Sunday, March 19, 2017

Last-minute ADDC Panic

I rather glossed over the fire-extinguisher explosion one Day 1 of the Dubai International Baja.  But it's a pretty big deal and is going to cause one heck of a lot of problems for everyone involved.

FEV are one of the very few manufacturers homologated by the FIA to supply the new CO2 powered gas fire extinguishers, which replace the old AFFF (automatic film-forming foam) type.  They are family run British company which has been supplying the motorsports industry for many years., Their local distributor is Gulfsport, who supplied several systems immediately prior to the DIB.  One of the same batch as mine went to buggy-driver Khaled Al Jafla, who I bumped into as I was heading to Gulfsport on Sunday,to report what had happened.  We chatted about the event and wished each other good luck for the ADDC.

Once inside Gulfsport's office, I saw why Khalid had been there.  His extinguisher was sitting on the desk, and had exploded during the event, exactly like mine.  It now turns out that a third unit exploded in Mexico.

In the past week, FEV have stopped production of this system.  They have recalled all the 300-plus units they have supplied worldwide, and their FIA homologation has been cancelled.  Once they get to the bottom of the problem and redesign the system, they will have to re-apply for FIA homologation.

Their situation is about as bad as it can get.  They have just lost their entire installed base of these latest-generation systems, which will obviously be replaced by their competitors, and the damage to their reputation will be hard to repair.  Despite the problems they've caused, I can't help feeling sorry for FEV.

We're lucky, by comparison - a replacement system from SPA will be one of four to be shipped at the end of this week.  It should arrive on Monday, giving us the rest of the week to install it before Friday's ADDC scrutineering.  Given that some competitors were caught out by the FIA's new firex regulations, it's entirely possible that they could be caught out again -  as things stand, if they opted for the FEV system, they will fail ADDC scrutineering.

The Beast is back at its second (or is that first?) home, Nanjgel.  A new front wing is replacing the one that took the brunt of my impact with Mansour's Prado, and a few other jobs are on their list.  A new heavy-duty front halfshaft is coming in from the USA, at a specially discounted price - even though I told them the break was caused by a bent axle tube!  Big thanks to the guys at

A new T-shirt design to commemorate our 10th successive Desert Challenge has been produced - mainly by me, with help from Parvez, the graphic designer at Magic Touch.  Lists are being prepared, stuff is getting organised, and we have the team finalised.  Sadly our long-time engineering guru Richard Bailey can't be with us this year, and will be sorely missed - and not just for his impressive tool collection.  Rick Carless and Jason Lyness will now be joined on the spanners by Phil Cravens, who has been angling to do the ADDC for a while, His experience as support for saloon-car endurance racing, alongside Jason, will be invaluable.  Kate Stedman joins us again from the UK, to help share the housekeeping and logistics load with Sheila, and keep Rick company in the chase car.

10 days to go. So much still to do...

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Big 2017 Update - Dubai International Baja

I have been remiss in not updating the blog for so long.  Life appears to have got in the way, but I shall now try to fill in some of the gaps.

After the 2016 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, we traveled to Freiburg in Germany where I had a cochlear implant surgically, well, implanted.  This was to restore the hearing I have lost in my right ear.  After the operation and recovery I returned for a first tuning of the device, and then headed back to Dubai for a month or so - before heading out to Spain for the summer.

The main work required on the Beast was to repair the back axle, which was cracked and leaking.  We welded it up in the field but that wasn't a permanent solution.  So I bought a pre-loved axle tube from Joy Scrap in Dhaid, took it for sandblasting, and handed it over to Robbie at Saluki for reinforcement.  Then Nanjgel transplanted the innards of the old axle into the new axle tube and we were pretty much sorted.

The first race after the summer break was Round 1 of the 2016-17 EDC series at Lisaili, where I managed 2nd in T1 and 3rd overall.

