Saturday, January 22, 2005


Snow at O'Hare
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I'm not sure if this is an omen of sorts but I've spent most of the day being thwarted by the weather and somehow (I think) come out ahead.

Blizzards have shut down most of the eastern parts of the United States. Chicago has been particularly badly hit and O'Hare airport closed. My United flight was cancelled (eventually). I've managed to get re-routed on British Airways which is a much shorter flight and has more legroom. My only concern is whether my bags containing critical rally equipment will turn up in London...


Monte Carlo or bust...!

Monte 2005005Well I hope it's not really "bust". Later today I head off to the airport for the tedious flight back to Europe. On my December trip I burned up some accumulated frequent flyer miles and upgraded myself with the slightly pompous view that "a man in my position" (namely the recipient of a D.Sc.) should travel in style. No such luck on this occasion. It'll be strictly cattle truck class with one glass of nasty chardonnay with my piece of dead chicken. I don't suppose United Airlines care a great deal whether I'm an official member of the Cooper Car Co team. I bet Paddy Hopkirk never had this problem.

Anyway the car is 98% ready, the maps are 98% done and I can hardly believe that after 14 months of scheming the rally is upon us. All that remains to be done to the car is a good detailing for the MiniWorld photoshoot on Tuesday, Dymo tape the instruments, obtain a "tax exempt" disc and calibrate the Halda tripmeter with the different tyres. Then we can pack and go, assuming Bill has sorted out the tools and spares. On the navigational front, I want to take some distances off the large scale (1:25,000) maps Willy Cave has procured for me (I'm trusting they'll arrive at Bill's place by Monday) and transfer them to the tulip diagrams. If I don't finish it before the rally starts I can do it on the road. I'll need to study each regularity the night/morning before we do them in any event. Jim Wirtz seems to have the service side of things in order with CB radios and all sorts of equipment. He seems very organised and I'm looking forward to working with him.

We are still dithering about whether we need an intercom or to wear crash helmets for the final night. The former is a question of money (do we really want to spend another $500 when we can simply shout a bit) and the latter issue boils down to whether we want to look like a pair of ninnies (real classic rally drivers bash their brains out on the dashboard). I'm opting for the ninny option but I'm not sure Bill is so convinced. And if we do, I'll have to source and buy a helmet in the UK -another thing to do.

I'm now out of time and have to tidy up the house, pay a few bills, send a couple of emails and pack. I'm not sure when my next post will be. I'm hoping there will be (free) wi-fi access on the road, in which case I'll be sending in rally reports. They should also be available on the Bill Richards Racing website.

A week today we'll be thrashing through the night on the Concentration Run. Wish us luck!


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Despite completing numerous tasks in preparation for the Monte Carlo Historique Rallye next week (Oh God, is it really that close?!) new ones seem to pop up all the time. Preparing for this event is like battling an enormous organizational Hydra. Anyway I can report the following:

• Bill Richards has now put 400 miles on the rebuilt engine and reports the car to be in great shape and "right horny". In the UK motorsport patois this can be interpreted as "looking good and seriously competition ready".

• The Dunlop D93J tyres have arrived (phew, what a relief). Bill also describes these as "horny".

• I've finished plotting the route and have made a route book which I doubt could be described as "horny". However as an aid to high speed navigation I think it will do the job. In all the rallys I've done, the route plotting has never been done in this detail.

• I've bought a digital device for measuring distance on maps. When I've received the 1:25,000 large scale maps from Willy Cave next week (he's sending them to Bill's house) I'll make a detailed assessment of each regularity stage (ZR) and transfer distances to the tulip diagrams in the road book. My aim is to minimize the amount of navigation I do on the ZRs and focus on reading the times form the speed tables.

• The insurance is done. Norton Insurance, Birmingham, UK still offer easily the best deal for rally cover and breakdown service is included.

• MiniWorld magazine appears set for a photoshoot next Tuesday. I'm hoping this will not only raise the profile of the car but increase its value. I'll write the article on the flight out to the UK on Saturday.

• I've written to Road & Track magazine to ask if they'd like a rally report. I'm hoping that if they agree they'll contribute an honorarium to defray expenses.

