At the weekend I completed an almost lifelong dream to compete in a gravel car rally. Not only was it a rally but it was a well known event – the Granite City Rally in the Scottish Rally Championship (SRC). It really was quite an incredible experience with huge lows and highs.
I had been planning it for many weeks and even months before hand and the first thing to say is that there is a hell of a lot to organise and it really eats into your time. Luckily I know a few guys that had experienced numerous SRC events between them and they were more than helpful with the numerous questions and queries I had.
The car had been prepared running up to the event by a Aberdeenshire garage with a vast amount of 205 experience. This was one of the many parts that was crucial in us finishing.
This is not going to come as a surprise to many people but rallying is very expensive, i’m not going to document it but I spent a small fortune. I was very much aware of the costs before even thinking about buying a car but for anyone that is considering it, beware and take a lot of advice from other drivers and enthusiasts before the commitment initialises.
We luckily found a good and solid Peugeot 205 in March with a respectable track record of finishing rallies. There is however a lot more to pay for than just the car. Peugeot 205’s are also the cheapest cars, if not certainly one of the cheapest cars you can maintain for rallying. You will find bucket loads of financial advice from rally enthusiasts on internet forums, if you don’t happen to know personally any people already involved. You do however hear of some horror stories with competitors just looking to spec their car higher, entries fees and pay for on going costs. Credit cards and financed up to the hilt just to make the next event. Again, beware, this sport is like many hobbies that really can get out of control and quickly.
Of course there is more than a just driver in the car of a rally. There is the co-driver / navigator which has an equal if sometimes not more important part to play than the driver. Before a rally I have to admit I underestimated what these guys and girls do. They obviously need to be incredibly switched on with nerves of steel, but theres a lot more to it than it than having a cool head. Their research and time keeping needs to be done very thoroughly. Drivers are there to drive and they don’t want put any thought into the route or the time keeping. This would take away from their concentration in maintaining a good pace on the timed gravel roads. I was massively lucky to find Mark Fisher as my co. I had never met him before but we talked a good few times before the event on the phone. I found Mark on the British Rally Forum where many drivers and co drivers team up. Mark had a great deal of experience in SRC events and events in his native England. Which in my position of no previous rallies, was exactly what I was looking for. In hindsight I really wouldn’t advise any crew to take on the challenge of an multi stage rally if both are new to the sport. Of course everyone has to start somewhere, but two rally newbies could very well end in disaster. I also have to admit I really don’t think I could be a co-driver or navigator.
From the off we set the goal of completing the rally. We knew that this alone would be a very big task. Theres a small percentage of competitors that manage this in their first event. They will either crash or have technical problems with the car. Times in the rally to us were irrelevant. The only goal was to finish the rally, even if we were last. If we were to finish anything above that it would be a huge bonus.
SS1 ( Special Stage 1) will be the worst stage I ever complete in my life. About a minute in we nearly right off in third gear. Reviewing the video not quite sure what happened we just seem to quickly veer off to the right in an split second, even with limited off road mileage I had been told, in a moment like that to plant the foot and somehow we managed to get back to a reasonable position on the gravel track. I was now incredibly nervous if I wasn’t already leading up to the first stage. I felt we weren’t pushing at all, and if we had a moment like that at that speed then we were in trouble. It didn’t seem to fluster Mark luckily, and the notes kept being read clearly. Very warily i carried on into the stage, and I was slowly gaining confidence in the car after our moment in third gear. Roughly about 3 miles into the stage we came up to a crest with a spectator waving to slow down, which I did. Further on there were now numerous spectators waving furiously to slow down. Coming down into another crest we saw a large number of spectators gathered around 2 cars in a ditch into the left 100 metres or so on. We pulled and stopped the car. It was clear that there had been a very serious accident. By now I really was absolutely petrified. My immediate thoughts were that there fatalities. In front of us was car 154 which I knew were a young crew with the driver also competing in his first rally. I could also see the Rally2Raise Micra driven by two girls, with the driver also in her first event, behind the wheel. This was now a nightmare scenario. Upon stopped we had a marshal coming looking for radio assistance and shouting there were 4 serious and critical injuries. It was nothing short of horrifying. We were asked to continue through the stage to get to the next radio point, with the hazards on. I could hardly drive as I really was in shock at seeing the scene. Although not in detail I could see the injured guys receiving treatment as we went passed. We managed to get to the radio point and creeped out of the stage. I didn’t really want to continue the rally. Mark suggested we did, there also a chance that the organisers would call off the event. At that moment I would have been quite happy if they did, as I was still overcome with the previous stage and crash scene.
We arrived at SS2 and it was clear the event was continuing and it then apparent there were no deaths which was of course a huge relief. We started SS2 at a slow pace and gathered momentum and confidence as we went through. We knew were well off the pace but with our only goal of completion this was more than satisfactory for us. There were multiple off’s in SS2, about 4 or 5 cars with the OK boards out. Every time you see a crashed car you need to acknowledge they are safe. If you see an SOS board ( same board but reversed) then those drivers are injured and need medical assistance in which you stop immediately, and go through the steps you are trained with your BARS (British Association Rally Schools) training. BARS is the test you need to complete before you are authorised to take part in a stage rally. I carried mine out in 2011 at Knockhill. Safety in rallying is absolutely paramount and rightly so.
In SS3 we again got through and I started gaining back full composure in myself and more confidence in the notes and what they represented on the gravel roads. SS3 was enjoyable, and I was feeling more of the car and what it can do. SS3 complete, we were getting into it after the scenes of the first stage. Completing special stage 3 we were more than half way complete.
After a long drive to service at Edzel we picked up our times and surprised to see ourselves not dead last, and after what we had been through it was a boost. We were running second hand although good Hankook tyres and planned to complete the rally on them. However they were in bad condition and we decided along with the service team to invest in 2 new D-Mack tyres.
We left service and headed to SS4 along at main A90 road North to Aberdeen. It was snowing on the top of Glenfarquhar when we arrived, so it was hats and jackets on, when out of the car upon talking to a few drivers. After a long wait of 25 minutes or so, as there was no doctor on the stage due to the previous accident, we finally got going.
Even with my limited gravel time there was certainly a difference with levels of grip and it did take a while to find what was possible and not. We felt we had a much better run through 4. Another long drive but this time through the forest we arrived at the final stage and by far by the longest at over 13 miles.
SS5 was by far our best run although we did almost stop as there was a problem with the back left wheel. It wasn’t a puncture though and the car still felt stable enough and we made it to the end of SS5. To say I was happy was an understatement. It really was a fantastic feeling and Mark and myself were hugely pleased to complete. It wasn’t completely over though, we still were required to get back to Thainstone, which we did.
A little nerve racking but another quick interview on the microphone on the finish tunnel and we were there. A truly incredible feeling. After confirmation of the injuries we were even more relieved.
Rallying has been a huge interest of mine for most of my life. Living in my primary and secondary school days right next to Ordiequish wood, a famous rally stage, i was almost brought up with it. The rally was one of the highlights of the year in those days to go and watch the incredible cars such as 6R4s, Subaru’s, Mk2 Escort’s and Escort Cosworth’s. To complete and even compete in the event really was something just fantastic. Lets hope it’s the start of many more to come. An amazing yet very dangerous sport.
Big thanks to everyone involved my Brother, Mark, Russell, Tom, Duncan, Dad, Chris, Ross, Tim and all the others.
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