It’s amazing how a small conversation can convert into a a trip abroad and a weekend stood in drizzle and forgetting what sleep is.
This is how it happened and how I ended up visiting Iceland twice in a month. Last year when I met Paul Williamson from Tomcat and did a feature on the pair of Tomcat cars (see ***** issue for full article) we spent the day discussing many things to do with Tomcat and motorsport in general. Paul, during one of these conversations happened to mention that he had visited Iceland last year to compete in one of the rallys held there in one of the Tomcats from Tomcat Iceland, owned by Þorsteinn Svavar McKinstry (Steini).
I believe my comment was “I’d love an excuse to visit Iceland!”. “Come with us when we go in 2013!” remarked Paul. And that is how the ball began to roll. The reason I ended up going twice is that all the extra things I was lining up to do out there, it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to give the Rally my full attention if I tried to do everything in one trip. So I headed out initially for a week to do the “other” stuff which meant when heading out for the rally, I could dedicate my entire time to the coverage of said event.
Back on topic. I was invited to be an integral team member in the Tomcat team where two of Steini’s Tomcats were to be competing in the Reykjavik Peninsular Rally (official name, Aðalskoðunarrally AIFS 2013) , one driven by Paul and the other by Andrew Graham from Allysport. Both would have navigators as with all rallys and both would be competing in the “Super Jeep” class of the competition. I’m sorry for the use of the “J” word but that’s it’s official title!
So early (really early) on a Thursday in June 2013, I met with Paul at his house and we took a dark drive to Manchester airport. The flight was fairly uneventful though as usual, carrying so much electronic gear on board, cameras, lenses, laptop, hard drives, iPad, chargers etc, usually slows things up at security and they often want you to part unpack the carefully wedged camera bag.
On arrival at Keflavik airport, we were met by Ian (Sykes) as we were to be staying with him and his lovely wife Frances, and the rest of the team, at their guest house in Alftanes, a small area just on the outskirts of Reykjavik with stunning views of the city.
On arriving at Ian’s, Andy and his better half and novice navigator, Anne, were already there having arrived the day before, Frances had laid out a breakfast spread for Paul and I to get stuck into and I can tell you, having been up for over 20 hours at this point, it was very welcome.
Breakfast complete and Steini arrived to pick the four of us up (Paul’s navigator, Michael, wasn’t due til that afternoon) and take us to Tomcat central to see the progress of the cars. As with many things, disasters always happen at the last minute and the Tomcat Andy and Anne were to have (the “green” one) had had a head bolt snap just a day earlier so it was in the workshop, engine in bits to remove the broken bolt and replace the head of the TVR V8 with new bolts. Typical of Icelanders, the mechanics, mostly Steini’s grown-up children, were quite confident that all would be well in time for scrutineering. To be honest they weren’t even bothered about making scrutineering as we could always take the cars to the scrutineer the following morning. The other Tomcat, that Paul and Michael were to be driving (the “red” one) was seemingly all ready to go.
An unusual thing that in my experience Royal Mail don’t do is that whilst we were at Steini’s workshop, the Icelandic postal service, in a effort to drum up business, popped in with a very large chocolate coated pastry, totally gratis and the deliverer didn’t even hang about to try and do a sales pitch. And whilst I’d rather not get into what the pastry resembled (think – things to avoid walking round cattle fields) it actually tasted very nice.
After the cake, Steini left us to it with the use of his 300tdi Discovery. I will admit and I’m sure Steini will agree, the Disco had definitely seen better days. With a switch hanging out the dash to operate the starter, lots of (more than usual for a Discovery) knocks and bangs and a touch of death wobble the car had probably past it’s best but, it was road legal, comfortable enough and it worked so off we went. Besides, it’s a Land Rover so all this was normal!
We even had a plan for the rest of the day before we needed to be at scrutineering on the old US Air Base at Keflavik. The plan was, visit the Blue Lagoon, for research purposes obviously, pick Michael up at the airport, have a quick drive down one of the stages and get to the club headquarters for scrutineering and then a reccy of the rest of the stages.
We got to the Blue Lagoon, a hot pool to relax in, constructed from the outflow of the nearby geothermal plant. And relaxing it is. It’s not cheap, approx £35 per person to enter but if you visit Iceland it is worth going to and spending some time in. You can even have a wine of beer in the pool. This was obviously an essential pre-rally activity as the team members needed to relax. After a while Paul offered Andy, Anne and I the choice. Go with him to pick Michael up from the airport or, stay in the pool for another hour or so. Tough decisions like these need to be considered carefully for at least half a second before, as we did, you opt to stay in the very hot, soothing, geothermal pool.
We were however, there for a reason, so once Michael was collected and he and Paul returned to the Blue Lagoon, we loaded back into the wobble Disco and headed to reccy the Djúpavatn stage. This was the rally’s longest stage at **km long and was to be driven three times, once south and twice north. As soon as we entered the “track”, Paul began to dictate pace notes for Michael to take down in his own shorthand, so that he could read it as they whizz along the track during the competition. Surprisingly, to me at least, Michael is very neat at writing note whilst bumping along a track at a not-too-lethargic pace. He even had the hi-lighter pens out to colour in special notes!
