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February 2003 - Part 1

Exeter 2003

The 2003 Exeter ran very smoothly, despite all the rain the week before and being very cold on the night. However, some of the hills were very rough and will surely generate more debate on damaging sections. It was a very different trial depending what class you were in. The sevens and eights with high power to weight ratios thought it was easy, the lower classes thought it was hard!

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Andrew Brown smoking to a halt on Simms (picture by John Mac)


Even on the journey to the start it was clearly going to be a cold night. Mike Pearson had bike competitor Richard Nixon in the passengers seat so he should be hardy enough! It was really nice to see David Alderson at the start. He was well wrapped up, as it was a bit cooler than Turkey! David was driving Peter James’s Troll. The plan was for Peter to navigate, but unfortunately he hasn’t been very well recently, so David had another passenger. Ed Nikel didn’t start as the Imp had a bad water leak that he couldn’t fix in time. Neil Bray appeared with Dave Nash in a very smart Skoda Fastback. It looked really super but why was it in class seven? The answer came with a peak under the bonnet where three point something litres of Mr Rovers V8 resided under the hood. It’s a very neat installation. All the external trim and bumpers are in place and everything fits neatly under the original silhouette. The suspension was raised quite a bit, although not as much as Neil’s normal "YEG" and he was soon to find lack of ground clearance to be a big problem.

The run down to the Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford was classed as a Touring Assembly. This meant that competitors were free to devise their own route to the start. There were quicker ways to get to the start of the Trial proper than specified in the Route card and quite a few took advantage of this to get to Haynes early, fitting in some extra rest rather than go round the museum in the middle of the night. It was un-eventful for most, but not Clive Booth who hit a deer to the detriment of his Dellow Replica’s nose cone. Later numbers taking the official route regretted it when they arrived to find all the hot food had all gone!

Windmill Hill – The first hill may have had an unfamiliar name to many, but Lands End competitors recognised it when the got there, as it was the lane normally used to exit from Sugg Lane. It was dry and well surfaced so didn’t present any problems. Sugg Lane was different though, muddy with a lot of water running down the descent. This certainly kept the bikers alert, as did the cold on the forty-mile down to Bovey Woods.

Normans Hump – This was the usual hill, with the start line facing straight at the gradient, so there was no confusing stuff, like steering, to complicate life. That was for the cars, which could stay in the ruts. Life was different for the bikes. John Lees managed to stay in the middle for a clean climb, but this was easier said than done and most ended up in one of the ruts, whether they wanted to or not. Brian Sussex was one of many to fail this way although he cleaned everything else to gain Silver.

It was tough for the cars as well. The bottom part of the hill had very deep ruts with huge holes and a lot of loose rock. There was plenty of grip, it was just a case of how confident you were that your car would hold together if you went up at any speed while the underside was abraded away! Added to this classes six, seven and eight had their usual restart at the cross track. This reduced the possibility to attack the steep bit immediately after and this bought both Fred Gregory (Rickman Ranger) and Neil Bray (Skoda V8) to a halt. Ross Nuten had problems as well, he found his diff had locked up and he decided to limp home while the Dellow was still mobile.

Normans wasn’t kind to Imps and both Richard Tompkins and Stuart Cairney stopped when they ran our of ground clearance. It was possible to get up in one of Linwood’s little marvels, as Ian Moss proved when he flew up in his smart new yellow Imp. In class seven Simon Robson was the only Liege to get to the top. Most of the Marlins made successful climbs, but Verdun Webley fluffed to a halt with fuel starvation at high revs, a problem that was to bedevil him through most of the event and even riding mechanic Arnold Lane couldn’t cure the problem.

Clinton Bottom – Frankly I am not sure what version of Clinton this was, although it wasn’t the longest one as we started at least part way up the hill. There was no restart and after Normans Hump it was as smooth as a Billiard Table! It was still a problem though and Stuart Cairney was one of many failures. After Normans Stuart decided to pump the tyres up to 25 lbs and took off at maximum revs. He still found too much grip the car dropped into one of the many holes, practically stalling the motor and loosing so much momentum that Stuart stopped soon after. Leaving the woods Stuart noticed an ominous clunking noise from the rear. Stuart checked the car over by jacking each rear wheel in turn and running it under load by applying the handbrake. The clunking noise could clearly be heard as soon as the handbrake was applied. Consensus was that one of the crown wheel teeth was damaged so he sadly retired from the event and went down to Simms as a spectator.

