Wednesday 20 March 2013

Spookworks Longest Day - Flying Fortress Rally Report

The Spookworks Rally Team had never been better prepared in its history.  Car was in magnificent shape; tuned to an inch of its life by the Oracle.  New stickers, perspex, fresh tyres and wheels.  Even a weeks ice driving in Sweden the week before the event to ensure the crew were ready.  It had the possibility to be the the best start of the season for Spookworks since records began. We pitched up to the secluded woodland near Kettering with great hopes and optimism....

And then it rained.

And rained.

And snowed.

And rained some more.....

The service area looked like the Somme.  Cars were covered in mud just getting through scrutineering and the Spookworks service crew were looking to break out some duckboards and start digging in. 

Conditions in the service area were appalling.....
Despite the weather; Stage 1 was always going to be a tricky start.  New setup, new performance, new tyres, new event.  Running at 14th was new territory as well. Up amongst some of the quickest cars and capable drivers in UK Clubman rallying.  But the miracle work the Oracle did at Sheffield Rolling Road became immediately apparent as the Spookworks Impreza blasted off the line - quite literally - it almost broke both our necks!  Sadly, bravery ran out before the horsepower did so the first few corners saw a cautious start for the crew. It's probably a good thing too.  Stage 1 looked like a scene from Armageddon and cars littered the stage having collided with bales of hay, or sliding into a ditches.  Despite a restrained approach the crew had set an amazing 5th fastest time with a 10:31 and were only 35 seconds off the lead of the event!

Do not adjust your set - this is a real photo of the carnage on Stage 1

Stage 2 was a completely different story.  A cautious start was abandoned after several corners and a fast sweeping left hander flat out in fourth gear proved to be an early stain on the Spookworks performance.  Upon exiting the corner the back end of the car swung out to the right before flicking back left and throwing the car off the stage, over a small ledge and squarely into a field. accompanied by the most horrendous noises of bending metal and shattering plastic. Upon opening our eyes and quickly checking to see if we were still intact we were amazed to discover that we were not only in one piece but the car appeared to be fully functional and we simply engaged first gear and set about finding our way back to the stage.  Sadly the small ledge appeared to be quite large and measured up to the top of the bonnet.  After losing valuable time probing up and down the field looking for a place to rejoin we found a small piece of tarmac that acted as a ramp and we were back; albeit tail between our legs; on the stage and in the event.  After applying caution to ensure we made it back to the capable hands of Andy and Dean in Service, we ended the stage a dismal 27th fastest and dropped like a stone to 16th overall.  Perhaps more amazingly was that despite the "excursion" the car did not have a single scratch, dent, ding, bash or blemish to show for it. Until the times came through no one even believed we had a problem!

A screen capture from the in car GoPro mid crash - anyone know where the  road went??

Stage 3 was a new layout and saw us encounter the first of many hold ups due to traffic.  The tight and twisty stages meant that catching a slower car would cost a lot of time and the incessant rain meant the spray prevented getting close enough to the car in front to pass.  It's not a complaint as such, as it was the same for everyone, but our time reflected our troubles and we set the 23rd fastest time to hold our 16th overall.

Difficult to see?  You should try from inside the car!!  Formula 1 boys would have gone home by now!

Stage 4 was a repeat of the previous stage, the rough road becoming rougher and the rain continuing to pour down making conditions treacherous.  The carnage continued and as we pulled in for the lunchtime break with the snow beginning to come down in the largest flakes the size of icebergs the leaderboard was not encouraging reading.  We had slipped to 17th overall and 14th in class.  We were still going the wrong eway and it would be a long way back form here.

Part rally car - part boat and this was one of the dry corners.....
After a healthy chicken and stuffing sandwich and some Tunnocks Tea Cakes washed down with some Red Bull we started afresh for Stage 5.  Time to begin the claw back.  Well so we thought.  Regrettably, due to the extreme weather and the resulting carnage the stage had to be cancelled as there were cars strewn helplessly all over the stage.  Shame for us because we had a great run and pushed quite hard.  Perhaps luck was just not on our side today.

Amazing what some Red Bull and a Tunnock Tea Cake can do.  Please note  this is an actual picture of the service  area and not the Somme Battlefield, although you would be forgiven if you got them mixed up.
Entering the final 3 stages we had to try and make up for lost time and sensible speed was the order of the day.  With the confidence in the car now returning and our knowledge of the stage growing we set the 8th fastest time on Stage 6 with a 7:22.  We instantly moved back up to 13th overall and 10th in class.  Although 
to be fair we were assisted by a few retirements. 

Down and dirty - Time to pick ones self up and get a bloody move on!
Stage 7 proved to be a game of 2 halves...the first run through the stage was perfect and we had a clear run all the way.  As we started the second half of the stage the car was so full of water due to the lakes that had formed in the ruts, the condensation caused the windscreen to resemble a bathroom mirror in a sauna and visibility was reduced to almost zero.  We decided to push on regardless using the side windows to see and regularly and furiously wiping the inside of the windscreen with a beanie hat! It was all for nothing though as towards the end of the stage a car had crashed into a chicane and was completely blocking the road forcing us to pull to a stop.  After several moments the car was pushed aside, occupants unhurt and we gingerly drove around the wreckage.  However so much time was lost it made for almost an impossible task to recover a result worthy of the performance of the car. When the results were released we were amazed to see that despite all our issues we had set the 8th fastest time and moved into 11th overall and 8th in class. Strange game this rallying lark....

I can see clearly now the fog has gone......

After a brief strategy meeting in the Spookworks Service area, we decided to see if we could have a push to get 10th overall as the car in front was only a few seconds ahead and we had managed to take over 20secs off him on the previous stage.  After applying almost a whole bottle of anti-fog liquid to the inside of the windscreen we set off to try and grab 10th overall.  We had obviously saved our best for last and with a measured but focused run we came across the finish line with a 10th fastest stage time with co-incidentally was enough to get us 10th overall and 8th in class.  A good recovery from a rather tougher than expected day.  Getting to the finish enabled a respectable points haul in the various championships we are pursuing and after the incident on stage 2 - simply getting home was a magnificent result. 

Stage 8 was a push to the finish - not literally of course...
Thanks to the Spookworks crew for their usual dedication and hard work in appalling conditions. Thanks to all our sponsors and supporters.  A special thanks to Revolution Wheels for helping us with the gravel rims and tyres.  Regrettably the high winds, snow and constant rain prevented us from using our amazing Parrot Drone or getting much from our external GoPro cameras.  The Spookworks media team - who braved the horrific conditions all day - did however get some amazing pics, the full album is on our Facebook page:  Next event is the London Rally for Heroes 19/20 April. 

After a full days rallying in appalling conditions - all that's needed before the next event is a trip to the car wash....