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2004 Spring Desert Rally - 17th-18th March

The Spring Desert Rally is held in the Emirate of Um Al Quwain. There were 34 eligible starters for this event - the local rally scene is growing in popularity as when Mark competed in the same rally seven years ago, there were only 14 entrants. This event saw 8 Land Rovers, 9 Nissan Patrols, 3 Chevrolet Tahoes, 4 Range Rovers, 1 Land Cruiser, 2 Jeep Wranglers and 5 Mitsubishi Pajeros take to the desert tracks of the Emirate.

A prologue was held on the Um Al Quwain Corniche which determined the start position for the following day. There were a total of three stages on the actual day of the rally, each run twice. The total distance of the event was 146 km, of which 104.9 were 'special stages'.

21 vehicles completed the rally, which meant that 13 where went out for various reasons. Not an easy event with some tricky sections through some very tough terrain, with blind crests and some extraordinarily fast sections. The new Garmin 182C recorded a fastest attained speed of 164.7 kph.

Team Saluki finished in 7th position after suffering from a burst hose for one of the front left HT shock absorbers and destroyed bushes from the rear 'A' frame, with a total time of 1:43:26 hrs.

Land Rover management turned out in full force to see their newly supported vehicle turn out in the stunning new livery. The team also had a video crew out to follow their exploits - this will be the basis of a documentary of Team Saluki and should be completed at the end of the year.

Get out of our Way!!

By Tim Ansell


The preparation for our previous race could at best been described as frantic, so Mark and I were grateful that we had time to prepare properly for the Spring Rally. Since neither of us were traveling during the weekend before, we were able to practice the stages, and this clearly made a big difference to our confidence going into the race.

Another element adding to the ‘feel-good’ factor was that the car simply looked fantastic in its new colour scheme. After last month’s exhausting 1000 Dunes event, the Saluki had been taken to Al Tayer Motors so that it could be sprayed in Fiji Blue, the same colour as Land Rover’s rally prepared Freelanders in the U.K. Being a bloke I don’t usually go on about a vehicle’s paint job – I tend to be more interested in its engine type and horsepower, but there’s no doubt that the new colour scheme turns heads and attracts attention, and you can’t help but feel proud to be sitting in the cock-pit as people turn and admire the car.

We had purchased a spare LT85 gearbox after the last race, since it was clear on the final stage of the 1000 Dunes rally that the unit in the car needed an overhaul – it hadn’t been rebuilt since the car had been brought to Dubai in 2000, and it was now noisily demanding attention. The two boxes were exchanged and we also took the opportunity to strip down, overhaul and rebuild a spare axle casing, trailing arms, rear diff. and various other items to be kept as spares in the service vehicle – “just in case”. This was a valuable lesson learned at the 1000 Dunes, where we had been forced to borrow components from a fellow competitor.

The racer was ready just in time to practice the stages on the Thursday afternoon a week before the race, so Mark and I headed out to Umm Al Quwaim. We finished the notes for stage one and drove once around stage 2, but by then it was getting dark so we had to return the following morning to complete stages 2 and 3. It may seem strange but I actually find these practice runs much harder than the race itself, though there’s a good reason for that. During preparation runs I have to navigate from the road book, monitor the GPS so I can note the position of way-points, pick out natural land marks to record as additional way markers in my notes, listen to Mark as he describes the route the way he wants it called, whilst all the time I’m trying to write accurate and legible notes while bouncing along a desert track. And while Mark wants to drive the stages pretty fast so he can assess how quickly and through which line we should drive, I want to drive as slowly as possible to be sure I’ve missed nothing and that I can still read my own notes. At the time of the actual rally, there’s nothing I can do about the notes - they’re either right or they’re not, so calling them back to Mark only demands 100% of my concentration – not the 120% it took to prepare them.