So far, so good.  Our next outing was in the 4th round of the Emirates Rally Championship, organised by Emirates Motorsport Club.  Only one stage was used, and was supposed to be driven in 5 repetitions.  In fact, the track became so cut up and dangerous that it was halted after 4 rounds, by which time three vehicles had rolled - including us.  We clipped the apex of a left-hander, and the Beast rolled onto its roof - my bad.  Once we had escaped from the car unscathed, it was apparent that there was a lively fire going on under (or rather, above) the hood, where axle oil was dripping onto the hot exhaust manifold.  Rather than go back into a burning vehicle to fetch our own fire bottle, we flagged down the next race car - Fayed's son, Mahmoud - and pinched his extinguisher which successfully put out the fire.

Next stop - Nanjgel.  New wings from Ali Al Shawi, new door from Joy Scrap, lots of hammering and painting from Nanjgel and the Beast emerged in time for the candidate round for a proposed new FIA event, the Dubai International Baja.  This was a cross-country event to replace the old Dubai International Rally, a saloon car event which had been declining in popularity for some time.

The event was based at the Endurance Village stadium, near Bab Al Shams, and was overseen by the FIA to verify its credentials for inclusion in the 2017 Cross-Country World Championship.  It consisted of two repetitions of the same stage, in the Faqaa region used by the EDC.  Halfway round the first stage, we lost 4WD - which would normally be 'game over'.  But we decided to try and finish by lowering our tyre pressure to 10psi and crossing our fingers.  Soon after, we were faced by probably the biggest climb of the day, through a gnarly dune section.  As we approached, we could see one vehicle already stuck - which was Tom Bell's Bowler EXR. This didn't exactly fill me with confidence, but we went for it anyway.  As we blasted through, we found another vehicle stuck, and a sweep team in the process of righting Yahya Bel Hili's Patrol!  Enjoy the moment here...


So we were able to finish the first round, and were actually leading T1 at that point!  But the front axle was clearly bent and we presumed (correctly, as it turned out) that the halfshaft was broken.  Which was a shame, since I'd recently fitted uprated halfshafts, sourced from in the USA.  Anyway, we didn't have any choice but to go back into battle for stage 2 with 2WD.  Unfortunately, lightning doesn't strike twice, and it only took one bad decision to scupper our chances of finishing - we got hopelessly stuck and had to await the sweep team to extract us.

Over the Christmas period I gave the car to Rob  Bryan, who was by now managing 1000 Dunes Garage, for a report.  There were a number of issues which he identified as needing attention, and by January I was repeating the refurb procedure on the front axle (see above!).  Nanjgel also revised the radiator mounting, to provide better resilience, using rubber bobbins on the side mounts.  A complete set of new Accel igniters came from Summit, and - just before the 2017 Dubai International Baja -  a bomb was dropped in our lap.

Last Wednesday - eight days before Baja scrutineering - we were informed that the 2017 FIA T1 regulations mandated a completely new plumbed-in fire extinguisher system.  Oh joy!  On Thursday, we ordered an FEV system from Gulfsport.  On Friday, FEV despatched it from UK.  On Monday we received it, and I spent Tuesday working with Nanjgel to pull out the old system and install the new one.  Wednesday was another full day at Nanjgel, fixing various other jobs and installing additional roll cage padding (another FIA requirement). Finally, the Beast was loaded onto the trailer and we arrived at the rally bivouac, to camp overnight.

Thursday was documentation and scrutineering, which was extremely strict, and required the installation of even more roll cage padding - which thankfully Saluki Motorsport had available - and braided covering for the fuel vent line, which Rick was able to get from ATES in Al Quoz.  By Thursday night we were able to enjoy a well-earned beer with the Beast ready to rock.  But with eight FIA 'priority' professional drivers competing, I was resigned to the fact that a top-10 finish was probably out of the question.

Friday's  schedule was for 91km and 84km desert stages, with a regroup parc ferme (no service) in between.  SS1 went well, the navigation was very critical as there were very short distances between waypoints and frequent sharp direction changes.  We passed two vehicles, and discovered at the end that at least two other vehicles which started ahead of us - Mark Powell's T1.3 Saluki buggy and Tom Bell's EXR - were out. So we had made up at least 4 spots on our 20th place starting position.  After an extremely long wait in the middle of the desert, we finally started SS2, which was a faster section than SS1 - more subkhas and fewer technical dune sections.  Our progress was temporarily slowed when there was a massive BANG behind my seat and the entire cockpit filled with gas - the new FEV fire extinguisher had exploded!  We decided to keep very quiet about this, as the scrutineers would certainly exclude us if they found we were running without a working extinguisher system!

