Tuesday 11 December 2012

Fighting hard for rally success

Our European Sales Manager Neil Matthews member at Quinton MC is the first to recognise he has had to fight hard to achieve success this year. Despite a catalogue of mechanical problems and a heavy crash at the Dukeries Rally in June, his never-say-die attitude has been rewarded with sixth overall in the BTRDA Silver Star championship - the best result by a 1600cc car for several years – and a string of class wins in the BTRDA, MSA English and MSA Welsh National championships.

Before the season started, Neil embarked on a ground-up rebuild of his ex-Martin Meadows BTRDA Gold Star-winning Vauxhall Nova. With ambitious plans to not only try and win class B10, but also challenge the over-2 litre Ford Escorts for Silver Star honours, Neil knew the car had to be right. “I originally intended just to give it a thorough checkover, but it turned into a full rebuild as I needed to start from a sound base,” he says.

All was going well, until a last-minute decision to enter the Dukeries Rally should have paid dividends points-wise, but it backfired on the first stage. Neil overshot a corner just after the flying finish and crashed into a ditch. With the driver’s side of the car extensively damaged, it became a race against time to repair it for the Nicky Grist Stages in July. But on the Thursday evening before the rally, Neil discovered the Nova’s chassis was still twisted. “We got the chassis on a jig, but it wouldn’t straighten. I couldn’t risk a driveshaft pulling out and damaging the gearbox, so we had to withdraw the entry on
Friday,” he reported.

One month later at the Woodpecker Rally, and with the chassis now straight, Neil’s knowledge of the Welsh borders stages paid dividends as he and Ian took an early class lead, which they held for much of the day. A storming run through the fast but bumpy Cwm-y-Gerwyn stage brought them to the finish at Ludlow racecourse with a solid second in class and confirmed Neil as the BTRDA class B10 driver’s champion for 2012.

And so to the BTRDA finale, the Cambrian Rally. With both the BTRDA and Welsh National class titles in the bag, Neil went to Llandudno aiming to possibly take second overall in Silver Star. Unfortunately things started going wrong on Friday, with Neil spending part of the night being ill with suspected food poisoning. Despite not feeling well, he started the rally and played safe, sacrificing outright speed for consistency. Brake problems hindered their progress early on, but they settled into fourth in class by first service, which became third after the two Penmachno stages.

So what are Neil’s thoughts on competing in a major championship? “Anyone doing something like BTRDA needs to commit seriously to the long haul – you can’t do it by half measures,” he says. “At times, we just kept going and conjured scores out of adversity, which put us in the mix at the season’s end.”