Tony Sheach’s LEJOG 2011 Report

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Tony Sheach, a well-known Triumph TR enthusiast in England.  Tony took part in this year’s LEJOG rally, well not only did he take part in LEJOG, he also finished third overall and won the Test Pilot Award, which is for being the fastest car on the tests.  Before he started the event I asked him if he would put some notes together about LEJOG, so that I could post them on this website.  Tony agreed and below is Tony’s report from the LEJOG rally.  Tony also sent me some great photos taken during the rally by Tony Large Photographic and a photo taken by David Somerville of some repairs being made to Tony’s car.  These photos certainly help those of us who were not able to take part in the LEJOG get more of the flavor (or should I write “flavour”) of this tough rally:

HERO’s 2011’s LEJOG (Lands End to John O Groats) Rally is always tough, noted by many to be Europe’s toughest road rally and so this year it was no surprise to see 65 crews on the entry list, many with rather less historic cars, specifically prepared for long distance enduro events. As usual we entered the TR4, which is the tool for the job, ably navigated again by the most excellent Richad Lambley.
Last year we started badly, with a most unusual camshaft and subsequent and somewhat dramatic pushrod failure on the way down country in sub-zero temperatures. Once again as a result of help from TR friends (specifically Neil Revington of Revington TR and Steve Hall and his team at TR Enterprises) we managed to strip it all overnight and refit just in time to get through scrutineering in the last 5 minutes …. this year was uneventful before the start. But that was where the easy stuff ended.


The start from Lands End was (as usual) from the Lands End Hotel, often noted as the worst attraction in the UK, but we were told by our Landlady Janet that its made its way up table to 4th worst in the Country. Whatever, Test 1 up their cliff top exit road is always fun if not a little hairy for the first 500 m if you push hard …. and we did. We continued to push hard all the way to the evening halt at Cardiff Services, my only complaint being the number of cones on the special tests ….. I don’t think I got Beastie out of 1st on some of the tests, which wasn’t my idea of fun and having discussed with Marshalls and Spectators they felt equally disappointed. If I wanted to drive around in 1st and reverse I’d go to the supermarket car park. Point made I think. Thank fully things got better, so hats off to John Kiff and his team for listening and getting this right.


The night section up through Wales and into the west of England is always really challenging, as there is no margin for error at all. It’s dark, usually wet and this year it was throwing it down hard and foggy. Last year it was black ice, snow and on the bonnet visibility. We had a few adventures in the fog, and made some rapid progress through the sections and got through to Telford on time at about 4am. The car was nothing short of magnificent in the lanes, but that’s why we run a TR4 and not a big Mercedes like Andy Lane and Ian Tullie, who worked their big machine hard.  Saturday results showed us just ahead of them and 1st overall, but there was nothing in it. We did take 1 whole minute out of one of the other big V8 Merc’s (in Carrera Panamericana trim) on a special Test, and I saw Richard grin as we screamed up behind them to the Test Finish.


Sunday in Telford was grim, as usual, and I was greeted at the car by TR friend David Somerville, who lives locally. As we chin wagged away it became apparent that the fast and wet night in the lanes had given us a few problems in a cracked manifold, all but one forward facing light was out and the alternator had given up. None of these components ever give trouble, but the combination of heat, water and speed had clearly done for them. I carry everything but a spare exhaust, engine and gearbox in the boot of the car, and the tools necessary to fit, so with the help of the HERO mechanics (who all ended up working on Beastie with me as if they were my personal pit crew for 20 minutes) I was parked outside as Richard ambled out of the MTC, on time, and we were on our way on Leg 2. Charlie Harrison and Jonathan Hancox (our Team Triumph team mates) similarly exited on time, but they in a cloud of steam ….. the head gasket on the 2000 dreadnought had started to fail and this was something we would see a lot of as we made our way northwards. Andy and Ian in the big Merc V8 were on song, Kevin Hasledean and Dave Kirkham in the Mini were similarly on the button and Roger Bricknell and Ryan Pickering in the Volvo Amazon were simply pounding along, with a gaggle of other super saloons close behind them.


