Monday, February 28, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 9: Denouement

MCR Plaque

Now that the rally has been over for a few weeks we’ve had time to reflect on our performance and how we can improve (win it outright?) next year. Overall it was a brilliant event but we did underachieve a little due to a combination of errors, jitters and technical issues. The lessons learned were as follows:

The Mini is fantastically reliable and tough, even when hammered by Bill for 2000 Km: we have no doubts about its competitive abilities.

Bill and I had an excellent rapport and are both similarly serious and highly competitive. Our pre-agreed “no blame” rule worked well but next year we must remember that it should also apply to ourselves. Excessive self-flagellation is tedious and unhelpful and we were both guilty of this…

Our service crew was THE BEST. No one could have worked harder or with more dedication that Jim, Juliette and Steffan. It was a privilege and honour to have these stalwarts from the Luxembourg Mini Club as our Guardian Angels. We are going to need them again next year. We think we’ll also need a spotter car that will run ahead of the pack and report back on weather conditions and share some of the service load. They may also be able to trailer the car down to Reims and back from Vals les Bains. Bill has some thoughts on this matter and I think Jim is going to be the boss of quite a big team in 2006.

The Dunlop D93J tyres were brilliant for wet and dry tarmac: we’ll need 3 more for next time. We need to rethink the snow tyres though: we believe a switch to Maxsport M&S 165 x 10 studded covers on Minilite wheels instead of the old steel Cooper S rims will be just the ticket. We’ll need a minimum of six and eight might be better. These tyres don’t last long when driven on dry tarmac.

The lights let us down badly. Considering I’d paid a lot of money to have the 7” Lucas spotlights refurbished and fitted with supposedly super Australian halogen bulbs, their performance was pretty mediocre. The 5 ½" Lucas fogs have always been poor, regardless of bulbs. And to top it off the switch failure on the Col de Turini was the last straw. So next time its going to be 4 x 7” Cibié Oscars (two fogs and two long range spots) right across the front of the car. Now before the purists start yelling at me (remember I’m one of you) I’m going to preempt any accusations of non-originality and say “sod it, we need to see at night”. Actually I’ll keep the Lucas lamps and if I ever sell the car they can go with it. I may however get the back of the Oscars (which are usually black powder coated) chromed to make them look a little more like 1960s items. I’ll also get Lee to fit Wipac switches. I’m told these are bulletproof: they also look more correct.
Front lights

Calibrating the Halda is key. I’ll send it to Neil Huband for service. Then, when the car is back together, I’ll drive it to Oxford and get him to calibrate it and to provide me with a few extra cogwheels. We’ll also make sure that in no circumstances will we miss measuring the organiser’s calibrated distance ever again. I’m still not sure whether it’s worth putting a rear wheel drive on the Halda though. They do get around the problem of inaccurate readings due to wheels spinning on ice but they are a hassle to fit and quite ugly. Also I noticed one Mini team who had one placed dead last.
Rear Halda drive

Stefano Aghem, the winner of this year’s event, and several other front runners were using BLIZZ timing average speed calculator. These are made by Stefano’s company. Not cheap at around 450 Euro but they make the navigator's job a lot easier. Essentially he/she only has to read and compare the distance against the Halda and that shown on the chronometer at 10 second intervals indicated by audible “beeps”. The discrepancy in distance must then be adjusted by the driver. The only problem I can see is that both driver and co-driver have to think in terms of distance rather than time. I suppose this is just a matter of practice though.
BLIZZ hronometer

An intercom is de rigeur.

We need to modify the seats so that the seat belts can be threaded through slots and the harness doesn’t get tangled. We were forever fighting this problem on this rally and it became very annoying.

We’ll lighten the car as much as possible next time. I might fit aluminium door skins, boot and bonnet but mostly we’ll do well to transfer a lot of our crap to the second service vehicle.

Bill and I will do a full recce. This is really essential if we are going to be serious contenders. We’ll take a week off as soon as the route is announced and drive all the regularities.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The Mad Dog Rallying logo, given with kind permission by Richard Mattei of Seattle and modified by Marilyn Connell, will be setup to make badges and patches for the team and supporters.

