As regular readers of this column will know, I have been competing in Mudplugs in recent times. They really are great events and the driving is extremely challenging- but more of that in my next report. Michael Cullen was kind enough to invite me to double drive with him in his Westfield at a couple of Autotest events pre pandemic and I enjoyed it so much I vowed to buy a car once I had sold off some of my current machines.
I had somehow ended up with a few race Fiestas and they were sold off to newcomers before Christmas so the search began. Initially I wanted a rear wheel drive car but apparently quite a few of the Irish ones had been sold to the UK and none appeared to be for sale. Having just missed a Stryker up North, I had almost resigned myself to forgetting about the idea until a Micra Special appeared on Facebook. The Munster Autotest Championship guys added a class for “Non Mini Specials” a few years back which led to an influx of cut down Starlets, and this particular Micra.. It wasn’t dear so I jumped in the car and headed for Limerick. After a great chat and a quick demo (!), I was the proud new owner. The car was originally a 1300cc Micra saloon, which was used for Autotesting bt it was vandalised and had all its windows broken. It was cheaper to convert it to a special than to replace the windows etc so that is where the concept came from!
Fast forward a few months and the TDC (of which I am a proud member) announced details of their Clubman Autotest in Mondello Park. I was away the previous week, in America on business, and knew I would probably be jetlagged, but fired in an entry anyway. I was back the day before the event so checked the car over- well, to the extent of my very limited abilities. On the Sunday morning I woke at 3;15 am. I am not sure this was the jetlag, the excitement, or (most likely) a mixture of both! I arrived at Mondello with plenty of time to spare and, having unloaded the Micra, which attracted plenty of attention, signed on, paid my entry fee (€40 for TDC members) and collected my test diagrams. As it was a beginners event, there were just two tests to learn and in relative terms, they were quite short. having been advised to concentrate on one test until I could “see it with my eyes closed” before moving onto the second one, that’s exactly what I did. After this, the CoC called up over for a Drivers Briefing and then, in typical TDC form, asked the others to stay off the tests so that the Beginners and Novices could have a quick practise run. Happy Days, says I, as I had barely driven the car since buying it! I soon found out the Micra was relatively easy to manage, and the back came round no problem with a bit of encouragement from the handbrake. It was relatively quick, but like many Jap engines, there wasn’t much in the way of bottom end torque. Also, the open diff was prone to spinning the inside front, but holding part throttle until it gripped seemed to stem this. Never mind all that though, it was obvious that the car was far better than me, so it was time to start learning. One of the tests was pretty tight so I knew my car should have an advantage over the road cars which had much more weight to carry.
I started badly by almost getting lost on the first test, earning myself a Maximum and wishing I had a navigator onboard to help with directions! The second test was far better though and by lunchtime I was really having fun. Reducing the front pressures appeared to help slightly with front end grip. The rear of the car was pretty taily but I actually found that to be helpful if I tackled a pylon too fast and needed to get turned around. I also really enjoyed watching some of the top drivers. They seem to float round the course in one long smooth movement. Such is their control and judgement that even when they change direction, the car appears to never actually stop moving. Ah well, maybe some day……
I achieved my aim of being far better at the end of the day than I was at the start and was delighted to subsequently learn that I had finished 14th overall and second in class. Only by a fraction though, as Damo Philips, who was driving really well in his Starlet, finished just .4 behind me, with David McNally just half a second behind him- talk about close!
Congratulations to the TDC for another great event and to Darren Quille who, in between offering me some valuable advice,managed to win the event outright in his Westfield-Toyota. Also to Garrett Kennedy, first novice home and an impressive tenth overall.
It is worth noting by the way, that you can compete in these events with a standard road car- and you can get a Motorsport Ireland one day licence at the event- so what are you waiting for?
Now, when is the next one?
Big thanks to PEESPEED for the images.