Allow me to bring you up to speed. A few weeks earlier I’d bought the cheapest used car I could find, which turned out to be this tatty 22 year-old, K11-generation Nissan Micra, to see if it was at all possible to buy a vehicle for peanuts and actually use the thing. By driving 500 miles in a single day and experiencing not one problem, I like to think we answered that question in emphatic fashion. Which rather begged the question: exactly how tough is a 1996 Nissan Micra? If it could survive three hours of being thrashed around a bumpy field, we would have our answer.
The Hearst Challenge, organised by Gloucestershire rally driver Dan Moss, is an annual endurance event that raises money for the local air ambulance. Over the years, it has donated tens of thousands of pounds to a very good cause. The only significant rules are each team must buy and prepare its car for no more than £500, and it must be two-wheel drive. Otherwise, it’s all fair game.
Each team must be made up of three drivers. By simply recruiting two of my best mates, I inadvertently formed a kind of grass-track super-team. Rob Shipp is an amateur rally driver and by a clear margin the most gifted car mechanic I know, making him easily the most important member of the team. Adam Gould, meanwhile, is pretty handy on the tools himself and was for a while one of this country’s most promising young rally drivers. He has led rounds of the British Rally Championship and won many stages, and is able to do things in a car that people like me can only dream of.
Ah yes, and so we come to yours truly. I am no more handy with a spanner than I am with a clarinet, while my experience of driving competitively on the loose amounts to precisely nothing at all. But I would at least be supplying the car.
Rob, Adam and I spent the day before the event preparing the Micra, which basically meant ripping out every unnecessary item, apparently to reduce weight. All the glass, other than the windscreen, came out (Rob delicately removed the rear screen by throwing a spanner through it: ‘Ah, so that’s what those things are for’, I thought). I made myself useful by applying our race numbers using duct tape. Cleverly, Rob also fitted an auxiliary radiator into the cabin because he knew the car’s original radiator would get filled with muck and quickly cease to function. He also replaced a couple of drive belts and fitted a proper racing seat, albeit a very old one, while Adam passed him tools and I helpfully checked Twitter.