It was all going so well. Both Donal (Loughrey) and I had made slow progress in our first season of Sporting Trials. We had both transferred to Donal’s Suzuki powered Sheane and for a number of trials, we had loaned my VW powered machine to a few completely inexperienced friends and acquaintances, with the idea of introducing more people to the discipline.
The more experienced drivers, and they are many, were very helpful and this, allied to the fact that Donal, ever the engineer, had been fettling the car non stop, meant that we had gradually crawled away from the very tail end of the result sheets. Make no mistake, it is great fun, but very, very difficult and I would even go so far as to say that it is one of the most competitive disciplines in the country. Like Autotesting, it is quite an experience to watch the top guys (and ladies) tacking a section, never mind trying to replicate it. Donal’s latest upgrade was to rebuild an old SU carb, (from a scrap Metro!) and use it to replace the similar one the car was running when he got it. Having tested it out, he assured me that the car would now potter along on tickover and you only need to breath on the throttle pedal if you needed more momentum to tackle an incline!
Fast forward to last weekend for the season ending two day trial, just outside Carlow. We had no victims for the VW machine for various reasons so it was just us two in the “Sheanezuki” as we had christened her. At drivers briefing, John Alvey, having been a lifelong friend of David Sheane’s, led a wonderful tribute to the late car designer and builder, who was so well liked by so many people. During his speech, he made reference to the last car David built, indicating “our” machine. Like so many, Donal and I owe David Sheane a whole heap of gratitude and we were delighted and honoured to be driving the car at this event. We even wondered could today be the day to get some semblance of a result in his honour…..
Day one went really well, with it quick becoming evident that Donal’s mods were every good as bit as he had said. The car cleared plenty of sections, with no apparent drama and very little wheelspin. I know getting a zero punched on your card for a section is a pretty regular occurrence for most competitors, but we were genuinely delighted when we cleared a section, driving on to the next one with silly grins, full of banter! A few simple mistakes, usually on the same sections, meant we dropped back a bit, but at the end of Saturday, I was third in Grade D, and delighted with myself. As soon as we were finished, it was off to the Sevenoaks Hotel in Carlow to clean off the dust (not a usual problem in this sport) and head to the bar for stories and the occasional pint.
After a glass of rum punch at the drinks reception, we were ushered into the ballroom for the meal. Much hilarity ensued and a great night was had by all. As is always the way, some retired early, and some didn’t! After a delicious breakfast the next morning, it was back to the same venue- to tackle some very different tests. It started badly when both Donal and I managed to get a 5 at the first section. Bear in mind, many drivers had scored a total of 0 for the whole day on Saturday, so it was a big hit. It didn’t get any better when I stopped for a moment to view the next gate mid section. As I went to move forward, I rolled back slightly and that, as the fella says, was that. Harsh, but it’s in the rules! Surely it could only get better, couldn’t it? at the next section, I took my time and got to the 1. The 0 was on the side of a hill but you only have to get the centre point of the front wheels through the gate to clear the section. I was so close, but the front wheels came up in the air. Instead of admitting defeat, pressing the clutch and letting the car roll back, I got greedy. A bit like Charles Leclerc over attacking the chicane at Imola, at around the same time on the same day, I asked too much of the car and it all went wrong. (Note- it was absolutely nothing like Charles Leclerc over attacking the chicane!) He just spun, but I managed to roll over- backwards. There were so many people on hand, that it only lasted a second and the roll hoop had done its job- I was absolutely fine. In fact I was more annoyed that I got an 11 instead of a 1 than the fact that I had gone over. The car was fine, as attested to by Donal who proceeded to clear the section immediately afterwards.
On the final section of the morning, Frank Nuttall was the observer and he proudly told us that only one person had cleared the section. I was first up and, taking Donal’s advice, got through most of the section on tickover, clearing the 1 before homing in on the 0. Once again, it was on a hill but this time you had to turn immediately right before it, making it hard to carry any momentum. Long story short, I ran out of talent once again and repeated my earlier stunt. Once again, both the car and I were fine, but I was rueing my decision not to settle for the 1, especially with the day I was already having!
After that, it was time to head back to the car for lunch. Mudplugging is very civilised and everyone stops for lunch- until the CoC blows the horn of his car and then its back to control to collect the card for the afternoon’s adventures. During lunch however, Donal and myself decided that we had already had plenty of fun, and a few indescretions (!) had meant we would be at the bottom end of the results either way. The sun was shining, and there was a bit of the weekend left so we decided to pack up and head off. Less than an hour later I was on the couch, catching up on the incredible performances of Alex Dunne and Alex Denning at the BTCC meeting in Donington. All in all, I have had worse weekends! Big congratulations to Geoff Needham who took overall honours on day one (a great achievement for a Grade D driver!) and Siobhan McCann who did the same on Sunday (ensuring that Enda had to buy the dinner on Sunday evening!)
We are both disappointed that the Mudplugging season has ended, but no doubt September will be here in a flash and it will be time to have another go. If anyone fancies having a go, get in touch with the organisers via their FACEBOOK PAGE or give me a shout via the site. It’s not easy, but it’s good fun and you will meet great people! A big thanks to all the organisers and observers, to Jimmy Cleary and the MEC team for a great two day event (and evening!) and to Enda Byrne, who was a huge help to us all season long.
Next up, race calendar allowing, is another run out in the Autotest Micra. I might even try a round of the Munster Autotest Championship if I can.
Action images with thanks too Peespeed.com