UPDATED : IN-CAR VIDEO added on Feb 21
With my daughter, and regular trials navigator, Charlotte now working on Sundays I find myself stood in the middle of a Cotswold village at the tail of a queue of cars, chatting to my third different passenger/navigator in three events. This is James Agg, Charlotte's cousin and my former helper at events when he was still at school. We're in the early stages of the 2023 Cotswold Clouds Trial, parked at a holding control awaiting the call to tackle the second ‘observed section’ . It's a long wait as this one is the notoriously difficult CROOKED MUSTARD, reckoned by many to be the hardest sections to get through all season, so almost everyone grinds to a halt and has to reverse back.
Simon & James await their turn at CROOKED MUSTARD
There isn't much room at the foot of the hill so it's a case of send-three-up and wait-for-three-to-return with a ten minute gap in between. It takes a while, and when we get to the foot ourselves a Marlin kit car up ahead breaks it's propeller shaft right in the middle of the hill and has to be hauled back by a couple of four-wheel-drives. Then we have a go and only get about half way ourselves. On to the next one!
CROOKED MUSTARD and about to come to an unimpressive halt a few feet later…
James is finding the headroom in the Suzuki X-90 a bit lacking. Two sections in and he must have connected with the roof half a dozen times already. I didn't think I was much shorter but clearly I am as it never really troubles me . However, despite the bruises he's enjoying the event, at least judging by the amount of laughter captured on the in-car camera. We wind our way through the town of Nailsworth and up onto the common , across a small unsealed road with a precarious drop off to the left and a great view of the town in the valley below. Here we let the tyres down ready for one of the sport's most famous hills, Nailsworth Ladder. I've tried this twice and only have a 50% success rate. After today that's now 33.333% ! The initial ramp up off the tarmac onto the old rough track is about a 1-in-2 gradient and if you get over this then you generally make the summit. We didn't. Cue the tyre smoke…
My “Racing Driver's Book Of Excuses ” comes in handy at this point. Page 576 tells me I only failed because “someone up ahead had spun their wheels so much it had deposited a lot of loose gravel at the bottom of the hill and this offered very little traction” which sounds fair to me… there was a spate of failures-to-proceed around our position in the running order. Can't have been coincidental…ahem….
So, despite furiously beating myself up for that failure , we do a lot better on the next hill and ‘clean’ that but have further cause to dig out the book of excuses again on a section just outside Stroud called "Jerry's". Looking at the results if you got off the line you generally made it to the top without penalty. Sadly we were among the list of those that didn't and barely moved. A hat full of points have been lost and any hope of a good result seems to have vanished. Ironically just up the road is the next, fairly similar hill, “Wicked Juniper” .
The queue for WICKED JUNIPER , car 79 is Kevin Sharp's Toyota MR2, an unusual but effective choice.
I've never got anywhere on this one in the past but this time it works a treat. We blast up though the sizeable stand of trees (below) to the very top. Great fun!
Two more cleaned hills follow then the final nail in the result's coffin , a stop-and-restart test in the middle of one hill ends amid a cloud of acrid tyre smoke with absolutely no forward motion to show for it all. Last year we finished 2nd in class - this year we are heading rapidly out of the top ten…
The flag marshal looks unimpressed at our efforts to clear the ‘restart’ …
So we progress through the final few observed sections with no hope of any additions to the trophy cabinet, but enjoying the sunshine and the Cotswold scenery as well as three more ‘cleans’ to add to the list - pity about the 24 points lost on those other three occasions. It was an unusual event as the recent flooding, evidence of which you could see in the corners of some fields, had not left the ground boggy and slippery as expected. The result was that if you did avoid the gravel and the loose material, it was possible to get through most of the event without losing many points. Our class was won, as usual, by Nick Deacon and while we ended up on a miserable penalty 35 points, he recorded just 6! James put this all down to him being somewhat larger in build than Charlotte and un-balancing the car . I looked in the book but that wasn't present so I will pencil it in for future use … But we got to the end and it was good fun!
As we left the finish venue, Minchinhampton Golf Club, the sunset was stunning. So these must be the Cotswold Clouds the event derives it name from…
Charlotte is due back in the car for our next event, the LANDS END TRIAL at Easter. Last year we were within sight of a gold medal after 330 miles. Lets hope the book of excuses can remain packed away until then end this year!
Fromebridge Mill. A Marlin, BMW Z3, Suzuki X-90, VW Beetle etc. Lines up before the start
Our X-90 and one of the many VW Beetles at the start
Two Class 8 trials specials await the start in the early morning sunshine
Kevin Sharp's MR2 in one of many queues we found on route - par for the course with trials
Phil Aubrey's Dutton Melos on it's way back down from Crooked Mustard
Peter Hedges' Scimitar SS1 waiting for a go at Crooked Mustard