The Minehead Motor Club’s Exmoor Clouds Trial
by David Alderson
Sunday 22nd October dawned bright and clear for Minehead Motor Club’s Derek Merson Sponsored 24th Exmoor Clouds Trial. A small motorcycle entry including Keith Leo’s Norton Wasp outfit led the cars away from Minehead Rugby Club to the traditional opener at Hindon. Here John and Jenny West and family extracted fewer marks from competitors than in previous years, although their craftily placed restart for classes 6-7-8 managed to detain the 100E Special of Adrian Dommett/Mike Coles along with Carl and Peter Kiddell’s very original Dellow. Not a good start for the side valve boys!
Back across the A39 the trial paid its first visit to the Hon. Rolly Litton’s Middlescombe Woods. The first section winding in and out of the tall conifers was expertly dealt with by the majority despite a restart for 6-7-8. Brian and Eileen Alexander enjoyed a rare clean in their class, the little Fiat 500 joined by only Mathew and Simon Sharratt’s Beetle, leaving the rest of a well supported class 4 floundering on the last part of the climb.
The exceptionally dry conditions on Middlescombe 2 caught out David and Emma Alderson’s Troll when too low tyre pressures called for the inevitable clutch dip at 2. Mike Workman later swore that the odour of burning Ferodo lingered long into the morning!
The trial moved on to ever challenging Slade Lane, here John England sadly retired his Escort with axle maladies and a number or experts were once again stopped by the horrendous rock step restart at 10. Tim and Anne Whellock made a spirited clean climb despite the diminutive Austin 7’s delicate appearance and several other competitors were lucky to make the top after a rash of punctures meant scrabbling out on the rims.
Next it was the now traditional watersplash special test at Pinn Quarry. Some of the rear engined runners decided to really have a go, reasoning that water in the ignition was not a factor to slow their river crossing. Brian Cope with Kieron Patterson in the Shuttle made a spectacular dash, the bow wave filling the little car’s cockpit, Brian pressed on undaunted but alas, he caught the B marker to collect a fail so the cold dip was for nothing. Kieron later refused to be quoted on the subject! However the same ploy certainly did work for Steve Vincent and Mark Groves in their Austin Maxi Special, despite the inevitable and spectacular soaking they took fastest time at 11.34 secs from the more circumspectly driven Alderson Troll on 12.56 secs.
With wet tyres and often misfiring engines, competitors now attacked the difficult Druids Combe. Here Clerk of the Course Dick Hutchings really turned the screws stopping class 1, class 2, all but Paul Bartleman in class 3, (although Dick Bolt took an agonising 1 in his Escort) and all of class 4. Graham Brazier with Nigel Allen made it in their big Beetle from the restart but a good crop of the rest of classes 617/8 didn’t.
The long but relatively dry Leigh Barton came next but few experienced any difficulties this year. The inevitable restart for 7/8 stopped newcomers Stephen Dyer/Simon Willey in their Baja Bug, although they found that swapping their large rear tyres for the much narrower fronts had improved grip.
Moving on past the virtually empty Wimbleball Lake reservoir the trial route now undertook a couple of miles of “Green Laneing” before arriving at new find Hartford Bottom. Here Dick Bolt managed to perch his Escort in a most precarious position on the outer edge of what was a very tight hairpin right. The ensuing rescue caused some delay and rather unnerved the waiting competitors many of whom erred cautiously to the inside of the bend and subsequently collected 7’s.
So to Port Lane, this year in fair condition and as usual offering one of the most exhilarating blasts in classic trialling. John and David Bell, Escort, joined Paul Bartleman and Graham Brazier as the only clean saloons here, discounting of course Jason and John Collins usual immaculate effort in the clipped Baja Bug. The rest of 7 and 8 enjoyed their spirited cleans but sadly Pete and Pat Bevan broke their smart new Shopland at 2 and were forced to retire.
The second timed test followed at Kemp, where once again the Alderson Troll was spectacularly airborne to take fastest at 25.61 secs from Mark and Keith Hodges Troll on 26.33, Clive Rayson and Mark Collins roared their VW Variant Special through in 26.78 for third fastest with no-one else breaking the 27 second barrier.
The Downscombe sections next, and Angus Stewart smartly despatching competitors onto the first section where the smooth grassy hairpin left climb was thankfully drier than in previous years. Little problem here for most. Downscombe 2 was also far drier than usual taking marks at the restart only from Stephen and Janet Bailey’s Midge, D. and N. Parsons DPS and the Rayson/Collins Veedub Special.
As the watery sunlight ebbed slowly away the trial moved on over Exmoor to the very stony Lucott section. Here one or the local Escorts wrecked its diff so conclusively that it was impossible to move the stricken car until the axle had been stripped out. The resultant delay ensured that almost half the field ended their trial in darkness. Despite the severity of the surface and the polished 1 in 2 rock slab on the inside of its tight left hairpin, Lucott was unable to take many marks back into the organisers pot. Only former winners Peter and Carol James Troll, the Baileys, the Parsons and the Kiddells succumbed to its rocky restart
Finally back to Middlecombe for the last two sections of the day. A “magnetic” tree at 9 on the penultimate section managed to attract the Hodges’ Troll along with Simon Woodall/Barbara Selkirk’s Buggy, the Brazier Big Beetle, Mike Wordsworth’s Midget, the Sharratt and Gillard Beetles, Mal and Donny Allen’s Skoda, and the Escorts of Bell, Farmer and Roberts.
Perhaps the mishap on Middlecombe 3 caused poor Mike Wordsworth to take a maximum on the last section, the only other casualty here being Anne and Jim Templeton’s Troll whose clutch disintegrated on the restart giving Anne an undeserved 6 to spoil an otherwise good scorecard.
Back then to the Minehead Rugby Club for signing off and the telling of unlikely tales. Final totting up revealed no less than five clean sheets, a reflection surely on the very dry conditions experienced this year. Worthy winner and coincidentally best Minehead member was Charlie Shopland ably assisted by Roger Coles in Charlie’s beautifully built Shopland Mk2. Bill and Carol Foreshew stepped up for the class 8 win after a faultless day in their GVS Mk2 whilst Julian Dommett and Antonia Ashby again took class 7 with a clean sheet in their Dellow.
Other class winners were Martin Hounsell / Chris Wilson Mabor M5 GT?!! That’s what the programme says! Tim and Anne Whellock’s Austin 7, Paul Bartleman, Escort, Graham Brazier, Big Beetle and Rich Welsh with Mark Hobbs Beetle just one year to the day from Rich’s classic trials debut. A leg badly broken in an accident at work has kept Rich out of his Beetle Cup racer this year but trialling seems to be the best form of physiotherapy he could have chosen!