Back at the bivouac after another good run, we had two hours for service, and discovered that we were now 12th overall - pretty good, considering we had been seeded 23rd.

The next day's SS3 was exactly the same route as SS1 and SS2 combined, but with no intermediate stop - so 173km stage.  Once again we had no issues, but towards the end we came up behind and passed Yayha Bil Hili's Patrol, which was clearly sick, and ran to the finish behind Mansour Bil Hili's Prado.  Unfortunately, he managed to stall at the top of a dune, and I clipped his rear quarter panel with my wing - sorry about that!  We crossed the finish in fine style, having had no real issues.  But then the drama began.

First, we couldn't get the compressor to work to air up the tyres.  And with a scant 40 minutes to get back to the bivouac, I decided to do it without worrying about the tyres.  But before we got back to the tarmac, the engine died.  The starter turned but...nothing.  So we flagged down the next race car - Emil Khneisser's Y62 Patrol - and they towed us in!  At service, Jason identified a blown ECU fuse and the Beast started again.  A huge sigh of relief sounded, the car was put back into parc ferme, and another long wait ensued before the ramp finish at 1830hrs.

But just after exiting parc ferme, it died again.  Completely.  No starter,  Nothing. Nada.  By this time we knew we were 11th overall and Emil was 12th, and the ramp was being held in reverse order.  So once again, Emil and Manie came to our rescue and valiantly towed us up and over the finish ramp!  At this point, we discovered that the final stage had been sponsored by Nissan, and that there was a trophy for the first Nissan to finish SS3 - which was us!

Apres moi, le maelstrom!

Emil's Patrol is on the other end of the tow-rope

Nanjgel Garage service crew
In the end, the top six places were, as expected, taken by FIA priority drivers - with Nasser Al-Attiyeh (Hilux) taking the victory from Khaled Al Qassimi (Peugeot).  7th and 8th were buggies (T3) which were always going to be quicker than us in the dunes.  So to achieve 11th overall was a real achievement - only one place shy of our best-ever 10th place ADDC finish.

Thanks to my guiding light, co-driver and life-partner Sheila Hutton, Jason Lyness and Rick Carless on the spanners, Nanjgel Garage for all their hard work, Tim Ansell for the photos  - and last but not least Emil Khneisser for the towing service!

So now we have only 17 days to the start of ADDC 2017.  There is a list of jobs, and it's not getting any shorter.  This will be our 10th consecutive Desert Challenge, and we would like to go out on a high!  Watch this space...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

And so to bed

Phew, Finished
Car no team
No race reports today. No stucks, no dramas, nothing broken, Started 17th for the day, finished 18th, and ended 23rd overall in the race. Well done Sheila & Ian. Huzzah. As I write this, the team are enjoying large orange juices and lemonades at the Gala Awards Dinner at Yas, while The Beast takes a well earned rest in the car park at Yas Marina Circuit.

So Thanks to Kate & Rick for flying in from the UK just so they can have their faces sunburned and sandblasted, go without sleep for days, burn their fingers fixing exhausts and supper, and generally mis-behaving. Thanks too to Richard

"Tool Man" Bailey and Jason "Cut the RED wire" Lyness for their sterling support, fixing things with hammers and multi-meters - whilst having their faces sunburned and sand blasted etc. etc.

Car with team
Thanks to Emil Khneisser for his help with spare parts along the way, and the SAR team for being on hand even though we didn't need them! Also to the Sweep Team for towing us out on Day 2 and of course to the marshals without whom the event would not be possible. Thanks to Miss Poland 2011 for staying away from our part of the bivouac and thus not distracting the boys......and 'get well soon' Steve Blackney - a Dubai based biker who suffered a back injury on Day 2 but who is (gingerly) back on his feet today we're pleased to report.

