Over 16 months with no rallying, the Mini Sport Cup returned for 2021, with the Covid-breakout 1st round - JD Competition Tyres Bob Shaw Memorial Brawdy Stages Rally this weekend!
Covering 8 Miles of smooth yet erosive surfaces for each run, our crews had 6 Stages to complete. As one of the few rallies that had the green light from restrictions to go ahead, the event was understandably oversubscribed, with only 5 of our Mini crews securing an entry!
Ryan Taylor & Lucy Wilding got off to a great start, finding the 1st stage surprisingly grippy for considering the rain! Managing to pull a 42 second lead in the Minis from the off, it was certainly 'start as you mean to go on' as Ryan & Lucy's times for the rest of the day were very much the same, pulling alway from the rest of the field to finish 1st Mini overall & 1st Open Class Mini!
Ryan Celebrating his 1st win in the Championship added, "I want to thank Neil Slark of Slark race Engineering, my dad Paul Taylor & a massive Thank you to Lucy Wilding my navigator - she kept us on the straight & narrow all day long... Looking forward to the next round!"
Starting out as a hot, wet day for Clive King & Anton Bird, they decided that the best course of action for the Mini would be to fit all of their part worn tyres and no new ones, with Clive adding, this was "based on last time at this rally  where I used lots of front tyres!"
An extremely slippy 1st stage had Clive & Anton feeling a bit rusty having not competed for 16 months! Just under 10 miles in to Stage, the crew were hit with distractions that cost valuable seconds as the wiper fell off the Mini & the horn stuck on!
Back in service, the Mini was checked over & fitted with the best part-worn tyres before the Clive & Anton were back out in Stage.
Finding their groove, the pair proved over a minute quicker this time out & catching the Open Class Mini of Ryan Taylor & Lucy Wilding. Things were heating up in both the competition & the Mini, with Clive noting, "we were running with the heater on not to keep the screen clear but to help with the heat of the engine, this didn't help the crew stay cool though!"
The penultimate stage saw the weather get the better of Clive, when heavy braking resulted in the Mini aqua planing towards a tyre wall - luckily, swift action & hand-braking the car to a standstill prevented impact! This sudden stop stalled the engine, meaning Clive had to release his seatbelt to reach the key to start up again - costing the crew a few more seconds!
Upon their return to service, it was discovered that the front tyres were well past their sell by date, with the decision being made for two more worn tyres to be fitted for the last stage, which passed without any further problems!
Finishing 1st in Category 1 - top Championship contender & 2nd Mini overall, with Clive adding a "massive well done to Ryan who drove well all day in difficult conditions to finish first Mini home!"
Some 16 months after the last Mini Sport Cup Round (The 2019 AGBO!!), we were finally released out to play again & with entries bound to be at a premium, anyone intending to enter the JD Tyres Brawdy Stages, needed to be quick out of the blocks. Consequently, only 5 Mini Sport Cup cars succeeded in getting onto the start list, leaving a number of regular contenders placed onto a very long reserve list.
Category 2 contenders, Andrew O’Hanlon/ Kevin Hogan were delighted to be back out although both driver & co-driver admitted to feeling a bit apprehensive at the start, on their 1st visit to a wet & windswept Brawdy Airfield.
1st stage nerves out of the way, the crew were beginning to get back into their stride & despite struggling with a heavily misting front screen, established an early lead in their category after the first 2 stages.
The long straights and high speeds were giving the Mini’s brakes a good workout, to try & Improve cooling, a change of wheel was tried after stage 3. This seemed to be effective but stage 4 saw the pair delayed twice by the same competitor who seemed to have more power than driving skill! The stage merged on a very long straight and a very rapid Escort came storming past, on its 2nd lap, only to slide off in the following twisty section. Coming up on them suddenly after a tight 90 right, Andrew did well to take avoiding action and get through. The Escort, however, recovered the road, re-passing on the next fast straight only to again leave his braking too late, ploughing into the tight chicane entry, forcing the Mini to slow down to find a way past but a good few seconds had been lost.
The final 2 stages saw few problems other than avoiding a huge tractor tyre that had been dislodged in one of the chicanes and now settled back into their rhythm, Andrew & Kevin set good times on stages 5 & 6 to maintain their earlier performance and take top spot in Category 2.
Finishing 1st in Category 2 & 3rd Mini overall, it was a fantastic result for Brawdy Airfield newcomers Andrew & Kevin, with Kevin adding, "A special thanks should go to the organisers who, on a very wet and windy day, put on a very well organised event, run at 30 seconds timing throughout and coping with imposed Covid restrictions and changes to organisation, marshalling and timing procedures - well done Pembrokeshire Motor Club."
Due to Covid & other influences that have prevented the team from rallying the still relatively inexperienced Family team of Stevens & Selly - consisting of Harvey (Driver), Andrew (Navigator) & Lawrence (Spanners), were determined to make an impact on the Championship!
Hoping for Glorious Sun and dry tarmac (similar to the 2019 event), the team were demoralised to awake Sunday Morning to a Pembrokeshire Monsoon!
Fortunately the team have spent a few hours testing during the forced break on the Club arranged sprint days & have begun to work out what tyre pressures work best on the Yokohama Advan A048 R12 Tyres fitted to their Mini, especially in the wet...
Knowing that their lack of horse power & experience would not get them into the Premier Battle for the lead Mini, they were determined to compete & the team of Craig King & Clare Jennings were perceived to be their nearest rival!