• I've baked a fruit cake (the best rally rations/survival food imaginable) and purchased an assortment of Power Bars (Atkins of course) and various high energy sugar gloopy things that allegedly will perk us up no end when the going gets rough (I have a suspicions they'll just give us an attack of the jitters). I've also bought some iron oxide hand warmers in case we break down on a Col and end up freezing our behinds off. A lightweight collapsible shovel rounded off my purchases last weekend. I really don't want to be digging my way out of snowdrifts but this item is a necessity.

• Jim Wirtz, the hapless leader of our service crew, has booked all the hotels and has taken care of logistics, tools, spare parts etc.

So it seems that apart from a few last minute items, all the major components are in place. I still have to pick up my (hopefully repaired suitcase), organize babysitting for the cats, do some last minute shopping, bill paying etc. Oh, and did I mention that the transmission in my daily driver failed catastrophically yesterday? And the basement flooded. So for now I'm getting around by cadging rides and I'll deal with the house when I get back on February 8.


Friday, January 14, 2005

Tired out (and only two weeks to go)

Dunlop D93J
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I must apologise to my readers for another prosaic post but believe it or not this is a critical issue for me. I fnally got the tyres/tires (sorry but my European roots show occasionally) for the Mini sorted out today. The Maxsport products I mentioned in a previous post were unavailable in the correct size so I finally plumped for Dunlop wet weather covers. The choice of rubber has been one of the biggest issues concerning us as the car has been prepared. Tyre selection has always been as issue on Monte Carlo rally because of the diversity of the road conditions. The crews can expect anything: dry tarmac, torrential rain, black ice, sheet ice, snow (powder), snow (packed), snow (slush), mud, etc. etc. You get the picture. If a surface exists we can expect to encounter it, with the possible exception of sun-baked wadi beds although I won't entirely rule them out either. For the 1965 MC rally, Dunlop famously made 600 assorted tyres available to the BMC Competitions Department. No wonder the works crews did so well. For those of us who have a limited budget (and it still feels like I've melted my credit card of late) we have to be a little more economic in our choices.

In 2002, to the amusement of some of my fellow team members, not to mention Monty Watkins, editor of MiniWorld, I did the rally on Yokohama 008s with a set of Colway studded mud and snow tyres in reserve in the service vehicle. As it happened it was a "dry" rally with virtually no snow and only icy patches for 1 or 2 Km on the Sisteron stage (on which I managaged to slide off: I shall be eternally thankful to the crew in the Citroen who helped push us back on the road). For the most part the Yokies performed admirably. They are brilliant on dry tarmac and unbelievably sticky however in the wet they are less secure and on long fast bends there is disconcerting feeling of slight understeer and I was never quite confident that the car wouldn't "let go". By the end of the rally we'd pretty much worn out all four of them so new covers were needed for the 2005 event. Most of my rally mates opt for the M&S type tyre. Personally I hate them. They are noisy, bounce around too much and worst of all have poor levels of grip. Now maybe they would be fine in mud or wet grass but really these types of conditions are, despite my comments above, are rare to non-existent. They are certainly crap in snow and I can't think why they are so popular. Maybe because they are cheap and a kind of Jack-of-all trades. What's really necessary for 75%+ of the the rally is a really good wet weather tyre. Thus after doing a lot of asking around and searching all over the web came to the conclusion that Dunlop D93Js were the cover of choice. They are out and out competiton tyres and are supposedly brilliant in the rain. Unfortunately I was quoted a price of £75 each. Now as we need six tyres this equated to nearly $1000, given the current Dollar/Stirling excahge rate, and put them outside our budget. To cut a long story short, Bill Richards today announced that he'd negotiated a very deep discount with Dunlop and suddenly these tyres were "affordable". Fantastic news! I'm pretty sure they'll be much better than the compromise retreads we'd planned to use. I'll write something about them while we're en route. let's hope they live up to the claims made by their marketing department (no I didn't say hype). So hopefully we should be ok being armed with the Dunlops and the still unused (please God let's keep it that way) studded Colways we should be ready for all eventualities. Big thanks go to Dunlop Vintage Tyres. Oh, and Monty, if you read this, please no more piss-taking, I've been thoroughly flagellated with the "...did you hear the one about the bloke who did the MC rally on Yokies...?" story!
The rally kicks off two weeks today and I've got an awful lot of things to do between now and then.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Rally Country

