Durkin’s timing for the inaugural MPG Marathon was fortuitously impeccable, coinciding as it did with the UK’s near-crippling fuel price protests, which made almost everyone in the country acutely aware of just how much fuel their car was using.
Since then, because of environmental concerns/wars in the Gulf/punitive road and company car tax rules/spiralling fuel duty (delete as appropriate), fuel economy has gained an ever-increasing importance.
These days, the MPG Marathon, which takes place on public roads, takes the form of a ‘navigational scatter’ event. In other words, competitors are given a list of destinations to which they can get by any route they so choose.
A few years ago the routes from point to point were fixed, but this caused all sorts of logistical and administrative headaches with the organisers because it meant that the event was classified as actual motorsport.
The ‘scatter’ approach is much simpler, plus it allows drivers to get creative with their navigation. To prevent cars becoming too much of a low-speed rolling road block along the way, there’s a maximum time allowed to get to each of the day’s checkpoints, with half a mile per gallon docked from your overall recorded economy figure for each minute you’re late.
Competitors cover around 320 miles over the two days of the event, depending on their choice of route.
All you have to do to win is record a mile per gallon figure higher than anyone else’s, but there are also awards given for best improvement on the manufacturer’s claimed combined economy figure, and a prize for the most economical van.
Cars (and vans) have to be standard, and are rigorously scrutineered by the AA, with the fuel tanks brimmed and sealed before setting off. Point-to-point mileages are noted along the way.
This year’s MPG Marathon has attracted a decent mix of competitors. There are fleet managers, police drivers and representatives of various public sector bodies, plus a smattering of interest from the manufacturers, including Seat and Peugeot.
Kevin and I are part of Honda UK’s multi-pronged effort, which includes us in the Civic hatch, racers Neal and Shedden in a Civic Tourer, the BBC’s Paul Clifton and traffic cop Shaun Cronin also sharing a Tourer and four guys from Honda’s R&D department – Fergal McGrath, James Warren, Tony Shiggins and Julian Warren – in, you guessed it, another Civic Tourer, which they all had a hand in developing.
Elsewhere, there are defending MPG Marathon champs Nick Chapman and Rosemary Horner in a Ford Fiesta 1.6 Econetic and up and coming Formula Ford racers Harrison Scott and Louise Richardson in a Fiesta ST-3. There’s also a Subaru BRZ. And an Alfa Romeo 4C.
Day one begins with a run from our base, south of Cirencester, to a hotel just off the A40 near Abergavenny, and we opt for an easy jaunt along the M4 into Wales. We’re fighting a headwind and battling for inside lane space with lorries, but the steady pace has our trip meter claiming 89.4mpg at the end of it. Not bad going – if accurate – but we’ll need to do better if we’re to be in with a chance of winning.
The next leg takes us north-east to Worcester. It’s a pleasant drive and we barely feel like we’re holding anyone up, but torrential rain and deep standing water in Great Malvern causes extra drag for the final few miles. The trip reckons on 86.7mpg at the end of it.