The Centennial Rally took place over 3 days this weekend. Undoubtedly the biggest event on the off-road motorcycle calendar this year, it celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the first International Six Day Trial which took place in Carlisle and saw the formation of what became the FIM. While the actual International Six Day Enduro is being held in Italy this year, it seemed fitting that a celebratory event be held in Carlisle, where it all started.
With all that in mind, I turned up at the Devonshire Walk car park, below Carlisle Castle on Wednesday evening to take part in 3 days of racing. The car park was to be the paddock area for the event as well as the start and finish. The city center location is unique to this rally, with most others happening in forests and fields away from civilisation. While it made for a solid parking area for the truck and was handy for last minute supplies from the town center, it did have it’s down-sides. Camping wasn’t permitted, nor would it have been especially practical as tarmac doesn’t work well with tent pegs. BBQs and open fires were also forbidden. As such, while the paddock is normally quite a lively place, it felt a little subdued at times, with many of the competitors in campsites or hotels away from the paddock itself.
Signing on opened on Thursday at noon, followed by scrutineering at 2pm. The organisation was very efficient and in no time I was signed on, had my start number of 106 stuck to the front of the bike, the bike checked over and was enjoying a cuppa from my commemorative Centennial rally mug. With not much else to do on Thursday, I hung about the paddock and chatted to other competitors, some familiar faces, some not. In the evening, a handful of us ventured into the town center for a curry. Bari prides itself in it’s unusual meats and while there’s all the expected meat options on the menu, I opted for an ostrich curry. The chap in the restaurant was very friendly and helpful, both interested in what we were doing in the town but also offering advice on how best to enjoy the myriad of chutneys and pickles that lay on the table.
Friday morning dawned cool, bright and dry which was a welcome change from the torrential rain of the last 48 hrs. With my start time of 10:45, I had time to watch the first riders head off at 10am.
My time arrived, and I rode off into Friday morning traffic which is a somewhat different starting experience from the usual races. Heading off to Kershope forest, the road liaison was a little over 20 miles to the first checkpoint. Leaving the tarmac we found ourselves on fireroad as expected, and as it twisted and turned through the forest, I took some time to concentrate on technique, feel and generally get back into the way of things. Another short road section led us to a single-track section that ran parallel to the Kershorpe Burn and again, it’s weaving nature ensured you couldn’t relax too much. A niggly little step/drop left and then immediate right kept that section interesting too.
Arriving at the checkpoint, times were refreshingly tight, leaving a little over 5 minutes spare at most before heading off onto the first stage. We had 1 sighting lap followed by timed ones. The route wasn’t technical in comparison to an enduro, but it certainly kept you on your toes with fast fire-road twisting and turning, rising and falling, with only a few longer segments where you could stretch the bike’s legs. A few hazard warnings saw the bike airborne on more than one occasion if you weren’t careful. The special stage was more of the same and while it wasn’t difficult, it did require you to stay focussed for the duration, with no time to relax. A 180 degree, downhill right-hand hairpin with a very loose surface caught a few folk out but was easy when handled with care.
After the special, the times were still tight, so I couldn’t relax too much on my way to the next checkpoint. Onto the first timed lap, and it all just flowed. I know I could have gone a little faster, but I was focussing on my technique and relying on that to carry speed than forcing myself to ride quickly. A slight mishap at the loose hairpin saw the front wash out and a bit more than just a dab of the right foot was required to keep me upright. Other than that, lap 2 (timed lap 1) was uneventful.
The final lap of the day came and went without any real drama. I was finding myself catching and passing the same riders at similar stages on the lap, so I felt things were at least consistent if not my fastest.
After the last checkpoint, I headed back onto the tarmac for the liaison returning to the paddock. On arriving there, I swapped my rear wheel for my spare so I had a fresh tyre on the for next day, as I knew it would be the longest day and wanted to be sure I’d have plenty of tread.
Saturday dawned wet and windy, as forecast. The 8am start was noticeably earlier than the previous day, but with much yawning and the assistance of some hot porridge, I got out and lined up for the start. The road liaison was much longer today, taking us out to Kielder forest. Arriving there, I recognised some of the trails and course from the Kielder Rally in June, although some of it was going in the opposite direction from what we’d done then. The times had been relaxed a little. They were still tight on the lap, but the last checkpoint left enough time spare to get refuelled, if needs be, and scoff a burger or whatnot from the van.