Obviously all of this preparation is going to cost money and thus we are looking for sponsors. A few gallant souls have suggested they may be interested in helping us out. All offers of help in this area will be gratefully received. And we can do a lot in terms of publicity for your business. Please contact Bill or me if you would like to discuss.
Bill & John graphics

Well folks, that concludes Episode 9 in the "Bill & John" series and is the last of the reports on the 2005 MC rally. Doubtless the topic will come up again in the not too distant future but for the time being I'll be dealing with more humdrum topics. In any case thank you all for visiting this humble site: by all means bookmark it and return on a regular basis. Don't be shy to leave comments either (although I'd prefer that they were polite).


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 8: The Gala Dinner


The story of the 2005 Monte Carlo Historique Rally is rapidly coming to an end. I'll be at a loss for subject matter in a day or so. Anyway folks, there's not much of a story here on this post. It's mostly a photo-montage of some of the members and friends of the Cooper Car Co team at the Gala Dinner. Please don't ask where Alain Lopes and Joseph Lambert got to as I have no idea. I suspect they sought refuge on a French-speaking table. The Gala Dinner is organised by the Automobile Club de Monaco as the grand finale of the rally. It's a shame that only two additional tickets are allowed for the driver/co-driver as it relegates the hard-working service crews to second class citizenery. But at 200 Euro/$300 each they are prohibitively expensive.

So after a day of sleep and than preparing the Mini for it's trip back to the UK (mostly stripping it of small, valuable, items such as the rally plates, stopwatches, Halda etc that would make great souvenirs for thieves everywhere) I duly spruced myself up, donned my tuxedo and set off for the Monaco Sporting Club. A great evening was had by all although a couple of points should be made tot the ACM (1) for goodness sake provide a smoke-free environment somewhere in the bloody building (I thought this was a Euro requirement) and (2) when the prizes are are presented, it is wholly undignified and embarrassing to have the winners scooped from the audience by provocatively dressed young women. I know it's a historic rally but society has moved on since the "historic values" of the 50s and 60s, especially our treatment of women. Anyway it's too late at night to rant further so here are the pictures:
Bill Richards looking dignified

Paul 2
Paul Easter: Is that 12 Monte campaign bars I can count on his ACM medal?

Peter Collier
Peter Collier: Next year I think Peter is going to come back to the event in his trusty and much more sensible Triumph 2000!

Peter Barker
Peter Barker contemplating how he will win the event outright next year

Willy and Geoff
Willy Cave (L) makes a point to Geoff O'nion

Sharon and John
Sharon O'nion and John Lindley

Valerie Lindley
Valerie Lindley

Bill Nicky and Rob
Bill with Nicky West and Rob Stacey

Cup on head
This gentleman was delighted with his prize...!

I think there will be just one more post on the rally and then I'll put the topic to rest for awhile. In any case please keep watching this space...


Friday, February 25, 2005

Snow Over the Potomac

Snow on the Potomac
I've really had enough of snow this year. I'm currently in Washington DC on a grant review study section: a duty that I perform three times a year. Yesterday it snowed all day. The Potomac looked very pretty. I attempted to capture the scene with the naff camera built into my phone. I wasn't very successful but here's a pic for your viewing pleasure (a good reason to not spend money on excessively complicated gadget-laden mobiles that don't do anything particularly well). I wonder if I'll be able to escape to Seattle this evening? I really don't want to be snowbound here until tomorrow...

Curiously I'm staying at the Watergate Hotel. The place which was the focal point of Tricky Dicky's political demise in the 1970s. I will restrain myself from comparing our Lords and Masters then and now as my blood pressure won't take it and in any case I don't have time.

Final reports on the rally will appear in the next few days. Please be patient.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 7: The Night Loop

Going out again
The final part of the rally was the night loop over the mountains behind Monaco including the infamous Col de Turini. Really all you want to do when arriving in Monte Carlo is have a beer or two and relax. But there was no such luxury for us: we had just a 4 hour break. We first dumped our stuff at the Hermitage Hotel. What an amazing place; a study in over-the-top opulence and with an unbelievably cryptic floor plan (no, I didn't say typically Gallic). Finding one's room almost needs a GPS (I hear more howls from the peanut gallery -lost in the hotel, ha! ha!, makes a change from the route though; typical!). Anyway we finally got to our room and Bill took a nap. I went back to the car to go over the route.

