Up ahead, looking down on us from the banks on either side of the road is a small gathering of spectators, and someone with a yellow flag indicating for us to halt. It's late afternoon in early September and this is the last ‘stop-and-restart’ test on the final hill before the finish of STROUD MOTOR CLUB'S “Mechanic's Trial” . All day long we've been criss-crossing the Cotswold Hills , scrabbling up steep stony sunken roads, weaving up through trees and looking for the next half hidden gateway on the route card .
And it's gone well. Very well. In fact to this point we have only failed to ‘clean’ one Observed Section and with a score of only 7 penalty points from a potential 144 it's looking good for a decent result. The problem is we have no idea how the other runners in our class are doing. Chief rival and reigning champion Nick Deacon is running much further up the order, we are right at the tail end and we havn't even seen him on the road since the start. We assume however, that he's probably doing better … because he invariably is!
This is something of a landmark event because my navigator today, Ian was with me , reading the maps, when I started in motor sport doing stage rallies in the early 1990s. In fact this is the first time we have done an event together since 1994, some 29 years ago. In between time, I went circuit racing, autograsssing, hillclimbing, sand racing and finally trialling, Ian navigated for other rally drivers . Now we both have teenage daughters and less hair than we did. In my case a lot less…
Ian and Simon at Colerne airfield in 1991 during their first year of rallying…
And Simon and Ian 32 years later … we havn't changed a bit!
This year I have been without my daughter Charlotte on most events as she's busy working most Sundays - and most events are on Sunday. So Ian is the fourth different navigator to occupy the passenger's seat of the Suzuki X-90 in 2023. And this is the first event since March. It's been a long summer break.
The weather has been fairly dry but the day started in a misty drizzle . However the general going was dusty and the Suzuki always seems to thrive in such conditions. We ran through the first half of the route without a problem even if one or two of the hills were fa from easy. A lot of people seemed to be having trouble with punctures and an MX5 parked up at the end of ‘observed section 4’ was already changing a second wheel .
Tyres are always the biggest issue in this sport. Normally we run really low on pressures, 6 or 8psi in some cases, and that leaves the sidewalls vulnerable to getting pinched and split on protruding rocks . On this event there was a general limit of 14psi which , frankly was pretty sensible as it cut down on the risks and made the dry conditions a bit more tricky. It also saved a lot of time re-inflating tyres for running on the public roads again after a ‘section’ . The Suzuki seemed to cope admirably.
The first section we found really tricky , and one which several people up ahead of us failed to reach the top of, ran up through an ess-bend between trees. It was loose, dusty, off camber and probably about a 1-in-4 incline. We just managed it but at the cost of banging into a tree (on the passenger's side... of course!) right at the finish, and adding to the cars roster of dents. No marks lost however so that's what counted. Dents can be knocked out.
The finish line is between that little white square in the centre and the trees on the left….impact with those is imminent…
The following hill was muddy and the really steep bit came immediately after a tight right hander which meant it was impossible to carry any momentum. So there was out 7 points. But it turned out most people did much the same. And thereafter we just kept getting to the top of hills, one after another. Dare I say it seemed fairly easy ? But then it usually does when you are doing well.
So we got to the final restart, the final dangling yellow flag, assuming most people had probably done similar and as the flag was raised the car dug in, squeaked it's tyres a little on the rough rocky surface and surged up through the finish. We parked up and pumped up the tyres using the onboard electric pump. Going from14 to 45psi on two tyres takes a while however. In the meantime Nick appeared and asked how we'd done. Then we found out that not only had he failed that last restart (there was a great photo of his X-90 amid a huge cloud of tyre smoke on Facebook later that evening!) but had racked up 23 points to our 7 and we'd won the class ! This is only my third class win since starting out in this branch of the sport in 2019 and it's the first win Ian and I have shared - 2nd in class was the best we did back in our rallying days. But the old team had worked well on it's reunion. And in October we are taking in another event, the Kyrle Trial in the Forest of Dean.
Ian Moss's Lotus Twin-Cam engined Anglia at the start