Successful Shakedown For BlendLine Rally Team
Author: Tom Magnay / Pictures: BlendLine
Last Saturday finally saw BlendLine Rally Team finally shakedown their Subaru Impreza N12 rally car after nearly 2 years of storage during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The last event the BlendLine sponsored team competed in with the N12 was Wales Rally GB in 2019, which saw the AWD Group N class crew retire on day 1 with transmission failure, and a superrally entry on day 2 after the team worked tirelessly to replace the rear differential and driveshafts in order to get the crew out for the second day of the event.
After the rally the car was transported back to Hereford and cooped up for a few months over that winter, before work began to reprep the car ready for select events in 2020 for the team.
But of course, 2020 was 2020, and after a few months of lockdown restrictions and the total halting of rallying in the UK, it soon become pretty clear to the BlendLine crew that a return to the stages during that year would be unlikely. Nonetheless the team used the downtime wisely, and went about a stripdown of all transmission components. The propshaft, driveshafts, gearbox, centre diff and rear diff were removed and the latter two components underwent a thorough dismantling and rebuild. The findings upon inspection did lead to a hefty shopping list, including a new gearbox casing and crown wheel and pinion, amongst some other components.
The team rebuilt the car with those shiny (and expensive) new items in place, and went about a final setup and alignment. By this point it was late summer 2020 and there was talk of a few events that "should be able to run" but of course, sadly none of them did.
The car laid up over winter in storage and if cars have feelings (and we know they do) it would have been asking us if it would ever see a rally stage ever again.
This brings us to June 2021, and finally rallysport can carefully resume in the UK. BLRT managed to get an entry for the Nicky Grist Stages which will be the first real gravel rally to run in Wales since February 2020.
The Nicky Grist Stages is one of the events that all drivers want to take part in, and even in a non-post-lockdown year, the entry fills quickly, but on the evening the entries opened this year, there were 150 entries in 15 minutes and 240 entries after a couple of hours. The rally can only allow so many cars to run, keeping in mind catering for all the service crews in the Builth Wells town centre service area, adhering to social distancing and so on...
Fortunately BlendLine Rally Team were quick off the mark with the entry, and have secured a place on the "Grist".
This lead to some last minute reprepping of the car over the last week or so, and a shakedown was booked at Carno in mid Wales.
Self admittedly driver Simon Dalton stated that the shakedown was as much for him as it was for the car! Upon arrival at the test location, Forest Experience Rally School, the team promptly de-trailered the car and fired the engine up.
Once warm, Dalton and myself set off around the 2 mile rally school loop to familiarise Dalton with the stage - he's been here before but around 7 years ago and the landscape has changed dramatically since then with not only forestry work but also the condition of the track itself.
Once the car is fully up to temp, and Dalton has settled himself back into the rhythm of controlling an all wheel drive car on very loose gravel, we start to up the pace. We're running on old half worn Pirelli K8 tyres which have seen some stage use already. It is a hot day, around low 20's and humid, so the soft compound of the K8 is eaten away quickly, and the remaining tread blocks soon heat up and start to get very soft indeed. This, paired with a well graded but loose gravel stage, means we're very sideways after a few loops, so we spin the car around and go back on the loop in anti-clockwise format, to mix things up.
After a quick coffee break and a chance for the BlendLine Rally Team mechanics to look at the car, we're back out for a second run and to get a chance to run through the different diff settings (the car is based on a STI so it has 6 different diff modes on the ECCD - electronically controlled centre differential). We also switch between ALS (anti-lag system) maps as 3 modes are available. And finally the launch control mode is checked, which requires quite a procedure of button presses and modes.
For a video of a well executed, AWD launch, check out this video from my Instagram page.
Alas the sharp gravel took its toll on one of the soft Pirellis, and a small cut through the treadblocks led to a slow puncture. Shortly after this (we had an hour or so of good running) we decided to call it a day.
Armed with a small snag list with a few trivial things to sort, the BlendLine team loaded the N12 back on to the trailer ready for the trip back to Hereford, pleased with a successful test after such a long time with the car laid up.
Just over two weeks remain now until the Nicky Grist Stages so the car will recieve a quick re-prep now at HQ before the rally commences. Dalton is entered with regular BLRT co-driver Jamie Vaughan, and will certainly be looking forward to getting things back underway.
Tom Magnay: @tommagnay01
Tal England: @talengland
BlendLine Apparel: @blend_line
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