Waterloo – A few words of explanation for those that don’t know this hill. It starts on a gentle gradient with an open gate a few yards ahead. The only thing is that you don’t go through the gate, there’s a 90 right immediately before. Once round this blind corner a steep slope immediately confronts competitors. This was a real problem this year as there was a lot of loose material on the surface and grip was at a premium. It was the downfall of many of the cars, including Neil Bray and Fred Gregory, who to add insult to injury picked up a puncture on the escape road! The initial slope also defeated the West Country class one trio of Michael Collins and David Haizelden in their Golf’s and Paul Allaway in his Astra. Along came Adrian Tuker-Peake a few cars later and he stormed up. It will be interesting to see if a second FWD cleaned the hill to make it count for the class.

Stretes – This was a nice simple hill with a special test at the top, which provided a welcome "rest" before the unknown quantity of the next hill.

Higher Rill (Sandy Lane) was only a few yards up the road from Stretes. It has not been used on the Exeter for some time. Tucker’s notes in the MCC book say it was "In use in 1931 for stop-and-restart (9 failed). Approaches too bad for 1965 event". In 2003 the approach was interesting but the hill itself presented few problems.

Bulverton Steep – The route passed through Sidford for the second time on the way to the woods at Bulverton Hill for two sections. Bulverton Steep started with a sharp ninety-left on a steep gradient. This was muddy and slippery and it was very easy to under-steer off into the trees, as John Bennett in his smart Renault Gordini was to prove.

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(Left) Tony Branson and Sally Bolam at the start of Bulverton Steep (Right) Derek Reynolds and Fred Mills at the top of Passaford Lane. Both of these crews came all the way from Tyneside to compete.

Passaford Lane – There was quite a run along the forestry tracks to reach the next section at Passaford Lane where there was delay for mid-field runners while David Spraggetts stricken Morgan was removed from the section. The hill itself wasn’t too difficult, even though it started to rut up at the top as the event went on.

Exeter Services – There was a nice run to the rest halt, with a marvellous view out to the sea at Sidmouth. There were dire threats of exclusion if anyone as much as looked at a spanner at Exeter Services, so many nipped out on the road outside, or went down to the lorry park, to check over the mechanicals, or in Fred Gregory’s case get some help changing a tube. There were problems for some as a Midget had gone up the bank and overturned just before the halt. It looked terrible as the car had no roll cage and the screen was flattened, but the crew appear to have survived with only a few scratches so the main damage will be to the blood pressure of the MCC committee!

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Fred Gregory and Simon Robson qeue in front of the appropriate "Unsuitable For Motors" sign at the foot of Tillerton

Tillerton Steep – Classes seven and eight had it easy here, they had to restart! The lower classes had a clear run and could drive over the terribly rough and rocky middle section as fast as they liked, or their car would stand! Most had sufficient speed to get through but Richard Tompkins took things easy to spare the car and paid for his lack of speed with a stop. Fred Gregory, Neil Bray and Verdun Webley were among the re-starters to fail the hill and in Neil’s case he wasn’t to go much further. The car was handling really strangely after the hill. Neil found the nearside rear suspension-mounting bolt was half out, allowing the wheel to move back and forth. By this time Michael Leete and Mike Hayward had stopped to help and with a lot of heaving, shoving and hammering helped Neil and Dave Nash get the bolt back in against the tension of the suspension rubber. A quick run up the road revealed the car still had a problem; the offside wheel was very badly buckled. Jacking the wheel up revealed a broken driveshaft and the V8 Skoda was added to the retirement list.

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Differnt Car, different Trial but it's another picture of Neil Bray under a Skoda trying to fix the drive shaft. This time he couldn't it as the V8 had sherred the shaft and he didn't have a spare.

