The Cambrian Rally is the last round of this year’s ATRC series. As one of the easier events, and also one I did last year on my KTM 640 Adventure, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect for a change. I also knew to expect hectic parking and nowhere handy to park my truck that would be flat and level enough to allow a comfortable night’s sleep.
My mate Gordon was doing the rally too, so on Friday we loaded both bikes into the truck and at about 2pm, headed off to the Llyn Brianne reservoir, North of Llandovery in central Wales. I’d done some browsing of google earth and google streetview and with a few pointers from others had identified a parking spot just down the other side of the hill from the start area. 4 hrs to Llandovery, and another hour for the 20 miles to the parking area. We finally arrived there at about 8pm, after a long, slow and frankly nerve-wracking drive in the pitch black on a tortuous track not much wider than the truck, which vanished off down into the reservoir on one side. Parking up, we put dinner on and watched a What !f, an Enduro/MX video which seemed apt, but only served to highlight how mediocre our riding actually is.
Sign on, on Saturday morning, started at 8:30 am, and we still had to unload the truck, so were woken by the alarms at 7. It was blowing a hoolie! Where we’d parked was in a valley and so relatively sheltered, but we could see from the trees that it was windy higher up. After a quick breakfast we unloaded the truck, got kitted up and rode the short 2 minutes up the hill to the start area to sign on. We also collected our commemorative mug, start and stage times and start numbers. After applying those to the bikes, they were given a quick look over by the scrutineering team, given a black mark to say they passed (isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?) and that was us for another hour. With a start number of 72 I was off at 10:53 so had some time to kill.
The Cambrian rally comprises 3 laps on 2 days, with the Saturday course being run in reverse on the Sunday, and takes in the famous Strata Florida, one of the best and most famous green-lanes in the country. On the course there’s two special staged where you’re timed. The first lap is an un-timed sighting lap while you’re against the clock on laps 2 and 3. At 10:53 I headed off into the forest onto relatively familiar terrain. The first part of the course was the same as last year, but soon we dived off to the right where we’d gone straight on last time, I was now on unknown trails again.
Reaching the start of special stage one, I could see that I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up with times, as I had a good few minutes to spare and this was with us being let through almost immediately as it was untimed. This special started off with some moderatly rutted and muddy track climbing up a gradual hill before turning right and heading into a short stretch of sticky, rutted, boggy clay which saw my speed drop right down as I paddled through it. I wasn’t the only one struggling with this stuff and pausing to wait for others to move on I could see that the tops of the ruts were being planed flat by sump-guards and, in some cases, the cylinder heads of the big BMWs. I wasn’t looking forward to doing this against the clock. Reaching the bottom of this, we weren’t given much respite and soon found ourselves on another equally rutted section, but this time covered in cut conifer branches. Those of us on bigger bikes muddled through, being passed on both sides by smaller enduro machines but soon enough I was out and back onto fire-roads. There were some corners that could catch you out on the faster bits if you weren’t careful and while I didn’t make any mistakes along that bit, I did make a mental note to take it easy.
After completing special stage one, another blast along the fire-roads brought me to a sharp hander which dropped down into the Strata Florida. There’s only one way to describe it, rocky and wet. Despite it having been quite dry recently, there were still some pretty deep puddles and water crossings, almost covering the front wheel at some points. I was very aware of the Husky’s weak spot if the TPS sensor got a good soaking, so I’d prepared the bike with some additional waterproofing on those connectors. This was the test, to see if it worked. As it happens, I needn’t have worried and spinning along in 2nd gear it ploughed through the water crossings and through the rocks without missing a beat. I was also mentally comparing this section to how I’d found it last year on the KTM, both in terms of how comfortable I felt as a rider but also how the bike was coping. It’s the only place that I’ve ridden both under similar circumstances so it was interesting to make the comparison. Basically, I found it much easier on both counts. The bike’s lighter and more agile, but I also founds myself riding over sections that had halted me last year without even noticing and soon found myself at the end of the Strata, still waiting for the tricky bit to appear.
From there to the start of special stage 2, it was pretty uneventful. more fire road but nicely twisty to keep it interesting and allowing me to focus on my riding and cornering.
Special 2 was, as far as I can tell, the same as last year. It was also where I’d dropped the bike and broken the clutch perch causing my to time out, so I felt I had unfinished business here. Yet again, as in the Strata Florida, I found it a breeze and carried far more speed round the whole special than I could have imagined last time. Quickly finding myself at the finish and heading back to the paddock I felt confident that this event would go my way.
After the sighting lap I had about half an hour to kill before my allocated time to start lap 2, the first timed lap. I had a quick bite to eat and checked over the bike before riding up to the start line and heading back off into the forest.
On reaching stage 1, I pushed myself to not stop nor get stuck in the boggy mud, and while I was most cerrtainly slower than most and probably holding folk up on that bit, I did get down far quicker than on the sighting lap. Equally, the rutted, tree-branched bit didn’t seem as tricky this time round either. Maybe I just needed the sighting lap to get back into the way of things, a warm up.
