By Phil Jobson
It’s been a quiet Stage Rallying year for me, so I thought I would treat myself to a crack at the full RAC. It seemed that every map reading nav in SMC was either already committed to another team, or wasn’t available for other reasons. So a quick call to Chris Sheridan who’d accompanied me on the Countdown secured a competing crew. Richard Clark & Squirt (Joe 90 or James McWhir) know Snowy inside out & were agreeable to service for us.
The plan had been to service with only a newly acquired Mitsubishi Pajero 2800 (dubbed ‘Chevy’, as in Chase), but it soon became apparent when formulating the service plan that a van was going to be necessary, at least to move tyres around. Barrie Thomson obliged, but also offered his Transit too. We’re grateful to Barrie who turned out to be indispensable.
The journey to Pickering was uneventful other than a slight engine temp increase in Chevy causing us to switch trailer to Barrie’s Transit halfway up Stainmoor.
There’s a tremendous buzz at the RAC start – checking out interesting historic cars & the presence of so many foreign crews and chatted with old sparring partners such as Dave Hemingway.
Everything was fine on the way out to the first stage so we couldn’t have imagined what was in store. As soon as I lifted away from the start line hitting 8500rpm within the first 10 yards, the battery light came on. There was not going to be any deviation from the ‘foot to the floor’ plan however, as the note was Flat for 300. However I was keeping a wary eye on the gauges & within 100m the oil pressure started dropping & I coasted to stop at the first square right junction. Retired within 300m! We were devastated. We chatted with the Marshals who were very sympathetic & offered us a coffee which we didn’t have time for because we were pulled out by the recovery crew & met Richard & Squirt, Richard peering over the bonnet to state quite ‘matter of fact’ that if we could kindly spare 30 minutes he’d have us going again. We were delighted, not to mention flabbergasted. Unfortunately on the rerun of Dalby, the same thing happened & we reinstated our coffee order from the same Marshals! Again the engine was put together by the lads, who walked into the stage this time, but during the run back to Pickering the noise on overrun was louder than ever & we knew the game was up.
Re-evaluate our Situation. Hang on a minute I thought: I’ve got a cracking XFlow 1600 engine in my Road Rally Escort Mk2 at home. Why can’t we fit that? Well, there were a number of problems tracking through Richard’s mind on his trip back to Carlisle on the Friday night:
1. Changing from throttle bodies to Carbs meant changing fuel pumps.
2. Complete exhaust change.
3. Different radiator & coolant system.
4. Dry sump system would have to be removed & cooler remounted.
5. XFlow Bell housing would fit gearbox, so all drivetrain would be okay, but we’d need to fit the twin 40 Dellortos I had & set up a linkage for them.
6. X Member would have to come from Silver Bullet as it held the engine mounts. This had to be modified to take the Gp4 track control arms.
We arrived back in Carlisle at 3am & by 9am Saturday morning the lads were at my house having extracted engine, coolant system, exhaust (yes, the noisy one though that’s now been replaced on Silver Bullet with Tony Law Exhausts complete system, the old system having been flattened on the RAC) & front suspension in a farm barn at Laversdale.
The whole of Saturday was taken up building the XFlow into Snowy.
By 5pm we were waiting for the scrutineer, who lifted the bonnet, took one look & said “yep, that’s a XFlow engine alright, if it’s good enough for you lads it’s good enough for me”. To coin a phrase, we were “back in the room”!
On the road section up past Blackpool Gate, the crew of the Citroen were questioning each crew ahead of us. It transpired they’d left a helmet at service! Who carries a spare helmet in a rally car? Anyway amazingly they managed to borrow one in time for the next stage.
The first of Sunday’s stages were a bit frustrating because the engine was so down on power from the K Series, but we were having fun. The car seemed unstable on straights in Riccarton, so perhaps we’d set the tyre pressures too high, though we did manage to get some drifts on sweeping corners & Snowy handled well in the tighter stuff. But we then queered our pitch in front of the cameras with a half spin on an uphill hairpin. We pulled into Hawick service which was overly congested. Craik was next & we went well in there, overhauling two other competitors including the unfortunate Citroen who’d ripped a front offside strut right out.
A return run through SMC run Florida was followed by 17 miles of Kershope in the dark. No problem I thought. I know Kershope. Well somehow it never quite looks the same in the dark & one should never assume to recognise stages, particular in such wet conditions. Nevertheless we still managed to set a competitive time.
The return to Brampton Market Place to finish in front of my business premises was really something quite special. We were classified as finishing tenth overall in the Open Rally & despite that not being my best finish (2nd in 2008 & 4th in ice bound 2010), the effort taken by the whole team to achieve a finish including a complete engine change is a massive achievement.
Thanks to Richard, Squirt & Barrie for a supreme effort – the reassurance to know that if its even remotely possible this team will keep us going – and to Chris for amazingly accurate map reading. I rarely recalled a corner not meeting his description of it. Fortunately the K Series has not been damaged as I’d thought.
The plan is to contest the RAC Historic Rally in a Group 4 Ford Escort Mk1 Class C3 fitted with 2L Pinto that I’m currently building. This will hopefully debut summer 2013.
(Images © D. Ambridge /H. R. Gibbon / Spadeadam Motor Club 2013)