The night loop was a 162 Km run containing three regularities all of which had to be completed in 3hrs and 45 minutes. Time was going to be tight. We were due out around 9.19pm. By all the accounts the weather was good although there was allegedly quite a bit of ice. At least there was no fog as I'd encountered in 2002. All in all I was feeling good. I was confident in the car as well as our abilities. Our performance on the Trigance stage had shown our potential. Also we'd practiced the whole route back in December when we'd driven it twice. So it held no particular demons. At least that's what I thought...
Starting the night loop
Into the night

Bill arrived at the car and we had a snack and a coffee. Jim, Juliette and Steffan were given the night off as the car had been full serviced and fuelled outside Eze village. There was nothing else to do. We were a bit concerned about our studded tyres though. We had one new one cover and one with 15% of studs remaing on the front; the rear tyres were knackered and had 1-2% studs. We should have done a better job with the rotations but the truth is we should have brought at least one more cover. Too late now.

9.19pm came around we we blasted off the podium. We were confident in finding our way out of town and duly nipped through the evening traffic to the A8 and Sospel. I worked out the corrected speeds [all around 49.5KPH -this was going to be fast!] and setteld down. We arrived at the first stage and after our usual pre-start review, lined up in the queue. The way ahead looked black as pitch and Bill turned on the fogs and spots. The latter had been fully restored at considerable expense. I'd had the reflectors re-chromed and Australian halogen bulbs fitted and I was convinced they'd thow plenty of light on the road. Well as Murphy's Law would have it, the switch controlling the beasts chose this moment to expire. "Arse" as the Red Bull-drinking set say. Bill fiddled with it desperately but to no avail. There was no alternative but to drive the route with just our headlights. At the start of the run we howled up the mountain. No problems. Bill, was right on time despite his complaints about the tyres and lights. We passed the ACM vans which we believe contained the intermediate timing points at exactly the second we should have done and I felt that we'd aced the stage (not true as it happens but that'll be the topic of another post). Fantastic, now for the Turini. We got to the start just the other side of Sospel and roared off. We were determined to storm the mountain. The route was lined with spectators who cheered us through every hairpin. Bill was concentrating furiously and didn't allow time to bleed away. We were dead on time by my reckoning as we hit the summit of the Turini (and an intermediate timing point van as I suspected; yo ho, by now we've figured out where your hiding places will be). Great going: now it was just a simple run 7Km downhill to the end of the stage. We dropped about 4 seconds negotiating the intersection and crowds at the top of the mountain and I asked Bill to pull them back. No problem we had plenty of time. He hit the gas and then disaster struck! A long sweeping left hander tightened abruptly, Bill hit the brakes and tried to power us through but to no avail. We hit a very solid wall a glancing blow on our right wing. That was it. We'd broken the ball joint. Some specatators helped us push the car off the road and I made the call to Jim. The moral to this tale must be that Guardian Angels can NEVER be given time off.
Merde 2
Merde 1

While we waited for the friendly Honda CRV to arrive we watched an Austin Healey tear his wing off on the same wall and numerous near misses including an Alfa that managed a spectacular 180 degree spin without hitting anything and ended up facing uphill and the oncoming rally traffic. Hair raising stuff! Jim et al turned up and we re-assessed the damage. There was no chance of making running repairs and we didn't have a ball joint. A tow truck was summoned and we waited. After what seemd like an eternity it arrived. Bill and I were cold -I think a little shock had set in. Bill's wrist was hurting (the MotoLita steering wheel was quite badly bent) and I was feeling a bit of whiplash in my neck. The car was duly loaded on the flat bed. Jim drove us back to Monte Carlo. We arrived back around 4.00am, absolutely exhausted. I don't even remember going to bed.

Well folks, that was the end of the adventure. I'm off to Washington DC for a few days so there won't be a post for awhile. When I do get to writing something more it will be an analysis of our performance as well as our plans for next year so please continue to watch this space. Until then...