E.M.S.F. are trying to encourage more spectators to attend the rallies and one way they are doing this is to hold the prologues as special spectator stages at night. The stage at Umm Al Quwaim was just 2 kms long on a tight, twisty track and was watched by 200 or so locals who were intrigued to find the rally quite literally on their doorstep. Several local TV stations were on hand to film the event too so it was a good thing we washed the car on the way to the stage – got to keep the new sponsors happy! A 110 Defender is not the nimblest of vehicles to throw around such a tight stage and Mark is not too keen on these short, twisty runs, so we let the teams with deeper pockets risk wrecking their cars very publicly, whilst we took it fast but safe. We were quite happy with our final standing of 17th from 34 cars, since the difference between us and the lead car was still only 16 seconds.

The drive between Umm Al Quwaim and Dubai takes about 90 minutes in heavy, crawling traffic, and we knew the prologue would finish late, so we decided to stay at a small hotel very near to the starting point of the rally to avoid the 3 hour round trip. It may sound a bit extravagant, but it meant that by 7.30 the next morning we were out practicing the stages one last time, and we could assess the effect the recent rain had had on the ground. It also meant we had time to put on the last of the sponsors’ stickers just minutes before we drove the car to the Parc Ferme. Got to keep all our sponsors happy!

To our surprise it seemed that most of the staff of Land Rover Middle East had turned out to see us off from the start, and it’s great to know that they are all so genuinely interested in the team. In fact this almost led to our being disqualified from the race before we even started, when Mark opened the bonnet to show them the engine. The whole point of Parc Ferme is that cars can’t be started or worked on once they are parked, so an open bonnet attracts complaints from fellow competitors in seconds. We got a swift rebuke from the organisers, but they accepted our explanation, and we slammed the bonnet shut again just in case…

The rest of our support crew had arrived and there’s now no doubt about it – Team Saluki is putting on weight. A couple of years ago when we raced there was just the driver, co-driver, and two or three supporters who’d help out in any way they could. But with half an hour to go until the start, in addition to Mark and I we had a team photographer (Sharky), a magazine publisher / photographer (Fouad Berjaoui), another one on his way (Jorge Ferrari who also shoots the Desert Challenge), three service crew from Carwise plus their boss Brian McGinley (who himself rallied a Cosworth Escort in the Middle East Championships a few years ago) and our own service ace Streaky.

Tracie Mitchell and her colleague Paul were there to film us, plus of course the half a dozen people from Land Rover, and Ian and Sheila Barker who do their best to organise this ever growing caravan into some semblance of order. Then there was Richard and Joy and Dave and Michelle from sponsors Wild Horse Energy Drink, who kept us and everyone else at the event firing on all four, or eight, cylinders with a seemingly never ending supply of drinks. Thanks to all for turning up en masse.

Finally at about 1pm we were off on the first stage and it all went pretty well. The notes were definitely the best I’d made yet and as Mark and I race more together I guess we are getting better at working together in the cockpit. Consequently we were making very good time, then only about 800 metres from the finish we suddenly found our way blocked by a competitor’s car being towed off the stage. The two cars were either side of the proper track with a rope between them, so our only way round was to slow down completely and tackle the rough ground to their left. This probably cost us 20 seconds or so and we weren’t best pleased. Still, stage 1 was over without mishap so on to stage 2.

This was the longest stage and had some very fast straight sections within it. At 1.5 kms from the start we had to slow down after one such straight, as we approached a steep drop over a crest. At that point there was also a very large steel water pipe sticking out from the track, so we knew we had to stay to the left, but as we braked for the crest the car swung rapidly and without warning in towards the pipe. In a fraction of a second Mark got the car turned the other way but we ended up slamming hard into the sand and we buried the front wheels into the side of a dune. For a moment I thought we were stuck but Mark kept the car moving and we very slowly crawled out of the sand, losing precious time as we did so. Finally after what felt like 10 minutes but was probably less than one, the front of the car shifted over the crest and the momentum helped us on our way. We flew through the rest of the stage, in some cases quite literally as we made a spectacular crossing of a tarmac road without actually touching it, and we passed several competitors whose vehicles had obviously already had enough for the day. The whole stage took 25 minutes in all and apart from the early argument with a sand dune, again went well.

