GS Diary: Let's go rallyingContent
The bucket list
Like many folks, I have a kind of bucket list floating about in my head. Think of it as a bunch of daft ideas that won't go away and every now and then, one of them comes to the forefront demanding to be acted on. I've never written this list down as it would be depressing, knowing that many are out of my reach financially and should be considered 'dreams' rather than 'goals'. Nonetheless I've been super lucky to have already ticked off a number and of course, many relate to motorsport.
As I get further into the list, they get trickier to organise and require more commitment and planning. None more so than this next one, the Roger Albert Clark rally in a Mk2 Escort.
The Roger Albert Clark Rally
For those not familiar, this is a biennial, five day, +350 miles of UK forest stages, one of the true tests of driver ability and endurance. It is a remnant of the halcyon rally periods of the 1980’s and 1990’s where cars would routinely traverse the length of the country in gruelling multi-day contests through night stages and shitty British conditions seriously testing drivers and their heroic support crews. Many say that the days for these types of events are numbered and that they will ultimately get diluted or killed off - and that was nearly the case with Covid - hence there is never a better time than now.
I’m pretty much starting from scratch with this one, no car, no experience, no one to guide me. Hence, I’m starting out with some initial tuition at a rally school, who can hopefully give me some much needed skills and an understanding of how I should go about preparing for this event. The email response from the rally school was heartening:
The Roger Albert Clark Rally is one of the last great driving adventures and competing in a MKII Ford Escort is as nature intended.
Validation that I am on the right track, at least until they see the state of my driving. Racing historic cars has given me some understanding of car control but compared to the heroes I've been obsessing over in youtube footage I am seriously under qualified. Footwork, sheer speed of thinking and understanding the constant stream of pace notes coming from the co-driver that don’t seem to relate to the bends in the videos!
So a lot to learn but plenty of time to do it, with the next rally being in late 2023.
Choosing a car
There is also a lot to consider when looking at cars. There is no shortage of rally prepared cars available and the specifications of them vary wildly from the relatively cheerful clubman special on eBay to factory works cars that have historic sweat stains and can cost several hundred thousands.
I've zero'd in on an Escort because despite it being the obvious choice, it is still the obvious choice. Of course, who wouldn't love to do the event in a trick Tuthill 911 or stage prepped E30 M3, but both these cars carry much higher purchase and running costs. And right now in this post Covid / Brexit world, the difficulty of getting hold of spares is also a factor. There are also some other strong contenders such as the Chevette, Sunbeam or some sort of Opel, not to mention the more left field offerings from Lancia / Saab however the entrance lists from previous events is almost overwhelmingly Mk2 Escorts, and there is sense in sticking to what works.
Keeping it classy
Similar to historic circuit racing, the entrants are classed according to displacement and performance as well as period. Escorts are popular in several of the classes:
- The RS1600's sound appealingly simple with regulations around standard engine, axle, wheels and brakes all designed to contain investment in an overall package that is in balance.
- The Pinto powered class introduces slightly higher cost tech that would have been used in period equivalent of WRC, meaning that the cars are a more performant mix of power (200 to 220 BHP) and grip. The class is extremely popular and while the cars are well prepared and fast, the MSA regulations still limit to certain configurations so that you can be sure you’re operating on a reasonably level playing field.
- The open class is for those that cannot contain the temptation to go nuts with power (plus 260 BHP) and a chequebook, with more rubber, bigger brakes, expensive dampers etc. While this class is very popular it is possibly too fast and too expensive for a newbie.
In reality, as with all motorsport, you hope be in a car that is capable of front running in your class, even if you are not personally! This at least gives you a good baseline to measure your own performance, as in this sport, driver ability is a huge part of the overall pace. While no doubt there will be some upgrades and chassis tuning options that will help, the objective for me is to get what I can out of whatever I’m in.
As I learn more about this amazing sport, I'll document the experience, with the inevitable highs and lows. I willdo some deeper dives on finding a good car, learning rally technique, finding a co-driver(!) and event prep so look out for more GS Diary entries and hopefully some videos.
So now to search forthe perfect mk2 Pinto engine Escort, with historic papers and gold wheels (mandatory). In the meantime I will practice on the sim (DiRT 2.0) and watch Youtube footage of the greats to try and decipher some of the language.