Fingle – There was a diff test just before the section. The old hill itself wasn’t a problem but the corners were noticeably cut-up compared to usual.

Wooston Steep – Only seven and eight had to go up the steep bit this year. The problem appeared to be the slippery bit just after the re-start and this stopped quite a few. It’s a delicate balance between grip and bogging down and sadly Andrew Brown didn’t get it quite right on his new tyres. Stuart Harrold and Chris Phillips had plenty of grunt and plenty of grip in their Troll and accelerated all the way up to the hairpin right. Falcon’s Ian Davis, Mike Pearson and John Parsons all had successful climbs as well, but in class seven neither Simon Robson, Verdun Webley or Fred Gregory could get past the slippery section on the lower slopes. The lower classes had it easy of course, turning left and finishing just before the gradient really started.

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Right - Bob Thorpe and Colin Shepherd tackling the left hander half way up Simms! Left - Paul and Caroline Martin in their Marlin (All Simms pictures by John Mac)
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Left - As a good Stroud member Andrew Brown didn't back-off! Right - Nigel Hilling in his 1172 Pop.

Simms – Competitors had a chance to mentally prepare themselves for Simms with a 25 mile run onto Dartmoor. The old hill was in fine form again. It’s all about momentum here. Cars with a high power to weight ratio were able to build enough speed to blast over the step but those without enough speed found there was very little grip on the slimy, slippery rock. There were plenty of triallers here to watch the fun, including Duncan Stephens and Ed Nikel and retirees Stuart Cairney and Mike Furse. They saw a spirited and successful climb by Stuart Harrold, re-starting very high on the left, flooring the throttle and driving straight up the middle. There was a lot of leaping and banging before Stuart had to brake the Troll at the stop board. John Parsons in the VW Buggy gave it some of the same treatment but Mike Pearson’s more considered approach in his Dellow Replica wasn’t successful and he spun to a stop. This was annoying as Nick Wollett had a successful climb just before in his Dellow and Tim Wellock immediately afterwards in the Fugitive. Ian Davis was on song and set for a clean climb when his throttle cable broke on the restart. He tried to get up on tick-over but this wasn’t possible so Ian had to slide down back to the bottom to fix it. When all was well mechanically he persuaded the marshals to let him have a go up the hill itself "for fun" and he drove up easily. None of the class Seven Falcon’s were successful, Simon Robson, Fred Gregory and Verdun Webley all spun to a stop and so did ACTC rights of way officer Andrew Brown in his Marlin. The saloon car classes’ struggled and Michael Leete stopped on the slab. It was certainly possible to clean the hill in class four as Ian Moss proved in his "new" car. He stormed up at a time when there was very little grip. Ian’s Imp was immaculate at the start but by Simms was showing some battle scars with stress-induced ripples around the rear wheel arches.

Tipley – After Simms it was left at the crossroads at the top and down the track to Tipley. The gradient isn’t too severe here and there aren’t any corners, this hill is all about its rocks. There weren’t any loose ones and although it was very rough it was possible to ease off and pick your way around the bad bits.

Slippery Sam – It looked innocuous at the bottom and the restart was pretty easy but boy were the corners at the top rough. They had really cut-up on the inside and there was a lot of loose rock as well. Unlike Tipley it wasn’t easy to select your own line and cars cleaned the hill to the accompaniment of crashing and banging as the rocks tried to hammer their way through the floor-pan! There was worst to come. Competitors are well used to the lakes of red clay on the exit road. However, the big problem this year was overhanging branches. Goodness knows what it was like on a bike, especially a chair with the bike on the right. Even cars running at the end of the field had to fend of the overhanging briars, which was very unpleasant in an open car.

So that was Exeter 2003. There was of course a Class 0, which is an excellent idea, taking in some of the less damaging sections of the main event, together with some unique sections, including the escape roads on Waterloo, Simms and Wooston. The whole thing was rounded off by the usual evening at The Trecarn Hotel, a very nice finish to the event where the sections were re-run over a glass or two.


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