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Monday, 15 October 2012

2nd Overall - Help for Heroes Weeton Stages Rally 2012

After competing at the Pendragon Stages the Previous Sunday, there was a lot of work to do on the car including removing the engine and inspecting the bottom end as the DTA X-dash was indicating erratic oil pressure. The differential also came out to inspect the mounting points. The sumpguard had taken a lot of abuse on the rough section on the Pendragon Rally and took a lot of flattening – note to self if we do the  Pendragon Stages next year, we must fit the longer springs and raise the ride height…
After previous alternator and power steering pump issues we decided to fit a smaller 3 groove pulley to the crank which was CNC machined from billet. This new pulley reduced the speed of the water pump, power steering pump and alternator by 20% to aid durability at continuous high RPM.

The front lower suspension arm was also bent and needed replacing – not a drama as it is a standard Lotus Excel item. What should have been a straightforward swap became a major panic as the new polyurethane bushes for the inner bush from SJ Sportscars only arrived on the Friday morning despite being ordered weeks ago. When we tried to assemble them, we found they did not fit! We had to rush down to FivePen Engineering to have the bushes machined to the correct size. Even more frustrating – We could not even vent our anger at Steve from SJ’s as he was on honeymoon…

Ben spent Thursday and Friday putting the car back together and by 6pm on the Friday everything was completed and the car road tested! It was nice not to have a late night, before the rally, working on the car. We even had time to load all the kit into the van on Friday. This gave us a relaxed start on Saturday to head off up the M6 to Lancashire. We arrived at the venue, just after Howard Potter in the Red Lotusbits Sunbeam, in time to leave the car in the service area overnight.

At 6am on the Sunday morning we were back at Weeton unloading the car in the dark and rain as our scrutineering time was 6-30am – we went straight through noise and scrutineering with no issues. It was time for a bacon butty and a cup of tea and think about tyre choice. We plumbed for Dunlop X22 slicks as it was wet without too much standing water. After a chat with Slick Tyres we followed their advice and went for cut X22 wets for Special Stage 1.

It was Cathy’s first time back in the co-drivers seat after having our second son Alex 10 weeks ago, so she was a little nervous (and very busy as she is still breastfeeding Alex)!

Ben could not join the crew this weekend due to family commitments, so Sams friend Tom came along with Ally and Dave, Ally on Babysitting duties and Dave to get some good photos if time permitted.
The car performed well in the treacherous wet conditions of SS1 until we went over the jump. We started getting erratic oil pressure readings as we previously had on the Pendragon Stages. We immediately slowed down and the readings normalised. Then after the next bend we had zero oil pressure indicated on the X-Dash but the oil pressure light had not even flickered on. We decided to continue on cautiously listening carefully for a change in engine note which would not take long with zero oil pressure!  We made it to the end of the stage and decided to swap the fuel pressure transducer with the oil pressure transducer as the engine sounded OK. Unfortunately we only had 11 mins in service between SS1 and SS2, so we could only check the levels and go back out as we were. On SS2 we pushed a little harder with the engine still sounding OK but we overshot through the gate at the bottom of the venue and stalled when reversing -  losing at least 10 seconds.
After  SS2 we found we were 8th overall and Howard was in 11th in car 14, the Red Lotusbits Sunbeam. Our Fellow Wallasey MC crew of Keith Douthwaite and Tony King were ahead of us by 4 seconds despite being seeded 15th. On SS3 the oil pressure transducer failed completely and we started to get reported fuel pressure errors  – I guess the VDO transducers don’t like hard landings….

We started to up the pace on SS3 confident that the engine was OK, but spun over a wet slippy concrete base in front of the service area – at least it entertained the service crew! Fortunately we missed all the kerbs and barrels so there was no damage. On SS4 we started to get a loud clunk every time we went on and off the power. We assumed it was coming from the differential, so we got the car up in the air and went over the back end with a fine tooth comb but could not find the cause.

After SS4 I went over and had a chat with Keith Douthwaite who was praying for the rain due at midday. Sure enough at lunchtime his prayers were answered and the heavens opened! This was good for us as the wet tyres were starting to overheat. We were considering X22 slicks for SS5, but remained on wets. The heavy landing over the “bump” before the ramp on SS3 and SS4 had taken its toll on the sump guard, ripping off two of the mounting bolts.

On  SS5 the concrete bases of the Army Barracks were much slippier due to the rain. The tight hairpin before the merge became a mudbath with everyone cutting it.  On the first loop we spun on the concrete base entering the merge. On the Second loop we caught Car 8 the yellow Millington engined Mk2 Escort of Tom Morris and Colin Harkness. Car 8 did not see us and closed the door when we tried to pass under braking. On the next bend we were right behind him when he starting braking way before we expected and had to take evasive action to avoid hitting him. (See the video). We had to follow car 8 for the next series of bends to the back straight where we tried to go up the inside but could not match the acceleration of the Millington engined Escort on the straight, so then had to follow all the way to the split where we went left to the finish – very frustrating. It probably cost us 10 seconds. We had a quiet word in service with Car 8 who had not seen us. After this we caught car 8 several times and every time they moved out of our way immediately even to the point where it cost them time – what a gentleman!

Unfortunately for Howard in the red Lotusbits Sunbeam, he misjudged how slippery a corner was and slid backwards into a big kerb, shattering his rear wheel and breaking a rear hub carrier. As neither of us brought a spare Lotus Excel rear hub assembly with us, it was the end of his rally.

After SS6 we had moved up to 4th overall and were taking significant time out of two of the cars in front – Car 4 the Group A Escort Cosworth of Ian Joel and Car 6 the Yellow Mk 2 of  Trevor Smith. The wet weather was working for us !! On SS7 and SS8 the rain got heavier and the standing water on the concrete  got deeper, making any change of direction rather difficult, so we had to adapt our driving style accordingly and do all of the braking and turning on the tarmac.

On SS9 the rain got heavier again making conditions worse and we had a near miss catching car 8 again on a concrete base deep in water. With our bow wave and the spray from car 8 we could not see the gate way we had to slot right through – guessing was not nice!
We were about to go out to MTC10 for SS10 when all drivers were told to report to Rally HQ to be told the remaining 3 stages were cancelled due to dangerous conditions – a wise decision considering the amount and depth of the standing water. People even struggled to exit the venue as the road was flooded.

A good push on SS9 kept us ahead of cars 4 and 6 and moved us up to 2nd overall – our best ever result!
The conditions clearly suited the car, but I am not sure about the service crew – Sam, Dave and Tom looked like drowned rats at the end of the day.
Watch the (very wet) video here.
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