PH goes rallying

Chris Harris loves his rally cars, Dan Prosser has spent much of his professional life writing about them and the sport. Together quite a team, then. And in true money-where-your-mouth-is spirit they're going to be rallying an old 3 Series in the BMW RWD Challenge. This, as you might expect, may involve quite a lot of affordable sideways action, which is a good thing.

To introduce the project Chris and Dan tell their sides of the story below. We'll be returning to this over the coming months as they learn new skills, patch up their old Beemer and - ultimately - drive it in anger. Will they still be friends at the end of it? We'll see, but for now here's the first chapter in the story...

Chris Harris
It was talking to ex-British rally champion Martin Rowe that first pricked my interest in BMW 325 rally cars. We were in Norway and the topic of discussion was affordable oversteer. He immediately mentioned something called the BMW RWD Challenge - a kind of one-make series for E30s. And it immediately lodged as a project worth attempting. And it only took me four years to bite the bullet.

First up, I needed a partner in crime. So a quick call to fellow West Country man Dan Prosser secured the services of a co-driver, albeit one who has never co-driven and, as we discovered on the lengthy journey to Milford Haven, gets a slightly dickie tummy when reading in a car. "Don't worry, I won't chunder until the end of each stage" were his words of reassurance.

PH's mean rallying machine
PH's mean rallying machine
The deal was struck through reciprocity. Dan likes to drive too, so in a moment of abject recklessness I agreed to swap sides for an event. I am presenting this to the world as a staunchly objective editorial strategy, allowing each of us to experience both seats, but the reality is Dan isn't stupid and I had to offer him something in the deal.

One part of the bargain was that he locate a suitable machine. He managed to do this in Milford Haven, which is closer to New York than it is London. The collection itself was an adventure, ably carried by my shagged-out old Range Rover at a steady 50mph (and 14mpg). Roland, the vendor kept disappearing behind his work premises and appearing with more spares, the last of which was a spare engine block. "Dunno what use it is boys, but it's a real Alpina 2.7 block." Actually, in the spirit of the unfair advantage, I probably shouldn't have admitted that in public. Roland ended by asking if we wanted a spare shell.

Sadly it wouldn't fit in the back of the Rangie.

This plus a hammer and some zip ties: sorted
This plus a hammer and some zip ties: sorted
And so to the machine itself. It was originally a 325i Sport, and one which has less provenance than a stowaway mongrel on trans-continental travels. The accompanying shots prove that it is indeed 'well used'. It was once black, is now white. It has all the necessary bits for the RWD series: cage, cut-outs, locking diff and an engine. Plus several feet of oxidized steel. It looks plain splendid and I can't wait to test it ASAP. Power should be somewhere in the region of 160hp, which will be ample on the loose.

In the spirit of shed motorsport, the £4,000 rally car will be towed by my £1,500 Range Rover Classic and ride atop an as yet un-purchased trailer. In an ideal world the total cost of the unit would be under £7,000, so I'm looking for a cheap Brian James.

Cockpit underlines standard of prep...
Cockpit underlines standard of prep...
What do I want to get out of this? Big oversteer in between some trees, learning to drive RWD on gravel (I've only ever done three rallies, all in FWD cars), meeting the legendary Pat Flynn who runs the championship and who, I am reliably informed, is the most passionate member of the human race on the subject of cheap skidding. Generally messing about with like-minded idiots.

Don't think we'll have the time to do every round of the championship, but we're going to have fun.

Dan Prosser
I remember Chris went quiet for a moment as we drove away from the car park having collected our new rally shed. He turned to me and said, "Two years ago I was preparing to race a Porsche 911 GT3 RS at the Nurburgring 24 Hours. Now I'm doing this with you."


I'm certain our efforts will lack the gloss of a professional factory programme, but I also reckon that this sort of low-budget, no-pressure, minimal-consequence motorsport is just about as fun as competitive driving gets. I can't speak for Chris, but my ambitions for my stint behind the wheel amount to successfully navigating the more popular spectator points without actually being able to hear the mocking laughs and derisive comments.

RWD rallying fun starts here
RWD rallying fun starts here
My other goal is just to learn. Learn what it is to call pace notes and put your faith in the skills of your driver, learn to drive to pace notes and read the surface of a stage, learn those driving techniques that are unique to rallying, learn to fashion a makeshift steering arm using a twig and some duct tape.

I've spent the past couple of years writing about rallying, passing comment and sometimes even criticising, without ever having had a go at the sport. That always struck me as a bit rich, so I hope that this saga will help me to better understand the psyche of a rally driver. Punting a BMW that's older than I am around a single venue event won't help me understand what runs through Sebastien Loeb's mind as he flies through a Finnish forest, but maybe I'll get an insight into what it's like to 'push as hard as possible', or 'nurse the car to the end'.

What's all this? No idea
What's all this? No idea
The learning has begun already. As I drove to Milford Haven in deepest Pembrokeshire to view the 325i, I learnt that - despite living in Bristol - I absolutely do not come from the west. As the vendor executed an inch perfect doughnut in the junction of two country lanes "to prove that the car had a diff in it", I also learnt that our rally exploits will be every bit as entertaining as I'd hoped they'd be.

