JDLF – France – May 2012

Well after the last event, the car had to be taken completely apart before France; there was water, mud and worst still gravel everywhere!  Every bearing had to be cleaned, the brakes changed, even the gearbox removed to clean the clutch and pump belt housing!

After a lot of hours in the garage (Rick that is, not me), the car was ready with a couple of days to spare; we got loaded up in time but had done no road testing.  We left home on Wednesday at 6am for a lunch time ferry to Calais, the sun was shining and the temperature gauge was showing 20 degrees even at that time in the morning. Once we got on the A1 the sun went in the cloud came down, we thought that’s it….

We got off the ferry in Calais, still misty but warmer than the UK, arrived at the camp site the sun was shining it was about 28 degrees and we had no shorts!  The tent was erected, then we did the usual tour of the camp site, to say hello to our fellow Brit

Thursday saw more sun, we collected the road book at the Total-garage and set off to Ciry Salsogne (Saturdays service area), we had 4 stages to recce,  2 stages per day run 3 times,  giving us 12 stages over the 2 days.  We recce’d both Saturday stages from here, first time round writing notes, and second time checking and making alterations (usually right or left, it’s amazing how many times we had the wrong direction – I think this is because Rick was looking backwards at a lot of them!) Next we moved to Fere in Tardenois, (Sundays service area) where again we did the two Sunday stages twice, same format.

Then it was back to the campsite where the Lloyds were holding their annual dinner – 17 of us, the name this year was ‘Champion of champions’ dinner’.    An excellent time was had by all, plenty to eat and drink – resulting in a slight headache Friday morning.  Thanks Steve and Kim, for a great evening.

Friday – never mind the headache, we had work to do – off to do the Sunday stages once more, then the Saturday ones once more, then back to Soissons on the road book.

Friday afternoon – last clean and polish on the buggy and then off to administration and scrutineering, this year scrutineering was a short drive away at ‘Place Marquigny’, the checks were minimal, seatbelts, helmets and passport technic.  A short drive back to Parc Fermee in the square near the Mairie and that was it for the day – ater a couple of beers in the square we headed off for something to eat. Back to the square
for Driver’s Briefing – the two main things were if you go in the crops you are to reverse out, also on the Sunday we were to drive past an American Cemetery that was holding a memorial, so if we were caught up in it we must respect them and not drive fast.

Back at the campsite we discovered the empty placements around us
had filled and the noise levels had risen –  a good night’s sleep – I don’t think so…..

Saturday – we were car 14, running 12th on the road – our start time was 9.38, so we arrived in the square just after 8 so the boys could get out to Ciry and get set up for service. We watched the production cars go out then as the top boys started to go out, it was time to go in and get prepared, I signed out at control and got in the car, in line behind Foucart & Caze then it was our turn to drive up on to the ramps, on our minute I was handed my carnet and we were off: following the road book out to Ciry for the first service, we had already prepped the lads – rally tyres would be needed for 1st stage. 15 mins and tyres changed and out to first stage.

ES1; 8.6km.  Lots of grasstracks, the car felt really unstable, then woops the backend went, complete 360 degree spin in the hay field, it was scary but we got out of it, did the stage in 6:58’2 – 7th quickest, 13’9 seconds behind the leader Vincent
Poincelet. Rick was moaning about the tyres & having no confidence in the car, and said it felt like there was a hinge in the middle of it!

Back in at service, we were undecided whether to change the tyres – we decided the lower the pressure to see if that helped.

ES2; 10.9km.  As soon as we set off, Rick said it’s still not right, at this stage we didn’t know whether it was the tyres or the car, we got on a straight track but couldn’t
keep the car in a straight line, it felt like we were racing on ball bearings, the
next thing we were head first into the rape field,  a  quick stop, reverse out and back on track – next on tarmac round a series of bends – here we go again –facing back the way we came, a quick spin in the road and we were facing the right way again.  8:30’5 lost a lot of time on that one, down to 13th.  53’9 secs off top time.

Back in for service, this time we try putting more air in the tyres, we’ve tried less and it doesn’t seem to be working.

ES3 – This was so much better, we seem to be on it now – getting a better time 6:55’4 . The pressures were critical and Rick, the Munter (his words), had gone the wrong way with them!

ES4 – Definitely on the pace for this stage, 7:48’1; the speed difference down the tracks in the woods was amazing, the tyres now gripped like Rick holds his wallet when a round is called for!

ES5 – 6:35’5

ES6 – 7:50’7

We made it back to service and had a good days racing finishing a slightly disappointing 9th, all we needed to do was to get back to Soissons, back in to parc ferme and relax – I ordered 4 beer’s at the bar, (2 each) the first one didn’t touch the sides!

