Monday 31 May 2021

The Force & The Raptor

May the Force be with you ... and cometh the moment, cometh the Raptor. For those fortunate enough to be able to attend the weekend's Iain Pinkerton Memorial Sprint at Kames, it provided a physical and sensory experience. It also provided a very sociable - albeit socially distanced - experience where folk who hadn't seen each other for months could have a blether and a catch-up.

It also provided hope for the future that things could get back to normal one day, provided everyone is careful, respectful and personally responsible. And so it looked at the weekend, both the EACC stalwarts and SSCC organising team had gone to great lengths to put the event on the track. Paddocks and areas were taped off, one way system for the loos instigated and hand sanitiser stations set up all around the public areas.

All paperwork had been completed on line. Some folk struggled but managed whilst others thought it was easy. All depends on your state of computer competency I suppose but one chap only had a smartphone and although he coped with his entry and details, he did struggle to read the small print! A right footery palaver by all accounts.

Declarations had been submitted and although there was a Scroot on duty there were no physical checks of every car, just spot checks, as and when he saw fit. One competitor did voice the opinion that he would rather have pre event checks as his car is self prepared and he appreciates the eye of another experienced person cast over his work - just to be sure!

There was however, one drawback to this return after the long lay-off. It wasn't just the cars which had been gathering dust. The drivers were out of practice. Put it this way, Ian Gemmell in the recovery Land Rover was the busiest man on the day on Saturday with 18 call-outs, although he only had two on the Sunday!

Surprisingly the track wasn't green, there was plenty of grip. Perhaps that's what took folk by surprise. Saturday's runs were conducted clockwise and Sunday anti-clockwise. Saturday was tee-shirt weather, but dull at times, whilst Sunday was hot and sunny and the action on track both days was fierce and frenetic.

George Coghill Jnr in his Force PT set FTD on his final run of the day on Saturday, but by goad it wis close, awfy close. He was holding 2nd place behind Les Mutch as he approached the start of his final run. A storming drive over the 2.4 km layout did the business, but only just. He scored FTD by one hundredth of a second.

Sunday's final was equally gripping. Les Mutch had been lying third in class till the final competition run on Sunday to set FTD in the GWR Raptor. It was a sight to see with the sun glinting on the scarlet paintwork and chrome highlights as the Raptor rocketed around the 2.2 km track beating  Stuart Sugden sharing the same car by two tenths of a second. Magic, pure magic.

There was just one thing missing the whole weekend - the cafe was still closed. So no low calorie traybakes and no vegetarian pies!


Off and running

You'd have thought that the sport of sprinting was a tailor made for the youth of today. There are many who would claim that modern youth has the attention span of a goldfish. Depending on the choice of automotive device, one sprint timed run at the Kames Motorsport Complex can be dispatched in just over a minute, or anything up to 2 minutes. Ideal teenager territory you might think.

However, that theory can be dumped through the wastegate by another teenage phenomenon. The endurance of a game playing monster or alien hunter. Building empires or thieving grand autos while glued to a flickering fluorescent display in dimly lit bedrooms accompanied by a disembodied soundtrack demands tenacity of a whole different scale.

Perhaps sprinting can capture both those interests. Like hillclimbing, this sporting endeavour comes in short sharp bursts of intense concentration and demands precision driving. One missed gearchange or misjudged braking point and the run is ruined. That demands a different approach. A bit like the 100 metre sprinters at an athletics meet, it's all about mental and physical preparation before approaching the start line.

Unlike 'Dirt Rally' or 'Need for Speed', participants at a sprint motor racing venue are benefitting from fresh air and the chance to chat face to face with like minded individuals and share experiences and stories and near misses. You can't top that.

On that basis it was good to see some younger faces amongst the regulars at the weekend's two day Iain Pinkerton Memorial Sprint at Kames. Just not enough. It looked as though the majority of those taking part would never see 50 candles on their birthday cake ever again. And yet there were classes for folk in absolute bog standard road cars. All that was needed was a helmet and suit and a timing strut on the front bumper.

Despite the distancing measures the crack was good and there was an air of hopeful excitement. By goad, it wis guid to be back. Everybody was very respectful, and masks were worn when folk got too close. Of course it was different. There were only two people per car. No family members or groups of supportive friends, and no spectators.

On the organisational side of things, the same observation  could be made, not enough new blood being attracted. The sport is well aware of these shortcomings but the means to tackle it remain to be found. Given the enjoyment to be had over the past two days, we really do need to find a way of encouraging  folk to participate in the road car classes at autotests, sprints, hillclimbs, trials and navigational rallies. That is surely the first step. And there is the bonus that all of these sporting activities teach new life, and life saving, skills. British roads can be dangerous places these days.

You know what? Maybe some good will come out of this Covid business after all. No  handshakes, no hugs, and god forbid, no kissing on both cheeks. Whatever happened to good old British reserve?


Sunday 30 May 2021

An unexpected visitor

 There was an unexpected visitor yesterday when the organisers turned up at the sprint track.  A squatter had taken up residence in the trailer park. Unwilling to be moved, the area was fenced off to the detriment and consternation of would  be  parkers. And despite all the clattering and clanking from nearby trailer unloading, Mrs Oyster Catcher sat through the whole process in regal satisfaction and serenity. 

Saturday 29 May 2021

Out and about

 OK, it's not a rally, but it's better than sitting indoors. One car did make me feel at home  though, John Mackenzie's 1700cc X Flow Ford Cortina. It's an ex Historic circuit racer and he bought it in So Africa and brought it over here a year ago. And by goad it sounds crisp. Happy days, eh?


