Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A GAME OF TWO HALVES - Spookworks proves the potential but ends up exhausted at Woodbridge Stages - Full Report

The Spookworks Rally Team was in action on 23 September on Round 4 of the RAF Rally Championship; the Woodbridge Stages.  An important event for vital championship points, Spookworks last visit to Woodbridge in 2011 proved to be a great success and a critical result for their overall championship victory.  With all the development on the car since their last visit and a recent good run of results, the team was justifiably upbeat about getting a positive result at one of the UKs best single venue events.  With 60 stage miles spread out over 6 stages the format was similar to last year but the firm prediction of heavy rain for the afternoon made for a distinct contrast to last years’ experience.  Seeded at a surprising 32nd out of 73 starters, the team were disappointed not to be starting closer to the front but this event had always drawn a strong field and looking at the entry list most of the cars were all highly competitive machines with the kind of budgets that you would look to buy a house with instead of a car to drive flat out around some tree lined tarmac in Suffolk. 

Ahh - the night before.  Everything working and connected - for now.

With the Spookworks Impreza ready for battle with a few new weapons in the arsenal (including a fresh supply of killer Alcon disks and pads) expectations for a strong finish were high.  At 0911hrs with a swift wind blowing and dry tarmac the Spookworks Impreza blasted into stage 1 and completed the 10.7 miles some 12 minutes and 33 secs later. A time which saw an immediate move up 21 places to 11th overall and 5th in class. 

Stage 1 and Spookworks comes out fighting...

Stage 2 saw Spookworks go 24 secs faster round the same route but despite going faster the opposition had started to wake up and the time was 15th fastest and saw Spookworks drop 2 places to 13th overall but holding the line with 5th in class against their contemporaries. 

Stage 3 saw a slightly longer and varied route over 11.2 miles with Spookworks continuing to charge headlong into enemy ranks and punching hard with the 10th fastest time overall with a 12:42 moving Spookworks back up 2 places to 11th overall and consolidating 5th in class. 

Stage 3 and just outside the top 10.  Everything seemed to be going so well....

At the halfway point of the rally things seemed to be going according to the plan and the afternoon strategy would see Spookworks mopping up any remaining opposition before consolidating the positions for the finish.  A blowing exhaust was causing some concern and with plenty of time left in service action was taken to see if the leak could be sealed.  Initial examination showed the leak at the top of the joint just aft of the gearbox and typically inaccessible.   With exhaust proving difficult to repair the decision was taken to remove it, affect a repair and replace – good in theory but the reality was somewhat different.  With the exhaust system removed, the offending open joint in the exhaust was easily repaired with some nifty and strong arm spanner work but returning the exhaust back to its original lair was to be far more troublesome.  As the minutes ticked away panic began to set in as it appeared the exhaust had no intention of co-operating with the Spookworks crew.  Only with considerable duress with only 2 mins to go did the exhaust finally wriggle into place and the Spookworks Impreza was fired up and dispatched without delay directly into Stage 4. 

Exhaust firmly refitted it was back into action.  Did anyone check the front tyres? Anyone?

 Stage 4 was both the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.  While the time was respectable with a 13th fastest 12:46, it was surprisingly 4 secs slower than the previous run and a quick examination of the tyres provided the explanation; the highly abrasive tarmac had reduced both the front tyres outside edges to a medium more suited to the resident Spookworks artists than rally rubber, with enough canvas on display for one or two original masterpieces.  Ironically even though the Spookworks Impreza was capable of a far better time, several of our competitors desire to park their cars in the scenery rather than drive around it saw our ascent to 10th overall. As the car pulled into service the heavens opened up in a biblical fashion and monsoon ensued.  Fresh cut wet tyres were fitted and the team sought refuge in the service vans while the next stage was prepared.

The beginning of the floods - it starts with a few drops then....

Never mind intermediates or wets - we should have fitted a rudder!
Stage 5 proved to be the low point of the day.  With the stage now literally flooded with lakes rather than puddles; a decision was made to consolidate our gains and play it safe and get to the end. If only things could have been this easy. After only a few miles into stage; the grinding and clattering sound of an exhaust dragging on tarmac accompanied by a noise akin to self-destructing jet engine diverted the team away from the original script and enter full on survival mode, hoping to limp to the finish.  After what seemed like an eternity the finish line appeared and the Spookworks Impreza hobbled into service and into intensive care.  Upon examination it appeared the exhaust had decided to jump ship early in the stage leaving a small battered half connected pipe about 3 feet long to rattle along the ground.  With no spare and no chance to recover the remnants of our exhaust it was time for improvisation.  With the rain continuing as a tropical monsoon, the crew donned snorkels and lifejackets to enter the deep water where our service bay used to be in order to assess the situation.  With vital championship points at stake the only option seemed to be some token attempt to mask the 1000db sound just enough to get through the time control and start the last stage without being excluded.  In desperation, a soft drink can was suggested as a possible temporary muffler and a member of the crew was dispatched to the burger van for a suitable article.  A can of Fanta was duly purchased and placed over the end of the remaining exhaust pipe and secured with a jubilee clip. It seemed like a ridiculously far fetched solution but when the Spookworks Impreza was fired up the noise was incredibly substantially reduced and replaced with a rather rattly and tinny noise. 

No....its not meant to be like that and its not an aftermarket pro drive 'turbo' exhaust.
No rude comments either - its just an exhaust or whats left of the exhaust hanging on for dear life. The missing bit is somewhere in the undergrowth....

As the Impreza checked out of service for the final time and crawled towards the time control the rain had become our ally meaning only the absolutely essential marshals were at the time control increasing our chances of getting through.  Although a few strange glances were present, we managed to slip through the time control like James Bond into an enemy lair and took up our place on the start line for the final 11.2 miles of the event.  As the countdown began 5, 4, 3 I could see in the mirror some pointing and concerned looks at the back of our car but as the lights went green the throttle was floored launching us into stage and forcing a hollowed out Fanta Can high into the air behind us!  Like a getaway car leaving the scene of the robbery we disappeared safely into the stage and immediately focused on bringing the car back to the finish to get vital Championship points.  Despite a minor spin a very relieved but deafened Spookworks crew coaxed the car across the finish in 14mins and 44 secs to secure 7th in class and 18th overall.  

Introducing the new Spookwork super lightweight exhaust muffler - available in a store near you...

Not the ideal result we had hoped for at the start but a far better result than what we thought we could get at the finish.  With the emotional rollercoaster now over we waited for the rally to finish and once everyone had gone home we did a final lap in the service van to recover our decidedly second hand and now battered remains of rear exhaust from a bush and leave happy to fight again another day. 

Just because we didn't have an exhaust didn't mean we weren't trying.  Plenty of beans here.  
The next and final round is the Fat Albert Stages at Keevil Airfield in Wiltshire on Sat 27th October.