This weekend saw the ATRC championship back in Wales for the penultimate round of the season, the Hafren rally. This is a one day event starting and finishing in the Sweet Lamb rally complex near Llangurig.
One of the more technical rallies on the calendar, and also one that I failed to finish some years ago, I was a little apprehensive yet keen to get out and secure another finish at least.
As it was only a one day event, I drove over on Saturday afternoon and stopped in Llanidloes in the evening to sign on and have a drink and a natter with some of the other now familiar faces. The 7:30am scutineering, and my 9:20 start time meant I wanted a relatively early night so by 8pm I was back in Chateau feef and heading to Sweet Lamb. A dinner of lamb hot-pot, a couple of beers, Avengers Assemble on the telly, a brief spell socialising around a camp fire and I was in bed by 11:30. The new Eberspcaher heater worked a treat. It doesn’t’ like being left on low, so might need a service, but it certainly kept the chill out.
The forecast in the run up to the event was hopeful and it remained true, with Sunday dawning to cracks in the clouds allowing even a little blue sky and occasional sunshine to break through. The ground was still wet from the rain in the weeks leading up to the event, however, and if the paddock area was anything to go by, there was definitely a lot more mud to be had than we’d experienced at the other events this year. As in other events, the first lap was sighting only, so untimed, with laps 2 and 3 being timed and each lap had 3 special stages (T1, T2 and T3).
I unloaded the bike and got it up to scrutineering, but was immediately advised that it may be a bit loud. Fortunately I happened to have a baffle for this exhaust in my box of bits that I carry, so bolted that in and went back up. There was some uhming and ahhing, but I got the sticker and nothing more was said.
On the start line as number 63, with 61 and 62 along side, we were waved off at 9:20, through a little water splash and off into the course. The ride to the start of T1 (the first special stage), was fast flowing fire-roads and nothing too hairy nor worrying. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and at my alloted time, I ventured off into T1 and to find out what I’d let myself in for.
Well, suffice to say, my sighting lap was not the best ride of my life. I managed the first climb and subsequent single-track section okay. Turning right into the next climb, the back stepped out, caught, and high-sided me, knocking the breath out me. I should maybe have waited longer than I did to pick up the bike and get back on it, but I couldn’t help myself and got going again. As a result, I was still out of breath and getting more exhausted with every exertion, and dropped it again on a rocky downhill section. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the sighting lap, culminating in a rather nasty off when I slid off target on the third special, and crashed into a stack of 3 logs, throwing me over the bars, bending the rad and breaking the left hand tank plastics. It also removed the rad guard in the process, but I recovered it and stashed it in my pack.
Shortly after that, I came across someone else who had gone over the bars and had hurt his knee, his bike having dropped off the center of the track into a deep rut full of roots. There was a bike in front of me who had also stopped to assist, and between us we got the fallen bike out the way, and helped the rider over to the side so the course was at least passable again.
The next disaster was on a long slippery, muddy uphill section. I’d always thought really tight corners or ruts were my undoing. I was wrong, it’s slippery mud. I paddled my way up there, getting more and more tired, and welcomed the sight of hard-packed fire-road again. My last mishap could only have been down to lack of focus and simply followed the rider in front, who happened to chose the green arrows of the more technical option of the course. By the time I realised, I’d gone too far and couldn’t turn round and ride against the course to escape. I just had to get on with it. The terrain was a moderately steep uphill section, maybe a couple of hundred meters, but the first section was covered in freshly cut conifer branches. I managed to get further that I expected, but the back wheel spun up on a branch and I stopped. Getting going again was a challenge in itself, and putting my foot down, it vanished between two branches and the bike came down on top of me. Fortunately there were a few marshals at hand to pick it up as I was pinned, underneath and downhill from the bike.
After that, I decided that my goal for the day was to simply survive.
I arrived back at the paddock area far later than intended, and scoffed down some cereal bars, a banana and some juice. I also quickly zip-tied the rad guard back into place and got going again. I arrived at the start ot T1 15 minutes late, bearing in mind that there was probably a good 30 minutes spare to allow feeding and fuelling, so I was possible 30-45 minutes behind where I should be.
Lap2 was not nearly as crashy as the sighting lap, and while I was quite simply exhausted, I was getting round, and making up time; a couple of minor mistakes but nothing serious. By the time I got back to the paddock, I was back on time again, and feeling far less exhausted than at the start. I’ve always felt I’ve a pretty decent recovery time, and I felt that, again, that was true. I had enough time to refuel the bike, have a bite to eat, and then rode off to T1 on lap 3 arriving spot on time.
This time, T1 felt actually pretty good, jumping the whoops where I’d dropped in before, taking it easy and smoothly on the single track and I soon found myself at the end still looking for the bits I was expecting to find hard, given the two previous laps.
T2 was also quite uneventful, if not that quick. I was still very much in survival mode, as this was by far the hardest rally I’d done to date. The Centennial was tough, but that was endurance tough, not technical tough. This was a whole different kettle of fish to anything I’d ridden before. That being said, this time round I even found the slippery, muddy climb wasn’t as hard as it had been earlier in the day. I think I was riding better, was a little less tired, but I could also see a cleaner line forming where the mud had been scraped off and there was a more solid surface showing underneath.
Arriving at T3, I was quite looking forward to it. This was the easiest of the specials, and I didn’t envisage having any problems, not least that the last half was on track that I’d spent a weekend training on in February.
