Hutchinson & Garnett from RallyTravel take on the Wales Rally GB
Sitting on the start line of the daunting first stage of Wales Rally GB (the classic Welsh forest stage of Myherin) David Hutchinson and Jeff Garnett from Rallytravel.com would be forgiven for wondering what they’d let themselves in for as the predicted warm and dry Welsh October weather had instead materialised as a damp, foggy and cold morning more akin to December than October. Within just a mile of the start of this first stage they passed by 3 cars crashed off the side of the road in the treacherous conditions, and a little further through the stage were greeted around a blind corner by the leading Mitsubishi Evo spun and blocking the road! Not even halfway through the stage at this point, the madness continued at the summit of the stage as the pair endured a couple of ‘near misses’ in the thick fog and swirling low cloud, before finally tackling the famous ‘Pikes Peak’ downhill sequence of hairpin bends to the finish.
This was the first time the team had tackled any stages in the wet with their Kumho R800 tyres, so were delighted to have set a top 20 time over this opening stage beating the rally legend Jimmy McRae and several 4WD cars in their two wheel drive Ford Escort Mk2. “With over 260bhp and just rear-wheel drive that opening stage was certainly exciting” recalls co-driver Jeff Garnett “I always concentrate on keeping my head down and reading the pace notes, but I did catch an occasional glimpse of the fog and slippery conditions as the scenery flew by, which was a bit disconcerting!”
As some of their competitors struggled to change tyres on the roadside before the next batch of stages, the lower wear rate of the team’s R800s meant David and Jeff could continue to the next competitive sections and concentrate on the job of bringing the car back to the evening service in their targeted top 20 position. A great run through the final super-fast Dyfnant stage, where the top WRC competitors were clocked at over 120mph down the narrow forest tracks, brought them to the evening rest halt in Chester in 18th position overall.
The 2nd day of the rally began with a Spectator-friendly tarmac stage at Cholmondeley Castle which included a ‘doughnut’ section where the drivers could entertain the 12,000 plus spectators by demonstrating their ‘handbrake turn’ techniques, all played out live on the large TV screens around the venue. A long liaison section into mid-wales followed and another 4 challenging forest stages, again on the same set of Kumho R800’s all day which was quite an ask for the tyres.
“The weather improved on the Saturday which meant the tyres had to cope with a tarmac stage in the morning, 2 long liaison sections on the public roads and then around 40 miles of flat out driving through the flinty mid-wales stages. With the main WRC field having passed over these stages twice before our ‘National Rally’ field there were some huge rocks unearthed by the earlier cars through the stages, but our car and tyres coped perfectly bringing us to the end of the day in a great position.” David Hutchinson
The eclectic entry list in the National Rally field meant that the Rallytravel.com team were competing in the same class as modern full-specification R5 and WRC type cars, as well as classic four wheel drive cars such as the Group B Metro 6R4. Even so, the team were confident of a good finish when suddenly on the way back to Chester on Saturday evening the Ford Escort began to experience problems with the clutch. In true rallying tradition team mechanic Bobby Scarth from Motoscope dived under the car and within 10 minutes the gearbox was out and on the floor ready for the clutch to be inspected! Rally mechanics are a breed apart and no amount of mud or rain gets in the way of an important job being carried out, usually in a tenth of the time your local garage or repair centre would quote for and often at the side of a muddy forest track in the middle of the night!
Roaring back into the rally on the final morning the team consolidated their position as first two wheel drive car in their class and were back up to 18th overall, again just one place behind Jimmy McRae when further transmission failure put them out of the rally just before the start of the final stage.
“We were all devastated not to finish, particularly so close to the end of the rally. But at that point we were beating our finishing position from last year, and we proved that the Kumho R800 tyres could work on both the front and rear of the car in any road conditions – it says something for the tyres that they can propel a 40 year old two wheel drive car ahead of so many modern four wheel drive cars on such a gruelling event.” David Hutchinson