By Helen Harkness
(N.B. You might want to get a cuppa & a biscuit, I tend to waffle on a bit)
All ideas have to start somewhere, even the daft ones. This idea started on the Doonhamer targa rally last year. After a quick run through a test to check everything was in place, I thought to myself, “I’d quite like a go at this sort of thing for real.” I did happen to be sat next to Barry Lindsay at the time, so it was a very quick, and tidy run through! At that point I was thinking about doing a targa as a navigator, so later managed to persuade Kenton Pattison that it would be a good idea for us to do Hexham’s single venue targa together that November. It was really good fun and as you may remember from his report, not without excitement or incident, but there was still an idea in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, I’d quite like to have a go as a…. driver!
Months went past, and I had another brilliant idea – to get Colin the Corsa (the black one on the front of this newsletter) sorted and MOT’d, and it was at that point that the two ideas suddenly merged:
I would like to do a targa rally in Colin, mwahahaha! *insert flashes of lightning and the sound of rolling thunder*.With this idea buzzing around my mind, when Barry innocently asked if we’d be free to marshal on the SOSCC targa in May, my mouth said “Yes, unless you want to compete on it?”. I’m not sure who was more surprised, Barry or me! However I was soon by told by Nigel that the car, even though he was nearly roadworthy, he was not targa ready. Gutted. Though the idea of driving on a targa had now taken root and that was it. Plus I’d possibly found a willing victim to be my navigator, that was an opportunity not to be missed, so after a brief discussion the entry went in for the Lake District Classic at the end of June, organized by Wigton MC.
They say “Act in haste, repent at leisure”. A week or so later I did start to have some concerns… and found I was repeating over and over to myself “This is a stupid idea.” The week before the event I’d been driving Colin at every opportunity. We’d also been able to do a grass autotest with him and he was now targa ready. But I was also starting to get a little bit too attached to him. Thoughts of a full restoration, lovingly washing and polishing him when I got home every evening, talking about him like he was a person…. Nigel was getting to the point he was worried about being left for a Corsa B.
The day of the targa finally arrived, the alarm went off at 5.30am and we were at the start at Penrith Truckstop by 6.45am and I was in the queue for noise test by 7am. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. Would we get through scrutineering? Would we even get through noise? At 7.05am I started to also wonder if my navigator had had second thoughts and done a u-‐turn on the M6! But we got through noise no problem, then through scrutineering no problem, then my navigator arrived – no problem.
We went and signed on and discovered how good we are to the Blue Streak crews! No road books, instead we were given map references for the tests and had to plot our route between the tests via more map references and we knew that there were code boards along the road sections, so we needed to get it right. Once that was done and we’d had a quick look at the tests, we had about an hour to kill before our start time. This gave us an opportunity to watch some of the historic cars on the first test which was at the Truckstop. Eeek! They were giving it some welly and crikey, those trucks looked solid and very close!
We were second on the road in the targa part of the event, so we fell in line behind the yellow 205 Rallye of Neal & Eileen Horsfall. I had said all along that we weren’t going to do anything serious, all I was wanting was a bit of a laugh and a fun day out. At the start of test 1, it suddenly felt quite serious. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!” yes, it was serious now, Barry was calling cones, trucks were flying past, Colin (or his driver) was getting over excited and then we were at the finish. How did that happen? No time to think about it too much, as we were then out of the truckstop and onto test 2. This was a farm yard test, with 2 “free turns” which in my case ended up being a bit of reversing as well. My handbrake skills, or the severe lack of them would be a common theme throughout the day. (I have homework to do – 50 hand brake turns on the left hand, 50 hand brake turns on the right hand!).
It was then a lovely scenic drive along Ullswater to get to test 3, “Thornsgill”. Familiar to both of us as it was the end of a stage used on the Malcolm Wilson last year. This was my first time on gravel and I’d got on the really loose stuff and my navigator could sense that there was a slight lack of control as we were heading sideways towards cone B. We managed to avoid it and the ditches unlike some. Test 4 involved a bridge and reversing; the bridge was fine the reversing wasn’t! Next we headed into St. Johns In The Vale and up to another gravel test, this time there were potholes and a big water splash. I decided that we weren’t going through either of them, so picked a line through the potholes and round the watersplash, 360 round a cone and back past the potholes – I really need to stop being so precious, that could have cost us seconds! Well, maybe not, the lack of a decent 360 around the cone probably cost us time. Not that I was bothered, this was “just a laugh”. Honest.
