By Allan Cathers
I was due to go across to the Isle of Man in September to co-drive for my old friend David Mylchreest in his 1963 MG B, unfortunately Rally Isle of Man had to be cancelled. We immediately decided to enter the Pokerstars Rally which would run on the 9th and 10th of November. Although it doesn’t really have a proper Historic class, we entered anyway to compete in the same class as Classic Mk 1 and Mk 2 Escorts and an Avenger Tiger. Reminds me of competing with Colin Rowntree on 12 cars in his Tiger lookalike in the mid 1970s!
Having competed many times on the
Island with David, I was able to produce a set of descriptive pace notes for
the six separate stages, to use for the reconnaissance. With the information
supplied by the organisers I was also able to factor in the chicanes and
artificial tightened junctions, of which there were many.
Wednesday 7th I headed for Heysham and the 4 hour sail on the Benn-my-Cree. On board I bumped into Stuart Egglestone and Brian Hodgson also going to the rally, we had good crack going over and the journey really flew.
Thursday, David and I managed two
passes of every stage without any really dramatic changes to the notes and were
pretty happy with everything. Thursday early evening was Scrutineering at the
Grandstand in Douglas and the heavens opened. It was supposed to rain that
evening then dry up before Midnight until 4pm on Friday just before the Rally
was due to start. Scrutineering wasn’t a problem and my helmet and Hans had
arrived safely courtesy of Colin at Dommy Buckley’s. On Thursday night it
rained and rained ……and rained. We knew this would cause problems especially
with Brack-a-Broom Ford on Stage 3 & 6 on Friday night. Friday morning
dawned bright and not raining, however there was standing water everywhere. So,
we set off to recce the Friday Stages again to add “water notes” and it was
horrendous. On Stage 1 &4 Little London there was a lot of standing water
especially in hollows and a normally dry Ford was a fast-flowing
river with debris everywhere. Brack-a-Broom Ford was a raging torrent, so
the organisers had taken the loop out and shortened the stage with a new start.
Stage 2 & 5 Allersley was awash from Glenn Maye up to the mines with
two areas of dangerous standing water in the last two miles which was extremely
fast down into Dalby from Round Table. The organisers were hopeful it would all
be sorted by the Rally start.
When we set off North to Jurby for the Drivers briefing it was still dry however, after about 5 minutes in the museum the weather changed, and the promised rain arrived with a vengeance driven by gale force winds. Our start time was just after 8.20 pm and the rain was still torrential. We set off and arrived at Stage 1, Little London which was just on the top before Druidale where the old Sheep pens used
to be. The Start Marshal cautioned us
that there was serous standing water on the stage, the dry Ford on Druidale
proper, was just passable with extreme care, and there were a few cars stranded
within the last mile of the stage from Little London in the bottom to the
finish on the top. Well within 300 metres of the start on a “flat left through
slight dip” we suddenly found ourselves passengers half on the heather and half
on the road for about 50 metres before David regained control. We took the
“dry” Ford carefully and even so the MG B dropped onto 3 cylinders but cleared
fairly quickly. At Brandwell we were caught and passed by an extremely rapid MK
2 Escort who was taking some big risks and nearly came unstuck about a mile
further on. We arrived at Sartfield Hairpin just behind him. Little London was
absolute carnage with deep standing water and cars off everywhere. There was
TRV8 who pulled out in front of us, realised his mistake and was forced to pull
off again, I believe he had drowned out a number of times already. There were
people walking down the middle of the road through the flying finish trying to
reach stranded cars. We managed to thread through it all and made the finish
Onwards to Stage 2, Allesley carefully, as even the main roads were flooding. We drove up a river out of Glenn Maye towards the Stage Start only to find that the gap between the walls where the road should be, was full of water which seemed to go on for ever. There wasn’t any sign of the Start or Marshal’s or anyone. We were going through a particularly deep section when the MG B coughed and died! This is it, we are not going any further we thought, after what seemed an age she fired and ran perfectly so we gingerly carried on. After another 400 metres of flooded road we rounded a corner and the road was clear. About a mile further on we came across a new start line just before the Mines complex. The rain started to ease as we started Stage 2 and was really fast. Turning right at Round Table to head towards the finish in Dalby we knew that the Fast K right in the dip, over a bridge, at the bottom had a small amount of standing water so we tried to carry as much speed as possible thru the dip, only to find that the dip was now half full of water and a Subaru Impreza that had tried the same manoeuvre but had come to grief in the wall on the outside uphill exit of the corner. We hit the shallow outside edge of the water and aquaplaned sideways towards the rear of the Subaru, suddenly we had grip again but how we missed the Subaru, I don’t know. There was a further treacherous section towards the end of the stage, fast and steep downhill on running water into a double tightening 90 left but we already had cautioned this. Even so it was interesting!
