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Terrafirma Gear Tried and Tested at 2013 King of the Valley Competition

Posted on: August 14, 2013 by charles

Paul Acketts and co-driver Tony Jones from Moose Offroad entered the latest 2013 King of the Valley competition and put the Terrafirma competition grade suspension setup to test. 


“It’s getting very dark quickly and the rain is now starting to fall horizontally as I try and hammer a large metal stake into the concrete like ground. It’s turning into late Thursday evening as myself and the rest of the team battle against the elements to setup our pit and camp at the 2013 King Of the Valleys competition in Wales.

The race commences with a short prologue on the Friday evening and this determines your start order for the main race on Saturday morning. We, along with some of the other competitors, have yet to qualify for the main event and so need to put in a solid run on the prologue.

After quite a wet and windy night, Friday dawns bright and fresh and the team busies itself with getting the car prepared for the safety scrutineers and the evening prologue. With new mud guards and a new horn fitted, as we found the previous one to be full of mud, we took the car down to the scrutineering tent where it passed without problems.

The evening came along quickly and soon all the crews were gathered together for drivers briefing. Here we learned that we needed to complete the 3km prologue course inside of 28 mins to be eligible for the main race. The start order of the prologue was randomly drawn and as luck would have it we were starting quite a way down the list.  Not a problem but it did mean that the course will have changed some what from when we walked it earlier in the day due to the effect of all the cars before us. At 7:17pm we pulled onto the line. The flag dropped for us at 7:18pm and we charged off onto the course.

The first section was a nice flowing track and I quickly settled into a pace that I was happy with.  Tony called the directions, hazards, etc. as he saw them just to reaffirm that I had also seen them. This method worked well at last year’s King of the Valleys event and I am used to the input as he is normally reading out from a road book anyway. The car felt very good and the new Terrafirma rear air shocks combined with their front remote reservoir shocks were just eating up the rough ground enabling us to go faster.  All the suspension work had really paid off and new tyres fitted only days before were giving nice predictable grip on the category 1 rally tracks.

We ran along the river bed up to the bottom of the only rock section of the prologue. It looked very different to earlier in the day as all the cars before us had moved the rocks around quite a bit, so it was “drive it as you see it”! I dropped in and picked a line that I thought would work.  The first rock step went fine, the next slowed us down. Tony jumped out and started man handling the smaller rocks into gaps giving the tyres something to grip and run up over the ledge. The next much larger rock ledge then presented itself and I went for it.  There was a loud bang as the car jumped up onto this new ledge. I knew instantly that the front drivers side tyre had blown off the rim in the worst possible place of the course.

Normally I run beadlock rings which do two things; really strengthen the wheel and keep the outer bead of the tyre on the rim. But having only got the tyres days before the event I had not had time to source and fit them, something that was now costing us dear.

We only had about 25 mins to get to the finish and the car was now effectively immobilised on the rock run.  I could hear the teams behind us coming up fast, we decided to go for it and change the wheel.  Not much else we could have done! Tony unstrapped the spare and I grabbed the tools. We soon had the high lift jack under the car, our efforts were hampered by the the other traffic that was now trying to pass us. It felt a bit like trying to change a wheel on the fast lane of the M6! There was a small break in the traffic and I pulled the dead wheel off and passed it to Tony. As I looked down the run I could see another car on the way up. I knew that they would not be stopping. I threw the spare on and got the wheel nuts started before I jumped out of the way. As I had thought, the passing car knocked our vehicle off the jack which saved us from lowering it down! I got the rest of the wheel on and done up and jumped in the car as Tony cleared the tools, jack, and broken wheel off the course.

Now with the new wheel fitted I carried on up the rest of the run with 2 other cars hot on our heels. On cresting the top of the rocks Tony jumped back into the car.  We didn’t know how long we had spent changing the wheel but I knew that from now on it had to be one speed forward and that was flat out to stand any chance of starting tomorrow. The car responded well and the competitors behind us dropped away as I went as fast as I could on the tracks. We were getting closer to the end when steam started to fill the cab.  A quick glance at the temperature guage and it confirmed the engine was cooking. I backed off the pace letting it almost coast down the large hill onto the last straight before ascending the last climb to the finish.

Had we done enough?  We parked up and waited for the results. We made it in by 50 seconds and were given our start time for the next morning – 11:10 which was basically one of the last cars off the line with just a few behind us who had experienced a worst prologue than us. This was not the start to the weekend that we had hoped for but the main thing is that we got through! That night we beat the wheel damaged on the rocks back into shape and it was welded where it had split. We did a full nut and bolt check ready for the next day.

Morning dawned cool, partly cloudy and with car almost ready I wondered down to the drivers briefing.  It was all standard stuff.  Cut off time for a lap was 3 hours 12 minutes. I was on the way back from briefing when I realized we had forgotten about fuel! Looking at the time there was just enough for me to run out and get it so I jumped in the tow car and rushed off down to the nearest fuel station. Upon getting back to the pit it was then a mad dash to get to the start line.  Drinking water, spares and fuel now on board we did a quick com’s check with the helmets and shot off to the start line.

Little did we know about the drama that was unfolding on the course. We soon found out as the start line was full of waiting trucks, some of which were due to start almost an hour ago. Car number 4, a team from Malta, had crashed out on one of the fast open sections of the track and unfortunately the guys in the car needed medical attention. While this was being sorted out the race was stopped.  As no one had completed a lap and the recovery took some time, the organisers took the decision to cancel that mornings lap and start in the afternoon.

