By Jonathan Lodge
After an interesting road rally/road section to Hamsterley we were put straight into the stage. It was at this point I learned that Jim does not give up penalty free lateness easily. It was dusk / dark at Croft, now in the trees it was black dark. With additional bumper spots not fit, the headcandles & main spots were going to earn their keep.
We got the 10 seconds call from the start marshal & put main candle power on – I see very little change in illumination (but I am the person who has promoted the benefits of HID’s for several years), as I ensure the varifocals & potti are tuned in I hear switches being abused & the immortal words ‘the spot lights will not work’. Muttered reply was along lines of – ‘better listen to me & hope the stage is as per map.’
After a very caution start – OK very slow, even for a Saab we find some sort of rhythm / system to send Jim into the darkness with a minute bit of confidence I might be calling the next corner the right way. This was working well until Jim decided to boost my confidence by stating how he was relying entirely on my calls to guestimate where the road may disappear to next. By now this was with a reasonable level of commitment. All I can remember is telling myself not to look up, (not because of the velocity we dream of travelling at in a Saab) but so I did not lose my place on the map. It would be seriously embarrassing to be blamed for an accident due to a wrong call at that speed!!
On exiting the stage we find John Ross & (ironically) Sparks, Jim’s mechanic. The light lack of lights very easily resolved when they found a space in the fuse box labelled ‘spot lights’. Shepherdshield was most disappointing when I could see what might have been happening.
Into Carlisle service, my one bit of prep for the event paid dividends – warm dry feet. Caroline is still reminding me I did not buy her any waterproof thermal socks until Christmas – guess she got cold wet feet. Once again greeted by a mechanic & cup of tea, plus an apology that the hot meal was not ready yet. Pardon!!
After visiting the SMC marshals on the In control & retrieving my car that Barry had delivered to service & very kindly parked right next to the exit on a clean patch we headed for home.
Day 3 – A quick splash around the car & confirm our well organised chase crew plan, then we are over to the control ready to head for Ae. Chase crew leave before us to fuel the car so we arrange to meet up on the road after the services. Local crew member – Lodge- thought no more of it. On pulling onto the motorway first info sign states ‘no fuel at services’. On passing Todhills I see Sparks parked next to the building site scratching his head – at this point it dawns on me we have 2 Londoners in chase car today. After much gesticulating out of window as we come up to Gretna services this sorts that one.
Ae sees the start of a little white stuff on the tops but of no great concern. We receive an amendment stating junction 18 to 19 is slippy’. When I used to organise stage events we would warn competitors of sheet ice by stating there is ‘sheet ice’, not, ‘it is slippy’. I would put money on the person who wrote that amendment being a photographer – at the time of finding the slippy part I think I called him something else!! That said we were warned, but I bet there are some good photos.
Twiglees and the snow come sleet starts falling. Half a mile into stage & another switch is being abused, this time the call is ‘No Wipers’. I glance across to see wiper mechanism hanging down behind steering column, navigator kicks in again ‘leave that switch alone & listen to me. Candles may not emit a great deal of light but snow is good at blocking all visibility through the screen. Our tried & tested system of rallying by Braille does actually require a small amount of vision. I make the mistake of looking up when Jim states he cannot see anything.
It transpires I have got half an inch of clear windscreen under the wiper on my side. So now I am tasked with reading the map & navigating Jim to keep the car somewhere near the road. We cleared the stage & found the chase crew. I was amazed to find Saab had those useless plastic spherical wiper mechanism connectors in 1963. We now had the great game of guess when the wiper mechanism is going to drop off next!!
After Heathhall aqua service – there is a theme to the RAC service areas this year – I have already suggested next year’s theme – hard, dry & flat.
Whilst waiting in the queue at the start of Heathhall stage Jim tells me to ensure I slow him up for the square left before the hairpin right as he always over cooks it. ‘Not a problem will do’. When we pull up to the line & look down the stage to see a square left 100 into the stage, on checking the map it is followed by a hairpin right. ‘Jim, the square left I need to slow you up for wouldn’t happen to be that one in front of us would it?’ ‘ Yes thats the one I always over do it’. ‘But Jim its just there 100 from the start line!!’
‘3 2 1 Go, 100 square left into hairpin right, get the speed off for the left Jim’. ‘Square Left hairpin right’. ‘JIM BACK OFF FOR THE SQUARE LEFT’. ‘Good call thanks for that, OK now I know the rest of the stage’. I wish I knew my weakness’s as well as he does.
Second Ae is a little more interesting that first run but all OK, then back to service at Heathhall. At this service two minor issues are solved with one solution. We had kept hearing a rattle somewhere low down on the car which we thought was somewhere near the middle of the car, the chase crew had jacked the car up & checked the usual suspects to no avail. After a minor repair Jim & I had carried out sometime earlier in the rally he realised he had lost his precious Swiss army knife. Yes you guessed it – it was under the seat – rattling.
Also at Heathhall Jim made the inspired decision to change to Dunlop tyres. Saabs tend to have a love hate relationship with Dunlop tyres. On this occasion it transformed the car, unfortunately it only lasted for two stages. On exiting Twiglees the road was a mix of ice & snow. Better still we had to drive over the Steel Road to Newcastleton.
While discussing tyre choice we pass several good wheel changing lay-bys. We eventually decide to change to Hacker snow tyres due to the conditions & knowing the chase car is hopeless on ice / snow. Unfortunately the road is now about 1 in 6 sheet ice & over a blind crest but we are doing it NOW. After some choice comments from the chase crew & bewildered looks from following crews we were ready to go on our merry way tight for time.
After the best stage so far in the rally we arrived at Newcastleton (stage). Sorry I keep mixing my words up I think I should say road section? But the Steel Road with snow & ice is the nearest thing to Monte Carlo I have come across.
Third and final episode to come next month.
(And to think that I’m the one who’s supposed to talk a lot! – Ed)
(Images © D. Ambridge / B. Lindsay / H. R. Gibbon / Spadeadam Motor Club 2012)