By Allan Cathers
Rory and I got back from Morzine in the French Alps on 10th September where we competed in the Rallye Mont Blanc -Morzine 2018 in our Scottish Christmas Tree’s backed Ford Fiesta R5 run by Dom Buckley RSC. The Rally is part of the French Championship and had a good entry of 180 modern cars and 60 classic cars. There were about 28 x R5 cars and 2 x WRC cars which meant it would be a hard-fought Rally. Rory and I were seeded at No. 30 and the event was 240 Kms spread over 14 Stages around Morzine, Samoëns and the surrounding area.
The first stage was the 20 kms Joux Verte Stage climbing up from Morzine and finishing past the lake towards Montriond. As this was our third time competing on this Rally the Stage was familiar and we pushed hard, however at about 11 kms on the fast-downhill section we caught the car in front who was having throttle problems. Due to the narrow conditions we lost valuable time before he could pull over and let us pass. To cap it all our rear tyres started to go off over the final kms. Still we had a reasonable time just outside the top 20. With fresh rubber we tried to attack in Stage 2 Le Biot only for the Pop Off valve to start to fail about 3 kms in. This caused the car to bog down in the exit of the steep hairpins (of which there were many in every stage) and slow our progress. We tried quick fixes that we could do ourselves, but nothing worked. Through Stage 3 La Vernaz the Pop off valve continued to cause problems. For some reason through Stage 4 Lullin the valve was less of a problem giving us a top 12 time. Back in Service the Pop off valve was changed and re-sealed. The next three stages were a repeat of 2,3 and 4 but this time in the dark. Again the new Pop off valve failed about 2 kms into Le Biot. Rory and I changed some support valves before tackling La Vernaz the second time,with the aid of a torch and tie wraps, but no difference to the lack of performance. Before Stage 7 Lullin we changed the ECU for the spare which we carry in the car, again the Pop off valve continued to sap our power. With Stage 8 cancelled we returned to Morzine overnight in 23rd position.
Saturday dawned as a beautiful day. The Rally consisted of 3 x different Stages run twice with a two-hour lunch halt in between. Very civilised!
At the first Service after Parc Ferme our engineer acquired a new style Pop off valve and it was fitted before Stage 9, La Cote d’Arbroz. About 6 kms into the Stage it started to Pop off again although not as severe as before. It continued to plague us through Stage 10, Morrillon which was probably the slippest Stage with lots of loose gravel. Finally, through the 20 kms Joux Plane, Stage 11 it was still a problem but more importantly the brakes started to go towards the end on the steep downhill stretch back into Morzine.
Our engineer had been in discussion with an M-Sport expert via email and with the help of the French Technical commissioner we came up with a possible solution. Stage 12, the second run through La Cote d’Arbroz was a revelation as the new Pop Off valve worked. We were probably on the wrong tyres, but we didn’t have any further allocation and the brakes started to go off again despite being bled at Service. Stage 13 Morrillon was even more slippery than before with gravel and muck all over the road for about 3/4 of the Stage. Finally Stage 14 was a re-run of Joux Plane (famous Tour de France stage) and we pushed really hard through there. We survived despite losing our brakes again and a bit of a fright over a high-speed downhill jump to complete the Stage in a respectable time. The crowds of spectators were cheering and applauding us over the last few kms down into Morzine, it was really very emotional.
16th Overall was our final result which we were really pleased with after all our problems. Not as good as our previous result of 8th overall in 2015 but rewarding all the same because of stronger competition and overcoming adversity.
A truly great event well organised, really friendly people, great atmosphere, beautiful scenery and fantastic Stages. We will be back next year.