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 6: The Common Leg (ii)

Trigance stage
We spent Monday evening in Gap in the Haute Alpes. Every long distance rally through France that I've ever done has stopped here. It is quite literally a gap in the mountains and the largest town in the southern alps. I've always liked the place. Probably because it's located in quintessential rally country (sorry about this cliché but it's true). Lots of narrow, twisty, mountainous roads on which Minis excel as well as breathtaking scenery. There is also a feeling that one is not far from the riviera and that journey's end is on hand. At our hotel we met up with Bill's customers Nicky West and Rob Stacey and enjoyed a fairly racuous meal along with Jim, Juliette and Steffan. Our improved performance had done wonders for morale. Our only "poor" showing of the day was on the long Sauvoron stage. Despite the fact I thought we had virtually cleaned the section I'd made another basic error. At one point we'd taken a wrong turn and driven into a farmyard. We'd recovered quickly and Bill stormed up the right route rapidly finding the lost time. However I'd forgotten to reverse the Halda and negate the extra distances thus effectively elongating the route by about one Km and consequently making us about 2% fast and concomitantly dropping down the order. Oh well!
Monte Carlo finish

The following day, Tuesday February 1st, we set off from Tallard aerodrome with eager anticipation and a feeling that we'd finally found our groove. Unfortunately this mood was dented (pun intended) on the first regularity at Selonnet. This was a choppy and fairly unpleasant stage with mixed conditions. Nevertheless Bill made the time as requested although the road was so rough I frequently found it difficult to read the speed tables. One of my major dislikes is bridges, especially on fast downhill descents. They are frequently icy, narrow and at a right angle in the road. They are always hard and unyielding and there is a lot of scope for unpleasant impacts. The route description of this stage warned of dangerous bridge right at the end of the section and I duly primed Bill with this information urging caution. Well we didn't hit the bridge but an Alfa Romeo running two cars in front did and succeeded in completely blocking the road. By the time he was pushed to one side we'd lost about three minutes. A rallying "incident" but not much we could do but press on. Bugger!
Arrival in MC

Jim and the crew switched us back to our Dunlop road tyres for the fast road section through Sisteron (a big hold up as we negotiated the passage control in the town centre) and on to time control at Castellane. Then it was on to to the final regularity of the day at Trigance. Apart from a Keystone Cops-like interlude trying to find the start of the section and about which the less said the better, we had our best result of the entire rally, placing 9th overall out of 299 cars. Now that's more like it. There was absolutely no reason why that performance couldn't have been achieved on all the other stages if I'd had the Halda correctly calibrated. Now all we had to do was go directly to Monte Carlo. This was some of the fastest driving we'd done on the whole event. We'd been picking up traffic all afternoon as we approached the outskirts of Nice and I was anxious not to collect a lot of road penalties. We eventually pulled onto the A8 motorway and Bill put his foot down. PRX 720B responded with a howl and we saw the speedo register 150 Kph. My hearing has just about recovered and I'm hoping that those ominous double flashes in some of the tunnels will not result in some traffic violation Euroticket turning up in the mail. We shot into the time control at Eze village only to discover that I'd made a mental note of our arrival time as 2.39pm instead of my correctly calculated 2.49pm. We were 10 minutes early! Fortunately the marshalls gave me the correct time after I'd hung around their desk like a nincompoop while Bill was asking what was going on [aside to navigator: for the next event buy a countdown timer to avoid these cock-ups]. But really that was it. Outside Eze we pulled over for a relatively leisurely service and then growled into Monte Carlo, picked our way through the late afternoon traffic to the Quai Albert and crossed through the famous podium. While I collected our finishers' medals and trophys Bill parked the car and we savoured the Mediterranean air. The warmth and pleasantness of the riviera always comes as a delightful contrast to the sleet and snow of the preceeding five days. Bill and I basked in the atmosphere, enjoyed a coffee, and then went to the Hermitage Hotel for some rest before tackling the night loop later that evening. We had also received news of our performance on the Trigance stage so morale was high.

Watch out for the final installment of Bill and John's excellent adventure being posted here soon...


P.S. All the Monte Carlo location photos are provided courtesy of Christian Malin.

