1997 Exeter Trial

The MCC’s Exeter Trial by Andrew Brown

Apology Number One: Please excuse the boyish enthusiasm with which this report is written as it was only the second event of my ‘reintroduction’ to trials after more than two decades away. Although the regular ACTC competitor may regard the three MCC Classics as rather a lot of effort for not much trialling, to the novice they are still a big adventure especially to those like Roger Stanbury, my regular passenger, more used to the gentler events of the VSCC where they allow competitors to take to their beds between the two days of competition. Although we’d collected our first MCC Gold on the Edinburgh we were only too aware that it had been the easiest for years, and that the Exeter would be the first real test of our skills.

Apology Number Two: When I chose to start classic trialling in a Marlin I didn’t realise that I’d made a controversial choice – a ‘Car In Crisis’. I suggest that all those who think Marlins have some sort of unfair advantage over other Class 7 cars should look at the Exeter Results – Marlins figure in all categories, of award, from Gold to non-starter, in almost direct proportion to the number of entrants.

Cirencester, 3.45am. The normal assembly of bizarre-looking individuals to, be seen at the start of any trial, with a positive convoy of Stroud MC members including four Marlins running more-or-less in line. An uneventful night run. with the interminable grind down the A303 causing the eyelids to droop a bit followed by a slightly pointless ‘scrutineering’ at Chard. Did a scrutineer lift a bonnet all day?

Cricket St Thomas, 7.I5am. It’s still dark as we park. Isn’t that Jack’s car with a gently steaming bonnet? Roger and I sign in and split our allegiances He’s off to consort with Jones and the MGCC crowd, I’m off to find the lads from Stroud. No, Jack doesn’t know his car is steaming. He departs and returns. to report a split top hose. I decide that I can face Crinkley Bottom’s version of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. (I didn’t recover from my first Salt Box breakfast until well after Putwell 2) I suppose we’d better take the hood down or perhaps it can wait until we’re ready to go as it’s now snowing lightly. At least that way we’ll be able to keep the seats dry.

Gatcombe Lane, 9.I5am. No problems here, a bit like Agnes Meadow on the Edinburgh really, a nice gentle section to start the day. We pass pleasantries with the local dog-walkers who seem quite happy dodging the cars.

Normans Hump/Clinton, 9.45am. I’m sure I’ll remember the difference between these two when we’re next back there but, for the time being, they’re an amalgamated blur. We hear the usual pre-section horror stories – Peter Jones recalling the first time he tackled Norman’s Hump in the dark and thought the restart marshal’s flashing torch was an aircraft landing light. The surfaces don’t look too bad and we let the tyres down to I0psi – no point in provoking a puncture this early in the trial. The right-hander at the bottom of Clinton causes me a ‘moment’ when I over-cook it and head for the trees, but we storm both restarts without problems. The loose surfaces seem a bit like the Edinburgh hills. So far so good.

Waterloo, I0.30am. Not been here before, but I’ve seen photographs and it’s supposed to be easy isn’t it? We’ll try at I0psi again. Off the line, round the first corner. Hey, this is all a bit tighter and twistier than I’d expected! Round the next right-hander and Roger has to start working for his ride. What’s that strange sound? It’s definitely wheelspin, but we clear the section without serious problems and make a mental note not to approach Waterloo so nonchalantly in the future.

Exeter Services, II.30am. I’m not sure which is the stranger sight. Is it the MCC competitors in full trials gear, or the look of horror on the faces of the public when they realise that these apparitions might actually be joining them in the restaurant? We chew-over the morning. We’re all clean so far but there is general agreement that it hasn’t been easy and the weather looks decidedly worse in Exeter than it looked further cast. I can’t face more food, so make a pot of coffee last over an hour until we manage to persuade the control marshal to let us leave a few minutes before scheduled time.