I blasted off onto the fire-road leading to the end of the special, this sort of riding is what I enjoy most. As the track climbed gently up and round to the left, I caught sight of something to my right, out the corner of my eye. I glanced over and saw a chap peering up over the grass at the side of the track, there was no sign of his bike and it appeared he’d gone over the edge. By the time I’d registered all this I’d already passed where it had happened so decided to press on, and I’d mention it to the marshals at the stage end. A couple of bends later, there was a rider stood at the side of the track waving to slow down. I braked and as I rounded the left hander, I could see a handful of bikes at the side of the track and a fair number of riders in amongst the trees. There appeared to be plenty of assistance already present and rather than risk causing another accident by stopping and adding another parked bike to the mix, I pressed on again.
A couple of corners on I was presented with an ambulance approaching up the hill with it’s blues and two’s going; this wasn’t looking good.
When I arrived at the stage finished, I was presented with a few worried faces asking about various riders and mutual friends and acquaintances. I had recognised one of the bikes parked up, but other than that I had no idea who was involved or what had happened other than at least one person had run wide and ended up in the trees. I hung about for 10 minutes or so trying to pick up info on what had happened, and it seemed that it had been more than one who had come a cropper, some said maybe even 5 or 6. Whatever had happened, it wasn’t good.
Rather than cluttering up the stage finish, I rode on, aware that I knew some of the bikes that were there and hoping they were assisting and not directly involved. Rightly or wrongly, I was able to push the events from my mind and continued on through the Strata Florida and up to stage 2. You can’t afford to get complacent or your focus to drift, that’s how accidents can happen in the first place. Equally, we are all aware of the risks involved in motorsport and we have to accept and deal with them no matter how unpleasant the outcomes can be.
On reaching stage 2, I set off as the light turned green and again found it just flowed. I was even starting to catch a rider as I reached the end of the stage which, for me, is quite an achievement. I’m used to catching people up on fast fire roads, but not so much when it’s a bit more technical. From there it was just a quick blast back to the start/finish area and then back down to the truck where I refuelled both the bike and myself.
I set out on lap 3 and arrived at the start of special stage 1 to find a long queue. Noone was going out on the stage and it quickly became apparent why when the air-ambulance appeared overhead. The events from earlier in the day were obviously not trivial. As it departed, the marshals announced that special stage 1 was being abandoned as there was now no medical support available to cover it, and also that our times from the pervious lap on special stage 1 would be wiped. While there were some moans and groans, I don’t think any of them were particularly sincere. We were all aware that the need for a full on ambulance and an air-ambulance had some significance. On the other hand, it meant I was spared that horrible boggy mud for a third time that day.
From there, we just followed the fire road round, at a gentle pace and taking it easy before we rejoined the course at where special stage 1 had finished.
Once again, I bounced and splashed through the Strata Florida at a good pace and arrived at Stage 2. Yet again, I rattled round without incident and really felt as though I was finding my pace.
On the way back to the start/finish I ended up following one of the crashed bikes from earlier, which was being ‘delivered’ to the paddock by one of those helping assist with the incident. It was looking a bit second hand, with a punctured right hand fuel tank, bent subframe, bent handlebars and mangled hand-guards. That’s just what was immediately visible anyway.
After enquiring as to the state of those who’d been injured, and discovering that while needing hospital treatment, none of it was life threatening, I trundled back down to the truck to warm up and sort myself out for the Sunday.
Without needing to sign on, the start time was a bit earlier with me lining up to start at 9:23. The forecast had been for possible showers first thing in the morning, drying up as the day went on. I think the weather must have had a lie in, as it was pretty consistent rain most of the day until we’d finished. The riding itself on Sunday was pretty straight forward and nothing untoward happened. Well, apart from yet another foot-peg mounting bolt making a bid for freedom, on the left hand side this time. I rode the last mile or so of the 2nd lap (1st timed lap) with the peg in my back pack and sorted it out at the truck. It was fine for the rest of the day but it’s definitely something that needs looking at over the winter’s maintenance.
The course was basically the same as Saturday’s, but in reverse. Saturday’s stage 2 became Sunday’s stage 1. Sunday’s stage 2, however, was now fast, twisty fire-road leading back to the start/finish area and the muddy, boggy section which had been stage 1 on Saturday had been removed from the course altogether.
There’s a few little bits that get interesting when doing the route in reverse. Some of the rocky drop-offs that were encountered in the Strata Florida become like climbing steps on the Sunday, but even so, I navigated them with ease.
On stage 1 on the last lap I even managed to pass 3 other riders, which was a big confidence boost. To catch up not one but 3 riders when the timed section only lasts minutes, and you’re set off at 30 second intervals means I was making some progress on them.
As to the results, 14th in the Rally class, out of 31 starters. Another mid-field result but one I’m happy-ish with. I do have to keep reminding myself that this is only my first year doing this, so hope for better things next year. I’m still waiting for the final points and placings on the ATRC series to be worked out, but I’ll update this post as and when they come out.
I’ve also had some news from one of the injured riders, Mark, who was on a KTM 660. He’s still in hospital but in good spirits. He’s got a dislocated shoulder and a couple of cracked vertebrae and, after an op to deal with that, should be relocated to a hospital closer to home. I wish him well, and to get well soon! At least being the last race of the year, there’s plenty of time to recover before next season starts.