3.15 AM 21st November the alarm goes off and it’s time to get up. I’m off to Selby to meet up with the Lebeter family who will be looking after me, Mark Casey (my co-driver) and the Firenza on the Roger Albert Clark Rally. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Last time I was in the forests it was in a Group N Peugeot 205 and that was about 30 years ago! Rear wheel drive and around 200 bhp is a different kettle of fish. Our aim was to complete all the stages and stay within maximum lateness at all the controls. For the record books we finished 64th overall and one of only 38 crews to complete all the stages we could. If it wasn’t for ‘super rally’ we would have finished 35th!
The real story started about a year ago when I decided it would be a challenge to compete on both the Rally of the Tests and the Roger Albert Clark rallies in the same year. The Firenza was completely rebuilt at Wizbang as reliability was essential to ensure we completed the gruelling 300 stage mile event. Put it another way that is equivalent just about to the entire British Historic Championship in four and a half days!
Having all arrived safely in Leominster late Thursday morning we had pole position in the service area directly in front of the Den Sport mega motorhome close to the entrance of the service park. Scrutineering thank goodness was without any issues especially as Mark is a qualified scrutineer himself. It was then a long wait, actually about 8 hours to leaving the service park at our allocated start time of 7.52 pm. The ceremonial start was in the town centre so we made our way there at our allotted time and sat in the queue ready to take our place on the start ramp.
Only a few minutes before our due start time news came through that the first run through Radnor had been stopped due to car 10 catching fire. When the second run through at 30 second intervals began it became apparent there was a significant safety issue in the dense fog which caused cancellation of the evening’s activities. At least we hadn’t had a wasted 20 mile round trip so we got a notional start time, short trip back to the service area and an early bed.
Saturday morning dawned in Carlisle the weather still damp and murky and 100 miles of stages in Keilder in front of us. Mick and Ryan had completed a spanner check of the car but an engine rattle that had developed during Friday couldn’t be resolved. For some reason several tappet clearances had opened up and as they are shimmed no adjustment was possible. We would have to live with it and throw the towel in if it got any worse. A couple of runs at the 17 mile Kershope stage and a single run at Ash Park started the day off.
Coming into management service at the side of the road I put the car into reverse and the front nearside wheel locked solid. In no time Ryan had the wheel off and discovered the brake calliper was hanging on by only one bolt! With no spares Ryan had to fashion a shouldered bolt to hold the calliper in position until a more permanent fix could be done. In the end it kept the calliper in place until the end of the event. Our only other major problem on this leg was a
Not sure if I have ever rallied on a Monday before so that was a first. 70 miles over 5 stages including 2 runs on the 17.5 miles of Bewshaugh. Disaster nearly struck on the first run through Bewshaugh when we hit a pot-hole very hard badly bending the front off-side suspension. On inspection in service Mick concluded it would take too long to fix so he re-tracked the steering to something close and we cruised through the last two stages to preserve the car.
The one hour run to the finish back in Carlisle seemed to be never ending but we finally got there and took our place under the finish arch. Job completed we finished the event, completed all the stages and kept within max lateness. Many thanks must go to Mark for keeping me on the road, Mick and Ryan for preparation of the car and keeping it going on the event, Liam for ably assisting Ryan in the management car, Steph (Mick’s wife) who kept us all well fed and watered during the whole event and to Mark’s parents for ferry us to and from various locations.
An absolutely epic endurance event. Many felt it was the closest it has come to re-creating the iconic Lombard RAC Rallies of the 70’s. Will I be back for more in 2021? Never say never!
Pictures:- Malc Almond and the RAC organising team