I'm travelling to Sweden at the end of the month to spend a couple of days on a frozen lake so that I might get my head around the specific techniques of a rally driver. I'll share my findings with you on PH. I'll also be seeking co-driving advice, lest I navigate Chris and I into a tree at 100mph through ineptitude, thus slashing a third off Porsche Finance's bottom line.

Rally on!

  • Additional photography by Ian Hardy


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Comments (61) Join the discussion on the forum

  • soxboy 29 Feb 2012

    Jerry Can said:
    so if i budget for a grand and get £250-300 off the co driver... it's almost do able. Soxboy get over here!! hehe
    Knew we should never have sold F44PYR!

  • Martrally 28 Feb 2012

    Service crew wise i guess it depends on the individual, We have come through the 205 challenge where budget is very much the essence and it was encouraged to share service.
    We like it due to lots of reasons really, the commaradary, the friendship, the banter, the advice, the banter, the shoulder to cry on and of course cost.
    We had a few worries regarding seeding as you dont want all 3 cars coming into service at the same time all needing jobs doing but we tended to have a decent enough mix of experience and ability that we are at least 10 cars apart so usually we got away with it.

    On a BTRDA round you are usually back to service once or maybe twice throughout the day for between 30 mins and 1 hour. WE try and encourage the service boys to go and watch a bit if there is a stage close to give them something to do in the down time.

    At one point we had 4, even 5 cars all servicing out of one Merc sprinter van. Great craic and saved everyone a fair old amount of money etc. We achieved that with 4 service crew i think it was so really cuts down on some of the expenses.

    As for the track time compared to racing it is substantially less with our 'competition time' in the region of 55mins usually. HOWEVER you are on the go all day ( set off 10am finish 17:00 due to the road miles on the rally through often some awesome countryside and roads!

  • Jerry Can 28 Feb 2012

    Martrally said:
    Basic costs of going rallying in a Beemer in the National BTRDA championship are...

    The car was approaching £6k by the time we had the nice things done. It was built while Jon was living in Oz but planning on coming home. It was a full reshell by one of the founders of the challenge after he had a big accident in it on an event.

    So that aside the cost of the car individual BTRDA event costs are roughly..

    Entry fee £430 (approx. 45 stage miles and maybe 120 road miles)

    Pace notes £40 (event pace notes made by Patterson’s, I share the DVD that I use to refine the notes with another crew. Several hours of work but well worth it.)

    Accommodation £100 (driver, navigator, 2 service crew)

    Tyres- up to £100 (2nd hand, The Beemer runs the same size tyres as many of the Group N, evo's and Subaru's and we are good friends with front runner Jamie Anderson in an Evo 9 and also Russ Thompson who does the BRC in a clio so we have their 2nd hand tyres which are still very very good @ £25 each. If you were to buy new, which we did buy 4 over the year you are looking at £130 per tyre.

    Fuel - Rally car £70
    - Service van £80 ( inc towing car to event)

    Service hire £50 ( we pay our good friend and sponsor Adrian Drury of Drury Deliveries £50 to really cover the investment of 2 rally 'easy-ups' to service under and his specialist tools) this figure was based on 3 of us sharing service but due to accidents and lack of funds we are down to just us now but it’s still £50!!

    Food - £80 (Pub meal Friday evening for Driver, Nav, and 2 service boys and van snacks and food for rally)

    We make sure that the boys that come and help us, giving up their weekend want and pay for nothing and have a good time so a few thank you pints doesn’t go a miss either.

    So that’s about it really...

    £870 approx.

    When I did the 205 challenge as a driver I would budget £1000 a rally also so pretty similar really.

    We split the cost in a way we are happy with - I pay as the Nav 2/3 entry fee, the notes and my accommodation.

    There are the consumables and re-prep of course, Last year we had a slipping clutch which we replaced with a ceramic one £400 and the fuel pump failed so we bought new £130. That was about it, they are very strong and reliable!! - touch wood!!

    To put the above into perspective the top group N runners in the evo's etc prob spend in the region on £4000 an event which maybe includes some re-prep but not the big bits!!The cars are circa £40k and take some serious preparation. They are around 5 seconds a mile quicker but we are having just as much fun!!! Don’t get me wrong saying that I would love to be in the position to be able to have a go in those kind of cars but I am very stretched and make huge sacrifices to afford it at out level. (Work most weekends as a supercar / rally instructor) - one day maybe!!

    Hope that helps

    interesting thanks!

    I've been racing for the last 17 years so I am used to motor sport costs, but rallying i always thought was on another level. To do a stock hatch round including testing would cost about a grand, but you would get 2hr 30 track time.

    so if i budget for a grand and get £250-300 off the co driver... it's almost do able. Soxboy get over here!! hehe

    Is it normal to share service crews? If I can somehow manage to share that cost rather than going down the arrive n drive route it might tempt me to start rallying?

    Edited by Jerry Can on Tuesday 28th February 07:35

  • Cotty 28 Feb 2012

    Pork_n_Beem said:

    Death of shell No1 in Wales, it was manic in the early days of the BMWs

    Great championship

  • K50 DEL 28 Feb 2012

    Those prices are broadly similar to what I was paying 8 or 9 years ago when I was competing in the 1400cc class on BTRDA and ASWMC events....

    great fun, but an expensive hobby.

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