John Dalton’s Rally 1998

written by John Dalton (Car 24 – A White Escort RS2000), who competed in the 1998 Event and sent in by his navigator, Chris Baron, with the comment that it wasn't as good as his own un-written diatribe!

Preparations

After returning from my holiday in the USA, I had just one day on the Sunday for final preparations on 700 TU for Mull. The main concern was sorting out the brakes – I needed to fit the new servo that I had eventually obtained and basically try to get the brakes to stop the car properly. Mike Duff had agreed to help me but turned up 4 hours later than expected with a huge hangover, and I was somewhat jetlagged, so I did not do as much as planned. And the brakes still did not work particularly well and were rather spongey when I took Mike out for his first ever spin in the car afterwards.

I went to work Monday and Tuesday (for a rest) and drove up to Mull on Wednesday in very pleasant weather. Because I had a knackered shocker bush, this was the first time in 10 years of towing that I had not got the self levelling towing shocks fitted on the Maestro. With standard springs on my Golf Bilsteins, the ride height was higher than the norm, but with the trailer and full boot the car was on the bumpstops almost all the time – never again! After arriving. I discovered a trailer mudguard bracket had broken, dropped onto the front wheel, and virtually destroyed one of the good front tyres.

Spent Thursday working on the car, still trying to get the brakes and new servo to work, and to fit new track control arms to stop it pulling – so no recceing on what was a gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky. I had thought of pulling the pedal box out again, but first decided to swap over the front and rear brake pipes at the junction on the bulkhead – thereby swapping over the master cylinders and the brake bias. This transformed the brakes (maybe the servo had not been needed after all!) – a firm pedal that actually stopped the car, although it was still pulling to the left and there was a lot of vibration. Indeed at times it seemed like the brakes might be binding and sticking on.

Had a pleasant meal that evening at the Western Isles, where we tried to guess where the waitress came from. It transpired that she was from Germany, close to the French border (Saarland). She certainly did not sound German to me, and I talk to Germans, sorry Bavarians, virtually every day. At this point in time we did not know that the hotel is now owned by a German family!

Scrutineering

Awoke on Friday morning to torrential rain. I had arranged to go down to scrutineering early to get my Rally Car Log Book sorted, but when I arrived the first cars were already being checked over having been in and out of noise ahead of schedule. I got my car scrutineered, and it was agreed that this would be OK for the rally too, thus `killing two birds with one stone' which meant that I could leave putting on the numbers until it had stopped raining.

My service crew (the aforementioned Mike Duff and Richard Collar – the Glaswegian rally enthusiast in the office) finally arrived at 2.00pm, complaining that they had great difficulty getting the parts I had asked for – apparently it is impossible to get a wiper blade for a Mk2 Escort these days. Fortunately the larger blade fitted OK. Checking out the brakes confirmed they were indeed binding on and a kinked servo hose was thought to be the culprit. (Mike claims to have thought of this first, but my view is that great minds think alike!) We modified the routing of the pipe and it seemed to do the trick – fingers crossed with less than an hour to go before the start, but it was now too late for me to get some tea.

Friday Night

The brakes seemed to be working fine, with a firm pedal and good stopping power even though it was still pulling to the left, but on the first stage I found that they were working too well, locking up and pulling over violently even on the drier bits. It was quite wet and slippery up around Dervaig and I was all over the place at quite low speeds, and must have looked completely incompetent to the massed ranks of spectators. I kept the car on the road (just) and let the flying Gp N Astra of former Mini man Daniel Harper pass before we went up the Hill Road – normally I catch people on this stage, not the other way round! (OK so maybe driving an auto for 5800 miles on straight roads just prior to the rally was not the best practice for Mull). Anyway I altered the bias bar after the stage – it seemed to have been wound up all the way to the front, although I had originally thought otherwise. I was also unhappy with the clutch – it was failing to disengage cleanly leaving stage starts – and the car felt very bouncy on landings – not at all composed on Gribun. Chris had been feeling sick, for the first time on Mull that I can recall, and had a bit of trouble calling the notes at times, so basically nothing was going right. This was possibly because he had decided to wear a balaclava to aid the process of putting the helmet on. Although the brakes had become much better, it meant that we were still down around 40th, rather than a hoped for top 10, at 1st petrol.