This year’s route through Derbyshire, Yorkshire and onwards to Gosforth took us through some new country and old and it was great to see and hear so many familiar faces and voices marshalling us through some great Tests and quick sections. So many people were following us on the blog, which I had no time to write at all, so you only got snippets of information from MTC’s when I could steal a moment. The thing about LeJog is that you have no time at all to do anything but get through the route …. and that’s when its going well. When you have a problem, time skates by at an alarming rate and you just cannot afford to let your concentration slip for a second, nor spend any time you have either on the car or crew, making sure that everything is sorted and we are fed and watered (or dewatered !) – we had a slip in the morning and lost a slot right somewhere near Telford on the first Regularity of the day. No amount of fast driving could get in back and we dropped 6 minutes …. I could see from Richard’s face that he knew our Gold Medal had gone, but that’s rallying.

Fortunately we had an otherwise faultless day so we were still in the top 5 by the time we got to Gosforth. At which point the exhaust manifold started to become a problem.


The Marriott at Gosforth isn’t the greatest place and I won’t ever go there on purpose, but it’s very comfortable when you are shattered and the car park is big enough to service 60 odd rally cars, which is what I ended up doing before and after dinner, and early on Monday morning. We left for Scotland at just after 8 …. and the weather started to close in. I remember 2010 and the snow falling as we made our way up through the Border’s to God’s Country, this time through the lanes and this really is the way to see what the place looks like. I also remember pitching up at a farm in the snow last year, putting on the chains and launching the car round an icy test that took us through a barn full of cattle, hard right out of the door and flat to the finish. We were joint quickest with a courageously driven Healey 3000 last year, even though the car would hand brake turn with the chains on ! This year it was just greasy and wet, but the same cows ignored us as we roared past them, hard right out of the barn, stop astride then hard left and flat to the finish. similarly the route to the halt at Livingstone was quick but relatively uneventful, although servicing in the car park brought the disappointing news that Andy Lane had a problem with the brakes in the big Merc and it was drinking fluid. The weather was also getting a bit more severe north of Perth.
Our route crossed us back to the East Coast, passing through Tranent to the south of Edinburgh, where there is a great little tarmac outdoor kart circuit. We went round there on the apexes and I was delighted to be told by the finish Marshall that we were fastest by 5 seconds, which is a HUGE margin on a single lap. Richard did chide me that we only went fast because Scottish Television were filming and the HERO Media crew had put their in-car camera on my window, but such is life. The car is just very, very quick. That film is out their somewhere and I’d love to see it for the opposite lock action as we powered round, flames firing out the back on the overrun as I lifted off .


