Monday, February 19, 2007

Drive like a hooligan...

TI Rally School near York (01759 318820) was the venue yesterday afternoon, Ned and I turned up with eight other aspiring hooligan drivers to experience what is is actually like to climb into a car that has been stripped down to the absolute minimum required to make it go very fast across wet and muddy concrete and, mud.

Its very exilarating is the answer.

Among the group that stood around at the start clad in our matching and very smart fireproof overalls and safety helmets were twenty-somethings who were keen as mustard to get behind the wheel and me, probably the oldest one there, who frankly couldn't really care less about the competition element, I was there for a laugh.

Its how I approach all sports, whatever I play is played for enjoyment, I couldn't care less about winning or losing as long as I have a laugh doing it, and driving like a hooligan in mud is probably as enjoyable a sport as I can think of.

The RS2000 rally car is a design classic, its an old car that has none of todays rally gadgets, no traction control, no four wheel drive, nothing anti-lock, no brake assist and no power steering.

The no power steering bit was apparent on the first run. At the TI Rally School you don't sit in a classroom or watch someone else do the work, you get straight in a car (several identical RS2000's), plug in the intercom and your instructor, in my case Mick, sits in the passenger seat and tells you exactly what to do and when to do it - these instructions usually consist of words like "faster", "handbrake", and "sideways" and occasionally "what did you do that for".

The first trip out was an attempt to get rid of the natural instinct that drivers have to actually drive your way around the circuit. With no power steering and big heavy off road wheels the car feels incredibly solid and its tough to steer at speed in mud, we drove around a short but very twisty course a few times with Mick trying to get me to use the cars momentum to get around the corners - driving a rally car sideways is apparently the norm and the most important piece of equipment in the car is the handbrake which when applied at speed along with a foot to the floor on the accelerator will make the car slide gracefully around any corner no matter how sharp.

But its hard to accept that when it goes against all your natural instincts - I finished the first round absolutely knackered because I'd tried to steer the car around the course, I fell out of the drivers cage thinking I wouldn't last the day if it was all like this.

The second run was on a much longer course with a nice fast twisty bit to start with and by this time the penny had dropped, foot to the floor, drive flat out into the corners and let the car slide around with hardly any movement of the steering wheel - immense fun but with bends and corners coming up at you fast every couple of seconds, incrediby absorbing with no time to admire the scenery, which was good because the scenery was in the main, mud.

Three sessions later and the ten drivers were a lot more confident, especially after we had all managed to drive off the course at least once, and done 360 degree spins both on and off the route, in fact TI Rally School will probably find new routes marked out on their course today such was the enthusiasm of our group.

The final session was a timed one off dash around the long route and this is where the nerves obviously set in for some of the competitors, Mick my instructor asked me if I was nervous as we waited for the countdown on the start line and I replied that no, I was there for the laugh, five seconds later we were tearing into the bends at what seemed like unfeasible speeds and I was laughing with Mick shouting out a constant stream of instructions urging more speed and more sideways stuff - fekking brilliant is all I said at the end, just fekking brilliant and after four competitors had completed the course I was in the lead, the ones who seemed keenest had lost it on the timed run and hit several obstacles which all carried penalties - the "have fun" attitude works every time.

And then at the end we swapped seats and Mick took me on a proper hooliogan trip around the course, a much longer course than we had used and driven at least three times the speed, it was time to sit there like a floppy doll and not move and try not to swear too much as Mick took ninty degree corners at speeds that should simply not have been possible, my back hurts this morning Mick.

They broke one car during the day and had to use a spare, something to do with the gears, or maybe not, it broke anyway and afterwards Mick and Phil (who own the school) told us of their day to day expenses, axles bought ten at a time, drive shafts similar, brake pads changed every four days, one of the cars that we were using needed new wheel bearings, they'd been changed on Tuesday - life in a rally school is tough on the mechanics whilst there in the car park sat my Nissan Primera which hasn't had the bonnet even lifted up this past eight months.

Eventually I came third in our little competition and unfortunately Ned finished first, he won a trophy and got to spray a bottle of fizzy stuff everywhere and I'll not hear the end of it in the office this morning where his trophy will go on the shelf which normally displays my golf trophies - as I pointed out to him last night, I have more golf trophies than he does - he was not slow inpointing out however that they are all for finishing last in the competitions but thats not the point, I had a laugh in every one of them.

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