Ant’s claim to fame is that he won the 1400 205 Cup in 2010 in a Peugeot 205 rally car which he built himself at the age of 21. Reigning champion, he makes sure I add. Then, after reaching the peak of his rallying career he took retirement to finished his degree.
In 2016 I was able to convince Ant to come out of retirement and take his place on the rally stages once again. The conversation went something like: “Hey Ant, I know we’re supposed to be buying a house, shall we go rallying instead?”
Being fresh out of uni and earning an average salary are factors not exactly compatible with rallying as even entry level clubman rallying will set you back some serious moneys. We realised there were certain compromises we would have to make in order to be able to rally on a budget.
After a few hours car shopping we had narrowed our affordable rally car options down to a few contenders. An early noughties 1.4 MG ZR was a hot contender but a combination of the K-series engine and our head gasket blowing curse (more on that later), it was ruled out. Another strong possibility was to build a cheap BMW 2l Compact into a rally car but we soon gave up that plan after viewing many cars with issues of; “yeh not sure why the fan is wired on permanently” and “the temperature gauge has never worked”. We eventually found our rally car in a sleepy little village in Hertfordshire, from a man who builds the embodiment of budget rally cars, the 1l Nissan Micra.
He was selling a mark III 1.4 Volkswagen Polo rally car and after being taken on the most hilarious test drive of all time involving handbrake turns, trespassing and a few full throttle racing starts we had bought our rally car. Plus of course a spare donor vehicle because why buy one car when you can convince yourself you need two.
Our next step to becoming WRC Champions (if only) was to do a little more shopping. In the Motorsport world today it sometimes feels like if it’s not fashionable Formula 1 then the majority of the population are not interested. This has meant that over the years other varieties of Motorsport have taken a hit.The number of rallys become fewer each year, 4×4 clubs struggle to find locations to hold trials and race circuits are continuously hounded to reduce noise. The Motorsports Association (MSA) must also feel this pressure, with an emphasis on safety the list of gear and regulations you must comply with continuously grows; so, with the Blue Book in one hand and a Demon Tweeks catalogue in the other we set about buying the gear.
Being female and owning a motorbike I am fairly used to a more limited choice of gear, this said the biking scene does seem to be shrugging off the “women are just brolly dollys” 1990s image problem. But I was astounded at the struggle to find a rally suit designed for women. Alpinestars do make one, but its twice the price of the man shaped one. In the end I decided it was of little consequence when you’re sliding round a hairpin.
Now we were pretty much all set for our first rally. Car, check. Gear, check. Licence, club entry, insurance, trailer, support team, check check check check. After some necessary Dub Scene Polo vinyls and some preventative maintenance we set off for the spectacular gravel forest tracks of the Nicky Grist Stages…