We then headed over the A66 into Threlkeld and to the “Grapevine” test. This was a blast around a building and some more reversing, but it also showed how much I was able to remember of the test as I left the start-‐ line. “To A, 90 left to B and 360 round B…” as we got to be cone B my mind went more blank than normal. It was only when Barry yawed the handbrake on and said slightly louder “360 round B! Go on!”. Oops. This was when I realized that I need to focus more. We headed via Greystoke back to Penrith to the auction mart. Test 7 was a tight one, where I did have to use reverse to avoid a cone. Test 8 was more open and flowing around the auction. Then back to the Truckstop for test 9 which was another blast around the trucks. Then lunch. Pheww! I was wondering if this was the point that the navigator would get out the car and run as fast as he could, as far as he could, but he didn’t and we were still on speaking terms, so all was good.
After lunch we still had another 8 tests to do, so a quick check over the car to make sure nothing was about to fall off then back into line to head out, back to the auction for tests 10 & 11, re-‐runs of test 7 & 8. I think it was at this point I said to Barry that he really didn’t need to keep telling me so urgently to “Stop astride” before the finish and that I could manage to stop in reasonable time on my own. So this time on test 10, he just said it the once… and I very nearly didn’t stop astride, so we went back to the original system. Test 11 was without incident. Then we headed back out to Eamont Bridge and turned towards Askham, where test 12, “Highfield”, was a gravely, concrete, grassy goodness‐knows‐what of a surface, with a bit at the end of the test where you went over some rough soily ground that was like something out of the safari rally, and had been well and truly dug up by the previous cars. This test was not as diagram and we lost a little time going in search of a cone that wasn’t where we expected it to be. We then headed past Lowther Castle and along the A6 to Shap. Test 13, “Waters Farm” had code boards to get, which wasn’t an issue. My use of the handbrake was getting worse, as by now, I was getting frustrated and we ended up on the grass to get round a cone. It was nice to see Michael Lindsay & Nigel on the finish line though.
I had been kind of enjoying myself up to this point, but it was test 14, “The Quarry”, that I enjoyed the most. The gravel road that you can see by the side of the motorway, that’s where we were. I don’t think I said it out loud but in my head I was going “Yeaaaahhhhh!”. It was a 90 left down a dip, out and slalom to the end, 180 back round and slalom back down, the 90 right back down the dip and round. The car was full of dust, but that was awesome! Lets do that one again! No, we weren’t going back to that one, back to Waters Farm again to look for code boards on the right hand side this time. Barry also said that I needed to be a bit quicker off the start line and be ready to floor it as soon as the marshal said “go”. When an experienced, multiple championship winning stage driver gives you advice, you listen to it. So I tried, and if I hadn’t screwed up the 180 round the cone again, it might have made more of a difference.
Back towards Penrith, via test 16, Highfield, this time we knew where the stray cone was and I put my foot down at the right time and we were 8 seconds quicker! Then back to the truckstop for the final test of the day. This was different to the previous two we’d done there. We just needed to get round, not hit anything and finish, though I swear those trucks had moved in 2 ft since we’d been away… “And stop astride the line!”. Mission accomplished. Yes!!
Colin was still in one piece, Barry & I were still happy, we didn’t think we’d got any cones or wrong tests, and by the end of the day I’d started to thoroughly enjoy myself! Times and positions weren’t really on my mind, as it was my first event, I more wanted to see if I liked being in the driver’s seat or not. However, when Barry said that I’d been 2nd in class at lunchtime, that was really rather nice. I sat down to dinner with a bit of a smile on my face. When all the marshals started to arrive back and the results were about to go final, my navigator went to double check our times, and when he came back he looked a little more serious than I was expecting. I was preparing myself for no longer being 2nd, it had been nice while it lasted… no, still 2nd in class. Unbelievable! I drove Colin home with the biggest, stupidest grin on my face.
I cannot thank Barry enough for agreeing to sit in a car with me, keeping me right all day, and putting up with my inane chatter during the road sections (It’s ok, the Northern Dales, is a single venue!).
Thank you to Nigel, as without all the hard work he’s put in, Colin the Corsa would never have made it to the start line, let alone the finish. Thank you to the organizers, and all the marshals too. Well done to Andrew Graham on the overall targa win.
Maybe it was a daft idea, but sometimes they’re the ones that turn out to be the best!
Thank you to Graham Petry for the photos in the report.