The 73rd Exeter Trial by Dennis Greenslade
The 73rd Exeter Trial, run in the MCC’s centenary year, was my return to trialling following a two-year lay off. The red and white Reliant required a MOT certificate and service – one new drive shaft boot – a search for four half decent remould tyres – the washing of spiders from the car, and Tricia and I joined two hundred and fifty plus competitors prepared to face the inclement January weather and the variety of hills and tests that make up this annual pilgrimage. I was pleased to he a member of a team consisting of my previous Team Beetling colleague David Turner, using his competitive BMW 318 and former Hillman Imp driver David Heale now campaigning a Ford Escort. An appropriate name for our three car combination was Team Overdraft – readers may wish to draw their own conclusions as to the reason for the choice!!
Unlike the other two start controls there was no additional route check from Trewint where we started, through to scrutineering and the early breakfast halt at Tintinhull. At the Jolly Diner there was the usual buzz of excitement and anticipation of what lay in store for this the first classic reliability trial of 200I. There were two new introductions near Newton Poppleford – what would competitors face on these hills?
The first section at Gatcombe Lane can be treated as a soupcon prior to traversing the short distance via Hangman’s Stone to the two forest tracks of Norman’s Hump and Clinton. It would be unusual for these not to claim failures and this year’s trial was no exception, with both hills claiming close to equal numbers. The somewhat tight turn in on the latter always causes anxiety but if negotiated sensibly sufficient traction can usually be found to allow vehicles to reach the summit, albeit to the sound scraping undershields.
Waterloo provided a few surprises for Class 1. It stopped the highly competitive VW Golfs of Alan Cundy and David Haizelden, was nearly cleaned by the constantly improving Vauxhall Nova of Paul Allaway and was cleaned by the 1900ce Citroen of Fred Gregory and subsequent class winner Adrian Tucker-Peake with his 1600ce Peugeot.
The two new hills to the east of Exeter and prior to the early morning halt were also sited in woods. Both had slippery left hand turns at commencement, the former Bulverton Steep causing problems for some on the turn in. Should the surfaces be particularly greasy in future years delays of a club trial nature, with many failures at the base can be envisaged – somewhat untypical of MCC sections. However, alert to such possibilities Clerk of the Course, Ken Green advises me that it will be the intention to ease the bends to avoid such a disaster. Both Bulverton Steep and Passaford Lane were two nice introductions into the trial and Ken informs that there are additional possibilities in these woods. So whilst not intending to turn the Exeter into a forest event there are choices for two differing hills each year.
From the break at Exeter Services the route led competitors west of the city to more renowned or perhaps notorious sections. The information from “the Master of Simms”, Greg Warren – Ford Anglia – was that it was as bad as he had ever known it. But before reaching Simms came Tillerton. When our entourage arrived many were reversing off the greasy, rocky lane but a smiling start marshal in the form of Angus Stewart intoned that it would be no problem for “us lot”. Perhaps he had more confidence than we did, but he was proved right. Even Cornish Wheelspin Team driver Philip Mitchell – Skoda Estelle – who quietly fears Tillerton – drive shafts and all that – was grinning from ear to ear at the summit. Whilst we were all successful poor Angus succumbed to the slippery surface falling over near the start line – some say mud was to blame – I say Glenfiddich !!
The multi-hairpinned Fingle was next but this traditional rocky climb is a shadow of its former self as far as adversity is concerned. Nonetheless it is sited in the beautiful Teign valley, negotiating the hairpins is thoroughly enjoyed by all competitors and the Exeter would not be the same without its inclusion. Further along the valley Wooston Steep with its split route and restart for three classes equates vehicle performances quite well.
And so, the twenty miles to Simms – the terror of the Exeter. As usual there was a long queue awaiting to attempt this exceptionally steep slippery solid rock climb. Failures were rife and it was with trepidation that as air was released from tyres it appeared to transmogrify into butterflies in the stomach. In the past the Reliant has bounced mercilessly on Simms and so I took a different but fatal approach for 2001. Believing I could climb at a slower pace – I should have known better after so many years – I took the right hand corner slower gradually increasing pace to fail miserably in front of the enthusiastic crowd, Not so my colleagues behind me who drove with determination to the summit – a clean from smiling David Turner, David Heale and Giles in the Beetle – the only other failure in our “group” being Philip Mitchell. With one hill to go Team Overdraft and the Cornish Wheelspin team of Giles Greenslade, Philip Mitchell and Roger Bricknell were now on equal points – but how were the other teams fairing ?
It was either Slippery Sam or Higher Gabwell depending upon class that brought an excellent Exeter to a conclusion – each hill taking its fair share of scalps. Without doubt the avoidance of the circuitous route to incorporate Greenslinch allowing the inclusion of Bulverton Steep and Passaford Lane, coupled with efficient organisation has ensured that the Exeter remains a superb and worthy opener to any new year.
For us, as a newly formed team, the icing came by winning the team award albeit by a mere 1.7 seconds.