On the Thursday before the Preston, I got a phone call from James Coyne;
"Ur, Zip, I'm sitting here at work, and the only thing that I can think
about is how I can get the car ready to do the Preston on Saturday."
We both agreed that it would be a sufficiently stupid thing to do, in true
WMC fashion. A quick call to the entries sec secured a last minute place,
and we were now committed. There was a lot to do to prepare the car, including
fitting a sump guard, refitting the interior, wiring up some spot lamps, fixing
the reversing lights, and changing tyres. It started at 8:00 on Friday morning,
lying in a pile of Welsh mud underneath Takashi's 205, the engine recently
having expired from a damp patch in the Cilwendeg. We removed the sump guard
without too much difficulty, and James also bought Tak's old gravel tyres.
Friday night was spent fitting the guard on to James's car, and by the end
of it, we were both wet and very tired. Having given Tak a hand to fit the
sump guard to his car for the previous year's event, and bodging it by attaching
it at the rear with zip ties, only for the guard to fall off half way through
the first section, we decided to do it properly by drilling holes in the subframe
and bolting it on. So James was now the owner of a perfect Peugeot Sport sump
guard, having had one careful owner from new. Not quite. James had to modify
it a bit on Saturday because the sump was banging against the guard due to
the engine mounts being a bit knackered, causing the engine to rock on and
off throttle. Things got a bit chaotic by the end of Saturday afternoon, and
we ended up leaving quite late, having done most things apart from fixing
the reversing lights. It got even worse when we had to stop to cure a chronic
misfire, which was due to oil in the dizzy cap. I spent most of the journey
bodging the electrics, connecting the nav light in, and putting a feed and
switch in for the reversing lights.
The marshals at the noise test were more than lenient about one of the number
lights not working, "Well we think you're OK as the other one works!"
(compare that to a Hart event!). Rob Norrington, the chief scrutineer, didn't
quite notice that the reversing lights failed to work, as we were the last
car to be scrutineered, and he seemed to lose concentration as James and I
were talking to him about stage rallying. Handy.
There was a nearly full entry of 43 cars. At the car park at the start, most
other crews were just chatting amongst themselves, and checking the car over.
About 10 minutes before our start time, James was lying at the rear of the
car, cutting the corners off the rear spoiler. I'd already experienced the
problem of "rear skart fall off" in Tak's 205 at the Preston 99,
when the larger mud and snow tyres fowled the skirt at full suspension travel,
and by cutting the corners off, James hoped it wouldn't happen. He then made
some spot lamp stabilizers to stop them vibrating too much. Then when we got
back into the car, the spot lights stopped working, but it was too late now,
and we had to go. We later found out that this was because I had wired up
the bulbs incorrectly, and when James made the stabilizers from the body of
the spot lamp to the car body, this caused a short circuit. Doh!
Quite a few of the cars had uprated forest spec suspension, for improved
ground clearance. Although James' 205 wasn't quite up to that standard, at
least it was better than his previous attempt a few years ago when he chose
to compete, curiously enough, in a Jetta with lowered suspension!
Briefly, the format of the Preston involves about a dozen "regularity"
sections, which are all timed to the second. They are practically all on white
roads, mostly private, with a few narrow yellows. In between, non-competitive
transport type sections are used to link the 12 competitive sections. So the
rally uses about 80 miles of white roads, although some of the time it seems
like more than this. Navigation is simple, and isn't really an issue. In reality,
although the sections are regularity, it is extremely difficult to clean the
sections, partly due to the nature of the roads. Getting a good result is
all about conserving the car to the finish, and somewhere approaching a half
of the cars retire. It is probably fair to say that it is the roughest road
rally in the UK, and the format is unique.
The first section was fairly muddy, and we nearly got stuck when we went
the long way around a tree, into some very soft mud. About half way through,
it turned into a bit of a procession, when we came up to an Austin A40 that
was a lot slower than us, which we couldn't overtake. It was a little frustrating,
but at least we got through the 1st section, with 32nd time overall.
The second section was Knettishall, which is based on a disused airfield
circuit. Although it was slippery, there's quite a lot of concrete and some
gravel. The large amounts of rain previously was partly the cause of some
really severe potholes, so although it's possible to get up to some incredible
speeds, you can do some serious damage to the car there, as James found out
in this section a couple of years ago. Despite coming up against some slower
competitors, which I think we overtook, we did quite well, and put up a time
that was 22nd quickest.
