After the drama of the final round of 2013, Spookworks were keen to start 2014 and looked enthusiastically on the first round on the calendar; the Alan Healy Memorial Stages.
|A true Mecca for Motorsport.|
Held on 6 April at arguably the best racing circuit in the UK – Cadwell Park; the 10 stages and 45 stages miles promised a challenging but positive start to the season. Seeded at 37th was reasonable given the extraordinary level of competition for the event -some parts of the service area looked like a car park for ex WRC cars! Even our class was incredibly strong - some rallies’ entire starting field is less than ours and Spookworks would surprisingly find its toughest challenge for some time with 34 cars in Class E out of only 88 starters – that’s almost 40%. The event also included a fellow RAF Rally competitor – none other than JFP; who would prove to be an excellent benchmark to measure our progress since the off season. We regularly traded times last year and the car is pretty quick in JFP’s hands so if we can beat him it’s a real achievement.
|The level of competition was very high on this event and this is only the trackside cafe car park!|
With some soft compound rubber fitted courtesy of Slicks and the car running perfectly, things were looking good. There was some very quick cars behind us but a few we could catch in front so the stages could be a real lottery. This then became the equivalent of Euromillions when heavy rain decided to arrive overnight and prior to Stage 1. Things suddenly got a lot harder.
|Stage 1 - I think we would have had more traction on ice.|
The ex WRC car which started as Car 1 set the tone for the first stage as it barrel rolled into the barriers after losing control after only a few corners early into the opening stage of the event. It then spent the next four stages upside down in a crumpled mess and passing it on each stage certainly acted as a good reminder to drive within the capabilities of the car and your talent!
|Ouch - luckily they were ok. Their wallet is still in intensive care! If they can do it though it does put one off a bit...|
Saying that, we were perhaps a bit too cautious in hindsight as although we survived the first stage with a 7:11, Spookworks dropped 7 places from seeding to 44th overall and 25th in class. Our old sparring partner, JFP, familiar with the stages and slightly less perturbed by an inverted Subaru set a 6:49 to show what could be done in the conditions and set him up for a jump from 42nd to 21st. Losing 22 seconds was a significant chunk of time to forfeit after only 6.4 miles.
|The windscreen wipers were faster than the car on Stage 2|
Stage 2 was not much better - a 6:52 was 19 seconds quicker than our first run but we still lost another 8 seconds to JFP in the incredibly slippery conditions. We were still 44th overall but had somehow moved up 2 places in class to 23rd so we were moving in the right direction albeit very slowly. JFP was now 2-0 and it was already clear that some concerted effort would be needed to avoid a whitewash to JFP. Steady as she goes gets you through the stage but not very far up the leader board!
Stage 3 was a much smaller stage at only 3.5 miles. Our 3:59 was the 30th fastest time and thankfully we managed to avoid a whitewash from JFP by taking the stage by a second. We still had a 29 sec deficit to make up to JFP so we did not think he would not lose any sleep over it. We held steady at 23rd in class but due to retirements jumped up 2 places on the overall leader board to 42nd.
Stage 4 was smaller still at only 3.3 miles. A quicker time of 3:42 gave us our highest stage result so far at 29th fastest but JFP pipped us by a second to take the stage and nullify our previous gain. We did climb a place both on the class and overall leader boards, so slow but steady progress was making a slight improvement – if only we had 100 stages left!
|I am sure someone said Lincolnshire was flat....|
Stage 5 represented the halfway point and the weather was no longer an issue with dry tarmac everywhere the eye could see. To date despite the early conditions we had not put a foot wrong. No spins, overshoots, locking brakes or anything at all. It obviously meant we weren’t trying hard enough! Some more application in stage shaved 2 seconds off our previous time but JFP pulled a 3:37 to make it 4-1 - a drumming in anyone’s books. We did break into the late 30’s on the leader board and would begin after lunch 39th overall and 21st in class.
Stage 6 saw a rejuvenated Spookworks go on the attack for the final four stages. Well that was the plan at least…..the leader board would suggest otherwise. Despite a gallant effort the 3:53 set for the 3.3 mile course was only good enough for 43rd fastest time. JFP continued to turn the knife with a 3:48 and simply continued to drive off into the distance. Scores on the doors was a 5-1 to JFP and 38th overall.
Stage 7 and it’s all about damage limitation. We were simply too slow and the car was capable of much better. We didn’t turn up with our “A” game and we were still asleep at the wheel from the end of year break. With our heads low we were surprised after a steady run through the stage to post a 3:46 and take 2 seconds of JFP! 5-2 looked hardly more respectable but it was better than 6-1. We were holding our position in class at 21st but were back at our seeding of 37th.
|As long as we went fast on this bit no one would know any wiser....where did that number plate come from?|
Stage 8 was a tricky 3.5 miler and incredibly we drew a dead heat with JFP with a 3:45! He was still a long way up the road in terms of time but we were keeping him honest. Mercifully, for RAF Rally Championship points Class E had decided to disintegrate and some retirements put our class position into 19th, a much more palatable position than how things were looking after Stage 1. We had even slipped past our seeding to 36th overall. The only problem now was that the leader board between us and JFP read 5-2 and er…1 tie.
Stage 9 and we were back amongst the 6 miler stages which used all of the racetrack and then some. Becoming far more comfortable with each mile the pace was coming but it was all a little too late to have any impact. Frustratingly JFP decided to cheekily pinch a second off us with a 6:06 to push the dagger deeper and the score line read 6-2-1. Not pleasant reading by anyone’s standard. We did set the 34th fastest time….to give you an idea of the quality at the top end of the leader board John Stone in his Skoda Fabia WRC did 5:24!! That’s 43 seconds quicker.
|We did manage to pass a stationary Proton....|
The final stage of the day beckoned and there was nothing left to lose. The car had run perfectly all day and currently ran without a scratch. The service crew had long since stopped even bothering to see if any work was required at all. Time for a pop at what could have been – and talk about going out with a bang! We even passed another Class E Subaru at full chat across the mountain. Finally utilising the potential of the Alcon brakes and Goodrich Rubber a pristine car returned to service after completing the event with a 5:55. The 22nd fastest time and ripping back an epic 8 seconds off JFP to bring the scores to a final 6-3. The result sheet read 31st overall and 18th in class – enough to net 55 points for the RAF Championship. JFP bagged 65 points finishing 31 seconds up the road in 26th overall and 15th in class. However the car looked like we had never even taken it off the trailer. Relatively no wear on the tyres, brakes or anything else for that matter. Getting ready for round 2 would simply be a case of peeling the old stickers off!
|On the last stage we were flying - we even look fast in the photo. Shame we left it to the last stage.|
But we must do better - the 22nd fastest time on the final stage showed the pace was there. A strong field notwithstanding, a slow return to 2014 puts us 48 points behind the leaders after Round 1. Final analysis – MUST DO BETTER.
|6-3 To the winner goes the spoils. JFP had us on this occasion but we will be back.|