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Monday, 22 December 2014

Lotusbits Rallying | Review 2014

The 2014 REIS MSA National Asphalt Championship was, from day one, a baptism of fire for the Lotusbits Rally Team.

With considerable help from Kingsway Insurance it was decided Lotusbits would run two rally prepared Lotus Sunbeams in 2014.

Both cars were painted white displaying the Kingsway Insurance and Lotusbits logos.

"RTA 43X" driven by Mike Taylor, Lotusbits MD, with Peter Grant alongside as co-driver and "TON 301S" driven by Cathy Sewart, Mikes partner. (Bright pink wheel arches adorn Cathys car).

The championship comprised 8 qualifying events of which 5 best scores would count. As a full assault was planned, each event would be attended with both cars.

Round 1 - Tour of Epynt - Wales
Round 2 - Manx National Rally - Isle of Man
Round 3 - Jim Clark National Rally - Scotland
Round 4 - ALMC Stages - Ireland
Round 5 - Tyneside Stages - England
Round 6 - Mewla Rally - Wales
Round 7 - Wexford Stages Rally - Ireland
Round 8 - Cheviot Keith Knox Stages - England

As a pre-championship test at the end of 2013, Mike entered the Cheviot Stages in Cathys car, (unfortunately his car (RTA) had suffered damage on the previous rally). Cathy co-drive for Stuart Gilks in his Duratec engined Sunbeam.

The autumn event was held on the notorious roads across Otterburn Military Ranges, (at 242 square kilometres, it's the largest firing range in the UK) - the roads in the complex are tight and twisty, peppered with off camber blind crests with zero run-off.

Mike started cautiously - this was his first closed road event - and was overtaken by the car behind on the long second stage as it was very foggy and the intercom was not working. He then followed this Subaru until it span in front of him forcing him to Tbone it or take avoiding action.  Twelve minutes was subsequently lost when Mike got stuck in the boggy mud. Mike finished the event successfully despite the early incident and the appalling weather later in the day.

Stuart and Cathy were out after Special Stage 6 when their car suffered a driveshaft failure.

Round 1 - Tour of Epynt - Wales
The event at Epynt was held within the Army ranges between Llandovery and Builth Wells, another military complex with narrow roads, sudden gradient changes and no margin for error.

Mike started cautiously placed 84th after SS1. As the day progressed Mike moved rapidly up the field, lying 45th overall after SS5.

 He subsequently retired with head gasket failure caused by detonation damage to his engine on SS6.

Cathy and co-driver Mike Jones finished 63rd overall (from a seeded #91), which was a good result considering the environment!

Round 2 - Manx National Rally - Isle of Man
A long way from home and only the second closed road event for the Lotusbits team, everyone was grateful for the support from P.A.C.E Motorsport, who offered Lotusbits a recce car for the rally and on event support.

The Druidale stage of the Manx was a real challenge. The closed public roads were completely unforgiving, incredibly narrow at only 6'6" with huge drops either side.

As the team had only run the cars on single-venue events previously, it was discovered the fuel tanks in both cars were physically too small for the distances required  - and the rules stated "no-topping" up in between stages. Both cars returned to service on fumes only!

It was also noted the weather on the Isle of Man varied considerably from one side of the island to the other! The stage start was dry, with "no rain" forecast. Cathy went out on intermediate tyres but Mike chose slicks. The following three stages were driven in pouring rain - slick tyres were not the best choice! As remote servicing was banned( for most cars!) he battled on.  Acclimatising to the complete lack of grip he overtook a couple of cars, mid-stage, also running slicks - so his times were good by comparison. Learning point - you need to choose a safe tyre for the whole loop of stages not the best for the first one! Mike then stuck to wets for the second day thinking it might rain but it stayed dry all day! The fuel rail worked loose over the big jumps on Knocksharry - stage 8 and the car  lost all of its fuel. Fortunately Mike fixed the problem with the fuel rail at the end of the stage and Peter managed to scrounge some fuel from a farmers horsebox generator to get through the next stage and back to service.

Mike finished 52 overall in the amalgamated event.

Cathy managed to finish although she hit a tree with the rear of her car - no-one could accuse her of not trying! Cathy finished 59th overall in the amalgamated event

Round 3 - Jim Clark National Rally - Scotland
Considerable work was carried out to both cars, (including some miraculous panel beating to Cathys car by Keith) prior to the Scottish event.

The Jim Clark Rally is the only "closed public road" event in mainland Britain.

The first stage was held in Duns town centre, a similar environment to the single venue stage rallies Mike's used to, consequently he set a really good time finishing 28th o/a half a second behind class rival Keith Robathon but ahead of Dave Tinn in the Millington Proton.

During SS2, Abbey St Bathans - Mike and Peter had some issues with the notes and were caught by the Puma behind and then both overtook the car in front to the consternation of the Nova...

Unfortunately a brake hose on Mikes car rubbed through, during the second stage. The following stages, SS3 and SS4, were completed without brakes!

