Monday 23 September 2013

2013 Woodbridge Stages Report - Never Give In!

Another emotional rollercoaster weekend for Spookworks Rally Team with drama at literally every turn.  At one point the only option available was to pull out of the rally before it even started and take the Spookworks Impreza home on the trailer!

In a truly epic weekend of motorsport the team covered over 550 miles, experiencing sheer despair one minute and pure elation the next.  There were some heroic efforts both on the stage, in service and in support - a total team result.

In the end the results of 8th in class and 38th overall simply do not do the weekend justice.

It all started so well...

Friday saw the usual last minute tweaks including changing the thermostat, installing a fan override switch, a clean and polish - you know the usual.  Then upon turning the key to start the mighty Spookworks flat four engine - nothing.  Try again. More nothing, then the noise of a fork being put in a paper shredder.  All stop. A check of all the basics, spark plugs out, leads changed.  Try again. More fork in shredder noises. Only one thing for it now - panic stations and a quick call to the Oracle.  He led us through several bizarre procedures most of which felt like some sort of medieval Subaru witchcraft and incredibly all done while holding a mobile phone near the engine while the Oracle was on route to a poetry recital.  But then the engine fired back into life.  Back in the game.

Saturday 0530 and the Spookworks cavalcade rolls away from the Spookworks HQ like a modern day rally version of Alexander the Great's War Elephants;  loaded up to the hilt with all manner of spares, tyres and tools headed for Castle Combe Rally Day to display Spookworks Impreza on the Superpro stand with some of our other RAF competitors.  A great feeling of expectation filled the air....

The calm before the storm.  Spookworks on display at Castle Combe.
After a few hours on the stand we decided to give the car a quick shakedown on the small clubman stage.  Everything was going well then after a few hundred metres the temperature gauge was sky high and the car was withdrawn back to the Superpro stand to try and work out what was wrong.  Must be something simple we thought.  Several hours of scratching heads and asking expert advice (Many thanks Alex Taylor!!!) the only option was that a head gasket must have let go and a new engine was required. A quick call to the Oracle was made to confirm this and the subsequent options were all bad and expensive!

Hot and sour - this short stage caused the car to overheat and we considered pulling our entry to Woodbridge

The feeling of despair and disappointment in the Spookworks Camp was overwhelming. We had endured so much to get this far and it now looked like we would have to pull our Woodbridge entry.  Even though we were surrounded by the finest rally machinery known to man morale was very low.  As the day drew a close, a final last ditch effort was made by Alex Taylor to cut out the thermostat in an effort to help the water flow round the engine to hope bring the temperature down.  The car was driven around the car park as the crowds departed and astonishingly the temperatures seemed ok!  Could it be a miracle!  From the depths of despair it was decided to push on to Woodbridge and run the car a few times upon arrival to see if the problem was fixed and therefore enter the rally.

Due to the late departure from Castle Combe and the 200 mile + epic journey across the country to Woodbridge we arrived too late to test the car so we decided to use Stage 1 as a test and just roll the dice. If she lasted a stage then it was better to try and fail then to not try at all.  However that was tomorrow and right now we were all exhausted after the days events, so sleep was the only thing on the agenda as we were rallying in about 6 hours!

Sunday 0853 - After successfully completing noise, scrutineering and documentation we lined up on stage 1 ready for the 9.1 mile test and no knowing how far we could go or if we would make it round at all.

Stage 1 - it was all uphill from here.

Approx 6 miles in everything seemed fine - the car was going like a rocket ship all systems go.  Then suddenly the temperature gauge started climbing began to point vertically in the red. We switched the anti lag off, short shifted and dropped our speed to make sure we got to the end of the stage.  Perhaps there was something we could do in service?  We crossed the finish in 10:16 setting the 28th fastest time out of 71 starters - not bad considering but our situation and our caution had lost us some time.

Still overheating but not until the end....what was going on!!!
In service the engine was red hot but cooling, there a great deal of confusion as the car seemed to have plenty of power and none of the usual symptoms of head gasket failure were present.  We cooled the engine down as much as possible, topped up with water and thought what the hell might as well go and do Stage 2!

We decided for Stage 2 to leave the anti lag switched off ( as this medieval device causes intense engine heat and will not help our situation.  To our great surprise, with some short shifting to keep the revs down we completed Stage 2 in a respectable 14th fastest with a 9:36 and the temperature although very hot was not off the scale....we could be back in the game here!

Stage 3 saw us have a good run on the 8.3 mile with our mix of no anti lag and short shifting keeping temps down.  We were having some great battles and despite our slight lack in power our incredible Alcon brakes were keeping us competitive as we were able to brake later than any other car we came across during the entire rally.  We went on to set the 13th fastest time with a 9:26. Putting us inside the top 20 on the event.

Temp issues sorted it was time to start making up ground.
Just as our spirits were soaring and everything seemed to be going well we were dealt a crushing blow.  After a few miles in Stage 4 an incredible mechanical knocking noise was coming from the right front.  The brakes felt spongy and it all felt very terminal.  We stopped in stage to have a look and the issue seemed to be a right front hub.  We limped slowly back to service and the crew confirmed the right front hub had completely destroyed itself. The ball bearings on the hub had been flattened and welded themselves to the hub itself.  We did not have a spare.  Quite simply game over. Despite the effort that had got us so far and the hope that had been generated, this was a final blow none if us could withstand.  The time card was completed detailing our retirement. No one spoke. And then one man spoke to all of us....

Winston was right. Never give in.  We had come so far and endured so much but we will never give in.  The service area was scoured for a spare hub and amazingly after searching almost the entire service park someone said they might have a spare.  After rummaging around in the back of a service van a hub was found and it was exactly the right one!   It was rushed back to the Spookworks Service area and was heroically changed in 20 mins!  The car drove out of service and off to continue battle in Stage 5.

Hub change anyone?  This crack team changed it in 20 mins flat. 

The remains of the hub.  That small lump in the centre of the pic used to be one of a number of ball bearings that have now been vaporised. 

The 8 miles of Stage 5 were a revelation. The car was back on song and we battled hard with our old sparring partner John Franklyn Price and ironically the generous crew who had lent us their spare hub.  We completed the Stage equal 14th fastest with John Franklyn Price, enormously pleased with a 14th overall fastest time.  The comeback begins here! Only 2 stages to go.

Stage 6 saw some of Spookworks best efforts.  The car effortlessly consumed the 8 miles of special stage and saw a 12th fastest stage time of 9.05. Stages like this make it all worthwhile.

Back in business.  Slightly hot under the collar but never stirred

Stage 7, the final test and once again a great result.  11th fastest time over the 8 mile stage with a 8:21.  Most importantly after all the dramas we FINISHED!  The car was in one piece, still functioning and we picked up a very valuable 70 points for the RAF Rally Championship.  Doing some quick calculations if we did not have the stage maximum 19.00 due to the hub problem on stage 4  - we estimate that we could have come home in 7th in class and 14th overall.  What ifs are sadly just that - what ifs.

An exhausting weekend both physically and emotionally, we are completely drained but extremely satisfied with an incredible team effort against all the odds and with an important lesson learnt. In weekend's such as this;  Spookworks sometimes must look outside of it's normal sphere of influence and find inspiration to carry on despite the pressures and the disappointment. In such times there really is only one man who can carry the team forward....


Spookworks had to go right to the big man in our hour of need.
Quick thanks to Oracle and Alex Taylor for their peerless expertise and also to the guys from Car 12 Jim Munden and Dan Hutchins for the loan of the hub.

38th overall and 8th in class. Didn't feel like that from in here!!