The Three Castles Welsh Classic Rally and Heritage Trial is a three day event plus a prologue day for novices held every year for the last thirteen years around the highways and byways of North Wales. Different routes are used each year although some of the lunch and coffee stops tend to be used regularly. It is always based in the seaside town of Llandudno about 40 miles west of Chester. As its name implies each day has its midday halt at a different castle, of which there are many in the area. This year particularly featured Chirk, Conway and Caernarvon with many other minor Castles and Halls along the way for the frequent driving tests. These consist of hill climbs, manoeverability tests and repeatability, e.g a timed lap of a race track which then has to be replicated to the second for a further two or three laps, all against the clock. The main feature of the rally is however the regularity sections which require precise distance and time measurements over periods up to 2 hours long. This year for the first time the entrance list was split into separate events, the Rally and the Heritage Trial, for pre 82 cars and pre war and especially valuable cars respectively. The latter taking a slightly less punishing route. There were 68 starters in the Rally and 20 in the Trial. The Rally covered 540 miles over the three days, returning to Llandudno each night.
What follows is the experiences of two novices.
The week of the Three Castles began badly with 70 mph gales and lashing rain. My enthusiasm began to wane and wasn’t improved on the run over to Llandudno when even though the rain had eased the bridges off the island were closed due to high winds. Having recently moved to Holy Island off the Isle of Anglesey this could have been a problem. Anyway things improved and Wednesday dawned bright in time for the novices briefing and prologue – a non-competitive test to give beginners a bit of insight – neither Mike, my navigator, nor I had done any form of motorsport before.
There is such a lot of information to absorb and really neither of our retired brains could cope. The Three Castles is a regularity trial interspersed with speed and manoeuvrability tests and hill climbs. I think we were OK on the latter but the regularities were really taxing. We just didn’t seem to be able to stay on the route. To be honest we were trying to do the rally with just a Brantz Rally Timer. Having just got my speedo repaired and reinstalled after years being virtually inoperative I hadn’t been keen on fitting the recommended Brantz Trip Meter to accurately record distance which involves splicing the drive cable. This was a MISTAKE. You really can’t do it just with the speedo trip meter. We kept going wrong because we couldn’t, in the heat of the moment, agree on how far decimals of a mile were. It was some time later that we realised that 0.01 of a mile is actually only 17 yards so direction instructions which were 0.01 or 0.02 apart were really in the same place on the road.
Suffice to say that Day One of the rally proper was a riot of overshot corners, missed time controls and generally head scratching. By the end of the day we were 57th out of 63 with 421 points. The leading car had 2 and the last car had 1065. So not so bad??
A post mortem/review with some more experienced hands revealed that we were focussing far too much on adhering to the timings instead of just concentrating on getting the route right. At one point we had all been held up for 10 minutes in suddenly erected roadworks and there is just no way of getting that back.
The Tycoon frankly has never had such a thrashing but so far it has stood up to it. True, after a particularly rough stage the fuel gauge suddenly packed up and then behaved somewhat erratically requiring regular top ups and a horrible knocking from the near side rear wheel which we initially thought was a puncture was eventually diagnosed as a sticking brake release which was fixed by the service crew in the secure overnight parking.
A really good dinner at another Lllandudno hotel rounded off the day with a lot of shared experiences with expert and novice crews alike.
Our resolution for Day 2 was to go much slower on the regularities and try to keep on the correct route but I suspect that the red mist will still descend on the speed trials.
It was all going so well, at least for the first couple of hours then somewhere we missed a turning during a regularity stage. One minute we were in our rightful place about a minute behind the crew in front of us and occasionally seeing the crew behind in the rearview mirror. Then suddenly we were alone. Try as we might we couldn’t find the route. Diverting for petrol and a good look at the Ordnance Survey Map we were fortunate enough to find a pump attendant who happened to know where the next coffee stop was scheduled so we abandoned the stage and set off across country to try to catch up. Amazingly we, car 84, arrived in convoy with car 85, apparently equally lost. We all caught up with lunch after another regularity stage which was at the bottom of a hillclimb which was to be the next test. A delay of an hour or so then ensued as one of the cars had got stuck coming down the hill!
The afternoon passed in something of a blur but we were more or less on course and finished with the others after 12 hours on the road. After excellent organised dinners on the previous evenings Mike and I repaired to a local fish and chip diner for some simple food.
The third day should have been easier with only about 6 hours driving expected – but somehow it wasn’t. Suffice to say that after another good start we eventually lost ourselves for over an hour but refusing to give up we retraced our steps and finally found the route. We were so late that although we found the location of every checkpoint most had packed up and gone home by the time we passed. Anyway we finally arrived at the final checkpoint by the right route and felt triumphant.
As a first motor sport venture it was great, if a little frustrating at times. The Three Castles organisation was exemplary and if we found it difficult to comprehend all the rules ( MSA ) and penalties it wasn’t their fault. The whole thing was rounded off with a black tie dinner and awards ceremony on Saturday night. When an award for the crew in the most unusual car who were always in the wrong place was announced I thought we were in, but no, apparently there was someone even worse than us in a Lagonda M45 Le Mans. It takes something special to be more unusual than the Tycoon.
We were 56th out of 58 finishers with 8 cars breaking along the way, a bit of a slur on the Trident name, but properly equipped we’ll do better next time. What about a Trident Team in 2017 when all your restorations are complete? We would need three cars. There’s got to be an award in that!
The Tycoon was amazing. Apart from the suspension work described elsewhere and a new brake master cylinder it hadn’t been prepared for the event at all. It has been experiencing an occasional misfire for some time which I haven’t been able to locate ( although now I think it is a fuel pick up problem ) so I wouldn’t have been surprised if something small had stopped it in its tracks on the first day. It absorbed everything we threw at it, including constant high revs in low gears, high speeds over the roughest roads in the UK, through fords and over mountain passes, OK, not the Alps but often not much more than goat tracks. By the finish the brake fade was lethal, the clutch wouldn’t bite off the line on the hillclimbs, the fuel gauge sender appeared to have disintegrated, the door locks had come loose and the steering column was floating on the splines on the lower UJ. But it survived. Who knew Tridents were so tough?
After years of not really using the car in anger this was a most exhilarating and satisfying experience. Get your cars on the road and let them stretch their legs. They’ll thank you for it.
See you at the 2015 fifty year anniversary.
I wrote most of this during and immediately after the rally. Reflecting with Mike a little later we were both surprised at just how tough the Three Castles turned out to be. We both were expecting a sort of tour with special stages but what we got, probably due to our own inability to follow the route was a road race. Although the speeds were in reality not that high we felt that we needed to be going far faster than felt safe to have any hope of adhering to the road book timings This isn’t a criticism as I am sure we were doing something basically wrong, although the same view was expressed by other more experienced competitors. I’ve gone over the car now checking everything and have agreed a long list of jobs with TR Traders to be done over the winter so that it will be even stronger for the next event. I don’t know yet what it will be but we’ll do something next year.
Bildquelle: Steve Combes
Text: Steve Combes