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I've been burning the midnight oil for the last few nights mapping the route for the all-too-rapidly approaching Monte Carlo Historique rallye. It's quite a task. Hopefully I'll finish tonight. Now "all" that remains to be done is to put together my notes and photocopies of the regularity stages in the form of a roadbook. Hopefully this will make information readily accessible and reduce mistakes in the heat of battle. On reviewing the route, the first time from the perspective of the navigator, I can see that it takes us through some classic rally country -the Ardeche, Haute Alpes and the Alpes Maritime. Narrow roads up and down towering Cols. All very scenic although it's a pity we'll be going too fast and focusing on making our times to take it all in. But nevertheless the backdrop to this competition makes it the most popular and prestigious event in the classic motorsport calendar (same goes for the modern WRC event which uses many of the same stages and is also organized by the Automobile Club de Monaco).

It's hard to believe that there are only 10 days to go before I'm once again on an airplane heading back to Europe. Despite doing my best to plan eveything in an orderly manner I just know we are going to be in a frantic last minute panic before the event. Why do I put myself in these situations...?


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Cooper Car Company 2005

The Cooper Car Company team assembled at Reims, January 2002: this was to be its first competition in 34 years

Preparations for the Monte Carlo Historique rally are now well advanced. I finally ordered tyres and settled for Maxsport soft compound Dunlop SP replicas which should work well in the rain. The service crew will carry a set of studded Colways for snow. We plan to monitor the weather forecasts carefully and also do "recces": if there is a lot of snow on the ground or there appears to be a high liklihood of inclement weather we'll pop the Colways on at a service stop. However I don't think this will happen and I'd rather use the faster rain tyres than the ubiquitous M&S tyres (which I loathe -they are not much good in bad weather and crap in normal road conditions.) I've gambled on the rally being mostly wet with just occasional patches of ice and snow. This should be manageable, even with the Maxsport rain tyres, and we'll carry two spare Maxsports with snow chains in the car if we really get caught out. Traditionally tyres have always been a pivotal issue on the Monte and the situation will not be any different for us. Please keep all your digits crossed.

The car needs some fine detail work which Lee McNair at BRR is sorting out. Bill seems pretty happy with the engine which is something of a relief. Bill, like me, frets about minutiae so if he's content about something it's a good sign. When I arrive back in the UK on January 23 I'll go over the car with a fine toothcomb and make sure it's polished and looking beautiful for the MiniWorld photoshoot on the 24th just prior to our departure for France. I think I've now organized all parts, accessories, clothing etc. I've also booked flights, hotels, the Eurotunnel and ordered my regularity licence from the Automobile Club de Monaco. I think the only bureaucratic item that remains is insurance which I'll attend to next week. Oh and I'll have a last ditch attempt ar obtaining some sponsorship from Road & Track magazine.

I'm actually I'm very proud of being part of the Cooper Car Co team for the second time. There is a certain amount of hoopla about it in the motoring press and Peter Barker has put out a press release. I've reproduced it here:

MiniWorld Rallying/Cooper Car Co team for Monte Carlo.

MiniWorld Magazine and the Cooper Car Company are pleased to announce the entry of a five car team of Mini Coopers for the 8th Rallye Monte Carlo Historique running from Friday 28th January to Wednesday 2nd February 2005.

The team, which includes both Paul Easter, winner of the Rallye Monte Carlo with Timo Makinen in a works Mini Cooper S exactly 40 years ago, and veteran navigator Willy Cave who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first works co-drive on "the Monte" in an MG Magnette, will be starting from Reims (3 cars) and Monte Carlo (2 cars).

The 2005 MiniWorld Rallying/Cooper Car Co. team are:

Peter Collier/Paul Easter Mini Cooper S (starting from Reims)
Alain Lopes/Joseph Lambert Mini Cooper S (starting from Monte Carlo)
John Morrow/Bill Richards Mini Cooper S (starting from Reims)
Peter Barker/Willy Cave Mini Cooper (starting from Reims)
Geoff O'nion/John Lindley Mini Cooper (starting from Monte Carlo)

Following a gruelling Concentration Run of nearly 900km over Friday/Saturday night, the team will begin the timed sections high on the Ardeche Plateau early on Sunday 30th January with runs over the famous Burzet and St.Pierreville/Antraigues stages amongst others. Restarting in classification order from Vals les Bains on Monday 31st January cars will cover six further stages on the way to Monaco via an overnight halt in Gap. The final night loop out of Monaco and back, consists of three stages run without a break for 100km from the Col de Castillion, over the Col de Turini the Col de St.Roch and the Col de La Able to finish at St.Laurent du Touet. The Team should arrive back at the Finish in Monte Carlo during the early hours of Wednesday 2nd February all being well.