Tillerton, I.30pm. An icy descent and a handful of frantic marshals. The locals are, apparently, in revolt at the Trial blocking the road. We descend gingerly to the holding area collecting an information sheet about the Torbay video. An added incentive to a spectacular climb? There’s a general murmuring about Tillerton being more difficult that usual and both Tim and Paul are letting more air out of their tyres even though they look totally flat already. I make a fatal error of over-confidence, or naive inexperience, and stay at I0psi ignoring the fact that Tillerton is wet and slippery whereas the earlier hills were just loose.

We’re at the Section Begins board. Looks rocky. We’re off. It IS rocky. There’s the R boards – “high and right” was the advice – we’re stopped. The flag drops, the engine races, the wheels spin, the car edges forward, …. and stops. I admit defeat and reverse back to the start. The other three Stroud Marlins clean the hill so I’m carrying the wooden spoon. 0/S rear tyre seems a bit soft. Shall we change it now or at Fingle?

Tillerton Postscript: We’re re-inflating tyres on the failures route when a local dog walker stops to chat. The following to be read in a rich Devon accent: “Must be difficult this year, I’ve lived here 20 years and I’ve never seen so many cars coming this way round.”

Fingle Bridge. 2.I5pm. The tyre seems OK so we ignore it. Through the diff test and up the hill with no problems. Still a bit depressed about registering one Fail already and Wooston, Simms and Gabwell still to go. Through the special test and on to Wooston where a hand-written sign and fluorescent arrow inform us ‘Section Cancelled’. We join a long queue of cars to arrive eventually at the marshals who get my ‘Dedication To The Sport’ prize for the day – stuck on the top of a windswept hill with nothing else to do for six hours except release competitors at one minute intervals. My adrenaline level starts dropping for the first time in 20 hours.

Clifford Sheds. 3.00pm. Where’s Line B? Around THAT corner? The flag drops. I stall the engine and my adrenaline level rises. I take two bites to get to Line B and my adrenaline level is back to normal. Reverse, forward, round the tree, and off. The time will be awful but I can’t see anything in the instructions that makes my errors a ‘Fail’.

A bleak bit of moor. 3.30pm. On the highest and most exposed section of the route so far, with the wind whistling, and snow and ice all around and as far as the eye can see, the 0/S rear tyre finally gives up and we have to do a change.

Pepperdon. 3.45pm. From checking the route card against the OS Map, this looks like a tarmac section. We let the tyres down but are still a bit too laid-back. I place the car far too carelessly on the restart and we really have to ‘work’ to get it off the line. Shows that the Clerk of the Course knows how to catch out the unwary.

Simms. 4.45pm. After what seems like hours crawling along lanes covered in sheet ice we finally arrive at the back of the inevitable queue for Simms. At one point I thought there was an outside chance that we’d gain enough time to tackle Simms in daylight but now I realise there’s no chance. Horror stories abound with rumours flying that no one’s cleaned the hill from the restart. As we inch closer, car after car returns with brake lights glowing. Finally it’s our turn and my first section (ever) tackled in the dark. We round the corner and the headlights illuminate the rock slabs in the distance. The restart flag drops and we stay almost motionless. With difficulty we struggle out of the ‘box’ but it’s clear we’re going no further. Oh well, have to settle for a Bronze I suppose.

Higher Gabwell. 5.45pm. Nearly there! There’s no queue when we arrive at the start of the section. No messing this time and we’re down below 8 psi although the surface looks reasonably firm and hard. We round the lower bends without any problem, although I don’t envy the Class 8s their restart, and floor the throttle on the narrow straight up through the trees. The momentum carries us up and over the final climb and onto the concrete platform. A storming climb and I punch the air in jubilation at finishing.

Oswalds and Trecarn Hotels. 6.00pm. We’re amazed, and delighted, to realise that we’ve finished bang on time. Perhaps it was just as well that two sections were cancelled. Plenty of time to drown the sorrows and toast the successes in the bar before a quick bath and off to the Club Supper. The general consensus seems to be that it’s been a good day and we certainly know that we’ve been on a trial. Only Gatcombe Lane could really be considered easy and the weather definitely added an ‘edge’.

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