Running through a shopping mall is an uncomfortable, awkward, and potentially dangerous thing to do. Now imagine you are running through a mall with $16,000 in your pocket, hoping that the bank you are headed for wont shut their doors for the night, leaving you stranded with a big lump of cash in one of South Adelaide’s more dodgy suburbs.
This was one of the crazy situations that I have gone through to try make my dreams a reality.
I admit I have been a tad slack, and really should have written this blog sooner. But life has been pretty hectic, and adding to that the stress and work required to adapt to living and working In a different country has been consuming, but I will try to divulge my year so far and thoughts for what’s ahead. But first of all, here’s how I got into this situation in the first place:
It all started in October last year, when I came across a link on the British Rally Championship Facebook page, to a driver application for the Vauxhall Motorsport Junior Rally Team. At first I thought, “Who does this? Nobody puts out a rally driver application!” But I thought that it couldn’t hurt applying, and with the help of my girlfriend Evangeline, we put together an application video, as we thought it would be much more personal and engaging than just the paper form.
It turns out the team were very impressed with myself and what I had previously achieved in rallying in Australia, (plus the video helped a fair bit) that they invited me to come for a test drive and interview in England!
It was pretty cool that my first overseas trip was because of rallying, and even cooler that I was one of only 6 drivers selected worldwide for the Vauxhall Motorsport test. Whilst the test and interview went well, the team still required a fairly big budget from the drivers, which I was unable to come up with. However, I had had a taste, and that motivated me to do whatever it took to compete in the 2016 DMACK British Junior Rally Championship (JBRC).
At the test day with the other candidates.
Fortunately for me, the boss of the Vauxhall Motorsport Junior Rally team, Simon Mauger, was really impressed with what he had seen of myself in the Vauxhall selection process, and offered me the opportunity to drive a Ford Fiesta R2 under his Major Motorsport banner.
If I thought life was busy before this offer, then I was soon to be proven very wrong indeed. My co-driver Steve Fisher and I had to come up with a lot of money real fast as the Vauxhall test drive was in January and the opening round of the British Rally Championship was at the end of February. For me this meant selling my Mitsubishi Evo 5 rally car which Steve and I had just won the South Australian Rally Championship in only a few months ago, as well as selling my beloved Hilux ute, and finally a trip to the bank.
So, after a hectic month of booking flights, transferring money (sometimes in a rush!), and having several farewell dinners, Evangeline, Steve and I were off to compete in our first overseas rally!
I had never seen snow before, (yes really!) but the Reconnaissance of the Mid Wales stages was about to change all of that.
Sven all loaded up and ready.
We travelled up to the rally in our newly acquired Volvo 850 Estate, now known as “Sven”, and with the Fiesta R2 in tow it was a slow trip. The next day as we travelled towards the stages, the countryside became whiter and whiter, and when we arrived at the start of recce it was a full-blown snowstorm! After mucking around throwing snow balls around and joking with our Swedish friends that it must be quite warm for them, it soon dawned on us that the rally tyres that most everyone else had fitted was a very good idea indeed. It was definitely a struggle and we got stuck a few times, but Sven survived, and both Steve and I got to experience something we would never come across back home in Australia.
My first time in snow!
Unfortunately the rally didn’t go to plan whatsoever. After as successful first test in the Fiesta at the famous Sweetlamb testing complex on Thursday, I was feeling confident for the start of the rally on Saturday night in the dark, but it wasn’t to be. The first stage was a disaster, as midway through I cut corner too much and bent the front right control arm, then trying to exit a very tight uphill hairpin the car slid into a ditch. Thanks to a huge effort from Steve for getting out and pushing, we managed to escape, but too much time had been lost. Our service crew did a great job of fixing the car and the following morning we were keen once again to get out into the forest and do what we love.
Our service crew at the Mid Wales Stages.
Our aim for the day was to learn about the car and the conditions as we were in no position to challenge for a top spot, but we never saw what was coming next. About 6 miles into Sunday’s opening stage, we were coming down into a medium left hander, with the corner unseen by a group of trees on the inside. I changed down gear and entered the corner, but as soon as I did Steve yelled “CAR OFF!!” with no prior warning I was caught completely off guard, my concentration lapsed and I had put the car off line and onto the snow. Knowing full well that I couldn’t make the corner, I decided to lock up and throw the car off instead of running the risk of hitting the already stranded car. Unfortunately for us a large stump greeted us and the force of the impact was enough to rip the sump guard off! At least we weren’t the only ones to hit trouble at that treacherous spot, but we would have been greatfull if they had put some safety triangles out or tried to warn us sooner.
A picture is worth a-thousand words.
So what a debut to rallying in the UK that was! But you have to be prepared for that in this sport, rallying can bite hard, and sometimes several times in a row.
With first rally over and Steve returning home, Evangeline and I were able to start to really settle into our new lives on the other side of the planet. We knew before we came that in order to survive we had to have jobs, and fortunately for us, we were both offered positions with the Vauxhall/Major Motorsport team. Based in Bicester Oxfordshire, the team operates out of a small but efficient garage, and with plenty of experience of preparing my own rally cars back home, the opportunity to learn and further my mechanical skills by helping prepare the teams cars has been a golden opportunity. Evangeline has been using her organisational and computing talents by working in the office, assisting the team with anything from booking hotels to distributing Vauxhall team clothing.
