Thursday 25 April 2013

Spookworks London Rally of Heroes Report

After the tough experience of the previous event  we were looking forward to bolting on the more familiar 18” Revolution Millennium wheels and getting back to the tarmac.  In fact, Spookworks has been buzzing ever since the London Help for Heroes event was announced back in mid 2012 and we were one of the first to enter once the entry form went live. 

Why - you may ask…..the Help for Heroes link is obvious and with so many of the Spookworks crew having served in Afghanistan and Iraq this was always going to have a special significance that needs no explanation here.  But a multi venue event, less than an hours drive from the marble and titanium atrium of the Spookworks HQ foyer was almost too good to miss.  Add in some of our oldest rivals and sparring partners, a healthy RAF rally contingent, the Land Rovers of the AFRT,  some of the best stages in the area, the beginning and end  at the classic Brooklands race circuit and being waved off the start by the big boss Secretary of State Phillip Hammond…well need I go on.  The event quite literally had everything.

The locals seemed to be getting right into the spirit of the weekend....

In the Spookworks Technology Centre the prep was going pretty well and we seemed to be in a good place.  Alcon provided some fresh calipers, 366mm floating discs and new Spookworks specific Pagid brake pads after a visit from the “Glassback” – a highly secretive code name for a deep cover Alcon retardation engineer.  Add some other tweaks that the boffins did in between poetry recitals and we were actually ready to go in good order.  Even the weather was looking nice so we would avoid a repeat of the Somme battlefield conditions experienced on our first event the Flying Fortress. 

We loaded up the transporter and headed off to Brooklands – not even any traffic really to speak off.  This was all starting to look a little bit too convenient.  So much good luck prior to an event could only mean one thing – trouble on Stage 1.

Scrutineering done, we parked up waiting for the ceremonial start and had a look around the museum at Brooklands.  There is some amazing stuff there and well worth a look.  Even the local Tescos has a piece of the old Brooklands banking going around it.  How guys did 200mph round there back in the 1950s etc I will never understand.  Talk about heroes. 

So out of the Spookworks transporter, line up for start, get waved off the line by some rather attractive ladies and er….straight back on the transporter.  Not the usual start to the rally but it meant that day 1 was over.  A quick bit of brake testing in a car park - you can draw your own conclusions here but this was absolutely essential and it was off to bed for a 0530 start.

Off the startline and....oh....back on the trailer.
Seeded at 27th we had the advantage of the first cars cleaning up the stage and making all the usual mistakes that usually happens to cars higher up the seeding.  As we sat on the start line with cold tyres and brakes we decided to have a cautious start less our prefect pre-event  preparation was just a ruse for an early exit via some obliging trees.  This would be one of 8 scheduled trips round Rushmoor arena so we had other opportunities to get it right and besides it was only 1.76 miles so no point in going too hard too early.

Stage 1 saw us with a time of 2:20.7 the 18th fastest time overall.  There were a few mistakes including one where we rounded a long right hand bend into what seemed a car park!  After a few seconds of trying to work out where to go we found the marker board and were away but the hesitation cost us pretty dear on such a small stage.

Stage 2 was an identical trip round although we were still a bit cautious and set the 12th fastest time with a 2:14 some 6 seconds faster than our previous time and saw us jump 5 places to 13th overall.   We did have some real drama as we pulled up to the time control we had a horrendous noise coming from the rear left of the car. To paint a mental picture grab a set of spanners and put them in a washing machine and put on a fast spin cycle.  It was that kind of noise.  The left wheel refused to turn and we dragged it about 10 metres to get out of the time control and begin the road section.  At first we thought it was the rear differential or even a drive shaft but with finely tuned pure mechanical sympathy we decided use sheer power to rectify the problem Clarkson style and amazingly it worked and the wheel started turning again.

There is truly is nothing that power can't solve.  Next time something seizes just remember it's only because you aren't using enough force...

We immediately abandoned any thoughts of an early retirement or returning to service and after a quick check of brakes and handling set off along the road section to Stage 3 – Minley another 1.7 mile stage.  I should point out that the spanners in washing machine noise was still there and would continue to the end of the event.  At the time of writing we don’t really know what caused it because no one at the Spookworks Tech Centre has been brave enough to remove the rear disc to see what causing the noise but we are pretty sure that we will find the tortured and scarred remains of a Subaru parking brake mechanism. 

Stage 3 Minley.  Running late due to our time lost trying to get the wheels to turn we booked in slightly late to the next stage and we were under real pressure.  We lined up for the stage start only to have a helpful marshal point out that we had a flat right rear tyre.  Things were going from bad to worse.  Luckily as we pulled back away from the start (and very unluckily for the crew involved) a car had gone off in stage and although they were ok apart from a very damaged Porsche, the stage was stopped giving us time to change the tyre. Very lucky indeed.  After a short break and with a new tyre on we started the 1.7 miles of Minley.  With tyres and brakes cold because of the stoppage we started off cautiously again until everything got back up to temperature. We had a few slides and went wide on one of the bends hurting us for time and not surprisingly our stage time was not very good –19th fastest with a 1:59:9 resulting in a dropped spot to 14th overall.

Stage 4 and 5 were two runs through Bramley.  Our first run saw us have slight off after only about 100m where after a small jump the road went sharp left and we went straight on over a bump and into the hedges.  We got out ok by reversing back on to the road but it hurt our time quite badly and it showed;  a 4:15 to set the 20th fastest time and a further drop down the leaderboard to 17th overall.  The second run was much better and more representative of the times the car could do.  No major mistakes we posted the 8th fastest time with a 3:53:3 and this catapulted us up the leaderboard back up to 13th overall.

