We switched our focus to the Hutton Kitchens Brands Hatch Summer Stages in late August. Not only did this give us two months to smuggle the 325i past an MOT inspector, the event would also be much more appropriate for a rally virgin like myself. Making use of the famous race track, the pit lane and paddock, the car park, the rally school and a load of cones and tyres, the organisers had designed an eight-stage single venue event of around 40 competitive miles.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Instead, I roped in my mate Adam Gould, four times a British Rally Championship podium finishing driver, but also a total co-driving novice. We might not know where we were supposed to be going, but at least he’d be able to offer feedback on my driving.
I had been dreaming of the start line to a rally stage for years. As Adam and I sat waiting for the green light to illuminate, my heart was pounding out of my overalls with the sheer excitement and terror of the moment. I suddenly became utterly convinced that I was incapable of synchronising the release of the handbrake, the dumping of the clutch and the mashing of the throttle in time with the green light. When I successfully pulled away with a convincing race start, my surprise almost matched that experienced at scrutineering. I was similarly alarmed when the gear knob came clean off in my hand when I made my very first shift from third to fourth.
The release of pressure upon reaching the end of the four-mile stage was so massive that, when repeated as SS2, I got through it 28 seconds quicker. There’s no doubt in my mind that a quicker driver could have wrung a lot more pace out of the 325i, but by the last stage I was starting to feel as though I was extracting the majority of the car’s potential. It was the most fun I’ve had driving a car, and Adam’s expert input was invaluable.
Given the minimal pre-event TLC that we lavished upon the BMW – not to mention the tough life it has led since it was first used as a rally car in 2005 – its utterly faultless performance throughout the day was staggering. Dynamically, it has its shortcomings; the steering is far too slow, the standard brakes fade quickly and the suspension set-up is far better suited to gravel than sealed surfaces, but when exiting a corner on a whiff of opposite lock none of that seems to matter. Having started 80th, we finished 47th overall.
Perhaps my abiding memory will be the joy of a deep bucket seat, a chest-crushing harness and a grippy suede steering wheel. When only your limbs can move independently of the car, you no longer need to use the steering wheel as a grab handle through corners. This helps immeasurably with car control and makes a complete mockery of many leather-seated fast road cars.
In typical budget motorsport fashion, the costs of our rallying adventure have spiralled beyond where we’d hoped. I’ll outline the full expense after the next rally, for which Chris will be behind the wheel. I’ve yet to decide if I’m too busy to co-drive.
Want to see the BMW in action? Video evidence here!