Back Behind The Wheel : The Exmoor Clouds Trial 2020

The world has changed since we last took an active part in motor sport in the eary days of spring. Now it’s  the start of autumn and I’m sat in the same Suzuki X-90, daughter Charlotte is still beside me ready to navigate the route. But, instead of everyone on the event having congregated at a Pub or service area for scrutineering, signing on,  a nice cup of tea , a chat and a full English breakfast before the start we have all arrived in a field, said hello from a suitable social distance, let down the tyre pressures and waited for someone to say “off you go”.

Many of the cars around us (VW Beetles, beach buggies, Mazda MX5s, BMW Z3s, Peugeot 205s, A Mk1 Escort, a BMW 318 estate, assorted special, lots of other X-90s and my freind Stuart Palmer’s 85 year old Austin 7 special among them) only have one person in them as any passenger now needs to be from the driver’s houshold.  All the usual paperwork has been done weeks before via email. It does feel a bit  “organisation light”  but of course it’s not, it’s all worked out carefully and complies with every government requirement. It might seem a bit odd and a bit remote from normality but what doesn’t this year?

Half an hour later we have tackled the first couple of ‘observed sections’ and it’s all starting to seem more familiar again.  Unlike most of the trials we have done, this one is all in one large wood. The ‘road sections’  (the route between the bits that count for points) are all through a maze of steep little forest roads among densly wooded hills and valleys instead of down the usual miles of country lanes and through attractive villages. The general concensus is that these little non-competitive bits are tougher than most of the point-scoring ones on many other events.

Early rain has turned everything into an entertaining mud bath so we run the entire route on minimum tyre pressures (around 8psi) just to make sure we could get through the puddles and the ruts to the start of the next serious bit!.

The aim of the game is of course to get to the top of as many ‘sections’ as you can without stopping or running off course . We are doing OK in that respect, getting better as the day wears on and the driver gets back into the swing of things after six inactive months. The first one we do ‘clean’ becomes something of a talking point. Section 5, “Speed Bumps”(they all have names)which has a sort of washboard/wave-effect on the surface which takes over the further uphill the car goes, bumping from dip to dip, often with the front wheels pawing the air like an eager puppy and in my case with the passenger giggling and squeaking with each new view of the tree tops. Its a lot of fun , so much more for getting it right, and we did this section twice. The second time was maybe a little too enthusiastic. One big bounce resulted in a glancing blow with a nearby tree trunk and a hefty dent in the front wing(above left). In fact so hefty it partly jammed the door so getting in and out was tricky for the rest of the day. I’m sure it will polish out in time…

There were a few other faux pas from the driver, not least missing a stop-and-restart on the penultimte setion but it was all good fun and we ended the day a very pleased and rather tired 2nd in our class. As an event restricted by covid rules it had all worked very well indeed providing  a tough and difficult event in a great location run smoothy by freindly and helpful people. What more could we ask for? Did someone day a class win? Well that is a long way off at present as our class (for the multitude of Suzuki X-90s) is currently dominated by Stroud-based farrier Nick Deacon who’s thoroughy well developed Suzuki is capable of overall events wins while we are happy to get in the top 20!

How many more trials we might manage this coming winter is anyone’s guess at the moment. Most events have long since been cancelled but at least this one proved they can be run without putting anyone at risk from the dreaded virus.

Now, where is that polish…?