- Sunday, 14 September 2014

Logistics, vans & goodbye to bad hair

So there seem to be a couple of avenues open to any willing pilote étranger - one involves ferries and lots of driving, the other is slightly more jet-set and involves leaving the car somewhere in France and flying with a low cost airline. I prefer the latter as it's a bit more glamorous and also means less time off work, which is another hurdle I have to tackle....
Ok I admit there's nothing that glamorous about Easyjet, but after sitting down and weighing up a lot of pro's & cons, it' preferable to driving across France every other weekend. I have to thank Paul Buckingham at this point for giving me invaluable advice and patiently answering repeated & lengthy emails, he has been competing in the CFM (Championnat de France de la Montagne) for some time and has really helped me a lot, steering me away from some potentially horrendous decisions :)

It's quite a logistical challenge for sure, but life without a challenge is boring and in the last few years I've really come to believe that almost anything is achievable if you want it enough. At St-Gouéno I picked up a few programmes for the CFM which feature detailed information on each of the events and a map showing them on the calendar, along with info on the drivers and their cars - needless to say I have read this cover to cover more times than I would wilfully to admit to...

Looking at the spread of events there are evidently a handful that I will struggle to get to whilst holding down a job (Bagnols-Sabran, Col St Pierre & Abreschviller), but there is a fairly straight forward way of taking in the majority. My plan is to start the season with Hébecrevon which is within an hour of Caen, so this can be done on the ferry, simples.

Then there is La Pommeraye followed one week later by St. Gouéno which can be done by taking the ferry to St. Malo and staying over for the time between. Normally there is a two week break between each event, but luckily these two are grouped together. Three down, six to go.

Now the remainder of the meetings are within a perfectly sane distance of Lyon (near 11 on the map), which I can fly to from Stansted return for under £100 - this means leaving everything in France. I have a few ideas here that I'm working on, one being that I have a few contacts through my job (used engineering machinery) whom I'm hoping might let me leave the van with them for a few weekends through summer, possibly in exchange for having their company advertised on the car... and this point brings me neatly to the van. I've always trailered my race car, and the 205 & Westfield were quite at home on an open trailer, but this isn't really the done thing with a single seater. So I was faced with having to buy a covered trailer, and they're not cheap. More to the point, you can't really leave your road car attached to your trailer in another country unless you plan to take the bus to work for the next fortnight... so the solution that I was advised to choose is a Luton van, converted so that you can live in while it takes the car & all the spares plus a bed, shower & loo. Oh and a hairdryer!

Being as I've camped for the entire 8 years that I've been competing (that's a lot of nights in a tent...) the prospect of a live in race transporter with tiny bathroom and hot water is possibly as exciting as the car I'm going to put in it. My one true nemesis of a race weekend is camping/helmet hair, which by Sunday afternoon is reaching breaking point and leaves me in constant envy of all the other lady drivers who stay in motorhomes and have seemingly effortless salon quality hair! So a van it is, with a tail lift to hoist the car up, this means the whole lot can be left between meetings. Admittedly it doesn't leave any room for repairing the car or dealing with a problem, but everything I've been told about FR's is that for the relatively small mileage I will be doing the car won't need anything more than the normal spanner and fluid check.

Another little hurdle to overcome, and one that I nearly tripped up on is that you are limited in the size of van you can take on a ferry before you fall into commercial freight. My original plan was to fit the car inside a LWB Mercedes Sprinter as I wanted something that wasn't too huge and bus-like, but this turned out to be a terrible idea - firstly because it was just too small internally, and secondly because it's 6.9m long.

Both Brittany & Condor Ferries will allow a maximum of 6.5m length and 3m height (3.1m on Condor) which means that if you go over this your journey jumps from a few hundred pounds to something with an eight at the front of it - yikes! On top of this I'm limited to 3.5 tons as I passed my test just after they changed the allowance, so I'll have to be careful about how much kit I try to pack inside it. Being of the fairer sex, packing light has never been a forté of mine, so I'll just have to learn fast or build the world's first carbon fibre shower cubicle... 

And so to the final obstacle - work. I'm fortunate enough to work with my two elder brothers in a family business, so I've always been allowed quite a bit of leeway when it comes to leaving the office a little early on a Friday afternoon. I'm pretty sure they thought I was joking when I texted them to say that 'I'm buying a single seater to enter the French Hillclimb Championship with!' One great thing about the Open Challenge I'll be entering is that it counts your best 6 results, so even if I don't manage to complete all the rounds I'm planning I can still have a good shot at scoring enough points. So with the nine events I'm planning to do I figure it adds up to around 3 weeks holiday spread over 6 months, which isn't too bad... that's how I pitched it anyway ;D

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