It had not rained for the whole of the first leg, but as soon as we arrived at Craignure the heavens opened. Mike and Richard changed the rear shocks and the front tyres, and we eventually managed to adjust the clutch cable setting. This was done in foul weather and with very little light (gradually we found more torches!), so thanks are in order, especially to Mike who got soaked (because he did not want to get his new waterproofs dirty – or was it wet?!!)

The second leg went better (must have been the bacon butties inside me), apart from Chris still feeling ill and me experiencing more and more difficulties selecting gears. Initially I thought it might have been due to the clutch adjustment, but it was getting worse, and as we arrived at second petrol the lever stopped selecting anything at all. A quick look in Service showed that the gear lever bolts had come adrift and this had allowed the rod to damage the plastic bush on the selector – but it was re-secured and it seemed far better than it had at the start. So on the third leg, I was finally able to motor along a little better, and by the end of the night we had moved up to about 30th.

Saturday Afternoon

It emerged that of the three cars at our house we were the only ones left in the rally. First timers in the Sunbeam had blown the engine, while Brian (who we stay with) had put his Astra off and just got stuck in the mud. A check over our car showed that the Panhard rod had started to drop down, and as the pinch bolt thread was knackered Mike decided to replace it. Otherwise things looked OK for an afternoon of stages on another pleasant sunny day. The first loop went fine, but on arriving in Tobe for just 10 minutes service it was discovered that the new pinch bolt on the Panhard rod tower was worse than before, so we drove off with no time to fix it. We had a long runout, and when I checked it found the rod virtually on the floor. I had taken the lump hammer, so managed to force it in place and then strapped it up with some rope and bungies I just happened to have on the boot. It held fine until we fixed it later!

Saturday Night

Now up to 24th we were looking forward to the night leg, at least until it started raining heavily again. Chris had thrown caution to the wind on the stomach front, eating a huge meal with a pint of lager before the start – must have been first night nerves before. The start at Salen seemed more chaotic than usual – we did not have a start list and the organisers had moved certain cars around. After waiting at the holding control and then the main control, the engine had started to overheat as it has no fan. It's not normally a problem, but on this occasion it decided to boil over big time on the start ramp – with all the steam I thought the fibre glass bonnet might melt! No doubt it entertained the crowds, and we drove round the corner to the filling station where I was going to top up (with petrol) anyway. Unfortunately in checking the state of the radiator I managed to lose most of the water, so it took longer to cool down than I wished, but after about 15 minutes we were on our way with a cool engine full of water. It should have been possible to catch back most of the time if it had not been for fellow competitors who would not move over – in particular car 93 who baulked us for several miles on the way to Torloisk. We got underway just a few cars back and with no lateness penalty for what now seemed like a steady trouble free run. It had stopped raining too which helped. I even had the luxury of wandering around service chatting to people, though not to Neil Mackinnon – we had already stopped to talk to the 9 times winner between Gribun and Schridain – he had parked the car in a ditch after driving without lights – seems he managed Gribun OK so he can obviously drive the stages blindfold – unfortunately not the bits in between! My service crew did express concerns about a loose/knackered rose joint between one of the 4-links and the axle, but I did not think it was a problem.

