By Kenton Pattison

After the #Saxobeast’s debut at the Peth, I wasn’t looking forward to the long wait till the New Year’s Eve autotest. When Barry Lindsay came up with the idea of doing the Northern Dales Classic Trophy event up at Weardale in mid November, it sounded perfect; single venue, 16 tests and you didn’t need a MOT or insurance, etc. Plus I was easily swayed by the fact that if I wasn’t competing, I’d have been marshaling – it’s warmer in a car. The week leading up to the event, all the weather forecasters were talking about was the snow, snow and more snow. Barry was also kind enough to offer the services of his trailer and Helen Harkness had agreed to navigate, so early Sunday morning, we set off up towards Alston hoping that we could get through all the snow drifts. In the end, there wasn’t a flake to be seen on the road and after a slight detour to the wrong quarry, we turned into the actual venue, a large disused cement works.

The first test of the day was scrutineering. As the Saxo didn’t actually have an MOT, I was a little worried that we’d fall at the first hurdle. So we pulled up with the passenger side window next to the scrutineer and asks “what the craic?”. He asked what car number we were, then walked round the back of the car to driver’s side window, and said go to signing on! Feeling hard done by that scrutineering wasn’t as stringent as we thought it should be, as he was walking away Helen felt the need to shout that we had a spill kit in the boot. However, I was hoping that it wouldn’t inspire him to be more thorough, so I headed off to signing on. We signed our lives away, picked up our number 13 sticker and the test diagrams.There might not be have been snow, but the concrete in most places was covered in ice, so it was very slippery, so I knew I was in for some fun.  Sitting in the queue to start test one, me and Helen were discussing which approach we should take for the first loop of tests: A- Flat out or B- take it steady first time and find out where we were going. We decided B was the right choice. At the start line, during the 5 second countdown, with my better judgment I decided to go for option A instead. I failed to tell my navigator this.

The first test was a good quick, easy blast, with lots of 90 lefts, 90 rights and a 360, the interesting bit of it was around a corner, to a hairpin round  a cone. This was still covered in sheet ice, as I discovered heading sideways towards the bank, but quickly corrected it and avoided the cone and the bank. When I stopped on the finish line, the poor marshal was waiting for the time card, I wondered why Helen hadn’t handed it to him straight away, turns out her hands were trembling that much.

Onto test 2, with it being quite a tight test, I thought it’d suit the #saxobeast. It was 90 right through a gap in a wall into a 360 and back out again and then tight round walls and buildings, we also discovered there was a big bump that hit the front bumper hard and we couldn’t avoid each run. The instructions showed that you had to do basically a “square” twice then head 90right down to a 180 round “cone H” and then back up to a 360 round the base of an electric pylon where “cone I” was hiding, then a slalom to the finish. We pulled up at the finish feeling that we’d posted a quick time, which we had,  but we’d also missed 100m of the test out= wrong test. The 2016 North of England Tarmac Championship class 2 leading navigator f—ed up.

After that, it was good to see friendly faces for test 3. We were greeted by Spadeadam’s “usual suspects” and awaited the countdown. Test 3 was a long and fast test with what must have been a technical bit in the middle, as most folk were still getting it wrong on the 4th run of it. It had a couple of long straights so I could stretch the Saxo’s legs, this one went without a hitch.

It was then a short run to test 4, this had tarmac and then gravel patches in between, and pretty straightforward and therefore was successfully completed. Then with the way the event ran (single venue targa), it was straight back into the next 4 tests, which was back to “Test 1”  and now I knew where I was going, if it wasn’t flat out the first time, it was going to be this time!!

Second run through, I started trying to pick put cuts that could be made, where I could gain a few seconds. Test 5 went smoothly and without error, the navigator still seemed to be shaking though?

Test 6, already the poisoned chalice, I knew we could be quick and hopefully this time we’d be quick actually doing the complete test.  Things were going well, we’d visited “cone H” and “cone I”, then to get a quicker line through cones “J” & “K” I thought I could set it up with the handbrake, but as I reached into my bag of talent I realised I’d used it all up already. We ended up facing the wrong way, against some barrier. So moons went by, by the time we actually reached the finish line. With the marshal saying it would of been a quick time again, if we hadn’t had the spin.

We arrived at test 7 to questions of “what happened there then?” from Barry, well my honest reply was “I f—ed up”.  As this test had a long straight to the finish, I was cautious approaching the stop line the first time, this time I was going to give it a bit more shahoola. Ian Robinson, was on the stop astride, and didn’t look convinced that we were going to actually manage to get stopped in time, as he retreated into his van. But we did it perfectly.

Test 8, was uneventful, but it was starting to cut up a bit. The first run I spotted a potential big cut, but there was a marshal stood in the way. This time, he’d gone, but on closer inspection I decided it was far too rough for the #saxobeast with no sump guard.

It was then time for service, for both the Saxo and ourselves. The organisers had given competitors a lunch voucher for a burger and a drink. I had a cheeseburger with onions and a coffee. Unfortunately, the onions out of my burger somehow ended up in Helen’s tea = unhappy Helen. The marshals were also allowed a break to warm up and have something to eat too. Our “arrive and drive” team wondered if we’d been round the car to check it over, make sure everything was still attached and check the tyre pressures, etc. To which I replied “it’ll be fine”.

After lunch break we all lined up again to head into test 9. This test went smoothly for us and no issues. Over to test 10, this time we were adamant that nothing would go wrong. There was a lot of mud being dragged onto the test this time, so no heroics, keep it clean & tight. We crossed the line posting the joint fastest time!

Test 11, I was obviously still giddy from getting the previous test right, I braked too late after a straight and got a bit out of shape and hit my first cone of the day right in front of Geoffrey Harkness, which vexed me and that showed in my driving for the rest of the test!

Having not calmed down from test 11 we set off into test 12 with the red mist (and my foot) firmly down. It was well cut up now and with lots of mud dragged onto the concrete bits, we were sideways and with my flamboyant style, we hit something sharp and metal in amongst the gravel, which shafted my tyre. As the crews were lining up for the very final loop we didn’t know how much time we had to change it. So we executed a wheel change that an F1 team would have been proud of!

Now it was a case of getting round without braking the car or hitting anymore cones. Test 13 was as uneventful as it had been all day. Test 14, was now really muddy around the “square” and it was a case trying to find some grip, another good time and we didn’t have to do it again…. ever!

Our final visit to the Spadeadam run test, which was also starting to get very slippy off line. I was now just looking to carry as much speed as possible, and went offline round “cone F”, which meant that we ended up in a big f—ing sideways carry on through “gate G”. We still made it through without hitting anything…somehow!

Final test of the day, all we had to do was get through this to the finish. The organisers had moved the test slightly because they’d seen some metal coming up through the gravel. So the chance of getting a puncture in the same bit was limited. So we went for it to the finish!

I’d just like to thank Helen for barely navigating me round, Barry for transporting the #saxobeast and the organisers and marshals for standing in the freezing cold all day.