We decide to walk back to camp as our guys are nowhere to be seen, and got a lift with Rick’s stepsister, who lives in Paris and has come to support us, with her husband and youngest son, back at camp I arranged drinks and nibbles for our guests and then it was time for a quick shower, and out for pizza and lots of catching up.  We stopped
by the square on the way back to check timings for Sunday – early start we were due out at 8:05.

Sunday morning – we were up with the birds and down in the square for 7, so that the boys could get off to Fere.

We were out 9th – after Pierrine, on the ramps Rick says to the Commentator that today is “max attack” Last time he said this, we nearly ended up doing somersaults…..

ES7 – 5:28’3

ES8- We were held up on the start of this stage whilst they caught up with the last stage, our time was 7:07’9

ES9 –They changed the stage slightly for ES9, the start was moved about 200m in, as the original start was on grass and I think it had caused some problems during the first stage, hence our time for this stage 4:38’0 missing out on scratch to Favy by 1.1 second Favy’s time 4:36’9

ES10 – 6:59’9 For this stage, Techospeed (the French suppliers) had kindly offered the trial of their new tyres for free for some feedback, from the offset they were too twitchy, this was not helped by coming across a marshall running down the track waving a yellow flag, 500m further up the track, Costes had rolled and gone end-over end in his Fouquet, meaning we lost loads of time running at a constant 4th gear speed to avoid a penalty; both were running away from the car so we presumed they were OK and gave it max. Our next incident gave John Cockburn something to talk about later when we lost the car on a very tight, narrow track and ended up in the hedge bottom, still with full throttle on!  Close one!  The tyres were returned with a thank-you but no-thank-you, they did not suit the car one bit!

ES11 – 4:34’9 – Favy scratched this stage again with 4:32’3

ES12 – Everything to play for this stage – we were 6th with only six seconds between us and 5th (Patrick Poincelett, double French champion) with Alan Pierrine (2010 French champion) a mere four seconds behind.  We were all in the T1A2 3 litre
class so we were all after the class win (and cheque!)  Rick gave it everything he’d got on this stage pushing the car as much as he could, for the first track the throttle was
wedged hard against the stop from the off, taking the downhill series of bend flat out in top at about 110 mph. Every corner seemed to flow with the car being set up early so the speed could be carried through onto the next straight.

As we came to the stop – we checked the times 6:35’1 – yes we’d done it – we’d  scratched the stage!  Beating Thion by 1.5 seconds.

All we had to do was get back to service and then parcfermee back at Soisson.

The drive back to Soisson was long and laborious, 27 km on the same straight bit of road – but then Soisson was in sight, past the island with the vase, past the statue, though the narrow streets of the town and into the square.  The time card was taken from me as we queued to get on the ramps; the commentator asked Rick a few questions in French, then a huge cheer as we descend the ramps into parc ferme.  We got out the car, I could see on Rick’s face, he wasn’t sure who or what to kiss first – the car got the first one, then me as we went to get more beer.  Such a relief to be back with no damage!

We looked around for the results  – we thought  we might be 4th overall which would put us 1st in class, but couldn’t find any, anywhere.

After sometime (a few beers later), the whistle blows, and parc ferme is open, we were the first in, in the car and off down to the campsite where we had a quick shower, changed into our best attire, making sure Rick has a different T-shirt to last time; and head back for prize giving.

Conor & Andy (the service guys) had to shoot off to catch their ferry, thanks to these Chaps for the support they gave us and others it turned out…..

As usual, prize giving was running late and when it eventually started it was so hot in the room – gradually as the prizes are given out the crowds disperse eventually it’s our turn,

4th overall and 1st in class – a large trophy, a small glass trophy and a bottle of champagne and more importantly we now have the respect of the top French drivers and Crews!

As we came down from the stage, they called up 3rd Omnes, Cyril & Carine, 2nd Favy/Fauconnet and 1st Poincelet/River

Back at the campsite, we were invited to dine with ‘Team Bonsey’ who made us very welcome, filling us with food and alcohol. They finished their first French event after 7 failures, but it was a close run thing, the oil filter was badly damaged on the last stage and oil pouring out, but with our service guys help they got the car fixed and back to Soissons for a well-deserved finish at last! (And a huge cheer when they went to collect their prize)

Surprising how quiet the site was on Sunday night, no parties mostly just the Brits left – all the French must have had to be back at work Monday morning!  Except the French guy next to us – who started his truck up at 6.15am for 15 mins then switched
it off – so much for our lay-in; we needed to get packed away and on the road.  All packed away and off the campsite by 10 and ready for our long journey home.

Back in good ole’ Blighty, and the sky gets darker & darker, coming out of the Dartford Tunnel was like driving into a waterfall, still the bad weather eases as we got closer to home, back to unpacking and washing and planning our next French excursion!!

The end.

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