Club members Richard Banks and Chris O'Connor finish 31st on the 2009 Ypres Westhoek Rally

Taking place 19th - 20th June 2009 the Ypres Westhoek Rally is a round of the IRC and ERC and as such attracts a very competitive entry from all over Europe. Unlike most UK rallies Ypres is run entirely on the public roads around the town of Ypres in Belgium that are specially closed for the duration of the rally.

Crew's Report

Our rally started at 04.30 the Monday before when I left home to pick up co-driver Chris O'Connor and head for Ypres to sign on for the recce that afternoon. After a trouble free journey we checked into the house we had rented as our base for the week about 10 km outside Ypres - near enough, but away from the noise of the Rally town, before heading to Rally HQ in Ypres to obtain our roadbook, recce pass, sticker pack and gps tracker. We had a quiet night in Ypres before starting making our pacenotes at 07.00 on the Tuesday morning.

 

Early Tuesday morning and we were quickly reminded that most of the local crews knew the stages very well by the speed at which they passed us on what is supposed to be a low speed recce. After a long day we had completed all 3 passes of the 5 stages we were allowed to do that day and headed for something to eat in Ypres.

Wednesday was more of the same but with only 3 stages to complete we started at little later and had still finished our 3 passes by mid afternoon. Wednesday, or rather early Thursday was also the day our service crew were due to arrive complete with rally car so I stayed up to let them in and after a beer and catch up finally got to bed around 02.00.

Remember the GPS tracker we collected on Monday afternoon? Well this little box of tricks, together with all the rally stickers, had to be fitted in the rally car before our allocated scrutineering slot at 10.00 on Thursday morning so another early start and an hours work before heading for scrutineering at the Peugeot main dealer's garage in Ypres. Scrutineering can be nerve wracking at the best of times but when we arrived at our allocated time we were given a bulletin informing us that our scrutineering time had been brought forward by 1 hour and we were therefore late - not an ideal start. Fortunately we were not alone and nothing was mentioned about our late arrival.

Scrutineering itself was interesting, primarily because the Belgian Scrutineers weren't familiar with UK paperwork and likewise we weren't familiar with their procedures. They wanted to see a copy of my Insurance for the car, which I duly produced and they told me it wasn't vaild because it had "any vehicle" rather than the specific registration number of the rally car. A short discussion later and they accepted it but next time I'll find something with the rally car registration number on it to make the process easier. They were also confused by our V5 document, insiting they needed to see the "papers" before eventually giving up and accepting what we gave them - very odd. Fortunately the car passed without a hitch and after having all of our safety clothing checked and the relevant homologation numbers take we were passed fit to start. At least the underwear scrutineer had a sense of humour - hardly surprising really. We then had a few hours to kill before heading to the short shakedown stage and service area later in the day.

The shakedown stage was based arond the village of NieuWkerke abouit 20km from Ypres with service in the main street and it was here that we got our first real taste of how enthusiastic the Belgians are about their rally. There were spectators everywhere, simply driving from where we had set up our service area to the stage start was difficult without running anybody over and the short test stage was packed. Still with this being our first rally in 12 months we had a job to do and after 2 recce passes behind the safety car we did 2 runs to remind ourselves how the car goes and stops, and check for any problems. With nothing untoward we packed up and left for an early night.

Friday was a relatively free day until the rally started late afternoon, so we had amuch needed lie in before heading in to the Ypres Town centre Service park mid morning to setup. We had been warned that this can be somewhat chaotic but with a 70 car entry as opposed to the maximum of 120 we soon found a sizeable space tucked out of the way near the out control (and the prison).

Just before 18.00 we left our service area and headed for the start to drive over the start ramp and be interviewed before heading off to the first stage. Now Friday 19th June is my birthday and I'd managed to keep it quiet all week, until the commentator found out and annouced it to the huge crowd. Having a few thousand people sing Happy Birthday wasn't quite how i was expecting to start the rally but it certainly stopped me worrying about the stages for a few minutes.