Rally boots

 It's Saturday morning. It's early, quiet and peaceful. The rally boots are on but there's not a rally car in sight. However, there is life out there,  somewhere.

Friday 28 May 2021

On Her Majesty's Safety Service

Earlier today, my big pal Jaggy was spotted out and about on Government duty no less. Apparently he was testing what the 'British Standards Association' are calling their 'Automatic Social Distancing Device'. The Theory is that no-one will approach within two metres, and possibly more depending on wind direction!

If the big chap's report is favourable and the device is effective then this may yet become another tool in the armoury to fight off Covid infections.

However it may pose a problem for the big chap this weekend as he will be attending a motor sports event somewhere in Scotland. The idea being to see how a journalist will cope with the restrictions when it comes to chatting to competitors. At the event in question, the competitors will be split into 'social bubbles' hence the problem - how does an 'outsider' get close enough?

Of course the event has an appointed Covid Officer so one can expect earnest discussions about what is, and is not, permitted. The organisers are keen to see how they can accommodate the needs of the Press/Media and the Press/media are keen to find out what can be allowed within the safety rules. Naturally the afore mentioned new ASDD will only be used in certain areas and a face mask in others.

Going by all the on-line 'paperwork' already issued ahead of the event, organisers are facing harrowing times. And not for the faint hearted. Competitors too will face additional tasks ahead of attendance and then observe new rules once on site.

Interesting times eh?

Which raises the question, what kind of reports are we likely to read in the Press next week after the first round of the British Rally Championship in Cheshire on Monday. The big chap originally had the idea of paying a visit as there are quite a few of our lot, many with new cars, going down for the first major rallying thrash of the season.

Of course the English rules are different from those up here, so it's better to find out what Scottish events are likely to be up to rather than venturing further afield as the sport looks set to get under starter's orders soon on home turf.

Anyway, I'll let you know how 'he' and I get on over the weekend. If you see a mushroom cloud on the horizon over the weekend then it'll either be the ASDD in operation, or  a sign of extreme frustration!

Monday 24 May 2021

Rally - Turbulent times

Whilst football and the Olympics generate headlines, rallying falls some way short. Perhaps that's because special stage rallying is one of the 'younger' sports. Although the sport has been around since the invention of the motor car, it was originally only for the rich and didn't really generate much wider public participation until the 1950s. Rallying then was about navigation, time schedules and driving tests and there was little needed in the way of car preparation other than ensuring reliability.

Come the 1960s and the sport started to move on to private roads. The big appeal was no Road Traffic Act compliance restrictions and no speed limits. Hence the attraction of the Forestry Commission's gravel roads. However, the use of such roads required more material changes to the car to withstand the rigours of the speed and pounding, but these were exciting, pioneering times.

It all got a bit more serious in the 1970s. As the sport progressed there was little appetite for protest and dispute, everyone just got on with enjoying it. It was also during this period that the World Rally Championship was created. Looking back, perhaps those were the best days?

However that popularity bred a more competitive strain of the sport with competitors wanting ever faster and stronger cars which all added to the expense of participation.

Come the 1980s and the increasing professionalism being shown by teams and competitors led to a rapid escalation of the technology and the money, and this of course filtered its way down through European, national and regional championships to clubman level.

The Scottish Rally Championship was no exception. Looking back on the 1980s there were indeed growing pains. Many of the youngsters today won't be experienced in the ways of rallying without Pace Notes or Route Notes, but 40 years ago there were serious problems.

Navigators back then used Ordnance Survey maps to plot the route with some of the more dedicated Co-drivers trying to 'read' the roads from the map while Drivers followed the direction arrows which were placed ahead of, and at, each junction in a forest.

Experienced crews were therefore able to mark these regularly used rally routes with additional notes on the map or in a notebook. Naturally some folk thought this was cheating. There ensued great controversy and long debate about the use of such 'marked maps' and additional 'notes'.

When the sport tried to ban the use of 'pace notes' it resulted in darkly serious but sometimes comic attempts to catch the culprits. We may laugh now but organisers had to place Officials at Stage Starts  who would check to see if crews were using additional unauthorised materials and this included car searches and sometimes body searches!

Of course, the more determined a crew the more ingenious they became at hiding their notes to the extent that organisers then had to place Officials near the end of stage finishes as navigators screwed up their secret notes and tossed them out of the window. If spotted by an Official these were retrieved and the car's number noted. Crazy when you think about it now.

Eventually, with no adequate means of control the practice became an accepted and regulated procedure.

There was another great debate in the same era. Audi tossed a match into the petrol puddle of controversy with the arrival of four wheel drive and turbochargers. This caused howls of protest and generated great unrest amongst the ranks of clubmen, but progress is progress. Hard to believe now but at 'club' level many event organisers placed handicaps on these four wheel drive Group B, Bogey bashing monsters, ranging from 2 to 4 seconds per stage mile.

Aye them were't days richt enough, eh?

I was reminded of all this as I'm now almost half way through the 1980-1989 book. The trouble is, just when I think I've completed a chapter I come across another fact or story and have to go back for a re-write or edit.

The biggest problem now is determining the tone of the narrative. Originally this was supposed to be simply a work of reference and factual history, but there's more to the sport than that. That's why a growing number of personal and individual stories are creeping into the books. It has become more of an exercise in what to leave out than include.

It is said that Police officers and journalists never throw out their notebooks. Prior to lockdown and the sport's cessation I used anything from 20 to 30 spiral bound reporter's notebooks per year - multiply that by 40 and you have a glimpse inside my loft!