P.P.S. Several people have remarked about the slightly dodgy looking individual furtively scrutinising me in the lower photograph and seemingly communicating in a clandestine, secret agent style. We think he's in the employ of one or more Porsche teams who can't believe a Mini can go so fast. Or possibly an ACM official with similar views...!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson: RIP


Please excuse me while I a take a break from the rally commentary to mourn the passing of a true American genius, Dr Hunter S. Thompson. He apparently committed suicide at his Colorado home yesterday; newsreports say he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Dr Thompson was a wonderfully entertaining writer and journalist who pioneered over-the-top, so called "Gonzo" journalism in which the author becomes part of the story. In the 1970s I devoured "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Hells Angels" with delight. Although his pharamaceutically enhanced behaviour was truly hilarious (apparently he later said this was entirely fiction -I remain sceptical about this denial) he was an highly insighful and astute political commentator and his book "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail", covering the 1972 US Presidential election, was a landmark. He could also turn his hand to sports writing and was notoriously a devotee of large caliber handguns. I saw him once at a lecture in San Francisco where he gave a larger than life performance. In these days of neoconservative politics the voice of this highly eccentric dissident will be sorely missed.


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.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 4: The Classification Section

Well there have been all sorts of interesting developments at work this week but I think it would be politic not to discuss them here. I'll see how I feel in a week or two; maybe I'll revise my decision. Anyway for now I'll continue with the rally reporting.

Sunday January 30 was the start of the Classification Leg to determine the running order for the rest of the rally. Getting out first is a huge advantage for serveral reasons (i) It is psychologically good to be running at the front (ii) there is very little hanging around waiting for the "off" (iii) arguably the roads are in better condition, having not been churned up by 300+ rally cars (iv) the day finishes earlier and in brighter conditions and (v) both car and service vehicle crews are much less tired.
Winter scene
We started the leg feeling pretty confident. The car was in excellent running order having been fully serviced by Jim, Juliette and Steffan the night before. We chose to run with studded tyres as it was clear there was going to be a lot of snow around. After a slightly nervous start we made our way to the village of Burzet the start of the day's four regulrity runs embedded into a 300Km loop around Val-les-Bains. On collecting the timecard I looked at the prescribed regularity speeds. The first was, I believe 46.75 Kph (the are all in the range of 45-50 Kph). No problem, I thought but first do the correction factor. I was absolutely confident that the Halda was 4% slow [3.77% to be precise]. Thus the corrected speed should be 3.77% faster, right? Well that's what I calculated. At the start of the regularity there were several powerful rear wheel drive sports cars running in front of us without chains or snow tyres. "Great", I thought .."we'll show them what a Mini can do...". And so we did. These cars were slipping and sliding everywhere. Bill went straight past them and I started to realise what a ferocious driver he is. Like an idiot, I hadn't looked at the speed tables since our practice run to Monaco in December and for a minute or so after the start I was trying to remember what it was all about. Fortunately I settled down and started to call out times. It seemed like we were always running slow. Bill got faster and faster and was overtaking everybody -something that shouldn't really happen when the participants are sent out at 30 second intervals and are mean to be driving at absolutely constant speeds. I should have smelt a large, arithmetically-incorrect, rat at the point we overtook Alain Lopes and Joseph Lambert. These two are genuinely world class and have had a professional rallying background. They always place in the top 10 and frequently led the field outright. But we pressed on (although Lopes did re-pass us) and finished the stage with me thinking we were about 15 seconds slow. Nothing to worry about as past experience suggested that this level of performance would give us a class win at the very least. This was to be the pattern of the day. We were invariably quicker than much of the field and on the following to regularities I thought we had "cleaned" the times. Excellent. Our first obvious setback came at the end of the 4th regularity at Antraigues. At the end of the section (we hadn't seen the finish board) we ran into a traffic jam being "controlled" by a Gendarme. Nothing could clear the bottleneck and we lost 15 minutes getting clear. Fuming at this apparently blown section we thrashed on towards the finish at Vals-les-Bains. Time was very tight and Bill drove amazingly quickly although by now we were back on dry tarmac and it was clear the Colways were wearing rapidly and we were killing the studs -10" diameter wheels don't make for good retention. We got to finish at Vals and here I made what I thought was our first mistake (unknowingly I had already made a grievous error). There was a queue of cars waiting to cross the finish and we were alrady late. Unfortunately I did the gentlemanly thing and waited for our car to cross the line before presenting our timecard to a marshall. What I should have done was, at the first sign of a holdup, sprinted to the control desk and plonked the card down right away. Not stricly legal but that's what everybody was doing, perhaps because the rally organizers knew they were artifically holding things up with their pomp and circumstance arrival ceremony.Vals-les-Bains