This led to us both travelling with the team to Ireland at the beginning of April. It was a big operation, as we were running 3 Adams, on 2 rallies, 1 week apart, and all overseas from where the team is based. I drove a Mitsubishi “pickup” or translated to Australian, “Ute” towing one of the racecars, and had the job to lead 2 trucks and 2 reece cars through a country that I had never seen before.
The great Vauxhall Crew at the Circuit of Ireland.
I was expecting that Ireland was going to be a lot of fun, and this was confirmed on the ferry trip over there when a hens party and a bucks party combined in the ships restaurant and sang loudly for several hours!!
The first rally was the Circuit of Kerry, held near Vauxhall team driver Rob Duggan’s hometown of Kilarney. It was meant to be a test for the upcoming Circuit of Ireland, but it didn’t go to plan at all for the team. Rob had his engine blow up on the first stage and the other Australian in the team, Arron Windus, put his Adam off the road and into a tree. Fortunately the third driver Mattias Adielsson had a strong rally, finishing on the podium in his class.
After repreping the cars on Monday, (and enjoying breakfast with Chris Meeke’s codriver Paul Neagle who lives in Killarney!) we headed north to Belfast for the second round of the British Rally Championship, the Circuit of Ireland.
It was a long and tough week for all of us, especially as we had to repair Arron’s car and replace the engine in Rob’s by Thursday morning. The new engine actually had to be sent all the way over from Germany! Fortunately this paid off as Rob won the junior section of the rally with Mattias putting in another good performance and came home in second.
Rob Duggan took first at the Circuit of Ireland.
But probably more hectic than the racing itself was the race to the Ferry on Saturday night. As the rally was due to finish at 6pm, our two trucks had been due to catch the last ferry of the day back to England at 10pm, surely leaving plenty of time to load up and drive 20 minutes to the docks. However due to some FIA complications, the cars were not released from parc ferme until 9:30! It was like the start of an old grand prix, with team members running to the cars and racing through the service park where we loaded them into the trucks quicker than ever! They ended up making it with basically no time to spare as one of our crew Matt had driven to the ferry and persuaded the boat to wait for them!
A snippet of how beautiful Scotland is.
Evangeline and I headed off the next day and had a quick ferry trip to Scotland. This was easily the most scenic part of the UK I have experienced so far. With rolling hills, stunning coastline and a crazy amount stonewalls, it was quite an experience. So we had come full circle, traveling from England, through Wales, into Southern Ireland up to Northern Ireland, then over to Scotland before returning back into England. It was a trip I will never forget.
Three weeks later it was my turn at doing what I came here to do. I was mad keen for the Pirelli Carlisle rally as the roads looked much more similar to what I am used to competing on back in Australia. However when we got to the start of Reconnaissance Friday morning, it was snowing again! Fortunately it didn’t hang around all day, and we didn’t get stuck once, which was also due to us bolting on some Dmack rally rubber to old Sven. We were also very lucky to have Charlie Nott come up for the rally, it was great to have a mate from back home with us and we are very thankful for his donation at the start of the year.
Steve and mines aim for the rally was to get a finish on the board, and to be the quickest Fiesta 1600. Thanks to our team at Major Motorsport, the car was great from the start, and after the first two stages we were achieving both our goals and with no damage to the car. Everybody had warned us about the famous ditches on the side of the Keilder forest roads, but no one had said how rough the rally was on the tyres. Many people had punctures throughout the rally, and our turn was in SS3 when the front right decided it had enough. We limped through the last few miles, but were still happy to be passing cars in ditches and sticking to our plan of finishing. Going into the final stage of the day we were confident of making it though and limiting the time loss on the previous stage. However it just wasn’t meant to be our day. About 10 miles in we approached a right hand junction, where we saw that the Vauxhall crew of Mattias Adielsson and Andreas Johansson was parked up. I took the corner slow to make sure everything with them was fine, but as I accelerated out and grabbed second gear, nothing happened.
As it turns out, the main shaft in the gearbox had broken and I tried to select other gears, but only first was working. So we decided to park the car to limit any damage. Lucky we did, as when we got out there was a vast amount of gearbox fluid draining out the fresh hole the shaft had punched in the end of the gearbox casing.
Bad, all bad.
To be honest, I was initially bitterly disappointed as we were doing such a good job and the car was feeling great. But I quickly realized that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter at all. Rallying is a sport that will try and kill your spirit many times over, but for me the disappointments only make me stronger as I have a firm belief that this is what I was born to do and will never give up chasing my dream.
I recently heard a quote by Chris Meeke that said, “If you do something that scares you many times, it wont be scary anymore”. Forgive me for going a bit deep here, but I believe that we shouldn’t let fear get in the way of something you have a deep desire to do. For me it is fear of not getting the backing I need and not being quick enough, but for you it could be the fear of what people might think, or fear of failure, or maybe even the fear of rejection. But I encourage you to just go for it, be wise in your decisions, but don’t let anyone tell you that you cant do something because of where you are now!
As I conclude writing this, I am sat in an apartment in France enjoying an amazing weekend get away visiting my Australian friends Michael and Ashley who are on holiday. It has been a great opportunity to refresh both mine Evangeline’s brains, and thanks to her for making it possible for me as I have used all my funds to go rallying.
Icecream in Paris = Very happy tourists.
Steve and I will be competing at the 4th round of the BRC in Scotland in just under two weeks, and words cant describe how much I want to get back in the drivers seat and try again to give everyone back home something to smile about.
I wish to begin posting more thoughts and experiences on my rallying and life adventures soon.