Saturday 31 December 2022

Rally - Big Al

The year has ended on a sour note with the news that Alan Marsh from Kilmarnock, better known as Big Al, has passed away. He was a big chap but an even bigger character and Ayrshire will be very much the quieter for his passing.

He was as well known in rallying, and the wider motorsport community, as some of the top drivers and yet he wasn’t a competitor himself. He was a fan and fervent supporter and just appeared at events in spectator areas or service parks. His arrival was heard long before it was seen and he chatted to everybody like long lost pals whether he knew them or not.

Long before ‘selfies’ were ‘a thing’, Big Al was a regular on the red carpet at film and theatre premieres and big sporting occasions meeting and being photographed with stars of stage and sporting arena. No one was safe from his approach, not even Donald Trump.

During a glittering ‘career’ of collecting he met well over 2,100 celebrities and household names including Billy Connolly, Vic Reeves, Al Pacino, Richard Gere, Brian May, all of the McRae family, Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard, Lewis Hamilton and even Denise Van Outen plus hundreds more.

His early career was in the motor trade although he worked latterly as a film and TV extra. He also made wee films for his YouTube channel which had something of a cult following, so his fame, or rather, notoriety was widespread.

The most obvious trait of Big Al’s character was the fact that the word ‘No’ was not recognised in his vocabulary or his brain. If anyone said ‘No’ to him it was not taken as an insult, it was a challenge. That is, if he heard the word at all. No matter how many times the word was uttered in a conversation the big chap carried on unabashed till his victims succumbed through sheer exasperation.

One such encounter took place in Kilmarnock a couple of months back when Jaggy Bunnet walked into Moorfield Garage Services where Big Al was Head Receptionist, Gatekeeper and Mascot.

Big Al’s opening gambit was: “That’s great we’ll just make a wee film.”

JB: “Naw”

Big Al: Whit ah want ye tae dae is jist walk roon the corner into the office and say a few words.”

JB: “Naw”

Big Al: “A few comments in your own words about the pictures on the wall.”

JB: “Naw.”

Big Al then proceeded on a walkthrough of the part: “Jist like this.”

JB: “Naw”

Big Al: “Right don’t start till I shout ‘Action’ then walk in just natural.”

JB: “Naw”.

Big Al: “Then we’ll do a wee interview”………

And so on, and on. The end result is on his YouTube channel !!

Whit a man, whit a character.

Saturday 24 December 2022

Season’s Greetings

All is dark and quiet within the eerie confines of Castle Bunnet at present as the incumbent, one J Bunnet Esq, is away from home on ‘family’ business.

He packed his bags and sporran to head north on the Christmas train with a hamper of sustaining porridge sandwiches. This is an annual trip at this time of year as he visits his close relatives in Lapland. As the wrongly, and quite unfairly, alleged Black Sheep of the family he has to travel incognito. However, such is the power of his unique skillset, he is obliged to help out the other ‘good’ members of the family who emigrated to the far and frozen north many years back during ‘the Highland Clearances’.

Back then the family had taken up the offer of employment with an elderly bearded gentleman who favours bright clothes and a red toorie bunnet. He was having trouble with his reindeer herd which is where the Bunnet clan has proved most helpful and capable, especially Jaggy himself. His inherent and uncanny abilities as a fully certified and work experienced Haggis Herdsman qualifies him as one of the very few people in the world today who can master an unruly sleigh pulling team of reindeer.

As these animals only get hitched to the sack carrying transport once a year they can prove quite obstinate and unruly. It therefore takes particular skills and the expression of ancient celtic sweary words to provide the necessary motivation. On the other hand, the somewhat worrying aroma of venison stew wafted under their nostrils can provide additional encouragement to persuade these proud and regal beasts to return to harness and team work.

As most of us will ken, shepherding a flock of wild haggis is akin to fechtin’ a horned and angry Highland bull with a feather duster, so getting the reindeer hitched up to work and pull together is a doddle after that.

So in his absence and on his behalf may I wish all those who read this regular source of drivel a Merry Christmas and a very safe, successful and guid New Year to all of you and your families. 