Commiserations to Tom Bell and Patrick McMurren who endured a tough rally, losing a clutch, a starter motor, two tyres, were reversed into at high speed by a fellow competitor, and spent the night sleeping next to their car waiting for rescue, then suffered a DNF. It gets easier guys....

So another race has been run....who knows what 2017 will bring, and whether The Phantom Blogger will be reporting?

Stay tuned.
So it's good-night from me. And it's good-night from him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Four four four he's he's he's a a a jolly jolly jolly good good good fellow fellow fellow

An odd title I know but one which celebrates today's finishing time of four hours forty four minutes and forty four seconds. OK the seconds bit may or may not be true but the 4' 44" is. Now stop and think about how hard it is to learn the English language. Four is pronounced F-oar, but Hour is pronounced Ower. And Four has a "U" in it but Forty doesn't  Just like an inspirational poster - "There's no "U" in Forty"  I mean, it's not fower oars and fourty foor minutes, is it? And is minute, one sixtieth of an hour, or is it just something very small. How big is a minute steak, and for (four?) how long should one cook ones minute steak?

This is bent

Ooh don't tempt me...

Richardus Baileyus. A nocturnal creature

These questions, and many others, did not occur to Ian and Sheila today as they traversed mountainous dunes, dashed along vast subkahs, and cut down mighty pines with nothing but a halibut as a weapon. No, they just got stuck in, and decimated the competition. Starting out 30th on the day, they finished 16th on the stage. (16 of course is fower times foor. Or is it fore thymes four? Who nose?). They also broke nothing. Well, very little by their standards. Just a rear support arm (not foooore the first time this week) and two front bump stops. So if your rear arm's not supported (a lot like Manchester City) and your front bump stops are worn (or are they Warn?), what do you do? Yes, you blag them from elsewhere.

Somebody told Rick to take the Tube.
In a message which has only served to confuse the heck out of T-Phablog (and let's face it, THAT takes some doing), I understand that: "Knackered two front bump stops. Fortunately Saluki used stock Nissan rear bump stops at the front so my road car has provided the necessary parts.". So, we've got rear bump stops on the front. I wonder what will happen tomorrow if the rear bumps. Or the front stops. Who knows?

In other news, the fire engine Richard repaired yesterday was used to good effect when the gentlemen from the fire brigade had to hose down Jenny from next door this afternoon. No, I've no idea. Some sort of wet T shirt thing maybe? Was Kate involved? Were Rick and Jason leching? Or were they leaching? What was leaking? What was Richard repairing at the time? Hoonose

So early were Mr. & Mrs. B back at the bivvy wack today that they were home in time for lunch and medals. Well, by about 3pm anyway, which is when Ian rang me and asked him if I was talking to him. I pointed out that if he's answered the four (fore, phwoar, phoore?)phone (fone, faun, fawn?) calls I'd made to him yesterday, I needn't have called Rick (Wick, Wicki, Wixter?) yesterday. So yes, I'm talking to him. Not now obviously because I'm writing this. But earlier.

What a senseless waste of human life.
Oh he was OK? Thank Goodness
Tomorrow is the day after the penultimate day of the event. So the last day then. And the car's in good shape, Ian, Sheila, Kate, Jason, Richard are in good shape. Rick's a shape too, but I said 'prolate' two days ago and according to the 'no repeats for 72 hours rule' I'm not allowed to say it on Wednesdays. Tune in tomorrow.

Wish the Dogs well - tomorrow's D-D-D-Day (Dog's Done Duning Day)

Ta Ta. - Whoops - BIG clue!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Half shafted with no strap on

Our sharp eyed readers may have problems scratching their contact lenses. They might also have noticed in yesterday's update that there was in fact, no update yesterday. Well done. There was a technical reason for this - I went out last night and got back late and in the meantime managed to miss Ian's evening phone call, the one in which he would have told me about Day 2 in the dunes. So there you have it - even Phantom Bloggers have nights off..