Stage 3 up over Staarvey was really an anti-climax although we came across three cars stranded in a large area of standing water right on the top just before you get to Vatanens jump. We finished the stage and surprise, surprise the rain had stopped so we headed for Jurby and Service before heading for the second loop!
On the way we passed through
Kirkmichael to find the southbound TT course was closed due to accidents and
flooding. The whole Island infrastructure was struggling due to the horrendous
weather conditions. We arrived back in Jurby to be told by Keith Richardson who
was manning the main control that the second loop of 3 stages was cancelled. We
could go home! That’s if we could get home? The rally had lost nearly a third
of its entry in these first three stages.
Saturday dawned as a bright beautiful morning, but the evidence of the previous evenings conditions was everywhere. The standing water had mainly drained away leaving tree debris and mud in its place. We had 3 loops of 3 stages of about 21 miles per loop. Our start number was 77 and we were reseeded at 53. The first stage was The Lhen which was really fast but with some really muddy slippery corners. We had a fairly clear run through without any problems. Then from Andreas village we headed to Dog Mills to start the Dog Mills Stage only to find there had been a serious accident, so the stage was cancelled. This stage was cancelled again for the remainder of the event so we were rerouted to Stage 8, Orrisdale which featured the most Westerly part of the Curraghs, which would end up as the only stage run 3 times. There was still standing water in one area of the Curraghs just on the exit of a K left but it didn’t cause any problems. The second loop consisted of The Lhen and Orrisdale again and the only real issue was a bit of brake fade (or was it brain fade) on the fast section from The Cronk to Ballateare hairpin. We arrived a bit fast sideways but managed to negotiate the hairpin while still sideways, awesome!
Unusually it started to rain again at this point! We arrived at the start of The Lhen only to be told that there had been an accident and the stage was cancelled so we would be again re-routed. The Marshal organising the re-Route turned out to be an old friend Sue Mee from Hereford who co drove for Penny Mallory and Theo Bengry among others.
The final run through Orrisdale was uneventful but slippy although it claimed a number of cars including Paul McKinnon in the Buckley run R5 who was forced to retire almost in sight of the finish of the stage while running in the top 3 overall.
We finished cleanly in 40th place
overall from 66 finishers from a rally field of 108. Not bad for the
oldest car in the Rally driven by a couple of over 60’s!
Stuart Egglestone and Brian Hodgson finished a really creditable 6th overall and 1st Historic in their left-hand drive 2.0 litre pinto Mk 2 Escort. Before the event started, David had worked out that I had first co-driven for him 30 years ago last February in his MG Maestro and we had competed together on the 1988 Manx International Rally with Jenny Birrell (Jenny Nadine) as team Manager and a very young Martin Wilkinson of CA1 Sport as our chase crew. Many may remember Jenny as one of this country’s most prolific lady race drivers. She also Rallied in the 60s both as a Driver and Co driver for people such as Pat Moss (Carlsson). It was also 32 years since I first met David as ARG Motorsport used David’s premises for preparing the cars prior to the 1986 Manx International. They had 6 Works MG Metro 6R4’s and 3 MG Maestro’s. I was lucky enough to be the N3 winning Co-driver with a guy called David Cutler in his MG Maestro. Looking back, it makes me see how privileged my Motorsport career has been.