The next section was going really well, and the event was really starting
to flow. James was learning the completely different characteristics of the
tyres well. Towards the end, we got stuck behind a Nova that was quite fast,
but it still held us up a little. Overtaking was more or less impossible.
Despite this, we recorded 16th overall time.
At the start of the next competitive section, the Nova was still directly
ahead of us. We decided to ask for a time to start a minute after our schedule
time (and that of the Nova), so that we could hopefully put a fast time in
without getting slowed behind the Nova that we probably wouldn't be able to
overtake. The section was incredibly rough with very hard bumps. It had claimed
the sump on Tak's 205 the previous year, when a rock must have punctured it.
Over quite a few of the bumps, the car was getting very airborne, as you can
see in the picture. Things didn't go quite to plan with the Nova, and I think
we caught them up near to the end of the section. We were following quite
closely, and a stone that their car threw up hit James' offside headlamp,
causing all the glass to fall out. We still got an excellent time - 18th quickest.
In the few minutes spare that we had waiting for the start of the next competitive
section, James went up to the driver in the Nova and thanked him for breaking
our headlamp. "It actually gives a better beam pattern, and we need all
the light possible, due to the spots not working!". The marshals told
us that the guys in the Nova had agreed to let us go first, because we were
much quicker than them! Great. The section was mainly enclosed within trees,
and was therefore very muddy, with lots of leaves, similar to the North Upham
whites that we all love a lot more than the really rough potholed surfaces.
James was absolutely flying, controlling the car brilliantly. This showed
in the time that we recorded - 11th overall.
I can't remember too much about the 6th section. I think we were held up quite
badly. We still got a fairly good time of 17th quickest. By about this time,
I think that the reversing lights started to work again, along with the rear
wash wipe, which James was very surprised about because he couldn't remember
the last time they worked. The car was obviously enjoying the event as much
as we were!
The 7th section was the last before the halfway petrol halt. About 200 yards
after the start was a huge muddy patch that nearly everyone else got stuck
in. A tractor was there to pull people out, but that was obviously taking
lots of time. The marshals told us to keep right. We did, and got through
it, and it seemed that the section was going really well. Then I missed a
slot when I thought we were somewhere else on the map. We were about to turn
around, and the engine cut. We tried starting, but it just didn't fire up.
First of all, we thought that it was probably oil in the dizzy cap again,
so we took it off and cleaned it as it was a little dirty. The engine still
didn't fire. After trying several things, James eventually diagnosed that
a fuel line underneath the car had detached itself. The jubilee clip holding
the rubber hose to the pipe was missing, and must have come off when it hit
something. We quickly bodged it, using a jubilee clip from an air hose. Eventually,
the car started, but was running really rough, and we were on the verge of
OTL. I decided to cut a little of the route, so that we could get to petrol
before OTL. By the control at the end of the section, the engine was firing
on about 1-2 cylinders, and it then just died. It might have been because
we ran out of fuel, but we think that some mud had been ingested into the
fuel line. The course closer a while later towed us to petrol, and we eventually
got the 205 started again, but it then died, and we were definitely OTL.
It was the second year running, that I had got recovery home. The RAC driver
had already taken a Maestro back to London, when his cambelt failed in the
first section of the event, and was obviously very tired, as James had to
wake him up as he was falling asleep along the motorway.
It was a little disappointing that we only did half of the event, although
we definitely enjoyed ourselves. But as Murray would say, "To finish
first, first you have to finish." And reliability is the key to success
in the Preston. For next year, James is going to put the fuel and the brake
lines inside the car. Some working spots and reversing lamps would be handy
too. Then, the car will be well sorted - watch this space...
Given all the last minute preparation and bodging, James said that he wasn't
too disappointed about not finishing. If we had been preparing for weeks beforehand,
and the same thing happen, that would have been worse. And although a lowered
Jetta may have been a curious choice for James a few years ago, it still got
him to the finish!
The final result was a win for Martin Payne and Alan Ogden in their Audi
100 Quattro, who finished 2nd last year, then Ian Mepham and Dave Howe in
their VW Golf GTI, followed by Pete Gabbatiss with Andrew Hughs in a Toyota
Corolla GT. Richard McLachlan, who did PC9 last year in the same MKII Escort,
and Paul Barrett, lead the first 1/3 of the rally but had to retire with exhaust
By Zip and James Coyne