The TSH Stages, Portreath, Cornwall 21st and 22nd May 2016
Stages: 14 – Starters: 84
After a satisfying result on the Bovington Stages in February, where the team débuted their new Subaru Impreza and effectively used the event as a test, Mark ll Motorsport headed west last weekend to tackle the TSH Stages held at RAF Portreath, near Redruth in Cornwall. Bovington had highlighted some areas to improve on the car, namely better braking and a quicker steering rack for a more responsive change of direction, and those areas had been duly addressed!
Driver Mark Welch was clearly enjoying the new car – “coming back from 26th overall at Bovington to 7th and 3rd in class certainly showed that the Impreza has a lot more development potential than our old Cosworth”. “Getting a trophy the first time out was very satisfying and frankly unexpected”. “This event will be interesting as Dean from Geo Prep has made a number of small but we hope significant changes which should mean we won’t give ourselves so much work to do!”
The co-driver on the TSH would be Andy Hollingham who last sat with Welch at the 2015 D’Isis stages where the pairing finished second in the teams old Escort Cosworth.
A field of 84 cars lined up for day one including a number of WRC vehicles and a whole heap of quick Mark 2 Escorts with in excess of 300bhp at their disposal. Mark ll was realistic about their chances. Mark hadn’t driven this venue since 1999, and with a seeding of 16, they hoped to finish in the top 10.
Day one was wet, and muddy which would suit the 4 wheel drive cars well including the Subaru. In fact Mark ll was fielding one of 8 in the rally.
SS1 was completed without drama, and the team were well pleased with 8th quickest time. SS2 saw an improvement – 6th fastest and now 6th overall, a mere 7 seconds off of 3rd place!
Tyres were a bit of a lottery, but Mark elected to stay on intermediate rubber for stages 3 and 4 even though things were drying out. These 2 stages proved to be almost the undoing of the weekend. SS3 saw a minor overshoot at a hairpin. Normally reverse would be selected and a handful of seconds lost whilst the car was manoeuvred and went on its way.
The cable system in the cars sequential gearbox which enables reverse to be selected, slipped and reverse was not available. A painful wait for the marshals to arrive and push the stricken Subaru backwards saw 3 cars pass which meant at least 1minute 30 seconds had been lost. 64th fastest time confirmed that. With no service after the stage, SS4 was attempted without reverse and yep, it happened again with about 40 seconds lost this time which translated to 40th fastest time.
“I guess I was overdriving after the first incident and to do it again was just stupid” said the dejected driver.
Once in service, the problem was fixed and the team, now in a lowly 31st position set about making a comeback.
At the head of the rally, Kevin Tappin was leading in an Escort WRC from Steve Furzeland in a Subaru WRC. Tappin was driving really well and those 2 had pulled clear of the field.
With 10 more stages to go, there was still plenty of rally left to change things and in this game, nothing is certain until you cross the line. “We’ve still got 80 competitive miles to get back into contention” said Andy. “The car is going well and we keep making small adjustments with each adjustment improving things a little bit each time”.
SS5 saw the team back in the groove and 8th fastest time was the result followed by 5th fastest time on SS6. The blue Subaru was inching up the leader board but it was slow progress. The final 2 stages of the day were completed without further drama as the team left the venue holding 19th place. The target for Sunday was still top 10. This would mean taking a minute out of the car currently holding 10th to achieve the objective. Simple!
Bright sunshine greeted everyone on the second morning. This was good in some respects but bad for Mark ll as dry conditions would suit the high powered 2 wheel drive cars……….
A slightly sluggish start saw the team take 10th fastest time on SS9, but up the leader board, Tappins rally ended with terminal differential failure in the Escort WRC which curtailed a very good drive. Furzeland now inherited the lead but had James Harvey in another Subaru snapping at his heels. Gary Le Coadou in his rapid Toyota Corolla WRC was also making ground and up to 3rd place.
The stages on Sunday were a lot longer than Saturdays averaging around 11 miles each, so tyre wear became critical. Mark ll managed this quite well reserving its best (second hand) rubber for the final 2 stages.
The rally was now being run at a phenomenal pace and it was very hot hard work for the crews in the cockpit. Mark ll’s service crew of Dean George and Mark Sims (who had to hang up his camera for the day) were doing awesome work, keeping the car running, improving the set up all the time and keeping spirits up and a belief that despite day 1’s escapades, a good result was still possible.
The Subaru’s sequential box was not entirely behaving, but this was not losing the team much time and did not appear to be getting worse, so it was time to press on.
By the time the rally had reached the end of SS12, the longest stage thus far, 10th overall had been achieved. This was a fantastic effort with the team never out of the top 6 each stage, despite giving away a significant amount of power to those ahead (and now quite a few behind too!).
The team then managed 3rd fastest time on SS13 as they bid to get into the class placings and followed that up with 4th fastest on the final stage, the new tyres really making a difference!
The end result was a tremendous 7th overall and 3rd in class, just the same as Bovington!
“What a weekend” said Andy at the finish. “That’s one of the best events I’ve had in rallying”. Mark was equally delighted. “I’m really enjoying our new car now”. “It’s very different to the Cosworth but the improvements Dean has made have transformed the handling and braking, and its great fun to drive even if it’s a little battle weary now”. “I would never had envisaged us getting back up to 7th by the end after our issues yesterday, but I’m absolutely chuffed”.
So another good result for the team and again, they did it the hard way!!
Mark II Motorsport would like to thank its sponsors as well as the service crew of Dean George of Geo Preparations and Mark Sims. Thanks also to Jane Sillitto for the moral support!
Images : M&H Photography