oldSTAGER No.109
April/May 2008

 

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Lapping It Up

I am writing this in Lapland; a family celebration of my big 0 retirement birthday, so apologies for being Artic-Circlic this issue.

Rallying is not far from my thoughts as I associate each of my coming holiday activities with its motorsport equivalent. Cross-country skiing: a slow and steady sport with low average speeds – a bit like regularities; snow-mobiling: madness in uncontrollable machines – liken this to stage rallying; ice driving: this way, that way, round and round – think special tests; husky mushing: trying to get an animal steering in the right direction – a navigator’s role on regularities.

This trip has been just the tonic I needed a week after a disastrous Tour of Cheshire (ToC) – disastrous for me not the organisers. Under the reins of Nigel Raeburn and his team the event was slick; not just the format but also the finishing touches (like celebrity appearances, finishers’ cheeses, friendly atmosphere etc.) that make an event special. Notable for me was the quantity and quality of marshals, and the 18 miles of “circularities” at Swynnerton, which more than made up for the very short driving tests elsewhere on the event. I even forgave the last “driver intelligence” test if only to witness Paul running to present a wheel nut to a marshal.

Interestingly the ToC adopted the Cloverleaf idea of dropping a crew’s worst regularity score, which I was happy about after just the second control. Sadly only a rule to drop the worst missed TC and PCs would have saved me later in the day as my ToC route turned out to be a bit shorter than everyone else’s. I averted my eyes from the results board at the finish but overheard someone mocking “Looks like Crow will be back to grumpiness in next month’s oldSTAGER.” Well, sorry to disappoint – I shall endeavour to continue in a positive vein.

Maybe my failure on the ToC and resultant disinclination for navigating on other events (oops, slight return of grumpiness here) will lead to more driver outings in my Escort if a busy organisational year will allow. The Internet table-top rallies are in progress, the Essex 100 is imminent, and preparations for the Tour Britannia Regularity and Cloverleaf are dominating my rallying time.

* * *

After a break from the keyboard I’m back from a session of Saab ice driving on a Swedish lake and for once my rallying-disinterested daughters joined me on a motoring adventure. After their enthusiastic reaction to the experience maybe there is hope they may still follow in their dad’s footsteps – or was it merely to do with the fit Swedish boys that were our instructors?

It’s a shame part of this paid-for training was an advert for the Saab 93’s sophisticated “you-almost-can't-have-an-accident” Electronic Stability Programme (ESP). This does what it says on the tin if you drive anywhere up to briskly; the steering and braking are automatically adjusted to keep you in your last known intended direction. Going beyond brisk on tight bends and the electronics software seems to re-boot into “you-WILL-have-an-accident” mode, which was very disconcerting if you are used to having manual control of a brainless 1973 Escort.

When it came to driving unsupervised on the ice circuit, I selected manual change rather than the tutor-mode of automatic, turned off the ESP and used the snow banks to nudge round the icy corners, a practice that was more educational and faster than allowing the Saab to take control.

I regarded the ToC fiasco and ice driving fun as omens that competitively maybe I should concentrate on driving this year instead of navigating. Then on the following day of my holiday I received conflicting signals again.

While driving a team of huskies in convoy through a forest, the team in front suddenly went out of sight. I came to a fork in the snow tracks and the dogs, who until then had confidently navigated without instructions, veered left. Kilometres later, with no sign of other dogs fore or aft, I stopped and waited for the closing course snowmobile to realise I was missing and come to my rescue.

Back on course and climbing hills, the underpowered engine (4DP - 4 dog power) refused to go any further and I had to push the car (sled) until we were on flat snow again. Later, when we were in the home straight – a frozen river quarter of a mile wide – the dogs spotted a stray bitch and executed a final wrong slot in her direction.

To me this foretells that if I do drive on any more rallies this year I will need more than four navigators and they should all be bitches.

On second thoughts perhaps it will be safer to stay indoors and busy myself with organising table-top rallies.