By Barry Lindsay
At the Xmas stages I was introduced to Richie Windress from SG Petch Motorsport. At the time I hadn’t won the championship, but he asked if you do win, have you driven a 4wd before? Have you driven a LHD before? When I said No and No, he said ‘Were going to need a test before the rally then’ but was probably thinking I hope he doesn’t win !!!!
Well after winning the ANECCC Championship, the test was arranged. 10am on the Tuesday before the Jack Frost we arrived at Teesside Autodrome. The SG Petch Wagon along with covered trailer and the team unloaded while myself and John Richardson (my co-driver for the event) went round the circuit with the track manager.
Seat fitting & belt tightening followed by what everything does.. Intercoms connected then we’re ready.
A lap to warm everything then increase the pace was the plan. Onto the track 1st, 2nd, brake for a hairpin and cold brakes there is just a solid pedal. Couple of tight corners then a long straight, 2nd 5th as it shudders but pulls away. Hmmm this isn’t going to well!!! Still no brakes and the tyres weren’t gripping as we started the second lap but tried to push abit more. Then it warmed up as we started our 3rd lap and pushed that’s when I thought yes this is good… 4 or 5 more laps then John suggested a break to let tyres cool.
Back in the pits, a couple of changes were made the main one lifting my seat so I was on top it. The quickest lap had been a 55. The next run I was more comfortable with it and started to find its limits in braking and pushing as much speed through the corners times had dropped to 50 ish before another break. Tyres were suffering and quite warm. With dad now strapped in, I had enough fuel for 5 laps and the tyres would do the same. Another push more seat time and times were down to 48’s and with a set of destroyed tyres it was time to pack up.
On a cold frosty morning at Croft, the nerves were rattling and I had a quick look round the track and the chicanes looked quite open apart from one. Back in the team marquee complete with catering extension on the side the heater was on. The team were going through the pre rally warm up & checks. The cars usual driver Mike was in it warming the brakes & transmission up on the stands then found couldn’t get out as I had moved the seat so far! With the softest wets bolted on we left for Stage one.
A few corners into SS1 and the grip was OK but I worked out corners I’d take in 2nd in the 106 I needed to use 1st as it didn’t pounce out the corners in 2nd. The 2nd lap and were using all 5 gears, this was awesome. I was almost completely Left hand on steering and Right hand on gearstick it was so quick through them. The biggest moment was through the flying finish on a long 90 right the rear broke away and we went to 90^ with the track on full power it pulled itself straight then braked hard for the stop line. The time was 7m 44, 7th Fastest but 3seconds would we’d have been 2nd Overall so it was pretty tight.
However tucked away in our tent the car was up on its stand and wheels off before I had to say what I wanted on for the next. The wets had worked but they might be too soft for another. But then it started to snow, not much at first but then it came to the time to go. Thinking it was more slush then snow we went on the soft wets again. But then sitting at arrival the snow flakes got big and the ground went white. John said it was a damage limitation stage, everyone is on similar tyres in the top twenty and the maximum is 10min and it took nearly 8 last time. So I worked out that everyone would get a maximum unless they changed the target time which we’d need to sign for. Onto the stage and we were locking up everywhere even when only doing 5mph it wouldn’t turn, the 106 would pull itself round this just wanted to push straight on so had to use the handbrake to slide it round but then there was cars struggling everywhere. We tried to pass some but went off and stalled then got going and went off hitting a bale and getting a wagon tyre under the front. We soon went into the gravel again this did unleash us from the tyre though as we went over it! 14m 22 when we eventually got to the finish but hadn’t enjoyed that one. What’s more when the results went up they were counting the times and we were down on the 2nd page miles off the likes of Jon & Kieron Stynes who had flown round in the 205 on winter tyres.
Back in the team, moral was low and the mechanics were out with t cut removing the marks. Nothing major as the bumps had been slow ones into tyres etc. Into the back of the wagon and Richie wanted to know if I wanted snow tyres for the next. I said we did if it didn’t improve but they now had to put the gravel brakes on so they could fit 15” wheels.
Stage 3 now on Snow tyres they said feel your way with them at the start. First corner was polished snow and I braked early and the car stopped on the spot, accelerated then braked and it stopped. These were good. Pushed on and grip was good and in some places it was starting to clear to slush. The tyres were starting to get too hot by the third lap but kept pushing hoping we wouldn’t destroy them too much. A time of 7m46, of the 20 crews in front we had been the only one under 8min! Some later runners got less than 8min when the track cleared but the results now showed us leading the event after a few codrivers (John included) had been to see the organizers.
The team knew I was leading but I hadn’t been told that SS2 was changed and I still thought we were way down. However I found out just before leaving for stage 5 after stage 4 was cancelled due to the lunch time silence curfew that Croft has to adhere too. Stage 5 was now the other way round and was still quite slushy and very wet. First lap was interesting as the wets were struggling to cope with the amount of water especially under heavy breaking then at tower corner on our second lap I was powering it round with the back out to cut the understeer then at the exit of the corner I accelerated just a bit quick and the next thing we were heading to the grass infield. A big loop on the grass and we joined back on just as Bannister & Dad went past. 7m 26 was about 12th fastest, in the team marquee they looked at how they could sort the backend locking up and trailing into chicanes.
Stage 6 now in a different Center diff map it wasn’t any better and although we went 1 second quicker, we didn’t have the excursion and everyone else went better so we had gone the wrong way.
Stage 7 was going to be run just before dark and the lamp pod was got out. But I said there would be more to be gained without it. Puzzled looks, “If you put that on I will go slower as I’ll not want the cost of breaking that also! It was still light anyways, but this stage we followed cars after the merge on both laps.
Final stage, now armed with the HID Lamp pod but it wasn’t really dark, a clear final stage but I did think I had out braked myself on a couple of chicanes but surprisingly nipped through without touching. & seconds quicker than the previous run and finished 5th OA. Was time to reflect on a great day as the team packed up and loaded the car into its covered trailer, what a fantastic team and I can’t thank Steve Petch from the Petch Group enough for the experience. Now we just need to win it again next year…. Don’t thinks so, there are a few others fancying a go in 4wd now they see what can be had!