After weeks of only a few hours of sleep a night and a 24-hour shift prior to the eight-hour drive to Scotland we arrived at the Ultra4 Europe King Of The Glens.
We pulled number eight out of the hat for the running order of the prologue, but with a few no shows the order was changed and we ran as car six off the line.
At the line we were counted down: three, two, one, LAUNCH! Oh Sh!t! As we snake from left to right along the track, with a few lock-to-lock steering moments and plenty of power, we drove out of it and quickly realised we were only in rear-wheel-drive. With a quick push of the lever the Atlas transfer box was now driving both front and rear axles, and following a quick blat along a dust track we were directed into the forest along a stumpy climb, then directed even deeper in to the dense forest and between some tight trees.
Before long we were back in the open and picking up the pace on a downhill stretch that brought us out by the lock. There was then a blast around the lake to reach the checkpoint and then we were directed along to a rock crawl. We had to enter the rock crawl then climb out of it to then turn around a marker to then come back along the crawl. As soon as we committed to the crawl the truck took it in its stride and we were able to carry some good speed across it before turning and repeating the route in reverse. Next came a ditch crossing which brought us back out on to the main track before another diversion along the treeline.
Then suddenly we had no steering, then a raise in engine temperature – the belt tensioner had failed and it dropped the auxiliary drive belt off. Knowing there was a nasty uphill hairpin to come, tackling this without steering was not an option so we DNFd at that point.
Broken belts were something we were prepared for, but we were not prepared for all our spares to be incorrect due to the supplier’s labelling error! So after a lot of phone calls to various people suggested by marshals and teams (thanks to all who helped) we tracked down two belts and Ross hit the road to drive 45 minutes to collect them.
On his return we went to fit them only to find the reason for the failure was the belt tensioner had failed. So after scouting around the pit area Philon and Grant from Buzz Sweets came to the rescue with a tensioner unit we could use! Finally we had all the parts required to get us back together for the next day!
After a good few hours of Stu, Dan, Ross, Darren, Toni, Bret, Russell and Dan going through the truck it was ready to race. Being a totally untested, component-built truck we were expecting some things to come loose due to the paint on parts shifting etc, but we were amazed that pretty much everything was requiring tightening! Though it was definitely better to find this out in the pits than in the heat of racing!
We set off fourth from last due to the DNF on the prologue, but we were happy with that and were prepared to do some hunting if required. Setting off from the back also meant we could run at our own pace and test out the new truck in real race conditions.
So as the flag on the start line dropped we launched, this time in four-wheel-drive, and the truck started to eat up the ground ahead of us. After dropping on and off the main track to go through the technical sections, it wasn’t long before we passed a couple of cars approaching checkpoint one. There was a brief stop for Paul Zergi (Badger) to mark our scorecard on the bonnet and then we were off again and this time straight in to the dense forest through an entrance no wider than the truck – thankfully we already had our VisionX LED light bars turned on!
They had been on from the start for these kind of situations where we would be entering the dark forest at speed and didn’t have to worry about backing off due to visibility loss! I was amazed by the definition of the VisionX light being beamed from the six-LED light bars fitted to the front of the vehicle and we carried our speed in to the forest and around the twisting uphill tracks. We passed a parked-up truck in the hedge row before approaching a tight corridor of trees that dropped us back down the hill side. We approached with caution and entered the trees with no more than an inch or two either side of the car and approximately 100 metres to run. There was a traffic jam halfway down with about three or four cars involved, so we were happy we had caught up some other teams again and were only 4km in to the lap.
After the traffic cleared we got about 20 metres in and realised we had lost drive to the front axle, so after a few short winch pulls to aid the front wheels around the trees we were out on the flat. This soon turned in to a bog, so a short winch pull out of the way was needed so we could get under the truck to see the cause of the loss of drive. The U bolts had failed holding the U joints in to the yoke on the Atlas transfer case, so with limited tools we tried our best to straighten them and refit them, but they were too far gone.
We had no choice but to continue in two-wheel drive until we could find a track to DNF the lap. We soon ended up in a field which can only be described as ‘Co-Driver Hell’ or, to a driver, a peat bog with a layer of grass over it! We soon sunk and after multiple winch pulls we then found ourselves at the bottom of a massive hill which had as much bog on as the flat! After a few more winch pulls we were at the top of what was basically a mountain! We were off again with two-wheel-drive only, but after a few more metres we became bogged out on a climb and were struggling to find winch points when we heard the roar of Axel arriving behind us. We quickly flagged him down and he stopped without hesitation and helped anchor us so we could recover up to the flat!
After about half a kilometre it was time to come down the mountain and as we descended into a bowl we could see Philon bogged down at the bottom, so we took a different line to avoid the bog, but we found another one! After a quick laugh and chat with Philon we linked all our recovery gear together so we could reach the only treeline in sight and winched ourselves free. Thankfully all the rest of the journey back to the main track of the site was downhill and didn’t require winching!
Lap 2 – DNS
We started lap three in the same position as we did on lap one due to DNFing laps one and two, so once again stuck to the plan of truck testing.
The flag went down and the truck bit in. We’re off! The truck was feeling really good and soon we are darting off the track to follow the course across the technical sections. The steering lock is fantastic and making it easy to get the right line without backing up, with the Dyntrac axles and Atlas transfer box laying the power down to climb over the obstacles.
We were soon catching Team Gunit and as we rejoined the fast single track we approached checkpoint one with no place to pass, so we dropped back as both cars stopped at the checkpoint. Next it was back in to the dark woods, which instantly became daylight thanks to the VisionX which had been drawing minimal amps from the start. We were still hot on the back of Team Gunit and as we came in to the open they pulled to one side to let us push on – cheers, Mark and Andy!
Sadly we wouldn’t be in front for much longer. After about 500 metres we were back at the top of the tight tree corridor and as we descended in to the trees Ross noticed the wheels were pointing in opposite directions! We had sheared the High Steer steering arm on the driver’s side in half and we were now in a world of pain!
The only option was going out backwards but we had no rear winch and no steering. Thankfully Team Gunit were back up behind us at this point and recovered us backwards while we used the front winch to direct the front of the car around the trees. Soon afterwards Levi, Rob and Stu turned up and with a great amount of teamwork from all crews the car was freed from the trees and enough room had been left for the other racers to squeeze by!
We were still in a bit of an awkward situation stranded on a side slope, so Stu backed up and recovered us back to the flat and donated a nut and bolt from his rear winch mount so we could rework the front steering tie rod to give us limited steering so we could limp back to the pits. After a detour down an access track we were back on the main track and heading back to race control to have our tracker removed and retire from the lap.
Lap 4 – DNS
I am happy with how the event went, considering the truck was finished at the event and had no prior testing other than a few burnouts in the car park and being loaded on to the trailer.
Obviously I’m disappointed by not completing the prologue or the laps, but I’m really happy with the truck, and the team’s, performance. The truck has great potential and with steering arm and Uj upgrades reliability will hopefully come. We learned a lot from the time we had in the truck and have felt the characteristics of the coilovers and can now tune accordingly.
I want to say a massive thank you to Neil Whitford, Dave Cole and the Scotia Organizers for making this event happen, and the marshals that made it all work over the weekend. We’re really looking forward to the rest of the series.
Ross (co-driver), Toni , Darren, Stu, Russell, Bret, Dan, Richard
Sponsors and supporters:
Allisport, Vision X, Ruftraks Plasma winch lines, Synergy MFG, PAC Springs, Acerni Off Road Advance Adapters and Wrex Racing