Excellent photo stolen from Craig McAteer. Don't tell him.
So this morning I made a call to Newtrix Racing's Technical Director. Some say that the reflections from his head are visible in space. Or that his hand crocheted parachutes are a thing of great beauty - and an even greater insurance risk. We just know he's - "The Rick". The Rick informed me that Day 2 went, not so much from bad to worse, more from broken to buggered. Yesterday's mechanical casualties included a half shaft, two drag links and a suspension restraining strap. For the non technically minded, I shall attempt to explain the function of these items.

A half shaft is like a shaft, but shorter. About 50% shorter. Trouble is, our half shaft suffered a further sub-division and ended up as two 1/4 shafts. And anyone whose ever suffered a quarter shaft will understand how much such a thing would slow you down in the desert. So imagine having two of them hanging off your diff. Exactly.

A Half Shaft. Completely shafted.
Drag links have proven very popular in some of the camper parts of Scotland, where golf, particularly golf involving the wearing of one silk glove and ridiculous clothing (so that's ALL golf then?) is involved. Basically it's a course close to the sea, on which women are not allowed to play, so the men mince around offering to 'play a round in a foursome". All seems rather unseemly to me, but I guess it gets lonely on a cold winter's night in Dundee.

And a restraining strap is an S&M device. (Sadism & Masochism / Suspension and Movement - you pays your money and you takes your choice) One is used to stop your rear axle from dangling too far, whilst the other is. Well it's. Sort of the opposite really. So I hope that's cleared up all those confusing oily bit explanations. Good.

Consequently Mr & Mrs. B only made it around about half of yesterday's route, before calling it a day and taking up stamp collecting ("Have you seen any PCs philately?"). Having driven back to the bivvy with only three half shafts and without a strap on, they retired to the bar and told Rick and Richard to "get on with fixing it you oiks". Which is a bit rude and entirely untrue. So Rick and Richard beavered away, whilst Kate badgered the canteen staff and Jason made sure everything was properly secured with the budgie cords. By 1am their work was complete, so they dragged Ian and Sheila out of the bar, made them some hot chocolate (could happen - I believe in miracles) and everybody had a nap.

This morning they got up, Sheila had a shower, Ian had a shave, and thankfully Rick, Jason, Richard and Kate left early.  Then the Dogs hit the dunes, the pedal hit the metal, there was dust everywhere, much excitement, occasional rude words, more stamps were collected, competitors were hunted down and taunted, water was drunk, there were more rude words, brows were furrowed, Rick was confused, Richard fixed a fire engine, Kate coloured in two more Unicorns, and Jason wondered what the hell he was doing here.

And that ladies and gentlemen, was our famous TV interviewer called Robin, in a kernel. (Our Day in a nut shell.)

 Ian and Sheila will start Day 4 in 30th position.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

All is not lost...

Except for a spare tyre, our tow rope, the ARB tyre inflation hose, $ 12,372 in used Nigerian notes and the rag we use to wipe the dipstick. (But he's on holiday so we don't need it...).

Was it Burt Reynolds who starred in Every which way but loose? I think so. Anyway, it seems that the toolbox on the rear of the car became a little unhinged today (happens to us all in these temperatures, right?) and so its contents ended up, well, a little Reynoldsed. Scattered to the four corners of the Earth. Given that the Earth is a spheroid, albeit marginally prolated, it's difficult to know exactly where those four corners are, which explains why we couldn't find our oily rag, or tyre inflation hose, in the vast expanse of sandpaper we call the desert.

Still never mind, T-Phablog was on hand to dash to his ageing Land Rover in Dubai and remove the ARB inflation hose stored within. Only to be told it wasn't one of those he needed to deliver to the desert 5 hours drive away, but a different ARB inflation hose, a Jose Mourinho. Yes, a Special One.

