Neil Fletcher Racing

HAVOC Article No 7.

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An Update From Ireland.

    We are now in the summer break of our '96 Rally season so I thought I'd drop you a few lines to let you know what we've been doing in the Mexico since last year. When I last wrote we were half way though a, for us, rather dismal '95 Navigation Rally season but things picked up as soon as the season restarted in September with an event which was fairly local to us in the South Armagh area. It was a very wet and windy night and the club had laid on a lot of really tight muddy lanes. This, along with the fairly straight forward navigation and the fact that I had just fitted a brand new set of Dunlop M&S tyres meant that we had a great run for a change and ended up winning the event outright - our first win in a championship event since John and I got together as a crew in 1992. In fact it was John's first ever overall win in an N.I. Championship event, so needless to say, there was quite a bit of celebrating done that night. This result lifted us from 6th to 4th overall in the N.I. Championship and with four rounds still to go we had high hopes of climbing even further up the table.

    A fortnight later we headed off in high spirits for Dungannon, another event in which we have usually done well, but things went badly wrong from the very start. After getting the car off the trailer I went to get petrol. When I went to start the car again there was a real death rattle from the starter - it had sheared one of its mounting bolts and was jumping out of engagement - the 24 volt starting is always hard on the starter and it needs constant attention to keep it in perfect order. With no time to effect repairs before the 'off' I would need to be careful where I stopped and try not to stall anywhere it might be difficult to get a push start. Things went from bad to worse after that. John had some difficulty with the navigation and we took a few wrong turns but nothing that cost us much time until out of the blue the engine died on landing after a vicious jump. With no starter we were now in trouble. I immediately hit the clutch and let the car coast with a dead engine, I flicked on the second fuel pump, hit a special button I've installed to give the coil 24 volts for starting, selected 2nd gear and let the clutch out as we were still rolling - nothing. Try again, still nothing. By this time the car had ground to a halt, I grabbed the torch, hopped out and threw up the bonnet. I'd come to the conclusion that the hard landing had knocked a wire off about the ignition system but I couldn't see anything out of place so I did the obvious and wiggled every wire in sight. We tried a push start but still nothing. I then pulled the wires off one coil and pushed them onto the spare (I keep a second coil bolted to the inner wing), this time she fired up on the first push and ran as sweet as ever. John snapped home the bonnet pins and dived into the car as I tore off unfortunately in the mad panic to get belted up and sort out his maps he misread where we were, we turned the wrong way at the next junction and approached the next control from the wrong direction.

    What with the time loss and the penalty for a wrong approach we were really well out of the running and, even with a fairly trouble free run after that, we only managed to finish 9th overall and 5th in class. This result kept us 4th in the championship, but over the next week we were given the bad news that the next two rounds were cancelled for various reasons and with only one round remaining we couldn't improve on our 4th place. Needless to say we still went to the final event of the year – “just for the craic" and had what was, for us, a fairly uneventful run, finishing 4th on the event and 4th overall in the 95 championship. Well, there's always next year.

    The '96 season started at the end of January and I had got none of the jobs done to the Mexico that I had planned for the two month winter break. Carmel, my wife, says I have too many fingers in too many pies and if I got rid of a couple of the cars I have and just spent my time on one road car and the rally car, then I might get something done in the restoration line - well, maybe someday. In the meantime I'll just keep buying the parts before they are completely unobtainable.

    The first event of the '96 season was another one of those where we missed a small loop. In this case it was within half a mile of the start and we were about four miles away before we discovered we were wrong and had to retrace our steps to pick up a control on that loop, well an eight minute time loss was better than a thirty minute penalty for missing a control. This also meant that we were late at the end of the section. For the rest of the night we only dropped the odd minute here and there but on a night of low penalties for everyone that early error cost us dearly and dropped us to fifth overall at the end of the night.

    The second round of the championship was based in Hilltown at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and for once we had no major drama apart from the odd wrong slot and a little time loss here and there. It's a funny thing, but when you're having a very straight forward run you automatically assume that everyone else is doing the same so arriving at the finish we reckoned we would be lucky to get a top five finish. As soon as we had finished the rally I had to head off to work and leave John to bring the Mexico home behind the Range Rover. It was only when I arrived home the next day that I got a message from John that we had won the event outright. It turned out that all the other top crews had missed a three mile loop which had two controls on it. John couldn't understand this as he had no trouble at all with that loop, but I guess that's just how it goes. We were now in the totally unexpected position of leading the N.I. Navigation Rally Championship. Next we headed for Omagh and an event which is usually a disaster for us but we still go and say "We'll do better this year". Well we didn't - first we had a puncture - the last one I had was on this same event two years ago. To make matters worse it was down a very long narrow lane and we couldn't find a good wide place to pull over so we just had to try and change the wheel and dive for cover as other rally cars came flying past, blaring their horns, I'm not sure if they were blares of delight or not. We got going with the loss of a few minutes but later in the rally it was our turn to miss out a loop that was to cost us severely as we missed a control. This, along with other minor errors, meant we ended up 7th by the finish. But it wasn't over yet. At the finish we were involved in a protest about the use of Code Boards (these are not allowed on N.I. Championship events); it didn't make much difference to us, but after all the discussions/arguments had finished we ended up 6th and still in the lead of the championship.

    The next event was organised by John and myself for my local 'Newry and District' club. We used some roads and lanes in the border area (the border with the Republic of Ireland) that had not been used for many years. Everyone seemed to enjoy the new territory except for our closest challengers in the championship, they blew the engine in their 205 Gti - we're not the only ones who have mechanical disasters. This meant that we went into the last event before the summer break still leading the championship. This event was based in Enniskillen, another area where our previous results were less than fantastic but we had a very steady run into second place to record our best ever run in that area. Unfortunately for us the crew who were lying second to us in the championship won this event so with just over half the championship run, our lead has been cut to a couple of points but there's still everything to play for when the championship resumes in late September.

    Once again this year I have done only Navigation Rallies and the odd Autotest but come next year I hope to have our bungalow, garage and garden all in shape and will be able to do a few Stage Rallies again. To this end I hope to do quite a bit of repreparation to the car over the next few months and I'll let you know how this goes.

    Finally, while I was over at AVO day this year a couple of people put forward the suggestion that I should write an article on my preparation experiences with Mkl's as I have been using them for over fifteen years in competition. Let me know if you'd be interested in an article or two for Havoc. Until then, 

All the best

Neil Fletcher

FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 – Mexico
FIA 6386 – Mexico
Membership No. 1472

Editor's Note - Great article, Neil. Of course we can use an article on your fifteen years experience. Hope to see you at National Day. - Mike.

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