The two teams on paper are very equally matched & the unfamiliar stages are new to both crews, negating Craig's advantage as the more experienced driver.
Harvey & Andrew would take a 17 second advantage after Stage 1 as Craig attempted to Brush off the Covid Rust & Clare feeling a little travel sick.
Stage 2 would see the tables turned as Craig & Clare were 40 seconds faster. With Harvey & Andrew entering service with a loose steering rack which had made the Mini handling unpredictable to say the least! At the service interval Lawrence managed to get the rack tightened up along with a couple of loose rear shock absorbers in double quick time.
With a tight car, Harvey & Andrew would claw back 8 of the lost seconds on Stage 3 and 9 seconds on stage 4 as a dry line could be found in amongst the still very greasy tarmac & rough concrete.
More rain fell for the start of Stage 5 & the Stevens / Selly crew new that to get in front they would have to push. Despite hitting a tyre that had been deposited in the middle of a chicane by a previous car, the team were delighted to enter service to be told that not only had they clawed back the deficit but were now in the lead of Craig & Clare by a mere 6 seconds.
Both teams looked to start the final stage knowing that the glory could be there for the taking. Harvey & Andrew saw their opponents leave the service area and were set to duly follow when more Drama unfolded. The starter motor was jammed & the Mini needed a bump start from Lawrence & fellow competitor - Ryan's Dad Paul Taylor. Knowing that they could not afford to drive overly conservative & any mistake including a stall would most likely hand the honours to Craig & Clare the team pushed as hard as they dare.
In the previous stages, the sight of Craig's Mini existing the last chicane on the long runway straight at the end of the second loop signified that the 30 second interval between the cars at the start of the stage had been eroded. Not this time, the Yellow & black Mini was not to be seen! Knowing that their slender lead was diminishing with every mile, Harvey & Andrew put in a final push on the last couple of miles...
Had they, or had they not, done enough to hold onto the lead over their great friends & weekend rivals?
Entering service for the last time there was a mad scramble to get out the car to check the online live timing. After 90 mins of stage rallying covering over 70 miles they had managed to hold the lead by the slimiest of margins, a whopping 2 seconds!
After many months of wondering whether or not the decision to enter this sport was a mistake, the answer became apparent right there in that jubilant moment!
Superb results for Harvey & Andrew, finishing 1st in Class 3 & 4th Mini overall.
Despite a flawless scrutineering, Craig King & Clare Jennings were plagued with an engine that was cutting out, progressing to the engine not starting at all! With the threat of being unable to compete in the rally looming, Craig tried both fuel pumps - to no avail! An initial investigation under the bonnet unfortunately there was nothing visibly wrong with the engine. After continuous trying, bizarrely the Mini fired up & ran fine, but with no answers it was a restless night for the team, worrying about the impending rally... The morning of the rally arrived & again the Mini wouldn't start!
Finally the crew got the Mini running, with Craig adding it was, "rough at low revs - we adjusted the tick over to compensate & after a few runs up and down the service area, the engine seemed okay again."
Stage 1 was wet & slippy, with a bit of water ingress to the Mini, as a result Craig & Clare developed a slight misfire half way round that luckily it cleared up at the end of the stage. Noting they were "abysmally slow", Craig explained that he was feeling pretty rusty - the after effects of the previous rally-less 16 months, navigator Clare was also suffering, experiencing her first bout of travel sickness!
By Stage 2, Craig & Clare were feeling much better & getting back in to the swing of things, as reflected in their time - a full 54 seconds faster! Worsening conditions & an overly cautious drive on Stage 3 allowed competitors Harvey & Andrew to close in on the gap between the two crews... Preparing for battle on Stage 4, Craig explained it was an 'interesting' stage, "we were going well until the throttle stuck open which really slowed us down & at the finish the engine was dangerously hot!"
The issues didn't stop there, on the way to start Stage 5 it was discovered the there was excess play in the steering column, this was diagnosed as the pinch bolt at the bottom of the column had started to come loose, an almost identical issue to that as faced by Harvey & Andrew earlier in the rally. With no option but to begin the stage, Craig was conscious not to pull on the steering wheel, rather to push on it instead. Repaired when back in service, the crew began to build in confidence, ready to attack the final stage... Despite the throttle sticking open again at the finish, the pair had a good run.
Finishing 2nd in Class & 5th Mini overall, Craig added "unfortunately we were just 2 seconds short of getting back past Harvey. On the whole it was a good day's motorsport, with every Mini finishing the rally. Hopefully I will be a little less rusty next time out!"
Overall Mini Results:
Category 1 Clive King / Anton Bird
Category 2 Andrew O'Hanlon / Kevin Hogan
Open class Ryan Taylor / Lucy Wilding
Congratulations Ryan & Lucy on 1st Mini overall!
The first round winners of the 2 Yokohama tyres were Harvey Stevens, 5 litres of Classic Mini Oil to Andrew O'Hanlon & the Snap On tools award to Clive King.
For the ‘Best Improvement on Seeding’ a set of Mintex Competition brake pads generously donated by Questmead went to Ryan Taylor up from 77th to 29th overall!
(Photos - HRCR, Ryan Taylor, Kevin Hogan & Craig King)
(Words - Ryan Taylor, Clive King, Kevin Hogan, Harvey Stevens & Craig King)