oldSTAGER No.94
October/November 2005

 

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Grumpy Old Man Syndrome

I’ve been grumpier than normal this year, thanks to rallying. My passion for the sport was seeded 37 years ago. After a quiet period in the ’90s, I started competing regularly again in the noughties, much to the puzzlement of people around me. I explained that once rallying is in the blood it’s very difficult to transfuse away. The truth of the matter was, in advancing years, I had to prove to myself that I could still do it. I attempted my first HRCR Clubman’s event in 2003, had some success in 2004, and so decided to attempt a full season with Paul Hernaman in 2005.
However, the year so far has been a complete grumpy-inducing nightmare, since I’ve made fundamental mistakes on most events. By sharing my embarrassments with you, maybe the bad memories will be purged and you will pick up a tip or two at my expense.

*

The Tour of Cheshire started the season and I was still experimenting with the best method of dealing with multiple speed changes on regularities. I’d settled on the “cumulative” method: use a speed table for the starting speed and then hand crank your own cumulative table whenever the speed changes. This time-consuming idea had worked on previous events, but it does require numerical accuracy. With the number of speed changes on the Cheshire, it was inevitable that something would go wrong. Twice my addition of times went awry, with obvious early/late consequences. Coupled with a failure on an extraordinarily disorientating test, the grumps had started, and it was only March.

*

On the Alan Rogers, the one-hour-before-departure road book was quite daunting. Eager to plot as much as possible before we left the start, I chose to ignore the black spots that were listed. My theory was that the tulip road book would define the route precisely, and the black spots were merely included as known PR problem areas, should a route cut be required. However, I had forgotten the plot and bash sections that came later. Plotting the shortest route on one of these took me through an unmarked black spot, missing a codeboard on a longer loop.
My timing was all over the place too. Using a new, albeit unpractised, scheme of resetting the trip and/or clock at speed change points, several times I forgot or pressed the wrong button. Into April and the Victor Meldrew in me was taking over.

*

I prayed the trip to Yorkshire for the Ilkley Historic would be an upturn in fortune, and so it proved. A more disciplined approach to button pressing, just a few small errors and we came third. I knew I could still do it.

*

Assume nothing. If you’ve visited a test several times in the day and have always used the same (shortest) route there and back, don’t assume that after the last test of a long day you will do it again. On the Hughes Rally, the run-in went via a circuitous route back to the finish. The result: a missed codeboard, a WD at the last control, total humiliation and demotion from second place to oblivion. Into summer and psychiatric care was required.

*

Never rush away at the end of an event if you think you’ve done well. Having to travel westbound from Essex to most HRCR events means that long journeys are involved, but usually there’s time to wait a while for results before heading home. But putting your trust in the results crew to look after your absent interests is a big mistake. Step forward the Leukaemia Rally.
I thought the Leukaemia was a tad over ambitious, trying to squeeze so much into a single day. Great test venues, but there wasn’t enough slack in the time schedule to absorb delays. Many crews missed lunch playing lateness catch up, followed by a constant struggle during the afternoon to avoid OTL. Lack of interim results during the day, the delays, and the bustle at the finish venue led me to believe, quite correctly, that the computerised results would be a long time coming. I left for home having had a reasonable day and expecting to be placed in the top few. The eventual results were a shambles. Championship regulars all faired badly and scrutiny of the final results revealed spurious missed control penalties for many competitors; two for us included, which were clearly incorrect. I sent emails to the organisers asking for an explanation, but I’m still awaiting a reply. I wasn’t the only one.

*

You know what they say for exams “read the whole question before you answer”; apply the same advice to every routecard. A pageful of plot and bash instructions can be unnerving. Panicking, you dive in, and recognise immediately a series of grid lines to cross. Relieved it’s straightforward, you guide your driver over the next few junctions and consult the speed tables a few times before reading the rest of the routecard. Then, four things happen: 1) your driver says, “Time control ahead”; 2) puzzled, you glance at the trip, which impossibly shows only 1.85 miles travelled; 3) you begin to sweat; 4) you finish reading and the last line says “Don’t go through this map reference”. Of course, that’s the one you’ve just driven through to miss a codeboard loop. True story – this happened to me (and face-savingly to a few others) on the Ross Traders Rally in July.
Interestingly, the Ross Traders produced results manually and displayed them on a “washing-line”. It’s a simple system, but prone to human error. I checked my times and found three errors, which reduced our penalties by over a minute and improved our position by one place.

