The ‘Perfect Trial’?

Day 6 of Michael Leete’s research project, over on the Classic Trials Facebook Group and available from this link, has caused to me think, once again, about the formula for a ‘Perfect Trial’, as discussed many times in the past but maybe unknown to recent newcomers to the sport.

Tony Branson once referred to this as the Toulmin/Brown Formula, but I know it’s been chewed-over by many others, including Pete Hart, so I make no claim for originality. There is, of course, no such thing as a ‘perfect trial’ (except maybe the one that you win) but the intention was to define a trial that would be enjoyed by the maximum number of average competitors – “to please most of the people most of the time”.

The Formula states that the ‘Perfect Trial’ has:

  • 1/3 of the sections climbed by every competitor, unless they make a stupid mistake. These sections might include the ‘Classic Lanes’ which Michael refers to in his Day 6 question.
  • 1/3 of the sections climbed by most competitors, but presenting a challenge to the less expert, or those in less-developed cars.
  • 1/3 of the sections are where the trial is decided, and can be as challenging as the organisers wish (to get a result on the hills and without resorting to special test times). These sections would probably include the forests and private land which Michael refers to in his Day 6 question.

It would be a boring world if every trial worked to this formula, and no one wants to change events like the Camel Classic (traditionally won with ‘cricket scores’), but I still think it’s not a bad re-starting point for events which may be struggling in their current format.

Someday I’ll get-around to analysing recent trials to see which are a best-fit with this formula, but don’t hold your breath.

MCC Night Runs (yet again)

The issue of MCC Night Runs, and whether they should continue, has been raised, yet again, on the Classic Trials Facebook Group – see my previous blog posting on this site.

As someone who loves the fact that MCC trials require tackling observed sections at night, but who hates the Touring Assembly and the hanging-around which this involves (Exeter and Lands End Trials only), I’ve done some investigation:

Exeter Trial (2018 data)

  • Average distance from Starts (Cirencester, Okehampton, Popham) to Start ‘Proper’ (Haynes): 85 miles.
  • Distance from my house to Haynes, avoiding motorways, according to Google Maps: 80-90 miles according to selected route.
  • Distance from Haynes to the first section: 20 miles.

Lands End Trial (2017 data)

  • Average distance from Starts (Cirencester, Popham, Plusha) to Start ‘Proper’ (Bridgewater): 94 miles.
  • Distance from my house to Bridgewater, avoiding motorways, according to Google Maps: 80-90 miles according to selected route.
  • Distance from Bridgewater to the first section: 23 miles.

Edinburgh Trial (2017 data)

  • Distance from my house to Tamworth Services, avoiding motorways, according to Google Maps: approx. 70 miles according to selected route.
  • Distance from Tamworth to the first section: 48 miles.

So, if I want the ‘adventure’ of the Night Run (= Touring Assembly in my view) as so many competitors claim they do, why can’t I just drive to the Start ‘Proper’, avoiding motorways, by whichever route I choose? I reckon that would save a minimum of two hours of hanging-around time or, more seriously, allow an additional two hours in bed before setting-off. If I chose to use motorways, I could save even more time or get even more pre-event sleep. Maybe even more significantly, my passenger could drive from home to the Start ‘Proper’, reducing driver fatigue still more.

For those who wish to trailer their car to the start, the current system means that the trailer is 85 miles (Exeter), or 95 miles (Lands End), from the Start ‘Proper’, with all the logistic hassle which this involves. Surely the system in place for the Edinburgh is preferable?

Personally, I can see no justification for the current system of Touring Assemblies and lots of good reasons why the Exeter and Lands End Trials should adopt, even if only on a trial (excuse the pun) basis, the same system as for the Edinburgh Trial.

MCC Night Runs

I don’t normally use this site to make general comments, but the debate over on the Classic Trials Facebook Group, kicked-off by the comments in the MCC News of the Week (21.05.2016), has got a major “historical” dimension, so I feel justified in posting my comments (far too long for Facebook) here …

Firstly, I think we have to define what we mean by the “Night Run”. To me this means the part of an MCC trial (whether Touring Assembly or not) from the multiple start points to the point where all routes converge and, more particularly, this part of the trial does NOT include any competitive Observed Sections.

So what’s the historical context? By which I mean primarily the 1920s and 1930s.

Exeter Trial

During most of the 1920s, the Exeter Trial was always London to Exeter and back again, although “London” generally meant Staines or Slough. The Observed Sections were only in Devon and Dorset, tackled by most in the dark on the way out and in the light on the way back. In 1928 the finish was moved back to Shaftesbury to shorten the overall distance but, otherwise, the event was similar to previous years. So, overall, really a very different event from the Exeter of today.

From 1930 to 1935, the start was at Virginia Water and the finish at Shaftesbury or Blandford. The route went west of Exeter (to Fingle Bridge) for the first time in 1932, and Simms was added to the route from 1933. There was no 1936 Exeter due to the change of dates (late December up to 1935, early January from 1937). 1937 sees the start of the Exeter more-or-less as we know it today – multiple starts (Virginia Water, Stratford-on-Avon, Penzance or Exeter), and more sections west of Exeter, although the finish was still at Blandford or Bournemouth.

These developments continued PostWar, with an increasing proportion of the Observed Sections west of Exeter, and the finish being moved gradually westwards until finally settling in the Torquay area. By which time, of course, the original London-to-Exeter-and-Back concept was long gone.

Lands End Trial

The Lands End Trial has a rather different history to the Exeter. Although the pre-First World War events were London to Lands End and back (yes, really!), from 1920 right through to 1935 it was always “just” London (actually a number of different start venues to the west of London) to Lands End, and always with a breakfast stop in the Bridgewater/ Taunton area. Multiple start venues, similar to those for the Exeter, were introduced from 1936. During the whole of this period, from 1920 to 1939, all the Observed Sections were in Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall and the route, west of the breakfast stop, was remarkably similar to today. And so it continued, more or less the same, from the late 1940s right up to the present day.

Edinburgh Trial

The Edinburgh Trial has had such a chequered history, with so many changes of format, that it is not really relevant to the current debate on the future of the Exeter and Lands End trials. Except that the current Tamworth-to-Buxton format, with all Observed Sections in the Peak District, is very similar in principle to what is being proposed for the other two events.

What makes an MCC trial special?

Although the MCC has its own view on this, I would argue that the key differences from other modern classic trials, and the unique characteristics which make an MCC trial special, are (in addition to the ethos of Competitor versus Club):

  • Longer mileages, sometimes much longer.
  • They “go somewhere”, rather than the start and finish being at the same place, or very close to each other.
  • They have a significant number of “classic-style” sections, even if a significant number of these are cleaned by all but the most unlucky.
  • They always have a number of sections to be tackled in the dark.
  • They have a Night Run, as defined in the second paragraph at the very top of this page.

So … a Night Run, Yes or No?

Well my view, for what it’s worth (and a blog post is a personal opinion almost by definition), is that the character of an MCC trial is set by the first four bullet points above. If the MCC can maintain these four, and all four are critical, then the Night Run is potentially expendable if that’s the price to pay for maintaining the essential character of the events in the modern world.

As justification, remember that the balance between reliability (primarily time and distance) and competition (the Observed Sections) has been changing steadily for 90+ years and the Night Runs, even in the 1920s and 1930s, were always more about reliability than competition. Reliability should, and I repeat SHOULD, be a “given” in 2016, so why continue to test something that shouldn’t need testing?