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  • Up front of the Gremlin

    Thursday, 13 March 2008

    Yes, I'm a first time blogger too! Seems like there’s a few of us breaking our blogging cherries this March-

    I have been asked to make a few comments about what it was like running just ahead of the field on the Gremlin Rally as car "0", well to be honest i was like a "pig in dirty smelly stuff", its the first time I have been able to come out to play all night on the Gremlin since the eventful year of 1986 (a year and an event that is etched on the annals of BMC history).

    I would firstly like to thank Malcolm, Mikko and Jari-Matti of Ford for allowing me the use of one of their development tarmac recci cars, it really was an awesome piece of kit, the anonymous black paintwork and black privacy glass certainly added to the menacing and macho look and disguised the bulging extended arches and wings and spoilers so much so that no one spotted they were even fitted! I was most confused by the true spec of this limited edition “Titanium” model as the boffins at Ford Motorsport were very secretive about this “Titanium” spec, however, I can only assume that it refers to the liberal use of this very lightweight metal within the construction of this competition car, unfortunately I suspect that this weight saving was a little lost on this occasion as the combined weight of a very rolly polly driver and chunky navigator will have counteracted these considerable savings (sorry Christian).

    The Focus’s Monte spec brakes were awesome all night and gave me great reassurance as we approached the famous Devils Staircase above Abergwesyn in the down hill direction during the last loop after second petrol however I did curse the ABS on one occasion. The awesome torque produced by the 1.8Ltr TDDi diesel development engine was particularly effective in our twisty welsh lanes and I must say that the heated windscreen and electric windows should be standard fit to any good road rally car and certainly made our life much easier.

    I am most grateful to Mr Graham Tong for strapping into the navigator’s seat at short notice, it was the first time out in the lanes for Graham for very many years and I am please to say that it was great to have someone as knowledgeable as him on maps along side me to help keep me on the straight (or should that be twisty) and narrow, we made a great team as I knew the first loop up to petrol very well, we both knew the roads on the second loop vaguely and the last loop after petrol was very much his domain and he called the roads out like he was reading well used pace notes. Graham’s performance was excellent considering his long sabbatical from the maps. It was great to reminisce with him over the good times back in the early 80s when Graham and I competed against each other in the Welsh under 1300 championship, when he navigated for a young Ieuan Pritchard and I sat with Crad Lowe, our other Welsh championship rivals (and mates) at the time included Howard Davies and Nicky Grist (alongside Steve Davies). If I recall correctly; Graham beat me in the navigator’s category of the Welsh U1300 championship that year as I was unable to compete on the Gremlin Rally because of me being Clerk of the Course.

    We had one minor over shoot on route, and one unscheduled short trip up a forestry track, these oversights did however highlighted one area of inadequacy in the specification of the Focus WRC, and that was the very poor reversing light fitted as standard, however I suspect that this will be addressed by Wilsons team of engineers before Mr Hirvonen and Latvala venture out on the Rally Argentina at the end of March.

    No moments were encountered during the night as we followed team instructions and only drove at nine tenths all night however as is often the case when you are not giving it a 100% we did manage to get a rear wheel caught in a ditch on one tight right hander that could have easily spun us around between the hedges. For those of you not out there on the route, many of the roads were covered with slimy mud after recent rain and farm traffic however we were generally very very lucky with the weather conditions and I feel sure that the crossed fingers of all the marshals out in the elements paid dividends.

    The classic roads between Rhandyrmwyn and Abergwesyn proved to be a real revelation for me as it was the first time I had ever driven over these fabled roads at speed without them being blanketed in thick fog. One of the very few good physical assets I have is my eye sight and fog was always an advantage for me on night events in the past.

    Despite me being sick on the route much to my embarrassment (is this a first for a driver?), all in all I enjoyed a great nights sport and would like to congratulate James on a job well done, I would like to thank all you marshals who turned up to do controls as without you we would have no rally. May I apologise for waking up quite a few marshalling crews who were fast asleep “cooch’d up” in their cars when we arrived at their controls, this is however one of the requirements of running as course car. Finally I would like to congratulate those competitors who got around in one piece as I know what you were up against!

    See you in the lanes again soon I hope- Mark





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