Wednesday 21 December 2022

Rally - MSUK Job Vancies

Looks like there’s some serious work to be done at motorsports HQ. MSUK is advertising for a ‘Head of Rallies & Cross Country’ to join their 70 strong personnel team based in Bicester. Here’s hoping they get someone who is up to the task, for by heck they need someone who is up for the huge challenges that lie ahead.

Rallying is facing some serious threats and whoever takes on the job will first of all have to ensure the sport does have a future while seeking to attract new competitors as well as volunteer event organisers and Marshals.

The sport has many critics on the outside who would cheerfully see it banned for all sorts of reasons, not least wanting the forests to remain car-free. The tree huggers would have us banned in an instant along with the bird watchers, hikers, walkers, nature lovers and of course the cyclists. The trouble is they all have a more powerful ‘anti’ lobby than our own ‘pro-motorsport’ governing body.

It’s the same with closed road rallies. Apart from those who want to ban cars and all other combustion engined motor vehicles altogether, there are those who tolerate and use such vehicles for their own personal domestic and business use but would still like to see cars banned for sporting purposes.

The trouble is they have a sound argument because there is no doubt that vehicle emissions are a big bone of contention these days.

That’s why the rush is on to find alternative methods of propulsion from synthetic fuels to hydrogen and of course electricity which various governments are keen to foist upon us even though there are problems with current battery capacity and the charging of such vehicles.

This will be no job for the faint hearted and whoever takes it on will have to hope that the MSUK hierarchy will back them to the hilt. There is a fear that rallying could be sacrificed to save the motor racers. They have a stronger case with enclosed circuits and fenced off spectator areas whereas rallying is nomadic by nature.

The job spec is here and the closing date for applications is 9th January 2023, so there isn’t much time to compile a CV and apply:

Having seen the salary on offer, my wee brain lit up like a pair of Super Oscars - but that would be just silly - wouldn't it?

MSUK are also looking for a Sporting Assistant (Rally & Cross Country) with the same closing date as above, job spec here:

By the same token, MSUK are also on the hunt for a 'Head of Communications & Public Affairs' as well as a 'Communications & Public Relations Assistant'. Having dealt with some previous incumbents of these positions in the distant past I sincerely hope they get the right calibre of applicant this time and not just someone who's there for the blazer and the money.


Sunday 18 December 2022

Rally - Navigator or Co-driver?

Long, long ago when leather helmets were regarded as sufficient protection in a car accident, the co-driver was just that - a spare driver who helped out the 'star' name in the driving seat. Often a riding mechanic, his or her job was to fix the car when it broke or change a wheel when a tyre punctured whilst also providing some relief driving when the poor soul in the hot seat was knackered - no power steering, hydraulic brakes or clutches.

As sporting trials grew in length and complexity a degree of navigational ability was also required but this was well before OS maps and Tulip diagrams. All the crew had to go on were road signs and mile posts.

Although OS maps have been around since the early 1800s it wasn't till the early 1900s that road maps became popular, and necessary, as motoring as a means of personal transport gained wider public popularity. That also led to motor racing becoming more confined to purpose built race circuits for safety reasons, with rallying emerging as a separate sport, although it too evolved separately into a speed sport which used private land for timed 'special stages' and road rallying which relied less on driving skill and more on the sharp and analytical mind (in some cases!) of a navigator.

The post-war availability of 'one inch to one mile' OS maps in the later 1940s created new opportunities within the sport. That was followed and improved upon by the 'invention' of Tulip diagrams and Roadbooks in the early1950s which changed the sport dramatically, especially stage rallying, although navigational skills were still required.

In those early days there was all sorts of skullduggery going on. Some navigators would purloin Forestry Commission maps so that they could 'read' the road to their drivers whilst others tried to read the read the road from those sections of forest which had been 'mapped' by the OS teams - but perhaps not to the same degree of accuracy as public roads!

At a Jim Clark Rally in the mid 1970s I 'happened' to notice a few of the front running crews using six inch to the mile military maps to read the roads through Otterburn! There were also tales of co-drivers taking (or borrowing) their 'dogs for a walk' through various forests right across the UK and marking up their own maps ahead of local and national events right up to the Lombard RAC Rally.

That reached the stage whereby a professional navigator for a 'works' team would be dispatched ahead of a major event to walk the various routes through all the forests which were to be used and mark up a set of maps accordingly. When the organisers of the event published the route, these co-drivers would transfer as much information as possible to sets of maps which were then carried by the works teams.

