were the 3rd car in the queue for scrutineering – we needed to get through early as the Weeton Army Camp gates were closing at 4.30pm and we needed to leave the car and trailer there. Unfortunately the noise test official was late and the noise test was left until Sunday morning,  but the little Sunbeam passed scrutineering without a hitch.
We had an opportunity on arrival at Weeton to walk the course (with the permission of the chief marshal).  This allowed Sam to prepare her maps early to reduce the rush on Sunday morning , we headed off to the hotel for a few beers!

As we put a late entry in, we were running car #35. The organizers decided to drop us in between 3 and 4.
Various wheel arches on the Sunbeam had been “modified” by the scenery and driver during previous events, a regular occurrence. The service crew decided to run a wheelarch sweepstake,  each crew member naming an arch which they thought would be hit first!

Before the start we took the scrutineers advice and triple locked the harnesses around the roll cage bar. Off to the start only to be told off by the scrutineer as we had not removed the pin from the fire extinguishers!  
Stage 1 was very slippery and many of the bends were covered in gravel.  We caught and overtook car #3 on the first loop and car #10 on the second loop. We wandered over to the live results screen to find we were 5th overall after stage 1 – it could have been worse especially as there were 2 World Rally Cars ahead, this was more like it, the Lotusbits Sunbeam beginning to work as it should.

The video camera recorded SS1, unfortunately without sound, so Ben limbered up and threaded himself into the back to rectify a duff connection from the intercom.

Car #3 retired on Stage 1 and unfortunately Car #1, an Escort WRC retired on SS2, it would have been nice to compare times with a modern 4 wheel drive World Rally Car, our Sunbeam now running the Lotusbits development traction control system.

At the end of SS3 the flying finish was immediately after a 90 left which we took a little too enthusiastically and ended up having to reverse to the time control, much to the amusement of the crew of Car #5 – LHD Escort Cosworth.

After SS3 the front tyres started to overheat so we went onto a pair of 8s and headed out for SS4 – perhaps something to do with the driver locking up and flat-spotting them, more enjoyable enthusiasm!
After SS4 we had moved up to 3rd overall.  Following SS5 and a really bumpy stage, the crew checked over the suspension and found a split and bent front lower arm that needed changing.  Only 8 minutes between SS5 & SS6, not enough time, even for Ben and Sam. This was left until completion of SS6. As soon as we came in Ben and Sam set about the front corner, stripping out and replacing the bent arm – all done in 30 mins – a fantastic job by the Lotusbits spanner monkeys!  Note: more heat sleeves required as both Ben and Sam were branded by the glowing brake discs, that’s a determined service crew for you!

 Back out for SS7 the little Lotusbits Sunbeam remained 3rd overall.

On SS7 the handling was not quite right and we went straight on at a junction collecting a cone and some tape – fortunately no damage. When we got back to service we found a couple of washers missing from the lower arm bush allowing the arm to push out the bushes letting the wheel flap around. Panic stations – we needed to get the inner mount off and replace the bushes properly – it sounds simple but not in 20 minutes.  2 minutes before we were due in to the time control we struggled to push the polybush back in. We ended up 6 mins late at the time control despite Sam and Bens best efforts. Fortunately there were no road penalties applied for this. The downside was starting right down the field behind several 1000cc Micras. On SS9 we overtook 3 cars on the stage including the Micra who began 30 secs in front – who kindly and  promptly let us through, although we lost a lot of time on the narrow nadgery bits where we could not overtake safely.
Car #14 retired on SS9 with a broken diff, after smashing a rim on SS8 which left us in 2nd position overall.
 On SS10 we started behind Steve Johnson in the White F1000 Micra who, when we caught him indicated  for us to come through, which we lost no time in accepting only to overshoot the next junction going straight over the kerbs onto the grass! This allowed Steve back through in the process, we caught him again just before the flying finish… 
It felt like the tyres were going off so we put 2s on the front for SS11, but on the stage we had front grip but no rear grip. We had a spin in front of the heavily bandaged Manta losing 20 secs and dropping us down to 3rd overall. When we checked the rear tyres in service we found that they had no tread left and had lost a layer of canvas as well! So a new pair of 2s on the rear and we took 25 secs out of our SS11 time.

We finished 3rd overall – our best result yet!

Roll on Mira – The Lotusbits Sunbeam is currently with Willie Poole Motorsport Services on his jig, the front sump guard mounts need a tweak after the kerb adjusted  them slightly!

Above images courtesy Pro-Rally Photography

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