Friday, February 18, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 5: The Common Leg (i)

In snow again
Well this rally report is bcoming quite the magnum opus. I see I'm also picking up a few new readers. Welcome all to my humble site. If you arrived here seeking political rants, primal screams, searches for one's raison d'etre and other such cris de couer you may be disappointed. At least for the time being. Believe me I'm very much up to such stuff. However I'm still not sure how much material I should make public on this site and in any case there are some wondeerful political blogs out there with an extraordinarily high standard of writing. I'm not sure how much more I can add to these in terms of meaningful commentary. The last thing the blogsphere needs is more verbiage. So for now you'll have to be content with talk of power drifts, handbrake turns, Haldas and camshaft profiles. So far I know of no other blogs discussing classic car rallying. And if I could manage to put the smell of Castrol R into HTML believe me I would.

Monday 31st January was the start of the Common Leg, Part 1. A run from Vals-les-Bains to Gap totalling more than 400Km. After some discussion with Jim about what correction factor to use (remember I thought we were 4% slow; the 4x4 I had run against the previous evening as well as the partial calibration against the organiser's metered section both said I was 10% slow). I didn't trust the 4x4 as most road vehicles err a little on the fast side for safety reasons and to flatter the driver. Furthermore I was still completely uncertain that I'd measured anything correctly on the ACM's gold standard. In the end we opted for a figure of 5% slow and prepared to correct all speeds accordingly. To any budding navigators out there I should emphasise that if your tripmeter is slow you need to SLOW DOWN your target speed accordingly and not make the unconscionable error of basic mental arithmetic and speed up as I had done on the previous day. Not only do you then double the error of your tripmeter but you gain excessive (early) penalty points and look like a total idiot as you race past your colleagues as they keep religiously to the correct speed.
through the glass darkly

One decision I did make correctly, despite all the other Mini teams disagreeing, was to opt for the faster speed regularities. Crews that chose the higher speed classification (which was only 2Km faster than slow speed: I knew we were easily capable of this given Bill's performance the previous day) all get to leave first which is a big psychological and practical advantage. And so it was we bombed out of Vals at around 8.17am on a very hard and frosty Monday morning. The day contained four regularities. The first was the famous St Jean-en-Royans stage west of Valence. This has for years been beloved of the Monte Carlo organisers and particiapants alike. The modern WRC iteration of the event still uses it. We galloped out of Vals at a smart pace and made the 124 Km quite easily in the prescribed 2 1/2 hours. Jim et al met us a few clicks out of the village and made it very clear that there would be snow and our wonderful Dunlop D93J tarmac tyres were not an option. We thus fitted our Colway studs, two of which were in pretty poor condition following the hammering we'd given them on dry roads the precceding day. I could see that at this rate the five we'd brought were not going to be sufficient. I knew we should have brought six; eight is probably the right number if mixed conditions are suspected. The regularity started and we stormed up towards the Col de Echarasson. The first few Km up the main road were clear of snow and things looked promising but I suspected the going would get much tougher. I asked Bill to pull up a few seconds as we needed a cushion. He duly did this. Another good decision because as we turned right onto the D199 we found it uncleared with fresh powder over packed ice. Very pretty and scenic with spectators at every corner, some of whom had lit fires to keep warm. Snow for me had always been a scary prospect. I'd never driven (as driver or passenger) on snow tyres and had no idea of the level of grip they would provide. Previous experience on Winter Challenge rallys had taught me to proceed with extreme caution. However Bill was in his element. He charged around all the corners showing off magnificently. We did handbrake turns, power drifts, tons of left foot braking (LFB) and excessive amounts of gratuitous revving. It struck me that I'd never really "got" LFB before. I thought it was something you did tentatively in order to save the CV joints. There was nothing tentative about Bill's technique. He would go into hairpins in 1st gear on full throttle and full brake. "Bending the pedal" as he would say. When he cleared the bend he would release the brake and the car would leap forward as the revs soared towards the 7000 mark on the tachometer. So different from the wimpy little stabs I used to make at the brake when I attempted the technique. Overall Bill was amazingly comfortable in the snow and we were pretty much on time through the regularity, perhaps a a few seconds slow. I wondered if he had any Scandinavian heritage and was mentally calling him "Stig" which caused me to grin a bit. At least my sense of humour was returning after the previous day's debacle.

We completed this and the three remaining regularities fairly successfully. Our rankings for each 99, 75, 81 and 233 respectively. Thank goodness for a bit of improvement. The final Sauvoron stage was difficult. Willy Cave had warned us we would be up to a minute at the summit. So we flew at it and very quickly had 30 seconds in hand. We got to the Col d'Espereaux pretty much on time by my reckoning (although we did have a brief deviation into a farmyard when I took a wrong turn on what I presumed to be "advice" from spectators -although I recovered pretty quickly I didn't reverse the halda and subtract the excess distance, afactor that would have made us fast) and careened through the village of Barcilonette. At the end of the regularity I realised that we only had 10 minutes to make the 10Km tortuously slow descent to the time control at Tallard aerodrome outside Gap. I didn't want to tell Bill how impossible this would be so I just told him to push on as fast as possible. Bill raced and crashed down the hill at break neck speed (more like break-every-bone-in-yourbody-if-you-go-over-the-edge) chasing and passing a small convoy of Renault Alpines and goodness knows what else. I hung on and looked at my watch grimly. A photographer standing on the apex of corner (idiot) leaped back as Bill came within a few inches of giving him a shave with the door handle. Well to my amazement we were suddenly at the bottom of the mountain and Tallard airfield was just across the road. This time I got it right. I jumped out of the car the minute we entered the grounds and sprinted to the control desk where I asked a marshall for and was apparently rewarded with the right time on our card. Bill had done the seemingly impossible: can that man drive or what!

Jim and the gang were once again waiting so the car was given a full service and we ambled off to Gap looking for our hotel, a drink and some sustenance.


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