Rally Report - MSA Classic Motorsports- April 1st and 2nd, 2000
Photographs - click the link to see the photos taken at the Rally.
We nearly didn't make it to the start. With just a couple of weeks to go, the list of work to be done on Steve's 1971 Mini Cooper S was seemingly endless. Having rather rashly offered to help, I then spent ages in the pit in his garage trying to assist with removal of the exhaust in order to get the engine out in order to replace the clutch release bearing.
Of course once the engine was out, there were all sorts of things we could do, given that opportunity. So the next few days were spent cleaning and de-greasing parts for painting, including the engine itself, painting the new exhaust manifold with high temperature paint and so on. The clutch master cylinder was then dismantled, only to find that the seal kits had changed design and nobody seemed to have the right type in stock. A weekend was spent racing around Lockheed stockists for parts, as well as making new brake pipes to improve the fit, and replacing the brake master cylinder. Assorted new hoses, including nice braided hoses for the oil cooler went on, and we finally managed to get the engine back in, only to find the new exhaust manifold was a slightly different shape and fouled the universal joints. Doh!! A bit of brute force and ignorance sorted that problem :-)
Then, off for a last minute MOT, and we were ready to rumble - or so we thought. I then discovered the O/S map for the first stage was so out of date that the M42 wasn't even built when it was drawn up, hence I couldn't find whole sections of the route. A panic session of phone calls located Sheet 129 in Smith's at the Fort Shopping Centre, and I made a quick dash down there, plotted the route, and fell exhausted into a deep sleep.
Pre-Rally Day 0 - The Party
Sarah's friend Jo was having a massive divorce party at Donington Park Farm Hotel the night before the rally, so we planned to stay overnight and attend the party. We got stuck in traffic thanks to an accident on the A42 outside Ashby, and my navigation skills were called into demand earlier than planned to get us out and round the blockage, and we took in part of the route for the following day, arriving at the hotel and parking next to a nice Jag.
The party was excellent. We parked next to Rich Browning's Lotus Elise and spent ages looking at both cars, before tucking in to some well deserved beer and food, and enjoying a bop to the excellent punk band employed for the occasion. Adamanda eventually turned up and we talked bikes with assorted Ixies and Quick Quacks until it was time to leave and get beauty sleep for the morning.
Day 1 - Donington - Mallory - Curborough - Donington
I was extremely nervous, this being my first event. I'd plotted all the routes until I was seeing bits of O/S map in my sleep, but that didn't entirely reassure me! This was not helped by missing one of the first turnings on the route, but at least we recognised it quickly, weren't the only ones, and caught up very fast. The weather was awful, the roads greasy and the Mini leaking, but I started to have fun and get more confidence calling the bends.
We arrived at Mallory to find Steve's friend Laurent, his wife Mary and daughter Catherine waiting for us. Just as we were about to go on track, a Sunbeam Tiger went into the barrier, so we had a bit of a wait. When we finally made it, the Mini was in its element, embarrassing Lotus's and Jags, and even a Porsche Carrera with roll cage and a whole rack of lights, overtaking some on the outside. Best lap time around 1.14 (no chicane) was pretty good!
We then headed off to Curborough, and soon made another mistake. I knew we needed to turn left off the A447, but when we spotted a Ferrari taking a left, I thought it was the next one we needed, but didn't have the confidence to say he was wrong. He WAS wrong, but I plotted a route back on track quickly, and next time I had more confidence when somebody went wrong in front of us.
Curborough looked like rather a small and insignificant course, but the wet surface made it very interesting. As we pulled in Steve's parents, and brothers David and Peter were waiting for us, cheering us on. We had to wait rather a long time for a first run, and almost went grass tracking at one point. The second run was better, around 46 seconds, 2 seconds better than before, and we left satisfied.
Still drizzling, we headed back to Donington, where the race meeting hadn't finished, so we had to sit in a car park for ages next to various Lotus's, Porsche's and Ferraris, for our go on the track. There was rather a long queue to get on track, and we didn't get much track time before it was red flagged thanks to an Austin Healey pointing the wrong way at us having spun at Craner Curves, and an orange MGB sitting in a gravel trap. It was back to the hotel for a quick shower and change prior to the dinner.
As we left the hotel, a big American Corvette Stingray was smoking gently to itself in the car park, causing a lot of attention and panic, but no serious fire. I had to discover how to get into the bucket seats wearing a short skirt without giving the whole World a view of my underwear, but didn't manage very well! We were bussed from the secure car park at Donington to the dinner, which was great fun. Steve chatted up the waitress and got two portions of everything, and three puddings! A few people recognised us as "ah...you're in the Mini!". A few were secretly embarrassed, I think, at having been overtaken on the road and track by our little Mini, and were asking what engine we had in the thing!
Day 2 - Donington - MIRA - Avon Park - Prescott Hill Climb - Silverstone
More nerves as the bus was late picking us up, the rain came down hard and heavy, and I was worried about plotting a new route for Silverstone on the map in time for us to start. No worries in the end, everybody was late!
This time I didn't send us down the wrong road, and we headed off for MIRA and the amazing banked high speed track. It was a bit confusing finding our way round inside the MIRA complex, but the high speed track was spooky, sitting at 90 degrees to the ground! Then on to the handling track, and off on our way to Avon Park, after a long queue for the single toilet.
I wasn't really looking forward to the drag strip, and the Mini isn't an ideal drag car, but the damp conditions meant the Mini did quite well, with more powerful cars doing a lot of wheel spin and not much moving forward. We had four runs, almost topping 80mph on the last one and about 18 seconds for the standing quarter, as the rain finally stopped, the sun came out, and the drag strip started to dry.
The trip to Prescott took us through lovely countryside, and Prescott was a lovely venue. We had one run up the hill climb, and had been asked not to go for it because of the neighbours, and to cut the engine on the way down. We did as we were told, turning in a slow time, and cutting the engine on the way down, only for it to fail to start again when we got to the car park. Thinking it was just over-hot, I dashed off to find a loo and we went for a bacon butty for lunch in the canteen. When we tried to start again, there was no life at all, and worse still, no spark either. And there was oil leaking out of the coil onto the engine. Oh dear. The RAC man had a spare coil, and fitting it made a bit of difference, but then we realised that it wasn't the high energy coil needed for electronic ignition, so we had to replace it again. All the while, time was ticking, and when the other broken down Frog-Eyed Sprite left, we were the last to leave, with not much time for the long run to Silverstone to make the 5.30pm checkpoint close!
The marshal suggested a faster route, and I quickly plotted it on the O/S maps, including some tricky sections through the local villages to get us onto the main roads, but it worked, and we pulled into Silverstone shortly after 5pm, with time for 10 laps of the track and some rather good lap times too. The National Circuit was short, but fun, and suited the Mini more than a longer faster circuit. We were almost the last to leave, to the local Golf and Country Club for a very nice meal (yes, you've guessed it, Steve had seconds, and extra pudding!), a finisher's medal, and a trip back to Tamworth and home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first rally, and got much more confident with directions, road books, and calling the bends and overtaking opportunities and noticing things like contours on the map and such like. Steve is an excellent driver and really makes the most of the little car, and I think the Mini enjoyed itself too, once the coil was replaced. I can't wait for the next event!
Classic events are fun, they are friendly and it is great to see those great old sports cars being used for what they were designed - going fast and handling well. Many are not outclassed by modern machinery, and they have loads of character. Roll on next year!