So he dashed again, driving straight past the offices of the rather wonderful SRG Motorsports whose driver was going to deliver said hose to the desert 5 hours drive away if T-Phablog could just get back there in time, onwards to the ARB store in the less than salubrious International City. His mission? To buy a Dh 200 tyre hose.( Last year they were only Dh 185, but hey, that's inflation for you....) No matter that they closed at 6pm but promised to wait until T-Phab got there at 6.07pm, they had the part!!!!!   Which was surprisingly just like the part T-P could have delivered to SRG 20 minutes earlier.....Hmm. What's wrong with this picture?

Quick phone call. "Hello Ian" "Yes" "I'm looking at this ARB hose and it's like the one I've got with me in my car" "No you have one for a Bushranger compressor" "Yes but I also have an ARB one" "Do you?" "Yes" "Oh right, yes that's the one, please take it to SRG Motorpsorts, you know, the place you drove past 20 minutes ago...... " "So I needn't have driven to ARB"  "Err no". "OK, no problem, I'll just turn round then and drive through the rush hour traffic a second time to the place I passed not so very long ago....."

Thank you Sean Gaugain and the good people of SRG Motorsports for your help. Ian owes you (and me) alcohol...a lot of alcohol

Apart from that we broke an axle (it's alright, so did Guns 'n Roses and they just fixed it) but otherwise it was just a walk in the park. A really deserty park, with lots of sand. And sticky bits. High temperatures, no swings, no ducks, very few trees, no crazy golf, no huts selling ice cream and no scantily clad young office workers slipping off their blouses in the summer months and rubbing sun tan oil into their........ NOW STOP THAT!

Sorry. The UAE Desert Challenge - it's serious stuff. With very little Tropicana. But the drinks are free. Allegedly.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Once upon a mud slide....

This year we have lost many of Planet Earth's greats. Lemmy, David Bowie, Keith Emerson, George Martin, Eric "Winkle" Brown (shame on you if you don't know who he is) and just 48 hours ago, Ronnie Corbett. It's an annus horribilis for sure, but may I just say, that reports last year that the Phantom Blogger had also shuffled off this mortal coil, bereft of life and off to meet his maker, were greatly exaggerated. Lock up your daughters, (whilst I shall do the same), the Blogmeister is BACK!!!

But please note; these days apparently it's no longer fashionable to use ones given name. No, if you're down with the kids you need a stage name, so if it's good enough for J-Lo and P-Diddy, it's good enough for me. Ladies, gentlemen, and those of you who are still on the fence (get off, you'll break it), you shall now refer to me as "T-Phablo". (Not be confused with "That Fat Bloke")

If you're part of my posse (and if you are, you'll be needing a horse and a Stetson) you may refer to me as "T-Phab" (rhymes with prefab) thus marking you out as one of my inner crew, and reminding everybody of cheap post war housing in Britain. Please note, no sprouts.

But enough about me, what news from yonder Prologue breaks? Well, not much really... the bikes went round and round, the cars went round and round, the wheels on the trailer went round and round, the wipers on the car went swish swish swish, the cameras on T-Phablo went click click click and nobody got hurt. Which is good.

So let's talk about Ian and Sheila, except that celebrity couples need 'couple names' so out of respect for their 20+ years in the Gulf we shall now refer to their combined presence as "In'she'la"(meaning "If Sheila lets it happen") So Sheila shouted at Ian and told him to slow down. Ian claimed afterwards he hadn't heard a thing and that his consequent "running of the barriers" (like Pamplona but without the stupid red scarves and, let's be honest, rather gay white trouser suits, accessorised with a camp beret. Seriously, guys of Spain, you want us to take your bull running seriously but then you dress like a limp wristed Village People backing troupe. What's with that?) was a perfectly executed power slide using only the prefabricated (and "we're back") plastic barriers as a city limit of sorts. "You shall not exceed the boundaries - but it's OK to smack them upside the head a little"

And thus, Newtrix raced, Rick went carless, Kate was steadfastly Stedman, Birthday Boy Jason forgot his lyness and Richard....well Richard had his hands on his tool most of the day, as usual.
Now the team are hard at work fettling the car (Rick's latest facebook status update suggests they are doing so in the Y Bar at Yas Marina, which is odd...) whilst Sheila is updating the roadbook and Ian is snoring. So. No change there then.

Good night!