Untill November , taking part in car trials was a strictly Dad-and-Daughter adventure. Ever since I got back into competitive motoring I have been accompanied by my daugher Charlotte. We’ve competed on The Lands End, The Edinburgh and a couple of others. I drive, she navigates and we both have a great time trying to get to the top of little roads on seriously steep hills , surfaced with deep mud or loose rocks. But just before our local event, The Kryle Trial, which passes within three miles of home, Charlotte found herself otherwise commited. That left the Dad-half of the team without a navigator and passenger for the “Monkey” , our Suzuki X90. Cue the first of three trials with a difference.
Into the breach strode motoring journalist Richy Barnett(below) , who loves his grass roots motor sport but despite watching many a VSCC trial in the past had never previously competed. We had an eventuful trial – and it was trial! This event was probably the toughest one I have done. It wasn’t 330 miles long , like the Lands End or situated on what felt like the roof of England like The Edinburgh , but it had real hills, terrifyingly, long,steep HILLS. Some were scary just getting to the start of… but if you got to the top of one they were fantastic.
And it had rained for a week in advance. They were also muddy.Very muddy, with little rivers running down he wheel tracks. Two days later a road section we had used was under flood water and impassable for a week. We didn’t set the score charts alight. In fact we finished at the tail of the order. Part of that was just unfamiliarity wuith the rute, part of it was running fairly well back in the order and copping the deepest ruts and slipperiest mud. The main problem was a rear tyre that popped off a rim on the final stage and we got a hefty 11 penalty points when most people ‘cleaned’ it and scored 0… But hey! It was one heck of an experience, a real challenge and it took us to places in the locality that I had never seen before depite living here all my life and spening most of my childhood exploring the Forest as local children once did. Happy days.
Richy enjoyed the event too and I think we might have a convert to the fold. The “Monkey” suffered a bit of battle damage and by the end of the event I had no spare tyres left, a big dent in the frnt wing and the exhaust was leaking from a heavy hit. MOT time was upon us and that, I figured, was the end of our 2019 season.
Not quite. A couple of weeks later I was asked by fellow X90 driver Nick Deacon if I could passenger for him on the Allen Trial which runs around Bath and the Mendips in late November. My only previous experience of navigating being limited to a single less than successful rally back in 1993. I was rubbish at it and I get car sick if I read while moving. Never mind. I said yes and that was that. We set off from the car park of the BULL INN near Dyrham Park(Left. Nick’s X90 waiting to go) among a healthy entry that included numerous other Suzukis, VW Beetles, Marlins, Scimitars, a couple of MG Midgets (one pre war, one post war) a brace of Austin 7s and assorted Ford Escorts, Skodas, Dellows, kit cars, buggies and specials.
It was an education sat alongside Nick, who’s X90 has been rather more developed than mine and seemed to have at least 25bhp more under the bood. He knew all the hills we encountered, knew what tyre pressures to use for them and where to take it easy or put his foot down. We stormed hill after hill without penalty (this was a new experience for me!) untill a pair of excessively muddy sections at Ubley Wood , well chewed by previous runners, stopped us and racked up our only penalties of the day. We also survived some seriously flooded roads(below) along the way and a wait of almost an hour before the final hill was clear to go. The end result was 3rd in class and 14th overall out of 68. It was great fun and to my own surprise I hadn’t felt car sick once. I don’t think I went too badly wrong on the navigating either but I still much prefer to be driving.
Having sampled the sport from both sides of the car and with two different navigators telling me which way to go, I had a rush of enthusiasm and volunteered to marshall on the Exeter Trial on January 4th . I said I had no problem doing one of the night sections if required and so it came to pass that I sat beside a rocky little road known as Waterloo, at 2am dressed in hi-vis (Left) with a clipboard and a radio , ready to mark down every passing motorcycle, car and sidecar combination due to pass my way before dawn and note if they stopped or put a foot down in the process, while confiming to the control that the section was ‘all clear’ – or not. Luckily despite the mid-winter date it wasn’t cold, it wasn’t raining and altough it went on long into the daylight thanks to a couple of lengthy delays, it was actually very enjoyable! I had to help push one stranded motorcycle, tip an inverted sidecar back onto it’s wheels, help reverse a sickly VW Beetle (right) back down the hill by torchlight (it’s lights had failed) and finally do much the same with a Toyota MR2 that has put a wheel over the precipitous drop.
Section controller Tony Wooler ran the whole show very efficiently, we had some great banter on the radios. A 1930 Ford Model A tourer progressed smothly up the hill to the announcement “The Ant Hill Mob are on their way!” and generally the other marshalls all seemed to be enjoying the event as much as me. After the final runner and the closing car I headed for the infamous Simms hill out beyond Exeter where the 1 in 3 slope has been claiming victims since the early 1930s.
The bikes ran first and more then one ended up on the deck (below) but there was an hour or more delay before any cars appeared Sadly I was running short of time, and energy by then having been awake for about 24 hours by then so I made my way back to my parked car, saw and chatted to my former Castle Combe Saloon Car Cup rival Stuart Palmer (who I’d also seen on the Allen Trial) and the Fitzgerald Brothers, Ian and Rory, who we bought the “Monkey” from this time last year. They have a smart BMW Z3 these days and were running early in the order. But too late for me to see them in action I’m afraid.
So that was my three very different adventures in car trialling either side of Christmas. My thanks to Richy who stepped in at the last minute and did such a sterling job navigating on the Kyrle, to Nick for asking me along on the Allen and showing me how it should be driven and to Tony, Nathan, Shiela,Rab, Claire, Tim & Mark , the Waterloo team, for their cheerful hard work on the Exeter.
Meantime the Daughter-half of the team has forgiven me for doing events without her… but if we had won something it might have been a different matter! Your turn next time Charlotte. Promise.
- Over Thinking Litton Slack : 2019 MCC Edinburgh Trial
- New Year – New Venue – Old Cars. VSCC Gathering Ross on Wye.