Back into service – the boffins swarmed around the car like flies on er…. like bees on honey but the 15 mins only left time to check the rear brakes to confirm they were clear, check for crash damage after Bramley and top up with fuel.

Lovely Rushmoor arena - you just can't get enough of a good thing.

Straight back out and twice more around Rushmoor.  We were quite used to this stage now and our times were slightly better with a 2:13 and a 2:08.6 leaving us in 13th overall.
Stage 8 and 9 were at Deepcut Barracks and this was one of the longer stages at 2:12 miles.  The car really seemed to come alive on these slightly longer stages and we had 2 mistake free runs to grab 7th fastest and 5th fastest respectively and moved up to 10th overall. 

Stage 10 and 11 proved to be diametrically opposed.  The event was really beginning to get going now with the longer stages starting to sort out the pack and crews being able to carry some momentum from stage to stage and keep heat in the tyres and brakes.  The first run through Montgomery was brilliant –a cracking stage with a good mix of every type of corner thrown in.  We set the 6th fastest time with a 6:16 on a cracking run but sadly an intercooler pipe decided to part company for the second trip round and we had to limp through the stage losing almost 30 secs over the 3.6 miles and we dropped from 7th to 8th overall as a result. 

Limping back to service on fuel vapour and into the waiting clutches of Dean and Andy who were doing a sterling job.  They are Spookworks best mechanics and to be honest it was their efforts in service that kept us in the rally and we should not be shy about stating that. This event was always a war of attrition and your spannermen were as vital as the cars crew for a good result.

Patched up, intercooler pipe reconnected and more fuel it was back out to the action. Another 2 runs through Rushmoor this time the other way round; with a 2:12 and a 2:02, giving us 8th overall over our old sparring partner and fellow RAF Championship crew , John Franklyn Pryce and Carl Placek also in a Subaru.

Another run through Minley saw us 12th fastest with a 1:53.6 and holding steady an 8th overall.

Yep more Rushmoor - its just like a single venue event except its all in the same place - oh....

This was followed by 2 more runs through Bramley in the reverse direction and we set the 10th fastest and 9th fastest times respectively to move up to 7th overall. Things were going well and the car was just getting better and better.

Back to service for the last time and it was more of the same really, a spanner check, fuel and a swap round of the tyres from back to front to even out the wear.  Only 5 stages remained and to be honest if you offered us a top 10 finish we would have taken it then and there.  The road sections were tight on time and our bad luck at the beginning had all of us completely emotionally drained.

We went back out for yet another trip round Rushmoor with a 2:06 for 18th fastest we just could not seem to get to grip with this short blast and need to work out how we lost so much time here albeit only 4-5 seconds each trip. The car was capable of much more.

2 more trips round Deepcut gave us two 9th fastest times and holding position steady in 7th overall.  Oddly upon leaving Deepcut we noticed the engine temp was sky high and pulled over to try and let the engine cool down and work out what had gone wrong.  Even more strangely with the headlights on all the dials worked and if you switched the headlights off all the gauges went dead.  Looking under the bonnet we noticed that the front wiring loom that runs behind the radiator had come loose and fallen very close to the lava hot exhaust manifold.  The result was like holding a bar of cadburys chocolate to a blacksmith furnace.  The wires had melted into one and as a result the radiator fan was kaput. It seemed the remaining wires were earthed through the headlight circuit somehow and there was nothing we could do except switch off the anti lag to reduce under bonnet temperature and try and nurse the car to the finish.

The final stages of the event were 2 runs round Mercedes World at Brooklands. Thankfully short and simple stages so nothing to be gained but everything to be lost.  Adapting a sort of modern start/stop engine system activated by the ignition key we only ran the engine when we needed to move otherwise it was switched off to try and keep things cool. By the grace of god we had little traffic on the road section and a very small queue at the beginning of the penultimate stage so we were pretty much home and dry so long as the engine kept running and we could complete the 1.76 miles of the Mercedes World stage.

Spookworks invents a new start/stop system.  It cleverly uses the ignition key and is user operated.  It also stops the engine becoming a BBQ.

The final 2 stages went surprisingly well. Our overheating problem seemed to look after itself and despite not running anti-lag on a tight and twisty stage where it would be a clear advantage we did pretty well. Rub 1 was a 2:14 for 10th fastest and the second run was a 2:12 for 12th fastest.  As we pulled through the finish line the relief and sense of satisfaction in completing a rather arduous event on its first running was incredible.  Having almost retired several times we were amazed to get to the finish and to come 7th overall land 3rd in class amongst such a distinguished field was a real achievement.

During the prize giving we managed to amass quite a haul, best RAFMSA crew, 2nd in Class and 1st AEMC crew and nice trophies they were as well. They now have pride of place in the bespoke Spookworks marble floored and guilt edged trophy room.  The car is in reasonable shape given the experience and once we can find someone brave enough to remove the left rear disc we can assess the full damage which lurks beneath.  Spookworks next outing is still to be determined so watch this space for more details. Congrats to all the organising team at London Help for Heroes and to all the competitors that managed to get to the end of the very first event.

How many times round Rushmoor? This is lap 8 or 5 or maybe its 6, no its definitely 4.