That opened up a whole new world of Route Notes and Pace Notes. However that all took time, but even as late as the mid 70s, rally paperwork was still pretty basic. A personal example was the 1976 Allerdale Derwent Stages Rally in Cumbria where crews were handed a single sheet of foolscap paper. On it were listed a series of OS map references and times. That was it. Stage Starts and Finishes were highlighted whilst navigators had to direct their driver from one stage finish to the next stage start by following a series of map references and all within the allotted time schedule.

Anyway, the pics show some typical info - from the 1982 Mogil Motors Stages Rally. Follow that - if you can.



Friday 16 December 2022

Rally - Changing times

I wonder if this would be tolerated nowadays. Back when society was tolerant, rallying was fun and the banter was boisterous. At the same time, four wheel drive was for Land Rovers, petrol was £1.32 a GALLON (!) and Weston's Wagon Wheels were too big to be held in just one hand. In this happy place Dunfermline Car Club secured the support of a most unlikely sponsor for their counter in the 1980 Esso Scottish Rally Championship.

One does wonder however if such 'questionable' humour would be acceptable in these days of political correctness, public enlightenment and fair play for all, as the smutless 'Tut Tut' brigade looked on with furrowed brow and pursed lips.

Amongst the 15 special stages on offer that day were Blairvaich, Leanach, Renagour, High Corrie, Garadhban, Craigievern, Kirk o'Muir, Blairadam, Glendevon, Pitmedden and Weddersbie Hill as well a s two lap sprint round Knockhill. Apart from Knockhill, now almost exclusively the preserve of dog-walkers, bird watcher and tree huggers. Sad times, eh?



Thursday 8 December 2022

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Road - New kid on the grid

It maybe looks awfy familiar, but it is entirely different. A fully electric and functional off-roader. Designed and built by Munro Vehicles in East Kilbride, the Munro Mk1 has big ambitions and claims to be the world’s most capable all-electric 4x4, born off-road to tackle the most challenging terrain and operating for up to 16 hours on a single battery charge.

Priced from £49,995 (excluding VAT) in five-door, five-seat, 130-inch wheelbase this new Utility vehicle has a one tonne payload and three and half tonne towing capacity.

Munro Vehicles already has received deposits for several Munro Mk1s that it will hand-build next year. The new company also has big plans for volume production in 2024 with a new purpose built factory planned where production can be scaled up to 250 vehicles per year. Orders have come from locations across the globe including the UK, Switzerland, St Lucia, and Dubai. Several pre-sale agreements have been reached with fleet operators in key industries.

Munro will therefore be the first automotive manufacturer to build cars at scale in Scotland since Peugeot-Talbot closed its Linwood plant in 1981, which the Rootes Group established in 1963.

The Munro is offered with a choice of two electric motors, 220kW and 280kW, along with the option of two battery packs, 61kWh and 82kWh, affording an optimum range of up 190 miles. This will allow the Munro to operate off-road for up to 16 hours on a single battery charge.

An axial flux electric motor was chosen as opposed to the more common radial flux unit. The lighter weight and compact nature of this motor enables it be sited between the two front seats resulting in a 50/50 weight distribution.

In addition, while most electric motors spin up to 15,000 rpm and thus require a reduction drive, the Munro’s axial motor spins between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. This relatively low rotational rate negates the need for a reduction drive, and the additional weight and complexity it brings, by enabling drive to be taken directly to the transmission transfer case from the motor.  With a two-speed transmission, the motor can work in its 'happy place', where it performs with a much greater level of efficiency than a radial flux motor at low speed.

Every Munro is geared for torque, with a top speed of 80 mph, and the 280kW Performance version can surge to 62 mph in 4.9 seconds. However, the focus of the vehicle is firmly on utility, workability, and superior off-road drivability. Peak torque of 700Nm is available up to 50 mph, which ensures excellent response off-road.

The individually experienced and qualified team members behind the new vehicle have been working on the concept for a long time and founded the company in 2019. A number of 'founder' vehicles have been built and undergone trials and have already been shown to the trade and interested parties.

As for the design? It's plain and practical, but it does somehow remind me of something else. I just can't think what it might be, eh?