I felt a bit irked about this road penalty which I didn't feel was out fault and tried to appeal but to no avail. Bill and I duly slunk off to the hotel for a brandy while we waited for the results to be posted on the ACM's website. Just before dinner, Jim announced that the results were up and we were 252. I couldn't believe it. Sure we had lost some time at Antraigues and got into Vals a bit late but the rest of the day had been brilliant. Clearly not. The problem was I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Could it have been the Halda calibration? Perhaps I'd been running fast? Another crew was having suspicions about their own timing and we agreed to measure each other. Jim drove as we followed the other crew's 4x4 over several measured Km. We were 10% slow, apparently (this was suspicious as that's exactly what measurement of organizers gold standard made us -but I'd been concerned that we it was only a partial and we hadn't used the correct markers). Jim then pointed out a major error. Because I'd thought the Halda was reading slow (4%, remember?) I'd made our target speeds 4% faster. No! Idiot! You have to make the speeds slower too. Thus I'd doubled our error at a stroke! I'd been making our speeds 8% too fast. No wonder we'd been overtaking everybody. Aaargh!

We ate a wonderful meal although I was feeling quite gloomy and more than a bit stupid. Nevertheless I was determined compensate the following day although we had an awful lot of penalties to claw back. And we did although that will be the topic of a following episode.


Monday, February 14, 2005

The Support Crew: some insubstantial words of thanks

Before I say any more about the rally I must acknowledge the efforts of our intrepid support crew. Juliette, Jim and Steffan from the Luxembourg Mini Club (Might Mini Frenn) were our guardian angels for nearly a week. In this time they acted as mechanics, refuellers, navigators, travel agents,logisticians, strategists, caterers, translators, administrators, metereologists, psychologists, rescuers and general minders. They were out in freezing weather at all hours either checking the car and the route ahead. They never once complained despite driving their own rally and were probably under more stress than the either Bill or myself. Furthermore they were always cheerful and encouraging. I can never really thank them enough. Actually I belive Bill and I will try to express our gratitude by doing the rally again next year (yes, guys, we'll need you again in 2006) and show them that we can really live up to our potential and that their faith in us was justified.
So once again a big "THANK YOU" and a toast to " year in Monte Carlo!".


P.S. And Jim, please do send me that hotel bill.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 3: The Concentration Run

Concentration runThe Concentration Run is a 900Km drive to the real start of the rally at Vals-les-Bains in the Ardeche mountains. Essentially it's a long, gruelling, run that tests the fitness of crew and car alike.

Once we'd left Reims we overcame our nervousness and settled into a groove hitting all the Passage and Time Controls correctly. At all of the latter there was much welcome coffee and food laid on. The drive through northern and central France was unremarkable except for the weather which was cold and miserable with sleet, rain and unrelenting permeating damp. Bill's driving was great and he was unphased by the clusters of faster cars swarming around us. Indeed he kept up with most of them and psyched out many including a Lancia Stratos who pulled over to let us by. In the immortal words of Peter Egan "not many cars can stand relentlesss hot pursuit from a BMC A series engine". Too true!
We pushed on through the night and morning came. By the time we stopped at a time control for coffee at the nice market town of Le Puy en Velay it was snowing and we were feeling pretty tired. We'd made no mistakes so far and were only 100Km from Vals-les-Bains. Apart from getting to Vals on time there was only one more thing to do, namely calibrate the Halda against certain signs on a 13Km section of the N 102. I was completely confident about this. Not only because the metered section was very clearly defined in the rally carnet but also becuase I'd calibrated the Halda quite extensively against Km markers as well as a GPS device. It was 4% slow, -well actually 3.77% to be precise. And there was no significant difference the Dunlop road tyres and the Colway snow jobs. So when we got to the official measured section I wasn't too perturbed by the fact that the Km markers were obliterated by snow. We were starting to hallucinate with tiredness and quite pushed for time. Also this flat part of the Ardeche plain was starting to resemble Russian stepppes with powdery blizzards blowing horizontally across the road. So we pressed on as I was totally confident the Halda would be dead on with a simple correction factor (mistake number 1). I did however say we'd get a partial calibration on a 6 Km section of the route. Having done this I didn't believe my figures of 10% slow (mistake number 2). We thrashed on to Vals les Bains; the final section of the concentration run saw both Bill and I completely punch drunk. At one stage I thought Jim and Juliette from our service crew were sitting in the back of the Mini. By some good fortune we made it to Vals on time, then proceeded to our hotel where we had a bite to eat and then gave the car a service with Jim and the gang. We were feeling tired but confident although unfortunately didn't realise we'd already committed an act of self-sabotage. We had a wonderful provencal meal (yes, I know we were in the Ardeche but it was country cooking at its best) snugged up to an enormous wood burning furnace. Quite delightful. We then turned in, quite ready for the Classification Run the following day.