Once we reached to end of the stage, we headed off to Scrutineering and to see if our two Tomcats had made it out of the wokshop. They unfortunately hadn’t. Fortunately, the scrutineer was happy to see them the following morning if we took them to him.
The other competitors cars were mostly Subarus but other marques featured from a lovely Toyota Celica, driven by the father/daughter team of Sigurður Óli Gunnarsson and Elsa Kristin Sigurðardottir through to an actual J**P and a lone Evo.
With Scrutineering complete, the field departed on what can only be described as a spirited drive to reccy to shorter stages for the following two days. Not having a road book nor being regular Icelandic rally competitors did put us at a slight disadvantage here. The regular competitors seemed to know the stages anyway. Getting to know the stages wasn’t an issue but knowing where one began and finished was a bit of an issue. Michael had a simple solution. Pace note the whole reccy journey, work out the bits to cut out later. I will admit, having been awake for some 30+ hours by this point, I did sleep through some of the reccy sections!
Following the reccy we headed back to Ian and Frances’ and crashed out for the night. Day one of the rally arrived. Icelanders are social so in order for the competitors to not miss work for the rally, it was to begin in the evening. With light available 24 hours in Iceland in June, darkness isn’t really a problem so the first evening we would be racing until possibly 10pm.
First things first. The Tomcats were both assembled and ready to take to the scrutineer so we collected them from the crew and with the two cars and a minibus we headed to said scrutineer, Hjalti Bjarnfinnsson. After Hjalti had a thorough look over the cars and relevent paperwork signed and filled in by Andy and Paul, we were free to compete. We took the cars down to parc fermé which in this case, was a local car dealers and hosts forecourt.
Red and green were parked and secured and we all loaded back into the minibus for a pre race meeting; us, a coffee shop, cake and notes. We had a nice relaxed few hours before heading off to meet Ian for dinner in a world known fried chicken fast food joint. Not exactly healthy eating but hey, why not.
Dinner scoffed and bellies full, we headed back to parc fermé to get ready to start to race. Well, Anne, Andy, Paul and Michael were going to race. I was preparing to try and find vantage points on numerous sections of course that I didn’t know at all! With all the drivers ready for the off the first cars headed out to the “Nikkel” stage, a stage that would be driven twice in succession on the first night and a third time as the penultimate stage on the second day. It’s a fairly short stage, under three minutes to drive and a good spectator stage, all on shale/gravel.
I headed with Steini in his minibus up to the stage and found my first vantage spot and waited for the three Tomcats. I haven’t mentioned the third Tomcat. This wasn’t part of “our” team but the maintainence team would be looking after it. The third “blue” Tomcat had been hired by a group of friends for their mate (Andri) to drive as his stag do. If you ask me it sounds like a far better stag do than a drunk weekend in Blackpool or Praque!
Like all motorsport, as a spectator in person, you’re very limited to what you see on a given event but from my vantage point the vehicles passed in a fairly uneventful way and after the stage I jumped back into the bus with Steini and headed to the start finish of stage one (and two) ready to head to the second stage of the night, the harbour stage, oficially called Keflavikurhöfn. At the start/finish we found the pit crew fitting a new tyre to Andy’s car (this becomes a trend) but all was well so we headed to the harbour.
New vantage points were identified and the most spectator friendly special stage was on. This was a fully tarmac stage which put the Tomcats with their higer than Impreza center of gravity, at their largest disadvantage, or at least it had until the rain came and wetted the track, giving a bit less grip to the tyres and less chance of a roll.
Again, like the first stage, this was to be driven twice and it was an entertaining stage with a number of cars (note, not one of the Tomcats) having a spin in the wet on a bend near where I had chosen to stand. For a country with so few people, it was nice to see how many did come out to watch and support the rally. No it wasn’t packed but there were definitely what can be called crowds.
Second stage complete in another fairly uneventful manner (aside from the non damaging spin outs) and we headed for the last section of the night. The less spectator friendly Ökugerði-Stapafell stage. Again, like the first two, to be driven twice but being a long stage, once in each direction. This stage is where things began to get eventful. Starting with an Impreza, who had been performing well so far, missing the corner close to where I was standing and ending up down a 3ft drop with a broken wishbone to finish the rally for the team. Red Tomcat (Paul and Michael) had issues of it’s own. On the first trip past me it didn’t seem as though Paul was giving it as much welly as I’d expect and on the return trip it was obvious the TVR engine was strugling to put out any power. Once back at parc fermé, timing was checked and after Michael suggested checking the (new) fuel filter it was discovered that some flakes of jerry can paint had made their way into the system, restricting the flow and upsetting the engine. Once this was sorted the car was back on full power form again, ready for the second day.