Stage three was only short but once again fate decided that we should be slowed down – halfway round the route there was a 500 metre long straight on flat ground between two dunes, and a clearly defined track between the two showed us that this was the way every other competitor had passed. So your guess is as good as mine as to why a young camel had decided that the perfect place to lie down for a siesta was right between the wheel tracks! To the right side were one or two more camels so we slowed down to pass to the left, but as we approached the camel, it decided to stand up and we had to slow even more in case he panicked and bolted in our direction. Having finally passed him (there goes another 15 seconds …grrrrr) we made short work of the rest of the stage and headed back to the service point.

Mark had mentioned to me between stages that the back end of the car had been breaking away easily and when our service crew got under the car we soon found out why – a lot of the suspension bushes at the rear of the car were showing signs of extreme wear, whilst at the front end we had ruptured a hose on one of the rather expensive HD dampers. Perhaps we should have spotted the worn bushes after the last race, but 20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway we’ll now add that to the list of things to check more thoroughly after each race – and to replace again, regardless of the apparent condition, before the Desert Challenge. With only 45 minutes left until we had to leave the service area we decided that there was insufficient time to repair the components, so we just had to bear in mind the fact that they were damaged.

There was a lot of discussion at the lunchtime break about the positioning of the video camera for the next stage, since Tracie wanted to get the best possible shots to add to the documentary footage she had already filmed. Everyone seemed surprised that I hadn’t noticed the two Defenders out on the previous stages as our crew filmed us, but I pointed out that no matter how obvious Streaky’s 130 inch wheelbase and extensively modified Defender might be to a spectator, parked cars, other than those blocking our path, were the last thing we were looking for when we were racing. Sorry guys – we don’t have time to wave!

Stage four passed quickly and uneventfully and it came as quite a pleasant surprise to us to find that our path wasn’t blocked once for any reason. Still we should have known it wouldn’t last, and just over halfway round stage five we caught up with the car ahead of us in an area where it was difficult to pass. He had warned us at the start of the stage that his car was stuck in 4th gear and frankly he was doing well to keep going at all in the soft sand, and although he knew we were there and moved over as soon as he could, we had lost yet more time. The ‘best’ was yet to come though when, almost at the end of the stage, at a point where we were touching 140kph on hard, firm track, a suicidal donkey decided to run out in front of the car. I was watching the GPS at the time and counting down to a right / left high speed turn onto another track, and I couldn’t understand why Mark had slammed on the brakes 400 metres too early. I looked up to see a fairly startled looking donkey braking just as hard as we were, and I can assure you that he wasn’t the only ass that was twitching!!

We managed to get through stage 6 without meeting any more broken cars, crawling cars, snoozing camels or death wish donkeys, and Mark and I were in good spirits as we pulled up at the last time control. As the whole team regrouped before the presentation dinner at a nearby water theme park, Tracie was filming me and asked how I thought we’d got on. I was finally relaxed enough to be talking coherently to the camera for the first time in three races and I said that I guessed we’d finished “between 8th and 12th, but with an outside chance of 7th”. It turned out that I was spot on because we finished in 7th place, which we all felt was a great result under the circumstances.

It means that we have improved on our position in each rally of the season so far, and there’s no doubt that on every level, the whole team is growing from strength to strength this season. Land Rover have thrown their full support behind us and now we have promises of coverage by UK based 4x4 magazines for the rest of the season, whilst a leading computer company has said they will lend us equipment during the Desert Challenge, so look out Messrs Vatanen, McCrae and Schlesser – Team Saluki are coming through. Get out of our way will you!!?



                 
       
       
               
       


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