To be continued...


Friday, February 11, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 2: The Start at Reims

Reims start
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Sorry this isn't a great picture. When I get the original (high-res) file from Jim I'll substitute it for this one.

Friday January 28th was freezing and again there was sleet falling. We struggled back into the overloaded Mini and drove of to the Parc des Expositions for scrutineering. Jim, Juliette and their colleague Steffan from the Luxembourg Mini Club were quite amazing. They unloaded and repacked the car, transferring piles of spare parts, tools and wheels to their Honda CRV. Then they applied the door numbers and stickers as required and helped us through scrutineering. No problems there except Bill had left his MSA competition licence at the hotel and had to return to pick it up (thanks Jim for providing the taxi service). Scrutineering over, the Luxembourg gang proceeded to do an amazingly thorough bolt check on the car. Both Bill and I felt a bit superfluous at this point and went off for a coffee and a bite to eat. Juliette had organized a late check-out at the hotel so once everyone was satisfied that the car was in good order we returned to our room and prepared for "the off". Bill took a shower and a nap. I just paced around nervously. Around 6.00pm we made our way through the wretched Friday evening Reims rush hour traffic to the town center (centre ville) where we were put in our start order place by an ACM official. I didn't fancy the rather dry civic reception and went to set all my clocks and watches to official rally time. Bill hung around the car and took great delight inviting admiring small boys (and one or two girls) to sit in the driver's seat and have their photograph taken. All sorts of last minute panics were going on: the Porsche next to us had a fire in its wiring loom and the crew were desperately trying to make repairs. A local radio station was conducting an outside broadcast and was playing very loud pop music. People were milling around everywhere. The French certainly appreciate classic rally cars and are tres enthusiastic about the sport.

Eventually we made our way up to the start. Our off time was 8.19pm. There was almost another disaster. The officials had set the ramps to the stadium very wide (too wide for the Mini's relatively narrow wheelbase) and as we started to drive up a wheel dropped off the edge. There was much fussing as the ACM people adjusted the ramps. PRX 720B then roared up to the top, announcements were made (I heard none of it, the scene was like the 1969 Steve McQueen film, Le Mans, where the only sound audible at the countdown was the driver's own hearbeat -then as the lights turned green there was a shattering roar from the engines). Well a single BMC A series lump hardly emits a shattering roar, even when Bill has worked his magic on it, but 8.19pm came around and we shot off into the night emitting at least a throaty rasp and doing a lot of horn tooting. We were heading south and had an 18 hour drive and 900 Km in front of us. The Concentration Run stage of the 8th Monte Carlo Historique rally had begun...


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 1: The Departure

MiniWorld shootInteriorThursday 27th January was a bitterly cold grey day: the temperature was just off freezing and there was intermittent sleet. We had packed up PRX 720B which looked rather fetching with its period roof rack holding two spare wheels shod with studded snow tyres. The weather suggested we were going to need them –how true that would be.

