RAC Ramblings 2011

By Caroline Lodge

As Jonathan had been, persuaded (bullied) into navigating for Jim Valentine on 2011 RAC.  I was quite happy to follow the event and had been provisionally booked to navigate a chase car. However following a call from a Manx guy called Higgins this all changed and I was going to be competing against Jonathan and Jim in another 2 stroke Saab.

This was going to be a bit of challenge for both of the Lodges, Jonathan hadn’t done any map reading for a very long time and  I’d never met my driver before, he’d only driven the car once before and hadn’t rallied in the forests for over 20 years! Was I worried? Was I heck, in the words of Joey Ramone, it was a case of ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’

One week before the event and the chaos began. My maps and the car decals etc were in the Isle of Man, the car was in Huddersfield and I was obviously in North Cumbria. Jonathan had his maps but he also had his car stickers etc, but ‘his car’ was in London! The Royal mail did well out of Team Saab that week with various parcels and packets whizzing up and down the country. Finally all the various paperwork, stickers, road books, maps etc were all with the right people.

But on Tindale Fell the chaos continued, you could hear cries of, ‘don’t you dare mix your stuff with mine!’, ‘that’s my road book – put it down’, ‘No, I haven’t seen your ****ing marker pen.’ Being the kind and loving wife I helped Jonathan to prep his maps and went through some of the stuff with him – won’t be doing that again!

Friday morning and away we went to Yorkshire with our mate John Ross, he’d been roped into joining Team Saab. I met my driver Steve Higgins – who, by the way is not Mark and David’s gorgeous younger brother and he is not their Granddad either!

With 5 Saabs competing we were part of quite a large team, this team also doubled as a choir as J P lead us in a verse of ‘Happy Birthday ‘ to John Ross. As we sang, John Ross swore at me – it shocking language for a man of his age !!!!!!

Then we were off to MTC1 – I’m not going to bore you with pages of a stage by stage account but here are some of the ups and downs.

Narrowly missed a tree on SS1, only to hit it on SS3!!!  A snapped throttle thingy and a bust radiator put us out until morning.

Saturday morning and we were back, and started taking time out of Jim and Jonathan. Gale Rigg was a bit of a toughie, with the start line part way up a 1:4 climb/crawl/ scrabble! The crowd a Croft was HUGE, the circuit was slippery – but despite a couple of slides we took more time out of Jim and Jonathan. This got even better when we were 50+ seconds quicker than them through Hamsterly. Pretty good going considering a couple of candles may have given us more vision than the lights on the Saab.

We had lost our management crew during the afternoon. Bless them where they live they are never more than 6 miles from the sea – they got confused somewhere in County Durham.  We got them back in one piece later that night though.

It was nice to be greeted by cheers from the SMC marshals at the racecourse on Saturday night.  It was even nicer to be handed a brew and plate of hot food when we reached the service area, Jim likes to make sure the team are well looked after.

Sunday started well and we appreciated an appearance from the ‘Spadeadam Cheerleaders!’ – You know who you are.

The snow in Ae made things a bit more exciting, although seeing Bob Bean off was a bit disconcerting. 2 stages into the day and we were going quicker than Jim and Jonathan.  . As Bob Bean was now running behind us we did the decent thing and let him go ahead of us on Ae 2, this kind of back fired as it made Jim speed up a bit when he saw Bob in the mirror!

Steve Higgins & Caroline Lodge in Ae

Steve Higgins & Caroline Lodge in Ae Forest

Gear selection problems on the way to Twiglees 2 were sorted with a 13ml spanner and a couple of thumps to the steering column! Part way through the stage we had more problems as the Saab appeared to be having fuel problems. This cleared and we had plenty of fuel on board so away we went again.

It was on the way to Newcastleton when our big problems began. Along with struggling on the icy fell roads, the engine problems continued. Someone mentioned ‘carb icing’ (What on earth is that?), someone else thought that the fuel mix was wrong but it had been fine all the previous day. We started the stage and things got MUCH worse, we took an age to get through, the car only seemed to stop in section where there was nowhere to pull in. Knowing that there was a gaggle of Escorts behind us was a bit scary. We finally got through and limped down to the A7. Where we were collected by a member of the Saab team and then were subjected to one of the scariest towing experiences  ever!

The problem was traced to the fuel pump which appeared to in self destruct mode, luckily, we were rescued by Phil who loaned us another one. So we lived to fight another day.

The final day of the RAC, hmmm, not always my favourite day of the event, and this time it was snowing! Kershopefoot was entertaining with various cars either off or stuck in the snow and ice.  We finally got to the stage start and after quite a wait the stage was started. Well we made it through, with some colourful language from both sides of the car. On one particular right hander we saw a crew with their OK board, the only sign of their car was a set of wheel marks which disappeared over a  banking!

Last stage was cancelled, so off for a well earned celebratory drink (of coffee) at the Premier Inn, then the ceremonial stuff in Carlisle City Centre.

I enjoyed the rally and Steve was already making plans to enter next year, says he’s never done an event like that before and couldn’t believe the level of camaraderie he experienced and witnessed throughout the whole event.

Steve Higgins & Caroline Lodge in Kershope

Steve Higgins & Caroline Lodge in Kershope

There are a couple of points to make about this rally,

  1. Don’t believe everything you read in the local paper
  2. Jonathan – if you do this event again – you can sort your own maps!!!
  3. Marshals – you are all superstars and we appreciate what you do, and remember it might have been cold and it might have been wet BUT it was 15 ° warmer than last year!


(Images © B. Lindsay / N. Harkness / Spadeadam Motor Club 2011)