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Our First Go - Bath Festival Targa 2023

Ex-Isle of Man Civic Takes on Bath Festival Targa

Images by M&H Photography.

Over the past 17 years I have been fortunate to take part in some fantastic car events. I have enjoyed driving tracks like Spa Francorchamps and the Nurburgring non competitively, to ice driving in Norway. I competed in auto solos before I could legally drive on the road, competed in sprints, hill climbs and classic tours over the years as well as a number of races in the local Hot Hatch series at Castle Combe. But taking part in Bath Festival Targa rally recently, topped them all. Great mileage and competition for the price with a warm and friendly atmosphere that any motoring event could be proud of.

I first of all want to congratulate Bath MC on such a well organised event. Their team of officials and marshals along with many others from various local motor clubs that did a top job of ensuring a safe but fun event for everyone. It was great to see so many friendly faces on the marshals team as we passed through various tests with members from DDMC manning controls, regular marshals from Castle Combe and customers from Slip&Grip Automotive. From our position it all seemed to run super smooth with some great venues and easy navigation on and off test. If you read this and you are interested in taking part in similar events, head to your local motor club for more info or the Targa Rally UK FB group. This particular event required cars to have at least a half roll cage and 4-point harness. Road Rally (Targa) regulations can be found in the MUK blue book. This year’s rally had a very reasonable entry fee of £195 which included documents and two free dinners at the end.

Late 2022 we purchased the ex-Bradshaw 1988 Honda civic EF, brought it over from the Isle of Man and had it UK registered and MOT’d. Scott the father is an Ex Honda-Works driver hence the early 90’s works colours on the car. The car with Scott or son Maxx had completed various rallies on the island so it’s got a cool little history behind it. Not being able to afford lots of stage rallies each season, the decision was made to adapt the car for use in daytime road rally events as well. This included changes such as branding removal from the works livery, the addition of rear seats, carpet and roof lining amongst other things, much of the preparation being carried out by Jamtech Motorsport and Harveys Autotech. The original spec of the car included the B16 with type R head, bolt in roll cage and BC coilovers with extended springs as well as the usual under guards, it probably weighs in at around the 850kg mark.

I marshalled with Devizes & District MC on the Festival Targa in 2022 at Kemble Airfield and it looked an enticing prospect. So when the regulations were released a few months previously I chucked the date in my diary and put an entry in with in mind to find a navigator once I was accepted. The event filled in minutes and I was late booking at car 95, but I soon got an entry accepted having paid ASAP. I Know a couple of the venues for the tests and having grown up in the area relieved me of some of the anxiety of taking part in a new discipline. Within mind that the car would be in good hands whilst being prepared I put out a request on various Facebook pages for a local navigator to jump in with me. I had entered the Clubman event as I do not wish to take part in a championship for now and that put us in C8 which is for cars over 1400cc (2000cc limit). Nathan Perks soon dropped me a message, with a good few Targa’s under his belt it was great to have him onboard and he made the whole event very relaxed whilst making sure we were competitive on the tests. We had a great laugh along the way which was half the battle and worked hard together to sort any issues we had with the car. It so happened that Nathans Dad Tony was navigating for Mark Holmes in a Mk1 Escort in the car behind us. I hadn’t seen Mark since my days of Auto Solos with Cirencester Car Club all those years ago. There were many people competing that I know of from our rally test venue and various things over the years so it was good to see so many familiar faces. A special mention goes to Matt Johnson and Alex Magee from the S&G Sim Racing group who took the plunge as a new crew in their new BMW compact but sadly DNF’d after test 7 with coolant issues.

Having only done a number of 12-cars and road rallies myself but with the Nathan having done a few Targas we were seeded 76/90 cars. With what was described as 80% tarmac tests and 20% gravel it was going to result in some very slippery conditions at some locations. Tests (stages) were organised at Castle Combe Circuit and Charlton Park in Wiltshire as well as Kemble Airfield and South Cerney Airfield over the border in Gloucestershire. Totalling 108miles with 48 being competitive, as much as some stage rallies, crews took on 10 tests across the 4 venues with a road book to get between them that was very easy to understand. Test maps were released during sign on and could be understood by even the newest of newbies, once the abbreviations have been understood. I opted to use Uniroyal Rainsport 3’s for this event with two old Toyo’s as spares in the boot, when I compete in my next mixed surface event, I would choose something with a slightly stronger side wall. They are great tyres but did struggle a bit with the abuse of Castle Combe’s rally stage and the Charlton Park test. They did well in the damp morning but did overheat on the later, faster airfield locations.

