Father & Son on the Somerset Stages 2015

Father and Son

Father and Son – Duncan and John Freeman

The Somerset Stages rally is based on the hills around Minehead and the Brendons, just 2 miles as the crow flies from our house.  I first watched this nearest stage (Chargot) some 11 years ago, with John as an enthusiastic, 8 year old petrol head.  We parked alongside the road and headed for the noise in the forest.  It was intensely exciting just bashing our way through the undergrowth to get a glimpse of these screaming and fire breathing rally cars.  Despite the novelty of watching our first rally and the desire to watch as much as possible I had to curtail the viewing after just a few cars had gone by; John was hit by a small stone and I was going green with envy.  It looked such fun.  I even thought to myself, I MUST do it one day, regardless of what car, even a Micra, anything with 4 wheels.  Little did I know that the dream would be fulfilled 11 years later.


The 2015 rally did not start too well.  At scrutineering we nearly failed on our helmets (yes, they were scratched and had obviously seen a lot of use), and I was expecting some comments about “These polycarbonate windows don’t have an MSA approval sticker” or “Your seat belts unfortunately don’t meet the current standards”.  I had read and re-read the ‘Blue Book’ that the MSA produce to see what changes had been introduced and what was allowed, but I am a born pessimist, so was expecting the worst.  We did get through scrutineering, but only after promising this would be the last time we used the helmets, and not to crash!


Helmet Selfie

Helmet Selfie – New helmets needed!

Having arrived early at the Minehead base, time soon vanished as we bought some emergency rations from Tesco, and we rushed to the start queue, only to realise we had been seeded just behind a Mk 2 Escort and ahead of a Rover 1400.  I promptly went to the Rover to say we would watch out for him if he caught us up, and I apologised in advance if I screwed his times up.  We then belted up, removed the safety  pin from the plumbed in fire extinguisher- just in case-  and waited for the start  to head for the first stage, the Porlock Toll road.  Last year it was my first attempt at reading pace notes, and after the 6th or 7th instruction I realised I was lost.  It was much harder than I thought to call it at the right time and not get ‘lost’.


John drove confidently, rarely lifting off the accelerator and thrashing the little car, with valves popping all the way up.  The massive hairpins are easy to screw up in such a low power car and the gearbox kept jumping out of first gear last time. We were much more prepared this time, with me holding the gear lever and calling the pace notes more confidently. The little car went up in style, posting a time that equalled the 2 litre Escort and was 20 seconds ahead of the 1400 Rover, and just 2 seconds behind a Subaru Impreza!  Incredibly 5 cars had broken down on this, the first of 12 stages.  How gutting.  But for the grace of God… the second run saw us knock a few more seconds off of our time and go up the score board 3 places.  We were now lying 129 out of 159 starters.

Gravel Stages

The Freemans’ Micra running through a gravel stage on the picturesque Somerset Stages


We were to run the first gravel stage almost last, behind the ‘big boys’ with very, very big bhp and 4 wheel drive.  That is a mandate from the Motor Sports Association in an attempt to stop spectators being hurt.  Not many are happy about this decision.  We have 60 horses and 13 inch wheels; not a nice thought of ruts and rocks churned up by WRC cars, ready to destroy drive shafts/ tyres/ anything. The whole stage  is a blur of noise- stones and rocks are blasted against the bodywork, the valves are trying to burst out of the engine, the heater is full blast to avoid overheating (one of the issues we had last year), and lastly, my shouting of instructions.  Slippy hairpin right, double caution. I repeat (louder) double caution… slippy… right hairpin.  John mostly hears what I say and luckily ignores my anxious tone.  Pedal to the metal until the hairpin is almost touching distance.  Brake hard, slight flick of hand brake and foot hard down again (and me holding the blooming gear lever).


John gave me less hairy moments compared to his very first event last year, though I did shout “Tidy up!” in a very strict head-master sort of way, referring not to rubbish in the car, but an excessive amount of sideways movement on a narrow track.  John claims he did not hear me, so my breath was wasted!  We posted another good time, this time going up 19 places to lie in 110th place and lying equal with a Fiesta ST.  The next few stages go well.  We now find ourselves following a Landrover Discovery.  Except this one had a tuned BMW engine pushing out 350 horse power to all 4 wheels.  We wait some distance behind the Disco, in case rocks are thrown up as he launches off the start line.  A truly impressive sight!  I swear the ruts deepened by many inches after he started.  Despite a monstrous amount of power, we were only 9 seconds slower on a stage that is almost 4 miles long.



I was beginning to relax that we were unlikely to be caught by anyone behind us, and have forgotten about the Rover 1400.  But could we catch anyone ahead of us?  The running order changes again so we were back behind the Escort.  The last stages find us apparently getting close, judging by the dust he left behind which found us struggling for vision (navigator becomes quite useful!!) and when we arrive at the time control we find the car still there.  However, the times give the truth.  We are only 24 seconds behind him on the long Croydon stage, and beat him on all but one stage.  It would be a great feeling to catch the car in front despite them having a minute head start.  One day… but the next rally will see us seeded a little higher.


The end result was quite surprising.  We finished 89th out of 159.  Only 111 people finished the rally, and we were first in our class.  Some have time penalties, but we were hampered by the navigator reading the pace notes for the wrong stage!  No wonder John ignored most of what I said.  We also lost time in a big chicane made from round straw bales.  It was slippery and we failed to get around.  Poor John spent the next 5 seconds hammering the steering wheel in frustration.  I was completely beside myself for not reading the correct notes.  Thank God we forgave each other.


Duncan and John tackling one of the many hairpins on the Somerset Stages, with no lack of bravery or commitment.

We stayed for the prize giving, which few people do.  Most people are exhausted and want to get home, but since home is only 14 miles away for us, we stayed, as well as the fact that this is our first class win.  During the interminable wait for prize giving, we chat to the winner of the 1.6 class, a young lad who used to have a Micra 1.0.  We learn from him about engine mounts causing the gear lever to pop out and left foot braking and control of the rear end which whets our appetite for the next event.  We returned home exhausted, but champions, and on our home ground!


Thanks to Duncan Freeman for this story.  If you have an event report you think we would enjoy, please send them in to us.