What an eventful weekend Rally Waitomo was!
Arriving Friday evening to complete documentation and attend the novice briefing, we were instantly made to feel very welcome in the Hamilton Car Club clubhouse. It was quite nice to have such a relaxed atmosphere, especially as I was feeling incredibly nervous.
We’d agreed to stay in Te Awamutu at the same motel as Simon Bell and Dylan Turner. We arrived a lot later than them as we’d stayed at the clubhouse for the novice briefing. Upon arriving at the motel, we were met with a steep driveway. Knowing our trailer was going to scrape and gouge the concrete, we had no option but to drive in. The motel owners were really understanding and said the previous team had already scraped the concrete, along with lots of previous visitors.
We were instructed to park alongside Simon’s trailer blocking the exit to the motel. I could already see we were going to scrape our way out of the motel too. Still that was for the morning, now it was time to catch up with Simon, Dylan and their service crew.
The next hour was full of Dylan telling Simon how he was going puddle hopping at 200kmh when it was his turn to drive! Very funny.
As most of you will probably relate, I was up really early for Rally Day. Dee and I had agreed to leave at 7.30 with the LJ Hooker team. The weather was looking much better than the forecast, which was good as the wipers on the Escort aren’t the best! We decided to leave a few minutes ahead of everyone else so we could stop and get a decent coffee.
Slowly I eased down the steep driveway waiting for the loud scraping. As soon as the noise started, it stopped. As did I when the trailer became stuck on the black and yellow judder bar. I was well and truly stuck, and blocking half of the highway. I backed up a little and gunned it. This time we made it over the judder bar and across the road. Looking back, I was a little horrified to see we’d ripped the dyna bolted judder bar out of the ground.
Feeling very guilty I knew I couldn’t leave without saying something to the motel owners. I went into reception and let the nice young lady know that the LJ Hooker boys had just ripped the judder bar off and promptly made my exit!
Arriving on site at approx. 08.30, we had a long wait until our start time of 10.59. We met Ben Brown (co-driver for the day) on site and spent some time setting up our intercom and installing a Go-Pro to hopefully catch any Hero moments.
It was awesome to catch up with so many people in the school field as we all waited for the start. I also have to say a huge thank you to ALL the service crews that offered to help Dee out. It was agreed that the service crew for Kevin Priest (Nigel Webber) would fuel us up at Service 1 as my tank is very small. This would save Dee having to get to Service 1 and just head for Service 2 at Waitomo.
As the Rally started, the field got quieter and quieter as cars and crews left. By the time we left it was very quiet indeed. The tour to SS1 settled my nerves, and gave us a chance to make sure the intercom was at the right level etc.
Arriving at SS1 we didn’t have long to wait until we were sat on the start line. All nerves had now gone and I was pumped and ready to do this. Ben turned the Go-Pro on which promptly failed to start. We figured we would try again at Service 1 and left it. Ben counted me down and we were into it.
Changing from 1st to 2nd, I over revved the car. Putting it down to nerves I continued, repeating the same thing into 3rd. After giving myself a talking to and reminding myself to calm down and as we had a long way to go, we continued. By the time we came to the first corner where we had to change down and brake, it became apparent very quickly that the issue I’d had from the start line was a stuck throttle. The car was just trying to go flat out whilst I was trying to brake hard and change down. Ben was staying calm and talking me through it. I really appreciated his calmness.
By about 8kms into the stage we barrelled into a downhill double right hander. We managed to wrangle the car around the first part of the corner but ran out of road / talent by the second part and ended up hitting the bank and sinking into a ditch. We both jumped out to make sure the Zetca and OK signs were deployed, letting the cars behind know we were ok.
Luckily as we were near the back of the field we only had to show a couple of cars. Once the last car had gone by, we ran back and started to try and recover our car. We had popped the tyre off the rim so got stuck into smashing the bodywork away from the wheel and changing the wheel.
The recovery vehicles turned up but we let them know we planned to carry on if we could change the wheel etc. With a little help and advice from Shane and Colin Tofts and the chap driving the Treescape recovery vehicle, we were just about ready to carry on. We lost some more time looking for a lost wheel nut in the mud. Eventually a young lad spotted it and we were able to carry on. I’m afraid I don’t know who he was, but if you end up reading this thanks heaps for your eagle eyes!
We cruised the rest of the stage hoping that someone at service would help us get the left front wheel pointing in the right direction again. Stopping at the time control, Ben had no idea what he was doing. I think it really helped, as we cracked up laughing.
Arriving out of the stage and at Service 1, we had taken so long that there was no-one left. We had 3 options. Withdraw from the rally, temporarily withdraw, or carry on as we were until Service 2. We had already dismissed any idea of quitting. We were there to finish regardless. After a quick check of the throttle, which now appeared to be free, we lined up for SS2. Our front left wheel was toeing out quite significantly, so Ben said to drive accordingly and get through the stage. It only took a few corners to get the feel of the car, and before we knew it Ben was encouraging me to “give it a nudge”. With the throttle behaving and the car turning left really well, we started to pick up some speed. I was really struggling to turn the car right, but with a throttle now working I was trying to “steer from the rear” wherever possible.