Tests 1 and 2 kicked off at 10:01am at Castle Combe Circuit with the same layout run twice over. Starting by the motorsport college, cars were released at minute intervals down the outer roads of the circuit anti-clockwise which made for a fantastic tight lanes for half the test taking in the narrow chicane by the spectator banking at Bobbies. You then headed down to the kart track and over the yump before going under the bridge for a hairpin right and 90 left onto the gravel rally stage for a full loop and out the bottom by the hairpin. It was then down to the spectator exit of quarry and 90 left to head by the pylon and up onto the spectator banking before screaming back down to the paddock, past the Strawford centre and onto the track itself to take on an almost full lap of the track with some added chicanes and finally finishing by the sound test building under the Avon tyres bridge. The run was over 7 miles consisting of two loops per test. Our drivers rear tyre must have deflated during the gravel stage out the back so as we came into the Eses on our 2nd loop of test one and the little Honda threw itself at 90’s degrees as I piled on the throttle and the wheels spun up attempting to keep us out of the wall, Nathan looked at me relieved as I succeeded but we soon looked at one another again as we felt a vibration coming from the underside. We limped to the end of the test and found the tyre had most removed itself from the rim, fortunately now not being timed we were able to change the wheel for a spare without penalty. By the end of test 2 we had managed 36 overall and 2nd in class.

Test 3 consisted of a mostly gravel through Charlton Park’s Cotswold estate. An amendment to the route had been issued for this section but wasn’t overly clear and we took a wrong turn, I stalled the car and it would not restart. A quick look under the bonnet and we spotted a loose wire that came off the starter motor. This dropped us back a few minutes and in to the mid 50’s on the results list. This stage was a good one though with some tight, twisting track as well as flat out sections. We took the longest through the section at 12 minutes so we knew we had to push quite hard for the rest of the day.

It was then onto Kemble Airfield a short way up the road towards Cirencester where I had previously taken part in Auto Solos years ago. The layout of the test was fast paced with some tight 90’s and chicanes formed by cones to slow it down a bit with controls in place. As we had left Charlton last it did give us a nice clear run through test 4 before moving further in to Gloucestershire and heading to South Cerney. The car developed a wheel wobble as we headed towards Kemble village which gave us a reliability worry again but with all the abuse a rim had started to come loose, so a quick tighten of all our nuts on the side of the road and we were away again. It was almost like the Honda was pretending to breakdown on us but ultimately refused to.

Tests 5&6 was a wide-open setup on broken tarmac at the old airfield and we set about climbing back up the order. We achieved 12th fastest time in test 5 with a 7:19, our highest place in a test of the day, but firing into test 6 straight after certainly overheated the Rainsports and we were delayed a little with cars in front of us resulting in 7:25 in our 2nd pass with 26th fastest time. There were some sections we were well into fourth gear whilst dodging pot holes and then anchoring on the brakes to get through tight chicanes and then attempting to brake hard enough without ABS to stop at controls correctly. By the end of these we had got up to 50th and it was time for a lunch stop at a local farmers market, Nathan grabbed a coffee and I gave the car a quick check over to prepare us for the afternoon ahead.

Test 7 and it was once more around South Cerney and another chance to improve our time on this layout. Back in position now we had some traffic to deal with but managed an 8:56 as we climbed further up the leader board to 41st. Test 8 it was back to the dirt at Charlton park which was now well and truly torn up. The height of our tarmac setup was not enough and the underside of the car spent much its time sliding over rocks as the tyres sank into others tracks. 37th quickest with a time of 8:56 and we were still climbing. The road tyres really struggled with restarts after controls which was losing us time but we were having mega fun using the hydraulic handbrake to direct the 80’s hatchback through the estates twisting tracks.

Finally it was a run through a different layout at Castle Combe for tests 9 & 10 and knowing the circuit, now with full dry tarmac, was an opportunity to use the power we had available with the car and make some headway for a final push to the finish. Both tests were incident free with some traffic and getting air over the yump past the kart track and hard on the brakes to head under the bridge and onto the rally stage was a huge rush. We set about chasing cars down on the single-track sections and then overtaking them once we arrived on the wide-open main circuit. Test 9 we achieved another good result, 14th fastest with a 14:34 which we could not better in the final test of the day getting delayed by other cars but still achieving a time of 14:57. This catapulted us further up the order and with no penalties at all through the day we finished Bath Festival Targa 36/88 starters, 8th in Clubman and 5th in class C8. Not a bad result for my first event of this type and our first event as a crew, with hopefully more to come this year. You always wonder how you will get on at your first event with little expectations so it was nice to mix it up with some of the more experienced crews.

The event was followed by a nice dinner in the circuit’s café and a good chat with Mark and Tony about the day’s antics. 21 cars retired through the event so it clearly took its toll on some machinery and we were glad to have finished with the little niggles we had during the day. Finishing with no damage, one puncture and no penalties was a result in itself. Its safe to say I have already been hunting for the next event to take part in once the Honda has had a good look over. An event like Bath Targa is the epitome of grass roots motorsport in the UK for me. Very reasonable entry fee for the mileage, well organised by local clubs teaming up with their members to ensure a safe and friendly event whilst resulting in an excellent atmosphere throughout with a great bunch of competitors to top it off. Is it Festival Targa 2024 yet???

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