Sunday 17 November 2013

Spookworks Fat Albert Stages Report 2013 - its all about preparation

The real story of the Spookworks 2013 Fat Albert Stages is not so much about the 70 miles over 7 stages or about the record breaking 88 cars that started the event (which 24 failed to finish) but more about the preparation that went on in the days leading up to the event.  Spookworks always likes to take inspiration from history and we had to look back no further than the great Benjamin Franklin who stated:

     "An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure"
File:Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffrein Duplessis.jpg
Benjamin Franklin knows all about rally prep...
With our recent run of bad luck we decided to go all out and get the Spookworks Impreza in tip top condition for our "home" event at Keevil.

No I meant cut the other one......Sparks fly at Spookworks secret development centre

Truckloads of parts were ordered not least 2 complete new front hubs to replace the 1 that exploded at Woodbridge. New radiator and STACK gauges were installed to monitor engine temps, and new wheel studs were obtained to replace the worn and stripped wheel studs.  There was also a lot of fabrication going on with some welding and various heat shields being made - in fact the whole 2 days was a bit like an "A Team" montage where lots of things were going on in no particular sequence, large pieces of plywood were being carried around and lots of comical knowing glances exchanged and then "hey presto" the car rolled off the ramps and onto the trailer. In fact one of boffins known only as "Woody" was even heard to say ...."I love it when a plan comes together"
Spookworks Boffins - We think Woody is one on the far right.
A late arrival at team accommodation was (as usual) followed by an early start.  Not sure what time it was but it was still nighttime when we got back up again.  Scrutineering highlighted 2 minor issues a slightly loose seat and the horn had decided not to work for some reason.  Back in service these were quickly rectified and the car started in good shape.

Rallies always seem to start at stupid o'clock.  Here we are really to start and its still night time.  

The conditions were probably the worst we had seen on the Fat Albert for a while.  Heavy rain in the lead up to the event had made the stages very slick and they were covered with a thin layer of mud which was only going to get worse as cars dragged even more mud on to the stage.

Stage 1 and it proved to be the ice rink affair everyone expected. Lots of slides and opposite lock and in some parts of the stage even a walking pace was too fast and resulted in some chaotic scenes similar to a muddy car park after a music festival.  Even those who opted for a gravel tyre fared no better and it really was all about survival.  We managed to get home although it was not pretty, but better than some, I will never work out how any rear wheel drive escorts made it round but we were glad to have 4WD!  We posted a 12:47 to set the 15th fastest time - although it was a complete lottery.

You can see the mud on the road in this pic.  A rare shot of the car almost in a straight line!

Stage 2 was exactly the same route and after some tyre pressure adjustments to try and get some heat into the tyres we ran into heavy traffic and lost quite a lot of time.  The second stage was worse than the first in terms of grip as grass section had now turned to cut up mud and the mud that was already on stage 1 was well and truly spread round stage 2! We set a 13:26, over exactly the same stage we previously did a 12:47 and as we looked the results we were reassured to know that almost everyone had experienced the same troubles.

Easy does it - might look good but we actually we trying to go straight ahead! 
Stage 3 saw the stages beginning to dry a bit and we managed to press on.  Still plenty of traffic but it seemed to be hurting everyone equally so there could be no complaints.  The so called "nadgery bit" was still at walking pace with any sharp stabs of the throttle being rewarded with a trip into the undergrowth.  A few close calls and some slides and we set a 13:00 on stage 3.  We still had some overheating issues so we used the anti lag sparingly turning it off for the nadgery bit and using it only on the far side of the airfield where the grip was coming back.

Caution! watch the sign on the lef......nevermind.

Stage 4 and with the sun breaking cover and approaching midday we set one of our best times of the day a 12:18.  Grip was returning to normal levels and the Michelin tyres we had on simply lapped up the mileage. For some unknown reason the washer motor decided to pack up meaning we had to be careful not to get our windscreen dirty.  Thankfully a trouble free run with hardly any traffic got us home without any need to use them.  A quick bash with a hammer freed the motor and it worked all day with no problems.

As the stages started to dry up we managed to keep the car is a straight line for longer and faster!

Stage 5 and the field was really starting to thin out.  A few big names had gone and our class had got considerably smaller.  Oddly despite the conditions it seemed that most retirements were mechanical as cars limped home to retire. Apart from our overheating issue, kept at bay by economic use of the anti lag switch we seemed to have no problems and just focused on our own rally keeping things neat and tidy with as little drama as possible.  We came home in 12:42 which was a reasonable time although the stage was now dry and grippy and although the lack of anti lag did hurt us coming out of the slower corners it was not enough that we could use it as an excuse!

The 4WD made it easier to cut through the slower cars - especially on the gravel.
Stage 6 was a repeat of stage 5 and another uneventful run.  Had some moments where we dived down the inside of a few slower cars but they moved kindly out of the way so little or no time lost. We managed a 11:55 overall and that put us squarely in 10th place with 1 stage remaining.  A check of the leader board saw us a mere 3 secs from a pretty quick Mark 2 Escort and we decided to try to see if we could make a dash for 9th overall to round up a pretty good days rallying.

Thumbs up.  Not a bad day for us given our luck this year.  Car is in good shape. Shame about the focus of the one of the occupants
Stage 7 was sadly not to be.  A plucky little mini sadly had a big off (thankfully they are OK) the incident closed the stage and as a result it was cancelled.  Shame really as we had a terrific run probably our best run of the day.  We also saw a few stricken competitors from our class which would not have made it home but as the stage was cancelled it made no difference - some you win some you lose.

Actually there is no gold at the end of a rainbow - well we didn't see any.

So we finished a credible 10th overall and 4th in class. Shame we didn't nominate it as a Championship round really we would have come home with some good points!  We did pick up highest placed RAF crew which added some very welcome silverware to the Spookworks treasure chest.  A great event, car in one piece and barring the temp issue no extra jobs to do before the season finale at Rockingham Stages on 7-8 December. Some top effort from Josh and Woody in the service area kept things going reliably all day, but the real work and the reason for the success was those 2 days of prep beforehand which saved us lots of "pounds of cure".

Job done.  10th overall out of 88 and 4th in class - all the bits still attached and mostly everything still works.  What more could you ask for. Just needs a wash and a polish before Rockingham.