On Sunday 25th November 2018, I returned to the world of Classic Trials for the second time this year at the annual Allen Car Trial, run by the Bristol Motor Club. Having not done a trial since May, me and my Dad were both ready to get back into the thrill of this unique Motorsport.
We were also looking forward to testing out our VW Buggy after it had been redesigned by a friend who has been competing in the sport for 30 years. He moved the fuel tank and battery to the rear of the car and made a new wheel rack so that 70% of the cars weight is at the rear. We also fitted the car with new tires, so we were feeling confident that we would have more grip for the event.
Some new readers may now be sitting at home looking at the screen thinking, ‘What on earth is a Classic Trial?’. This rare form of Motorsport takes place all over the country in the winter months of the year. Overall, there are 8 vehicle classes each with specific rules. Class 8 for example, which we compete in is for non-production cars that are rear-wheel drive and with the engine either in the front or back, whereas class 1 is for front engine, front-wheel-drive production cars.
On a Classic Trial there are multiple sections that the driver must complete which vary in difficulty. The aim is to score the least amount of points after all the stages have been completed. Along one side of every stage there are markers with a number on them. The bottom marker starts at 12 and the final marker ends with the number 1. The further you get up a stage the lower your score and if you complete a course fully you get zero. The stages are very different and are often made more challenging by deep mud, loose rocks and tree roots, so it is very important that the driver and passenger work together to reach the top of the hill.
Some stages also have restarts where certain car classes must stop at a restart marker, then move off again. Restarts can determine the outcome of a whole trial if some cars can’t pull away from them. There are also two observed tests which are timed and involve some reversing and can sometimes determine the winner if two cars are level on points at the end of an event.
The first three sections of the trial were reasonably straightforward. There was no tyre pressure limit enabling us to select any pressure we felt necessary for the section. Tog Hill, Bitton Lane and Big Uplands were all cleared with no dramas leaving us with a perfect score of zero. We then moved on to section 4 known as Guy’s Hill where we would encounter our first restart of the day and tyre pressures would now come into play.
This section was renowned for being a make or break hill and failure to move off the restart would make it much harder to get a good class result. We would also be running our tyres at 12-psi adding more difficulty to this section. Being the last car on the event we had no idea how our fellow class 8 competitors were performing. Having taken part on the Allen last year I remembered that this restart was not one for being heavy footed on the accelerator. Lots of revs and a nice smooth release of the clutch was needed. We approached the restart marker with ease, my dad then increased the revs on our buggy and we pulled away. The initial getaway was good and with a bit of bouncing on my part we cleared the section and were still in contention for a good result.
Next up was Travers Hill, a long section in large wooded area. This was another demanding climb, yet we were feeling confident after our efforts on Guy’s. Again, we would run our tyres on the 12-psi limit and would have another restart to overcome. This section was less challenging than first feared. Our approach to the restart marker was stress free (apart from the small wheelie) and we moved away nicely with less bouncing required.
After this it was a short trip down a track to our first observed section of the day. This was a timed section where we had to drive from one maker called “A” and stop astride maker “B”. If you hit the “B” marker this would have been a fail and 12 points. Luckily, we set a quick time with no dramas.
Then came the infamous Ubley Wood 2. This section had a restart at the bottom of a very steep and short bank. We moved forward from the start of the hill and decided to position the car to the left-hand side of the section at the restart marker to give us a better chance of reaching the top. In hindsight we should have stayed in the middle of the track as when we tried to move away from the restart we got wedged and couldn’t get traction, however hard I jumped around in the car. This gave us a score of three points, but we couldn’t ponder our mistakes as it was on to Ubley Wood 3. The section was narrow, with sharp bends at the bottom and the top. Previous cars had churned up the section substantially making it very slippery, but with a good bit of momentum behind us we cleared the section and went on to our lunch stop at the Chew Valley Lake.
After lunch it was on to Burledge. We did have a restart on this section, but tyre pressures were free giving us more of a chance to clear the hill. The section itself wasn’t too challenging and due to the track being dry we pulled away from the restart maker with minimal difficulty.
We continued to Fry’s Bottom Wood where multiple restarts and a tyre pressure limit of 12-psi awaited. Our first section was steep and rocky, yet the car performed well, and we cleared the section. This was then followed by an observed test where we set a good time without hitting any markers. Fry’s Bottom 2 required plenty of bouncing on what was an awkward restart, but we cleared the section dodging roots and stumps as we went. Our penultimate section, Fry’s Bottom 3 was another hill where we gained unwanted points. We accelerated from the restart well, but we got stuck behind a root and however hard we tried the car would not budge. Still, two points added to our overall tally wasn’t too bad giving us a score of five before the final section of the day.
The light was slowly fading as we arrived at the last section known as John Walker. All competitors had to run their tyres on 10 psi, however, there was no restart for this section. The final section was a fun end to a successful day of trialling. We careered through the water splash at the bottom of the hill and flew up the long section to the top.
The results were published a few days after the trial and we were thrilled to have taken 5th place in class 8 and 24th overall out of 66 cars. It certainly seems that the hard work of our friend, plus the skill of the driver paid off and both myself and my dad look forward to taking on more trials in 2019.