Well, I think that’s the perfect example of counting your chickens before they hatch!
2 minutes into T3, on the last lap, the course turned sharply left, then entered a loose climb up. I still can’t think what happened, other than I found myself spat off the bike and it stopped a good couple of meters up the track from me. A quick check of myself revealed everything was functioning normally, but as I stood up I spotted a little V of metal in the dirt. That’ll be the tip of the rear brake lever then. Ah well, I can get by without that.
I hauled the bike up and went to grab the throttle, only I couldn’t as it was obscured by the handguard. The retaining bolt in the end of the handlebars had snapped, leaving it flapping about. Oh well, another inconvenience. I got on the bike, got it started and moved off. Something wasn’t right. My right foot fished for the footpeg, which wasn’t where it was supposed to be. It was lower and further back. I stopped and had a quick look. One of the bolts holding the hanger onto the frame had also snapped, and it had rotated around the hanger.
Just something else to deal with, so off I went, using the right peg as little as possible and trying to sit down as much as possible. Arriving at the same rutted section where that other chap had taken a tumble earlier in the day I had to stand briefly. I kept going, dealt with a few wobbles but when I sat down the footpeg had vanished. I found I could ride sitting down, and rest my heel on the engine casing, but it was far from ideal but again, I just had to finish. I recalled the Ryedale where I rode the last section one handed, holding up my fractured nav-tower and with a dodgy TPS giving me very interesting throttle control, and decided I was just going to finish this too.
I rode on for another 10-15 minutes like this, letting other riders past as best I could, aware that I was riding VERY slowly in comparison, but I soon found myself back into the familiar territory of the Sweet Lamb complex itself. In comparison to the other events, or indeed where else I’d been earlier in the lap, this was home ground, familiar territory, and I knew exactly where I was going from there, and what I had to tackle to finish.
The track curved downhill and to the left, the paddock area in full view, before climbing back up to the Motocross track area and then round the back to the finish of T3. I could visualise almost every turn, jump, berm and obstacle between there and the finish.
But you know very well it’s not going to end that easily…
Just as was contemplating those last few miles, the bike coughed. Then it coughed again, then it cut out. I could feel the back wheel turning, I was riding downhill, and it was turning over the engine, but there was nothing. I thumbed the kill switch just in case I’d knocked it by accident somehow. Still nothing. I checked my ignition switch, as that had also been changed since the last race, and again, that seemed fine.
Running out of gravity and momentum, I ground to a halt, the paddock area and the finish literally in sight, albeit I’d have had to take a tortuous route to get to it.
I thumbed the starter and the motor spun. There was an occasional loud bang from the exhaust and nothing more.
I had a quick look around the engine area, and there was definitely signs of wetness from the various splashes it had had throughout the day. The first thing I thought to check was the water temperature sensor. Although I’d been making progress and it wasn’t exactly a hot day, I was aware that the manual fan switch had stopped working earlier in the day. If the temperature sensor HAD gone, then it would be quite likely the bike was overheating and with a manual fan, it couldn’t switch the cooling on automatically. I carry a spare temperature sensor with me, so quickly swapped them over and blew some moisture out the connector. I plugged it back in, and tried starting the bike again. It would fire and just about idle, but with even a whiff of throttle or any load on the engine and it would die again.
At the time, I had two thoughts. One was that it could be the MAQS/TPS sensor again, in which case it would be properly dead. On the other hand, it could just be very hot and need to cool, but without a functioning fan, how long would that take?
The minutes were ticking away and with the time I’d taken to get this far without a footpeg, I was already starting to get down on time. It was a tough decision to make, but I decided to call it a day. I flagged down a passing marshal, who helped me get the bike off the course and onto a safe bit of track. From there it was easy to freewheel all the way to the paddock. Once there, I tried starting it again, just in case, but there was still nothing. Occasionally it would idle, but as before, if I even thought about touching the throttle, it would die again.
As I was parked quite close to the finish line, I was able to see who was finishing and was aware that the 50’s were coming over the line, followed shortly after by 61,62 and 64 with whom I’d left the start line that morning. Feeling a little downhearted, I slowly got changed, had a bit to eat and tidied myself up. I had a chat with a few others who were milling about, and wasn’t really in the mood to look at the bike. Partly because I was fed up that it had died, but also aware that if it started up and ran fine, I’d be kicking myself for retiring.
Eventually, I went back over to it, and tried starting it again. It did run, but was still rough and still didn’t respond well to the throttle. By now my finishing time was well past, and I’d be on the verge of timing out. About 1hr after my expected finish time, the bike started and seemed to run okay. I’ve not ridden it, so I’m not sure it’s 100% but at least I know that I made the right decision to retire rather than wait on the side of the hill, in sight of the finish, on the off-chance that it got going again.
So what can I say about my Hafren experience? Well, I’m nothing if not consistent. Of the two Hafrens I’ve entered, I’ve not finished either.
From what I can gather, there were quite a few other DNFs but I’ll need to wait for the final results to see how the standings in the ATRC are now.
The plan for the next few days is to let the muscle ache subside, clean the bike and identify the problem as well as carry out the mechanical repairs.
Many have since commented that it’s been the trickiest and most technical Hafren they’ve done for a while. My hope is, that it’ll make the Cambrian, in October, seem easy in comparison.
Thanks for Antoinette Ross-Tuson for the photos