Cathy restarted Day 2 at 73rd overall but was unfortunate to hit a bank heavily on the first stage and retired.

Mike restarted 90th (under the regulations) and enjoyed lots of overtaking, finishing 41st overall - quite a result considering the brake and grip issues...

Please note - the 2014 event was cancelled early due to cars leaving the road and colliding with spectators, sincere condolences to families and friends of those involved.

Round 4 - ALMC Stages - Ireland
Mike had a very short rally after sliding under braking into a bank on SS2 - he attempted to limp the car to the end of the stage, but the steering locked whilst trying to negotiate a chicane.

Being pushed into a pub car park was a bonus, although the £70 bill for the driver and co-drivers Guiness consumption stung a bit...
Cathy flew to a strong finish, 41st overall (seeded #81).

Round 5 - Tyneside Stages - England
Both Mike and Cathy were beginning to understand the dangers of Otterburn and a slightly cautious approach reaped benefits for both little Lotus Sunbeams.

Mike finished 33rd from an original seeding of #52, Cathy had another excellent result completing the event, to finish in 54th place, seeded #86.

Round 6 - Mewla Rally - Wales
Another round of the Championship at Epynt - Mike finished this event, just... 

The Lotus Sunbeam cracking a diff nose bracket before half way and the service times were too short to change it. Instead the service crew hammered shaped blocks of wood into the chassis to hold the diff in place. The bracket failed completely 3 stages from the end of the event - the Lotusbits team (mantra "It's not over 'til it's over") sprang into action. More blocks of wood were hammered in to stop the diff banging and crashing and the crew limped home to finish a credible 32nd (seeded 46th).

Cathy finished 39th despite spinning after the German village and reshaping the front and rear of her car...

Round 7 - Wexford Stages Rally - Ireland
This was, perhaps, the most challenging two days the Team had faced to date.

The rally covered 150 competitive miles, on two 12 1/2mile stages, each running 3 times on
Saturday and 3 stages each running 3 times on Sunday.

Mike and Peter were off to a good start returning faster times than expected, but on SS5 during the second loop the front anti-roll bar snapped under heavy braking. This was a modified item, altered to increase castor and camber - more development required!

Mike limped the car slowly to service and discovered the spare anti-roll bar was missing from the van!
(Cue the Lotusbits mantra "It's not over 'til it's over")...

Pambos, (a member of the Lotusbits service crew and welder extraordinaire), managed to weld up the anti-roll bar, and somewhere he managed to scrounge a bolt to replace the snapped off bit that fell off. The front suspension (damaged by the lack of ant-roll bar) was rebuilt along with the bent steering arms and rack. Mike re-started under Super Rally rules and the crew were competing again, but a steering arm snapped which Mike managed to change at the side of the road...

Although Mike and Peter finished last, they collected their best Championship points on the event!

Cathys day wasn't any better, a bent shock absorber followed by a re-charging issue caused her to retire on the second day.

No, only bananas should look like that...

3 Sisters
The Team entered a non-Championship single venue event at 3 sisters to celebrate Mikes nephews - Andrew Brown -  14th birthday - he co-drove - definitely a star of the future!

A misfire occurred on Mikes car, caused by a loose fuel tank crushing a fuel line (leftovers from the Irish event). The car was also oversteering violently on fast corners, not what's needed at 100mph... another leftover from Ireland - both dampers were completely ruined. He later retired with a broken valve spring after SS9.

Cathy retired after SS3, with a spin through stage furniture and could not restart the car..

Round 8 - Cheviot Keith Knox Stages - England
This rally was at Otterburn ranges, a venue both Cathy and Mike are beginning to enjoy.

Cathy had an unfortunate start, she landed badly after the legendary Cowstone jump, slightly offline and landed on the grass - all was well until she hit a concrete drain cover which caused terminal suspension damage to the front and rear.

Mike had fuelling issues, diagnosed as a faulty fuel pump. this was replaced but the car was dogged by fuel pressure issues throughout the rally.

On SS5, he outbraked himself on gravel and went quickly off the road near Cathys incident, Cathy and her co-driver came and pushed but the car was too far downhill, (he shot through a fence which left barbed wire marks on the roof)! The car was finally extracted after 4 minutes.

Mike finished 25th overall despite parking in the ditch.

Rallying's expensive, immensely frustrating, utterly addictive and a fantastic platform for Lotusbits product development to carry over to road cars.

Without the support from Kingsway Insurance and the fantastic team of Lotusbits spanner monkeys this year would not have happened, a huge thank you for your involvement during 2014 and a bigger thank you for the increasing commitment from Kingsway Insurance (who also specialise in Motorsport Insurance) for 2015.

A final test session is booked late in December to round the year off, to test and set up new dampers (fitted to both cars) and a recently installed gearbox (Mikes car).

As a New Year shakedown the Lotusbits Rally Team are off to the Isle of Man again, for the IMGold Chris Kelly Memorial Rally which takes place on Saturday 31st January 2015.
All that remains is:

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