The sighting lap went well, only stalling as the wheel dropped into a rut across the track on some muddy single-track. Alas, we did not escape what became known as the ‘ski slope’, a horrible boggy, slippery, rutted downhill slide of about 100 m. I don’t think anyone had anything good to say about it. I’d came across this section at the Kielder Rally, I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it now. That being said, I don’t know if it was the training I’ve since had, fewer riders chewing it up or what, but I managed to get down far easier than before.
Onto the first timed lap, and it went without a hitch except for stalling at that same stupid little rut on the single track through the special stage. On some of the longer stretches I was glad I’d replaced the 48tooth rear sprocket with the 46toothed one as it gave the bike longer legs on what were otherwise rather uneventful fire-roads. At the end of the first timed lap, I helped out Jason with some gaffa tape. He’d dropped his bike the previous day and the brand new carbon rally fairing was looking very second hand. Unfortunately, I got caught up in that and checking the clock, I realised I had only 2 minutes to check in and get away. I told Jason to keep the tape, got to my bike, helmet on, gloves on, started up and rode to the checkpoint. There were a couple of riders in front of me and by the time I got checked in, I was 4 minutes down. Damn!
The second timed lap went well. However, as I approached the place I’d stalled at previously, I decided to try riding to the left of the muddy single-track, where it was firmer and less rutted. Hoping for a bit more traction, and not having to deal with a rut, it all seemed to be going well until I found a hidden root just at the surface, running at an angle to the trail. The front of the bike just vanished out from underneath me and down I went. No injuries, no damage to the bike and I got back on and got going again, but I was very aware that this was a timed section.
Pressing on, I found myself passing the same riders as I had the previous day. Again, it was around the same place each lap so consistent, but not getting significantly faster.
Reaching the final checkpoint, we’d been instructed to just head straight back rather than waiting for our time. With nothing between there and the finish apart from the road liaison, and considering it was tipping it down with rain as it had been pretty much all day, this was a welcome decision by the organisers.
Reaching the paddock, I handed over my time card and quickly got changed, dried and warmed up. Nothing was needing done to the bike which was just as well as we were heading out to the Swallow Hilltop hotel that evening for a meal and talks from various figures involved in rallying, including Lydon Poskitt and Edo Mossi. There was some interesting news and future plans discussed there, but more of that another day!
The forecast for the final day was mixed and it was indeed mixed. Wind and torrential rain encouraged me to stay in bed as long as possible, and yet by the time I was up and out on the start line, it had dried up quite a bit. This last day was back at Kershope forest, where we’d been on Friday. After an appeal by some of the riders the night before, the race distance had been increased from 2 to 3 laps, so I had a quick rethink of my fuel strategy and had chucked a 5l can on the fuel van just for good measure.
As we’d done this same course before, there’d be no sighting lap, just 3 timed laps. I felt significantly quicker this time, and even the loose hairpin wasn’t a problem. One of the short road liaisons had a humped-back bridge and another lump further on. Finding myself unintentionally airborne on both of those suggested that I was indeed going a little quicker!
All in all Sunday’s ride was pretty uneventful, except to note that I was passing riders earlier on the course than on the Friday. The only slight worry was when the fuel light came on with still half a lap to go, despite having put 5l in at the previous checkpoint. I nursed it round to the next time-check as I was aware that the timings were tight on this one and didn’t want to waste time. After all, if I was going to run out of fuel, then stopping to look wasn’t going to magically refill the tank.
Arriving at the checkpoint, I had a quick look round the bike and could see no evidence of over-fuelling nor leaks. I opened the fuel cap and could see fuel. Indeed, I could get my finger wet it was so close to the top. Initially I thought it might just be a dodgy fuel tank level sender, but as I left the checkpoint I noticed something. The rev indicator was leaping about all ovet the place. Then I remembered! The connector on the back of the clocks used to work itself loose, and I’d cable-tied it to make it more secure. In rebuilding the nav-tower and tidying up the wiring, I hadn’t re-cable-tied the connector. When it used to work loose the first indicator that it was loose was the fuel light coming on. A quick squeeze of the back of the clocks, the connector clicked back into place, the fuel light went out and the rev counter settled down. Phew!
I had finished the longest, both time and distance, UK rally and it was a reasonable achievement. That was only reinforced with the knowledge that 30 of the 103 starters DNFd
So, how did I do?
6th in class out of 13 starters. The 4 minutes I lost with the gaffa-tape assistance cost me a place. I’m not upset about it, but I’ll be more careful on time checks next time.
Here are the final results for the Centennial Rally