After the start celebrations we headed for the first loop of stages commencing with the 26km Mesen - Sauvegarde stage 1, closely followed by the 22km Hollebeke SS2 and a drive in to France for the relatively short (10km) Lille-Eurométropole SS3. All of these passed in a bit of a blur with me driving incredibly slowly and not getting into any sort of rythym due to a lack of recent practice. By the end of SS3 we were in down in 51st place as we headed to a 20minute regroup in France before going back to service. We'd just done the same milage as a small Uk single venue rally and we hadn't even reached the first service halt ! Following a short 20 minute service the first 3 stages were repeated, in the dark this time, and we started to settle in to the pace notes, setting some faster times so that by the end of the leg we had climbed up to 43rd overall. the lads now had a 45 minute servce on the car before we dropped it off in park ferme and headed for bed .

Day 2 was the longest of the rally with 166 km of special stages including 2 over 30km each. The day started with the 21 km Langemark 1 stage, followed by 11 km Dikkebus 1 and the 10km long famous Kemmelberg 1 stage that has a considerable amount of slippy cobbles. Once again we settled down to some consistent times and no real problems enabling us to climb to 38th overall by the first service halt of the day. A quick 20 minute service that ended up at around 15 minutes due to the distance from the service in control to our crew and we headed for the next leg consisting of the shortest stage of the rally; 7 km Westouter 1 with a big jump and the longest; the 32.75 km Heuvelland 1. Towards the end of this loop we noticed a high speed vibration coming from the rear of the car at high speed (140km/hr +) after an over agressive start and took things little easy. With the aid of a few retirements in front of us we still managed to climb up to 34th overall . At a short 20 minute service the lads could find nothing obviously wrong so we set out on the next leg , a repeat of the morning's 3 stages.

Slightly worried that we might not finish if the vibrating part failed, we started to take things a bit easier especially over the faster bits deliberately trying to keep below the speeds at which the vibrations started. This slowed our progress up the leaderboad somewhat but with a few more retirements we still returned to Ypres service in 31st place with high hopes of breaking in to the top 30 by the end of the event. With darkness approaching the servce crew checked the car for the final time and fitted the lamp pod before we departed for the final 2 stages of the rally.

Towards the end of the short Westouter 2 stage the vibrations started to get worse and although we were 26th fastest on the stage and 30th overall we were concerned that we might not survive the long final stage in the dark . With nerves on edge we set of into the final stage of the rally and very quickly the vibration got worse restricting our top speed to around 80mph and we lost a lot of time. As we had experienced the vibrations for the last few stages we assumed it was our existing problem getting worse, until we started to smell burning rubber and realised this was a puncture. With 7 miles to go we had no choice other than to stop and change it and the resulting time loss dropped us back down to 31st overall at the finish.

Driving over the podium 45 minutes or so after the winner, the commentator was still as enthusiastic as he was at the start, there was still a big crowd, and most importantly the Coca Cola girls hadn't gone home.

After driving over the podium the car went into parc ferme, we returned the organisers gps tracker system, retrieved our £1000 deposit (yes that is one thousand, they really wanted it back) and headed for the nearest bar. We then had the seemingly endless wait until the results were declared final and we could retrieve our rally car and head back to the house for a few hours sleep before the long drive home.

Sunday morning and the lads got up early and left just after 8 whilst we followed an hour or so later after cleaning the house up a bit. We both got lucky with the ferry timings arriving at Calais, driving straight on to a waiting ferry and departing immediately with the van and trailer arriving in Dover just as we departed Calais. With their big van resricted to 56 mph we all arived home within 1/2 and hour of each other to end our adventrue.

In spite of the last stage disappointment we really enjoyed our experience of Ypres and would definately recommend it to other UK crews looking for foreign adventures. Renting a house kept our accommodation budget sensible and apart from a bit more fuel in the van and recce car the costs weren't a great deal more than a typical UK national event.

Following a conversation with our tyre supplier it is though that we used the tyres for too long and the vibration was simply a tyre breaking down, possibly before it finally gave up and deflated. We did try to do the whole rally on 4 tyres and they were gripping as well at the end as the beginning. Future advice is to use 2 sets and rotate them at every service to prevent them from getting 2 hot and doing the same again.

The only question left being - Where's next?

Thanks to Chris M and Nick W for servicing, South Shore Tyres for their advice and support, Edgebyte Computers, Chris O'Connor Associates,, Tom Herron for the photographs and the Rally Organisers