No Mini mounted team has ever won the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique although Mini Coopers have dominated the 1300cc class for cars built from 1962 to 1965 since the rally's inception. Perhaps the MiniWorld/Cooper Car Co. Team can pull off this feat in 2005?

Updates will be available during the rally from and the full results of the rally plus details of all stages are shown on the Organisers website.


Exciting stuff and I feel honored not just to drive in the metaphorical (and quite possibly literal) tyre tracks of the greats like Paul Easter and Willy Cave but to be on the same team. These guys have been my heros for a long time. More soon on this topic...


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

One Thing Leads to Another

Middx Christmas Party 1979
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I've just read on the BBC website that 2004 was the year of the blog and 32 million Americans are now hooked. It's hard to imagine that so much time and energy is being wasted moving electrons around.

When I signed on to Blogspot back in August 2004, I had no idea where this whole thing would lead. Initially I had the idea that if I could vent my spleen about life events it would be a cathartic exercise. However I have restrained myself writing about work-related issues. It struck me early on that this might not be a prudent thing to do, especially as my blog is not anonymous. First ammendment rights allow me freedom of speech and protect me from persecution from the government (although I'm not entirely sure about even that, these days) but not from my employer. Indeed just yesterday I read of a new word "dooced", meaning, to be fired by one's employer for blogging: a fate I'm anxious to avoid. However writing these posts is therapeutic and for some reason does attract a readership. So I intend to continue for the forseeable future.

Anyway it's also fun to see how one thing leads to another. Last week (see "Enough is Enough", December 29th) I posted an old photograph of my PhD mentor, Jack Harris, and me taken at a scientific conference. On looking at the picture a few times I realized that I recognized the bright eyed young lady standing in front of Jack. Her name is Jan (for the most part I'm withholding surnames to protect the guilty but in this case I don't know it as she subsequently divorced and changed names). A year or so after the conference Jan came to work at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School where I was then employed as a postdoctoral fellow in my day job. My other career was as a jazz/rock musician. The band was started by the department's electron microscopist, Phillip Penfold (Phillip, I'm not going to protect YOU; I know you are lurking down there in Sydney and it would be nice if you'd answer my emails) and did a couple of tours of North London pubs and clubs before calling it quits. So where does Jan fit into the story you ask? Well she was our manager and her husband, a handsome fellow by the name of Nick, played bass. After quite a few gigs we packed it in for the usual reasons: artistic differences, insuffiecient funds to buy half-decent equipent, lack of committment, lack of talent and simply the tedium of schlepping a van load of rock n' roll paraphernalia around seedy dives to play to audiences who only wanted to hear "Summer Loving" (it was the late 70s remember and no we didn't play the bloody song. ) So what happened to the rest of the band? I believe Jan went to work at the University of Sheffield after a stint in California. Penfold is in Australia by all accounts, I'm in Seattle and the drummer, Brian, is still studying malaria at University College London. I've no clue what happened to Nick. Oh and in case you are wondering, I'm on the left of the photo playing alto sax and looking sartorially challenged in white T shirt (it was from Ronnie Scott's jazz club) and jeans. What was I thinking? We played that particular gig Christmas 1979 so please don't ask me why I'm trying to look like a Beach Boy.


P.S. Having written this post I started to become very curious as to the fate of Nick, our bass player and Jan's former husband. I remembered he was a scientist and a quick search on Medline indicates that he works for a large, multi-national pharmaceutical company in Switzerland.

P.P.S. The bass player in the photo is not Nick. His name is Julian and he was (and may still be) the husband of a technician who worked for me at the time. For some reason he stood in for Nick at this gig. I recall he played a fretless bass and was pretty good. Sorry if this getting a bit convoluted...

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Another Year

London Fireworks
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers, peace, health and prosperity for 2005.


P.S. The picture was taken in London at the Millenium celebrations, amazingly now 5 years ago.