It was the first time for a while that all five Romeos were to all be competing in class and it was to be R5’s maiden event since her extensive rebuild, with the new pairing of Sgt Wayne Thompson driving and Cpl Matt Duncan in the co-drivers seat as a crew. They weren’t the only crew making their debut together, LAC Barry Connolly was driving R1 with SAC Matt Gudgeon co-driving representing the RAF. Barry was transferring from the co-drivers seat of R1 where he had sat in the 2018 season before driving for Trackrod where he had finished 2nd and the crew of R3 were looking to build on their successful start at Bovington Stages
The journey to Carlisle wasn’t without it’s challenges with R5’s trailer suffering a blow out early on and traffic not in the Teams favour, so arrival at Carlisle was later than planned and required a quick turnaround in order to make the window for scrutineering at Rally HQ. Matt D made a rookie error and realised on route that he had forgotten to pick up his licence, so had to make an about turn and collect that – a mistake he definitely won’t be repeating! After inspection all five Romeos passed scrutineering and they returned to camp for team briefs, after which everyone got their heads down and got as much sleep as nerves would allow.
Saturday morning saw a nice early depart back to Rally HQ for some breakfast before heading to the Pirelli factory for the start. There was a huge amount of team pride in seeing the 5 Romeos lined up ready to go, and a lot of the other competitors and support crews took the time to come and see the teams and comment on how nice it was to see them all there together.
From there it was a 30 mile drive to stage 1 which gave the new co-drivers a chance to get to grips with the road book and for one the trip meter, the other trying to convert miles into kilometres whilst reading the road book with his very supportive driver enjoying a chuckle at his expense. Nonetheless R5 made it to the start line with only one wrong turn and all 5 Romeos presented in good time.
At this point the nerves were building for new crews and those who had been in this position before and all of them had the Team Managers pre-event speech ringing in their ears with the famous “Killer Kielder” speech warning them about how unforgiving the tracks were due to the camber and the wet weather hadn’t made things any easier.
The start of stage 1 saw the reality of the conditions hit home for the crews. Barry found that his gravel experience on Trackrod was useless to him as R1 was reacting unusually, Matt G lost his way in the pace notes a few times but did extremely well to recover (not an easy task for a navigator) and Barry was oversteering the Romeo way too much on the way into the corners. R3 had a reasonable start, not pushing too hard whilst they got used to the conditions and finding their limit. R4 got off to a good start managing to get a 9 second lead on the other crews, but this was to prove to be the best stage of the day for them. All started well for R5 until about 3 miles into the stage when the engine cut out. Fortunately it was a relatively simple fix of a bad connection to the fuel cut off solenoid which only cost them about 3 minutes, but saw R2 and R3 sail past them. This resulted in them pushing hard for the rest of the stage to make up time and testing Matt D’s communication skills to the limit as he learnt how to deliver real time pace notes under extreme pressure.
Stage 2 was a much longer stage and the running order was coming into play with the vehicles in the other classes having a lot of mishaps in the challenging conditions and making it hard for the drivers to keep the Romeos in the centre of the track. R5 lost their intercom during this stage and had to resort to shouting the pace notes to try and complete the stage in the best time possible, however this resulted in a drop off of from the pace and Matt D’s voice had an unexpected workout. At the end of this stage it was into the service bays and some service crew magic restored the comms, much to the relief of the crew.
Stage 3 saw all of the crews have a regroup and the competitive spirit was coming to the fore. Barry felt that tightening up a bit more as a crew and a change of driving style in some areas would enable them to squeeze more speed out of R1. Stage 3 would prove to be one of their best due to being more committed in the fast and medium speed corners and an adjustment to the braking methods rewarded them with their first stage win of the event. R3 found that some of the lines taken by BRC vehicles earlier on made for some interesting moments, however Tyrone did a good job of keeping the vehicle on stage and Fred had gotten into a good flow with the pace notes. R5 came into stage 3 fighting and they traded times with the rest of the team and found a nice rhythm as a crew and feeling really good at the end.
R1 had a nice run thro stage 4, despite being held up by another car and Barry messing up on a hairpin they won another stage meaning they went into the second service leading the class with a slim 14 second lead so the pressure was now on. R3’s stage 4 couldn’t have been more of a contrast. Disaster struck about halfway through the stage when the gearbox selector became detached leaving them stuck in 2nd gear for the remainder of the stage and all the way back into service. Again the service crew did a fantastic job and managed a partial repair taking them up to 4 forward gears, although no reverse – they were sent away with Head Mechanic LCpl Wood advising them that they’d best not get themselves stuck anywhere they’d need to back out of, especially as there were no Romeos behind them to tug them out if they needed it! R5 carried the confidence they’d gained from stage 4 and once again they were trading times until they came into a 4 left downhill, lost intercom again and had a small mishap and came off of the right of the embankment (Tree 0: R5 1). After a quick flail trying to reach for low range they managed to finish the stage and get back into service. Once again Gari had managed to repair their intercom which was fitted by the crew during the regroup and Matt’s voice was able to rest again.
Stage 5 was a second run of The Forks, the longest stage of the event at 15 miles. This saw R1 really going for it and they caught and passed R4 making 1 minute 7 seconds on him the stage. After this they decided to drive a more conservative final stage hoping that they had created a large enough gap to the second placed Romeo, R2. R3 was not having a good stage. Despite keeping a steady pace with the intention of finishing in order to get points on the board as they were not going to beat any of the other Romeos, the water pump failed ending R3’s race. R5 went into stage 5 a little sheepishly after their off and slowly picked up the pace naturally thro the stage again, having a good time and really enjoying the stage as they started to gel as a crew and everything became a lot slicker.
Stage 6 saw the remaining four Romeos safely home with R1 being crowned the 1st placed Land Rover crew for the 2019 Pirelli International Rally with R2 coming in 2nd, R4 3rd and R5 4th with R3 recording a DNF and having to be recovered on the trailer.
Overall all the crews reported a good experience at a difficult, technical rally with new combinations starting to figure out how best to work together, experienced combinations cementing their partnerships.
Looking forward the next event is the Scottish Rally to try and put some more points onto the board.