Nevertheless spirits were high as we left Ashford. With our Mini Cooper Register rally jackets (in this regard Bill extends a big "Thank You" to Tony Salter and the MCR) we felt most decidedly cool and ready for anything. The car was filled with Optimax petrol and we headed off for the “Le Shuttle” terminal. The vehicle was in great all round condition having just completed its photoshoot for MiniWorld two days previously and everything was in fantastic working order thanks to Lee McNair’s meticulous preparation. Just look at those pictures. Thankfully my luggage, lost previously on my outgoing flight, had eventually turned up having spent a brief vacation in Chicago. Bill had rebuilt the engine and had fitted a BRR2 Piper cam which was hotter than the one previously used. He had also blagged a set of Dunlop D93J wet tarmac rally tyres which were a tremendous improvement on the Yokohama A008s I used in 2002. In addition we were carrying a set of 5 studded Colway M&S tyres for snow and ice although I can’t say I was confident in driving in such conditions. But Bill was gung ho and described the little Red Devil as “right horny”.

I had plotted the route in detail and made a road book. This level of preparation probably exceeded all the rallies on which I had previously competed. I had also calibrated the Halda tripmeter against motorway markers and a GPS device and concluded it was 4% slow. No problem as a simple correction factor would be applied to all regularity speeds. We were cautiously optimistic and ready for battle.Leaving for France

A quick run down the M20 saw us at the Eurotunnel and we duly drove onto the upper deck of the train. A female “Le Shuttle” official announced to us that our car was “..a bit stinky..”. I simmered a bit and put her remark down to her lack of understanding of classic cars. However I did note there was a smell of petrol although was not particularly bothered as there was always a bit of spillage from a full-to-the-brim tank. Then I noticed Bill mopping at a slight drip from under the rear left wheel arch. I hoped this would stop but to no avail. Another Eurotunnel staff member appeared and said that we had activated the sensor alarms and he was going to reset them. I was willing the train to leave and get on with the journey but suspected this might not happen. Too true! We were then asked to move to another carriage while the problem was investigated. At this point a rather alarming tape loop was activated saying that “An incident had been detected (strange choice of wording) but there was no cause for panic”. I feel it would benefit Eurotunnel to consult a psychologist on the wording of such messages as there is no doubt that this particular one induced significant angst in some of the travelers. The anxiety index increased when we were asked to move to another carriage even further down the train and the arrival of some fireman who proceeded to discharge halon fire extinguishers didn’t help much either. Eventually someone made the decision that the train couldn’t proceed and would have to be evacuated and cleaned. We got back into the car and drove off the train with our tails between our legs. A large and humourless Eurotunnel official enquired as to whether we were the car with the fuel leak and if we had a hysterical woman with us. “Is this a wind-up?”, I thought. The car is a Mini with a full roll cage and every available cubic centimeter of spare space filled with parts, tyres and personal effects. I was tempted to retort that we had a blow up hysterical doll in our luggage but thought better of it as I had no wish to spend the night detained at the pleasure of Folkestone’s finest. As it transpired there had been an incident with a distraught woman on the same train as us; I didn’t like to ask why she had become hysterical.

Ultimately we were shunted into a windswept carpark where we determined that the leak emanated from a pinhole in a (brand new) sending unit. Some frantic phone calls were made back to base and after we were eventually given permission to leave the Eurotunnel hinterland we rushed back to Ashford where Lee changed the tank in 20 minutes. Ironically he “borrowed” the tank from Jim Wirtz’s ex-works Mk II rally car which is undergoing restoration at BRR. We then traipsed back to Le Shuttle and reboarded without incident and arrived in Calais half an hour later. We covered the 280 Km to Reims in three hours, met with Jim and Juliette Wirtz who had agreed to work as our service crew and then whizzed over to the Novotel to attend a splendid party arranged by the Automobile Club de Reims.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose although Bill is still wondering if he’ll get an invoice for £20,000 from Eurotunnel!

To be continued…


Monday, February 07, 2005

Back to Reality

MCR2005iHello again, gentle readers. I'm back after two eventful weeks in Europe, the last of which was spent competing on the Monte Carlo Historique rally. I had intended to post regular reports of the event en route but was thwarted by a total dearth of internet access. In summary, our results were a little disappointing considering the effort we put into preparing for the event but that's motorsport, I suppose. Over the next few days I'll do some retrospective postings of our adventure. Right now I've got to deal with the realities of life; laundry, bills, cats, grocery shopping etc. And of course work! So for now I'll leave you with this delightful picture of PRX 720B storming the Col de L'Echarasson.