24 Aug: Greystoke Tales

Tales from Greystoke …

Originally intended as a Test Day, the ‘M-Sport Return to Rally Stages’ was Malcolm Wilson’s idea: “It was supposed to be a practice day for customers,” said Malcolm, “and it just grew from that. Motorsport UK were very helpful and encouraging, and with the help of West Cumbria & Eden Valley Motorsport Clubs and all the Marshals, here we are.” In fact, Motorsport UK had been at Greystoke a few weeks ago testing the ‘contactless results’ system and preparing a film which is intended to help clubs and rally organisers who are hoping to run events as Lockdown rules are relaxed. Given the nature of the Greystoke forest complex this is one of the few places such an event could run safely. At the driver’s briefing, Malcolm said a few words before Clerk of the Course Roger Fisher laid down the rules. And with Malcolm’s words ringing in their ears: “I don’t want any accidents today – but I do want everyone to buy lots of spares!” off went the crews to do battle with the elements.

Stuart Loudon looked bright eyed and bushy tailed prior to the start of the rally as co-driver for Matthew Wilson. But the reason he was so wide awake so early was that he had stayed the night before at the Wilson residence at Cockermouth. In the morning, Malcolm jumped into his car and said “Follow me”. There are times in any co-driver’s life when hindsight would be a gift from Heaven. “I should have navigated myself,” said Stuart, “I was really struggling to keep up with Malcolm and his shortcuts!” Still it worked. No need for Red Bull or any other artificial stimulant after a wild ride like that first thing in the early hours, eh?

One thing the organisers weren’t short of on the day was Marshals. Over 90 individuals were on station including the volunteer support and rescue services. The organisers even had a reserve list! Many of them had full PPE equipment should they have been needed, but the most essential bit of kit on Saturday was full wet weather gear – and spares!

There was an extra check at the rally which also required additional personnel. As each vehicle arrived and departed from the Greystoke Forest drive, it needed to have all four wheels sprayed with a solution to treat the forest virus Phytophthora ramorumhas which appears to be in the area..

As for the Results System, given the wet conditions, what a field test. The clocks featured two displays with Marshals able to switch between them. As crews approached the Clock at Service In, it showed actual time of day, but once keying in the car’s number the Marshal was able to change the display to show the competitor’s actual Time Out of Service. Ingenious. It was the same at Starts and Finishes with co-drivers able to see time of day and their own individual ‘target’ times. All the Marshals had to do was record those times on their own Check Sheets. The down side of the system is that it although it negates the physical contact it also reduces the chance to have any banter with the crews. However, this looks very much like the way forward – even when there is no Covid around. Dependent of course on being able to get an internet/phone signal!

Depending on networks some folk did struggle to get a signal in Greystoke with co-drivers being spotted wandering the length of the Service Area or looking for high ground. On the basis of simple things appealing to simple minds, Allan Cathers was spotted after the first stage with a big cheesey grin. “I did it,” he said, “I took a photo of my time card, I sent it and got the reply ‘message uploaded’ across my screen.” The rest of us auld gits can take comfort from the fact that if this new technology can be mastered by Mr Cathers then there is hope for the rest of us.

Speaking of Allan, he was with Rory Young as usual, but this was their first time out together since March, so the crew were a tad rusty to say the least. On the run out of service to the start of the first stage, Rory was busy familiarising himself with things when Allan called out “R5”.
“What?” said Rory.
“R5,” repeated Allan.
“What the hell are you giving me a Pace note for when we’re not even at the start of the stage yet?” asked Rory.
Back came the reply (with expletives removed): “It’s not a Pace Note, it’s a reminder for you to engage the ‘R5’ button!”
To those of you who don’t know what the R5 button is in a Fiesta R5, it’s the innocent looking switch that transforms the Fiesta from dormouse into Dangermouse. Driving a Ford Fiesta R5 in ‘road mode’ is a piece of cake. Everything is slower, smoother, slackened off and power reduced. It’s only when you use the R5 button which changes all the electronic engine response, gearbox and suspension settings that it bursts out of its shirt and troosers and almost turns green. Anyway, Rory suddenly twigged. Like most folk on the day, he was struggling to remember where all the switches were and what they did – that comes from sitting in a John Deere tractor for too many hours and too many days, eh?

As mentioned in the main report, the ever-ebullient Ernie Lee had hired one of Dom Buckley’s R5s, just to see what it was like. Having started rallying way back in a Land Rover and returned more recently in a BMW he had never driven a current spec 4WD machine, so this was his chance. After the first two stages he didn’t even stop to light up a fag before announcing, very volubly: “It’s amazing. The plan was for a steady run on the first stage – I didn’t want to be the silly old c–t who put it off on the first stage. The second stage was just enjoyment and I don’t care if the R2s were going quicker, I was just enjoying myself.” There was only one incident worthy of note which wasn’t going to grace these pages (to save Ernie’s embarrassment) but Ernie said, publish and be damned – or words to that effect! Anyway, on the approach to one of the stages he joined the queue but couldn’t reach his fags, so he removed the quick release steering wheel, lit up and relaxed. Came time to move on, but he couldn’t get the steering wheel back on the column. Various local worthies (some with Scrutineering credentials even) tried unsuccessfully until with time running out and tempers running short, the task was achieved. Naturally back at base, Dom Buckley nonchalently jumped in to show them how to do it properly – and then failed. He had to put his glasses on first! Honour restored all round, eh? As ever, there was an aura of calm and tranquility within the camp when things reached fever pitch, and that was down to Trish who observed: “Comparing the BMW to the Fiesta is like comparing a Clydesdale to a thoroughbred race horse.”

There was however, bitter disappointment in the Tindall camp (they’re almost Scottish, just over the border) when the John Easson Scholarship winner, young Ewan Tindall, had to retired his R2 in the second stage. The water temperature shot up abruptly so Ewan wisely pulled over and switched off. Back at service there were puzzled looks all round as the crew tried to determine whether it was thermostat or water pump failure, or something worse. Not wanting to risk any possible further damage, that was the end of their outing.

There were actually some real ‘furriners’ in Cumbria at the weekend, Michael and James O’Brien had made the long trek from the deep south in Eire to the north west of England. Better known for their exploits in Subarus and Focus WRC machinery, the 2013 Irish Forest Champions were using the day to try out a Fiesta WRC. There were no heroics and the pair finished 20th well satisfied with their test, but here’s the thing. The boys face a two week quarantine on their return home to Eire, but as James said: “It was well worth it, just for the day out in the forests, and back behind the wheel!” You can’t get a better recommendation than that, eh?

For his part, Matthew Wilson said his best moment of the day happened when he was driving out of the first stage past the line of cars waiting to go in: “It was almost emotional,” he said, “seeing that long line of M-Sport Fords, from World Car Focus and Fiestas to R5s and R2s. We’ve come a long way in 23 years.”

And finally …

Some things don’t change … Elaine Wilson was spotted under the tailgate of her car in the rain and the mud during the Service Halts making sandwiches for ‘her boys’ something she’s been doing for Malcolm throughout his rallying career ever since she first met him. Some things just don’t change right enough, eh?

Thank you Malcolm, for a grand day out.