Afterwards

In the end I was happy with 17th overall after the problems of the first night (locking/pulling brakes, sticking clutch, loose gear selector, bouncy rear suspension). We gradually moved up the order: 40th at 1st petrol, 30th at the end of the night, 24th at the end of the day and 17th at the finish – it’s just not long enough for me to get on the calendar these days! At least we did not puncture at the start of the long one on the last night – it affected at least 6 crews in front of us, 3 of whom got double punctures, all on the same rock on the inside of the first left hander just 200 metres into the 24 miler, and this helped to elevate us in the final positions. Former Rover colleague Brian Cameron finished close behind us, and was pleased with his best ever result (in a hired Peugeot 205 rather than a Rover), especially as he beat us on the final stage. Other friends Steve & Alistair had hired a state of the art Subaru Impreza for £4500 and had an electrical problem which forced them to retire as they drove over the start ramp. After 5 hours the service crew found a broken wire behind the dash and they had won both sections of the Trophy Rally, but Chris pointed out that we had actually been quicker than them on the Saturday night leg….

So no calendar position, but Chris reckoned we would have been about 13th or 14th without the first night problems and I would have been just as upset about missing out as I was last year.

No Bob and Gordon servicing this year. Bob is virtually impossible to contact now he has left home and is staying with some young woman. Gordon was offered a drive in a race at Knockhill that weekend. So it was Mike (who had helped me reshell the car) and Richard (the Glaswegian in the office) who were the mechanics.

There was an exhibition on the rally in the Art Gallery in Tobermory. It also featured a display of a Hillman Imp with some info about this Scottish car. I found out that there is a very good web-site you might like to look up. There was an Imp in the rally on which they had wanted to advertise the exhibition. For some reason the driver did not seem too keen – maybe it was because the exhibition was titled `Impotent'. Apparently the Imp crashed only 5 corners and less than half a mile from the end of the rally – completely deranging the rear end. I do not know whether they lifted it to the finish.

The Prizegiving

We went to the prizegiving as usual on the Sunday evening. Neil Molyneux now seems to be getting the hang of taking over from dad – his introduction took about 40 minutes, thereby guaranteeing we would be late for our dinner! Of note was Ian Grindrod's announcement of the `Shades' award, a memorial to a former competitor who lost his life in a road accident after the last event. `Shades' ashes had been scattered on the island because he loved the rally/island so much. – maybe this is where I will end up one day, preferably under a tree planted on the outside of that 90 left just after the start of Mishnish Lochs… And there was a victory speech with a difference from the young Calum Duffy – he had written a poem to sum up his feelings, and very good it was too.

The long prizegiving delayed the Fireworks display, but we had to be off to get our dinner at the new Highland Cottage establishment on Bredalbane St. This place had been entirely rebuilt by a couple from Windsor, and opened for the first time for B&B and meals earlier this year. It had a comfortable, homely atmosphere, provided good food and I am sure we will be back.

The Journey Home

The journey back was not quite as intended. For some reason I got it into my head that the ferry was 9.00, not 8.00, and had not been able to check the paperwork which I had packed away on the Sunday. When I did check it was 7.40 and we were in Tobermory about 30 miles from the boat. At 8.05 we arrived in Craignure, with cars still boarding! – the Subaru Impreza driver who had passed us came over to congratulate me on the way I had been driving with the trailer (at 80mph) and he shook me by the hand. Obviously I had been taking advantage of the fact that Mike and Richard, who left on Sunday lunchtime, had taken lots of gear to lighten the load on the Maestro's suspension, but it was still bottoming badly. Unfortunately they had fixed the boarding plan and would not let us on, and as we could not be guaranteed a place on the 11.00, we decided to go to the Fishnish-Lochaline ferry instead. Incidentally, reports on the News that day said that CalMac were clamping down on farmers taking advantage of a special fare when carrying sheep – next year I will have to borrow one from Chennells….

The detour only cost us about 2 hours, but we still got through Brum with no hold-ups which was my main concern. However, the road to my estate was blocked, and we had a bit of hassle from the Police. I was told later that a van driver delivering the local paper had hit a cyclist that afternoon – he had been thrown from the van and the cyclist had been killed. I think I will stick to rallying rather than entertain the notion of getting fit on a bike….

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