The destination (as last year) for Monday tea time is Kinloch Rannoch, just to the west of the A9, which runs its way northwards though Inverness and up through to the Black Isle. Last year we fought our way there through the snow using the major roads. This year, we fought our way there through tricky regularity sections and, as the weather closed in and the temperature fell, finally the tyres started to work. We compromised early performance in the rough, mud and loose where my Dunlop SP82’s work so well, for better cold running with some Vredestein tyres which I had never used before. I stopped moaning about them the instant we hit ice, or rather as we drove through it at speed, making a lot of time on the rest of the field in front as we did so with the aim of an early arrival at KL and a rest stop before the long and arduous night section up through to the top of Scotland. I think we both enjoyed the drive along the lochside, even although things in the left seat got very quiet.
By the time we were ready to leave the MTC at KL the weather had got pretty horrible again, as usual in Speyside in the winter time and the top road through Struan had already been closed. Destination therefore Kingussie in the heart of one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, this time in the icy dark night. The first night section in Speyside was very tricky indeed and Richard did a great job getting us through cleanly …. and those tyres helped me to get us there on time, so we cleaned the whole thing. Most crews dropped minutes in there. We also learned that Andy and Ian in the bg Merc hadn’t left the MTC at KL, retiring with lost brakes. On a big car that must have been scary, so hats off to Andy for getting it there. Charlie and Jonno also made it in the 2000, now consuming a gallon or two of water every stop …. and rumour had it that Charlie wasn’t sparing the old thing on the Tests, and he wasn’t that far behind me at Tranent. What an effort ! And Jonno, only navigating for a year or so had guided their car northwards pretty exactly, so a sterling performance from our friends in the 2000. Roger and Ryan in the Volvo were staying ahead on time, so their rally was gong well, as were the Mini crew …. in what turns out to be the spare car.
The second night section through Speyside and up by Boat of Garten through the forests was nothing short of thrilling. We really had to shift, and the changing conditions at every corner made it very challenging to stay on the road surface, never mind do so quickly. It meant pushing hard when we could and we had to.  Again very little time dropped, and, judging by the number of cars we passed as we progressed, everyone was struggling with the ice and only a few crews passed through to the MTC and halt at Skiach north of Inverness on time. We got there at 3am and this was the first time my head hit the table and I got just enough sleep to keep going. Many didn’t, and I have to doff my cap to the two Team Triumph Navigators, who busied themselves with maps as Charlie and I inspected our eyelids, then briefly cast an eye over the cars before we left. 8 hours to go. Car needs a wash.


Sutherlandshire is pretty, but not in the wet. Caithness is barren, flat and cold and the best features are the twinkly lights on the oil rigs to the east n the North Sea that you can see from the Coast road. I didn’t this year, as after the penultimate regularity prior to the stop at Lybster, Richard had to take over to drive the transit section up the windy coast road …. the first time he had driven Beastie and he must have been shattered too. We got to Lybster and he gave me a big smile, so I take it he had a ball whilst I was asleep. It’s a nice sweeping tarmac road, with some big hairpins and fast exits.
The last sections of LEJOG always have a sting in the tail, with the purpose of sorting the men from the boys and removing medals from the unwary. This year was no exception and we were not surprised to see the final approach to what we suspected was an IRTC down a muddy track behind someone’s house in the middle of a complex network of parallel lanes. We were a few seconds late as I couldn’t get a huge amount of traction up the muddy approach, but the jewel was to see John Kiff, the Deputy Clerk of the Course and this years Route Supremo, manning the time control with Stuart Harold. Onward to the last Test at John O Groats and the Finish, where the HERO crew had enlisted a brave piper to greet the cars at the gantry overlooking the northern most point of the UK, with Scapa Flow and Orkney just visible over the tops of the white houses.


Tough rally, justifiably tough due to the relentless nature …. and the final winners were Roger Bricknell and Ryan Pickering in the Volvo Amazon. They are both TR4 owners after all, seconded by the incredible Triumph 2000 crew of Charlie Harrison and Jonno Hancox who nursed the broken head gasket and finally put the car on a truck from Wick after we dashed south to the Mackays Hotel and a few nice Malts. Richard and I followed in 3rd in the TR4, also winning the Sports and GT Class and very happily the Test Pilots Award, for the fastest scratch times on Tests over the whole event. I told you it was a quick little car.

Tony’s report on the 2011 LEJOG rally is great but I had to ask him about the test that went through a barn, so I asked him about that test and he sent me the following message:

Hi Steve
Yes, great event. You wouldn’t believe that Test …. and as the man said at the time: Out of control : hard left to slalom enter from the right, hard left, flat to hard right round barn, flat to hard right up ramp between metal posts , flat through barn (mind the cows), down ramp (mind the wall) and hard right to stop astride,  exit and hard left to straight, flat to stop astride the finish in 300. Exit Test stop give way right to public highway …. no rally traffic.
I still remember it like it was yesterday ….. with snow chains on in 59 secs, this year in 47 secs. Nice.
Go carefully old chap. And a great 2012 to you.
Regards
Tony

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