At some point in the stage I was amazed to hear Ben telling me we were catching someone. As the car came into sight, Ben hit the push to pass. Dennis Carson in his Datsun made every effort to let us pass as quickly as possible. Thanks Dennis. By the end of the stage I felt I had learnt the cars handling and was confident for SS3.
As we took off from the start line in SS3 the throttle jammed open again, and only 100m into the stage we had to pull over and stop and try and get it working. The heat from the engine made it impossible for Ben to touch the cable, but he did his best to move it. We got going again, but now had no confidence in pushing.
We managed to make it out of SS3. Ben still had no idea what to do with the time card, but was a good source of laughter in the car! My arms were now burning from trying to steer a bent car. Thankfully it was now back to Waitomo for an hour long service. Arriving at the sports ground we could see Dee and the trailer so knew where we had to go. As we turned into the sports ground and drove downhill toward everyone, it was the first time many were seeing the damage we had done to the car. Dee’s face was an absolute picture and had both Ben and I laughing in the car. I wish we could have got a photo of her reaction!
We were quickly parked onto the groundsheet and jumped out. Jayson Stringer ran over and said they’d just finished servicing, and after a quick bite and drink they’d be over to help straighten us out. Turns out Jayson and his service crew had taken Dee under their wing and helped her park up, unhitch and get the service area ready.
I can’t thank Jayson and Craig and the rest of the service crew enough for their help. Jayson got his hammer out and started making room for the wheel to fit properly, while Craig adjusted the toe in to try and get the wheels as straight as possible. Thank you guys for helping us get back out to carry on in the Rally. We probably couldn’t have done it without you.
Before I knew it, Ben was hassling me to get back in the car and get going. Maybe he was getting the hang of co-driving and the timing etc after all!
Leaving the service park with a burning clutch it was a bit embarrassing to find out yet again my handbrake had latched on and I was the cause of the problem. I really must re-engineer the handbrake, as it has done this several times before!
We now had a 30km (ish) tour to SS4, giving us a chance to settle down again. Arriving at SS4 the throttle started to stick again. We were fairly sure it was caused by heat. We quickly parked up and opened the bonnet to let it all cool down before we entered the stage.
Ben almost looked like he knew what he was doing by now. One thing was for sure – it was good entertainment!
We didn’t have the best start for SS4 as the car bogged down and didn’t get going properly, but once we got some momentum, we were away and into it. This stage was awesome and I started to really get into the groove. Towards the end of the stage we came across Ric and Alastair Chalmers holding an OK sign and smiling. As we rounded the corner looking for the car, I noticed it down a bank and upside down. It looked like it would have been a big off. Glad to see they were both OK and smiling.
SS4 ended and SS5 was only a very short distance away, so we were right into it again. This stage was probably my favourite of the day, as for the first time the throttle seemed ok, the car was pointing straight(ish), and Ben sounded like he knew what he was doing! So we pushed. The end of this stage was spectacular as we climbed up the hill toward the flying finish going from lock to lock. I would love to have seen any video / photos from this, as I’m sure we would have looked good as it felt great!
Going over the brow of the hill knowing I had just finished my first rally was an awesome feeling. In fact, over a week later as I write this report, I’m still buzzing about it.
During prizegiving the heavens opened and we got drenched. Congratulations to Clinton Cunningham for the overall win. I would also like to congratulate every clubman who entered and finished. What a great achievement.
I’d also like to thank Hamilton Car Club for organizing and hosting such a cool event, and I believe they made it all happen in just 6 weeks. Outstanding effort by the club and its members! Thank you to ALL the volunteers and helpers that made this event happen. I couldn’t have had such an epic day without you. I noticed several people from other clubs (MBOP and TVCC) helping with the timing/start lines etc as well, so thank you.
We went back to Hamilton Car Club for the Spit Roast they had organized for every entrant. It was a little disappointing not to see more competitors there enjoying the hospitality, but I certainly got stuck in and was introduced to the delights “cough, cough” of drinking Waikato!!
It was a great end to an awesome day.
Ben has already offered to sit next to me again, so I can’t have been too bad. I look forward to doing another event with Ben, as we laughed our way around and managed to finish due to his composure and determination to get us to the finish. Cheers Ben. I really appreciated all your help.
Thanks to Geoff Ridder and Scott Johnson for finally getting some pics of me in the Escort! Head along to their sites to check out photos from this and other events.
Lastly, I need to say another thank you to Hamilton Car Club. I know a few people told me they didn’t enter as it was too expensive, mainly due to the Road Bond added to the fee. Yesterday I had a nice little surprise as the council had agreed the roads weren’t too badly damaged and therefore the club kept their word and returned the bond back to me. Awesome 🙂
Thanks also to Dee for her ongoing support in all I do, especially by excepting the rally family into our own.
I’m now in the process of ordering the parts required to get me up and running again, as this event has definitely ignited my desire to drive more!
A little known fact: Shane Murland came 4th overall in his Escort ar Rally Waitomo – A great drive against modern cars! My Sideways logo is based on a photo I took of Shane in the 2012 Silver Fern.