*

If you are exposed to Deeliarities on the Targa Rusticana Rally, beware. (For Deelia virgins, these are tulips defining the route, but only those that take you off the current road are shown; inter distances aren’t quoted either.) If you get the routecard in advance, try to plot the route on the map. Sounds obvious, but often there aren’t enough clues in the diagrams to help you, since trips to unmarked whites and residents’ driveways will seriously add to the plotting confusion. On the event, I resolved to plot on the move, but my downfall was lack of concentration and vigilance. On the lookout for a left tulip to, and right tulip from, “a lonely sycamore tree”, we were relieved to eventually find a grass triangle, which did exactly that. We happily continued, now searching for a “left at T” at some undefined distance. Many miles later, there it was, left onto a “B” road, which we followed for miles waiting for a “right at T”. There were clues already that this was a kcuf: long stretches of “B” roads aren’t used when there are juicy yellows about, particularly when the average speed is set at 22 mph. A guess at the problem and too many minutes later, we were back on route, heading for a maximum at the next IRTC. Where did I go wrong? Yes, you sussed it: the “left at T” was actually the final junction at the grass triangle. Doh! A similar misinterpretation later and we were heading for our worst finish on an HRCR event – ever. The excellent Targa left me in a state of worst grumpiness – ever, and my driver placing an ad in Navigators Wanted Weekly.
(I blame this performance on Paul Loveridge – the event scrutineer. After having queued for over an hour for one of his usual vehicle dissections, he accused me of smiling! The remark upset me for the rest of the event.)

*

I should have learnt my lesson on the Cheshire. If you become disoriented on a complicated test: STOP and refocus before continuing. Don’t be tempted to push on regardless, despite the pressure of the moment. On a Devonian Rally test, we rounded a bend and were confronted with a sea of cones and tyres. The required route wasn’t immediately clear; we made a hasty (and wrong) choice and continued. Even a 30 second review of where to go would have been far cheaper than incurring a damaging test maximum.
Plus, there was another of those “don’t trust the results” issues. Interim results in the afternoon showed that we had apparently scored another wrong test. Extreme grumpiness set in, but Paul was adamant that we were correct. I presented my petulant face to the results team who, consulting the marshal’s check sheet, confirmed that car 8 (us), a green Cortina (not us), had an unspecified test fault. At the finish, the efficient Competitor’s Liaison Officer was on the case, calling the marshal at home. The marshal was certain that the offender was the Cortina, but uncertain about the number – vindicated, the penalty was scrubbed.
So, September’s gone and there are two championship events left. I’ve applied for a place at the NRU (Navigator’s Rehab Unit); if I’m released in time, perhaps I’ll see you on the Regis or Palladwr.

* * *

Travelling home from the Devonian by rail – that ultimate test of regularity timing – I had an odd thought. My SouthWest train left Exeter on time and arrived at Taunton one minute late, but was then three minutes early at Reading. Was the driver penalised using scheduled timing or regularity timing? With the former, the penalties would have been seven minutes (1 + 2*3); with the latter, only five minutes (1 + 4). The problem bothered me all the way to Paddington.

* * *

For a final grump: I am peeved at commentators, journalists and even some leading competitors, like Loeb, who use the words “race” or “racing” when referring to a rally. When introduced to rallying, I was indoctrinated to the fact that a rally is not a race. The semantics are clear: in a race, all competitors start at the same time and the first to the finish – the fastest – finishes first. Not so with rallying. Got that, Sebastian?
And another thing: the moronic dictionary on my PDA defines a rally as “an automobile race run over public roads”! Bah, humbug; I don’t believe it. However, I do like this dictionary’s definition of rallying: “the feat of mustering strength for a renewed effort.” Maybe that’s what I need right now, to combat grumpy overload in time to complete 2005 and look forward to 2006.