February 2003 - Part 1
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!
Andrew Brown smoking to a halt on Simms (picture by
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 Jamess Troll. The plan was for Peter
to navigate, but unfortunately he hasnt been very well recently, so David had
another passenger. Ed Nikel didnt start as the Imp had a bad water leak that he
couldnt 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. Its 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 Neils 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 Replicas 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 didnt 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 wasnt 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 Linwoods
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 couldnt cure the problem.
Clinton Bottom Frankly I am not sure what version of Clinton this was,
although it wasnt 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
Waterloo A few words of explanation for those that dont know this
hill. It starts on a gentle gradient with an open gate a few yards ahead. The only thing
is that you dont go through the gate, theres 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 Golfs 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. Tuckers 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
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.
(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 wasnt too difficult, even though it started to rut up at the top as the event
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 Gregorys 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!
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 Neils case he wasnt 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.
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 wasnt a problem but the corners were noticeably cut-up compared to
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. Its a delicate balance between grip and bogging down and sadly Andrew Brown
didnt 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. Falcons 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.
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)
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. Its 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 Pearsons more considered
approach in his Dellow Replica wasnt 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
wasnt 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 Falcons 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. Ians 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 isnt too severe here and there arent any
corners, this hill is all about its rocks. There werent 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 wasnt 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.