Jim Marsden, Helder Da Roche and the rest of the Gigglepin Racing Team travelled to the commune of La Ferté-Gaucher in the north of France to compete in the King of France 2018 event. Here’s a breakdown of the event in their own words:
It’s 5am and with tired eyes and excited faces the team travel down to Dover to make the crossing to King of France: the first Ultra 4 Europe race of the season! Having worked hard to rectify the niggles that plagued us last season, the team spent long nights in cold workshops to get everything ready for battle. A whole new belt system, a spare wheel mount and sexy new Dumbo wings, plus a host of little bits, and “Little Lady” is looking fighting fit.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Jim looks at the sat-nav in horror as it takes them down another cobbled street. “See, I told you I should navigate” says a still laughing Helder as the sun shines through the open windows of the new race van.
“Well it could be worse, we could still be in England” chimes in Staci while still Helder laughs. Another load of 70’s rock hits and some terrible singing later and they arrive at La Ferté-Gaucher under blue skies and a warming sun. It’s good to be back.
There are some big names and some serious racers present for the season opener including Rob Butler and Axel Burman in their “Off-road Armoury” IFS cars. Then it’s the former two-time King of Europe, Italian Pier Acerni, returning to Ultra 4 racing after a 3-year absence in the beautiful “Scarlett”. With over 750BHP and Jimmy’s pro chassis, Pier is always going to be impressive. Nicolas Montador is also back with a new car. Faster, lighter, stronger; the ever-smiling French man would be pushing hard to win his home race.
Add to that a further field of nearly thirty racers and this was never going to be a gentle stroll. As the light fades on Friday night the crews mount and line up ready for the prologue to start. Jim and Helder are second to last on the track and the sun has long since disappeared. It’s a short course with narrow bridges and fast straights. Anything but perfection was never going to be enough.
Pier Acerni and Axel Burman lay down some great times, but Jim nails it, taking 5 seconds off the fastest time. But their joy is short lived as Rob Butler throws down the gauntlet smashing in an unbelievable run nearly 8 seconds faster!
The next morning, they wake to clear skies and sunshine. They have two 45-minute runs and then a 1 hour run to finish the day. Jim and Helder walked the 5km course and its gnarly with huge jumps, sweeping turns and some big rock runs. The aim is simple: ignore everyone, get a safe, fast pace, and be there at the end. They begin side by side with Rob Butler, with the course sweeping to the left just after the start. It was always going to be tight.
The flag drops, engines scream, and they are off! Rubbing wheels round the first bend they give Rob room to tear off down the first straight. Throttling back to get out of his dust, Jim and Helder drop into a fast but safe pace. The car is epic! The Fox suspension soaks up the jumps and the Maxxis tyres find grip in places they shouldn’t. They don’t have pit coms after a radio failure so Helder is watching the track like a hawk to see where the other teams are placed. They are holding Rob nicely but can see he is pushing hard, while starting to pull a lead over the other teams.
Then on lap 6 Rob is struggling with a flat tyre and has other issues. The guys make the pass and a lap later cross the line as winners of the first heat!
The Team are on point. Matt and Lawrence jump to it, checking over the car and getting everything ready for the next heat while Staci takes care of logistics and Helder makes lunch.
All too soon the boys are lining up for the next race. This time to start first and 45 minutes later, finish first. Two for two, the car looks great and things are going in the right direction.
On the third run the guys once again line up and there are clearly some cars missing from the field. Blasting from the line, they build a lead over the field picking off back markers as they set a fast pace. Nicolas Montador is charging hard and Jim does enough to keep him behind and secure their third win of the day! It’s a great start but the team is wary as last year they had a large lead at this stage of the race only to have a differential failure on the first lap of the following day.
Saturday night the team are in great spirits and soon have the car prepped for the next day. Later that evening they join Gille Girousse and his friends for an amazing meal; these French guys really know how to do camping!
Its Sunday morning and the sun is shining once more, and the guys are ready to rock and roll! It’s a 45-minute heat in the morning and a 75-minute heat in the afternoon. But there have been course changes and some cars that retired the day before are now back on track. Could they have their part to play? Lining up side by side with Frenchman Nicolas Montador and knowing his car is bullet-fast off the line, it’s going to be a battle to the first bend.
The flag drops and they launch off the line, going in tight, clipping the berm sending the car onto two wheels! They bicycle ride for 30 metres with the crowds taking a deep breath before dropping back down, locking wheels with Nicand charging off down the straight! “Helder we have no brakes!” the pedal goes to the floor as Jim works hard to control the car. The night before the guys had changed the rear suspension geometry and fitted the brake pipes incorrectly. They had been severed on the first bend. This just become a battle to survive! Unbelievably Jim keeps up a fast pace using engine braking, insanity and a whole load of luck to stay ahead for 3 laps, before he over shoots a bend and opens the door for Nic. But then disaster strikes three laps later with a puncture on the Maxxis rocks and they have to stop to change the wheel.
They have practiced but, it’s not going to plan as the jack snaps in half! “Jim you cannot hold the jack together, it’s too dangerous” shouts Helder as Jim forces the broken parts back under the axle. “We have to make this happen big lad, hit that rattle gun and don’t rock the car!” Unbelievably it works, and they get the wheel back on the car and hit the track once again. But they have lost many places and those King of France gremlins have reappeared.
The pits are buzzing and suddenly, the outcome looks very different. Their huge lead has been whittled down to 7 points! And Nicolas Montador is ready to pounce!
With the car repaired they line up once again, but this time are well down the pack with Nicin clean air at the front. Interestingly they can’t finish any lower than fourth if they want to win and those returning cars now pose a problem. Peter Jackson, Axel and Inakiare are on fire, laying down some fast times and if Nic stays ahead they could be in real trouble.
It’s time to dig deep and race hard.
It’s great to have brakes once again as Jim hits 100mph up the back straight and starts to reel in the racers in front. Helder is doing an epic job of spotting and they pick off the cars one by one, pushing enough but still being smart. It’s a 75-minute heat and a whole load of trouble can appear from nowhere! Lap 5 and it’s all change as the guys see Nicolas Montador parked on the side of the track, helmet off. They wave as Jim roars past, fantastic sportsman and great competitors. But it’s not time to celebrate yet, they still have to finish!
The laps fly by as the boys maintain a fast race pace. Then there it is, the chequered flag!
They have done it! Against the odds and a stacked field, Gigglepin Racing win the King of France 2018!