With a start time now just after 3pm we could break for a bit of lunch etc., and I also went round to get all of the course info I could from the guys who had managed to get round at least part of a lap in the morning. The general feeling was more mud in the muddy bits than last year (hardly surprising given all the rain) and the rock sections have all been made a lot tougher.

Our start time came along pretty quickly and we were soon charging off the line and onto our first lap. We dispatched the first part of the course as swiftly as we could.  I settled into a comfortable pace, sometimes aided with a handful of fiddle brake to make the back end slide nicely round corners. The first part of the course was a large muddy bomb hole to slow us down in a part of the site every one calls “the hidden valley”. Tony jumped out as we knew winching was going to be the order of the day due to the intel collected earlier. I threw the truck into the liquid mud and made it across to the far bank before finally stopping. Tony grabbed the winch cable and hooked the car on to a handy tree. Moments later we were out of the bog and off down the track.

I soon started to see the temperature gauge creep up. The radiator must be covered from the bog and running the old 200tdi flat out in high box was causing it to get quite warm. I ease off the pace and we wait at the bottom of the rock run we did in the prologue for the trucks in front to clear, hoping this will give the engine a chance to cool. The car crawled easily up the rock run that caused us so much pain the night before, but it was becoming apparent that we had another problem – the front locker was not staying locked.

We carried on before arriving at the bottom of a rock climb to find a stricken car on the course. We were not going to be be able to pass it without leaning on it with our car as there was limited room. Tony jumped out to help manoeuvre the other car out of our way and I managed to give them enough room to be able to push the car back and away from the rock ledge we were all trying to get up. We cleared this ledge and drove the rest of the climb waiting at the top for Tony to catch up. At this point we were about half way through the lap.

We pushed on coming up to the next rock climb. Some rocks had been moved about leaving one right in the way half way up the climb to stop us and our momentum. I attacked the hill. The front locker would still not stay in leaving the front axle open so we fell back to using the front winch to climb the hill. Unlike all the climbs before there were luckily trees large enough here to hang a truck from and we made good progress to the top.

As we reached the top steam was starting to escape from under the bonnet.  I didn’t need the temperature gauge to tell me that we were over heating and we pulled off the main race track. We must have done some damage to the radiator in Croatia as this was not normal. We popped open the header tank and there was a distinctive lack of water confirming my thoughts about damage. We must have a leak somewhere. As luck would have it we had stopped next to a stream. We started filling the cooling system and cleaning the radiator from the handy nearby stream. 15 mins later we were back in the car and on our way.

Three quarters of the course completed and now in front of us we had just the hardest part of the lap left.  The big rock run, which feels endless, and the new feature for this year “The Wall” which consisted of three large vertical steps. The drop into the main rock run was practically vertical. I dropped the car over the edge and it was much steeper than I had first thought. There was a bang as we hit the rocks beneath and I felt the rear shocks unload as we did a nose stand.

The car came back down onto its wheels and I drove forward onto the base of the main rock run. Tony jumped out to inspect the damage; the winch was still in one piece with just a large dent in the front winch mount plate. We quickly tested that we could still use the winch and then carried on. By now the front locker was completely inoperative which was going to make this section a lot tougher.  The first rock step was conquered with just the waffles. On the next much larger step I popped the front of the car up on the ledge face and at the same time there was a loud bang. A rear half shaft had sheared and at the same time so did all the 5 bolts on the drive flange of that shaft. The lack of the front locker meant that the rear was having to work harder and it had become too much.

We took stock of our position; only one powered rear wheel and an open front diff. We decided to call it a day on this lap.  Afterall, we still had 2 more laps tomorrow and from looking at all the teams we had seen littering the course we weren’t the only ones with problems. We winched our way off the course pulling another team with us whose day had also ended in the same place and limped back to the pits.

Back at the pits the amazing “moose offroad support team” took over! I explained the issues we had throughout the day and the guys jumped straight in. First the rear axle was stripped down, the diff needed to come out to retrieve the broken end of the half shaft and the near side hub was pulled off so that the broken bolts could be extracted. An hour later a new half shaft was in and the locker was tested to be working ok. Diff pan back on and fresh oil put in. Next our attention turned to the front diff and the kam cover was popped off so I could look inside. For some reason the locking mechanism was not sliding home completely and was then being thrown out by the pressure of it. It was going to need replacing so the front axle was stripped down as well. It was almost midnight before all the repairs and checks were complete but at least we were ready for another day racing in the morning.

As we had not managed to improve on our position yesterday the next morning we were once again one of the last teams to leave the line. We set off determined to complete a lap, and quickly found our way through to “the hidden valley’s” bog. This time our winching was even quicker. Once back out of the mud and on the faster tracks we pulled to one side to clean the radiator and check the water level. The water was far too low and since we were unable to find a leak the night before we realised it must be leaking around the radiator and evaporating off.  In preparation for today we had filled lots of water bottles and placed them in the car ready for this situation but this materialised a lot quicker than expected.

Radiator now full again and engine temperature happy we carried on and arrived at the prologue rock run for the third time that weekend. Now with the axles working fully the prologue steps were comparatively easy. We arrived at the next rock climb where the day before we had helped move a car out of the way. Today there was no traffic. We were able to use both lockers again and so unlike yesterday the rock ledges caused us little problems.

Half way up this climb steam started to escape from under the bonnet; we were over heating yet again. I pulled off the course and there were some quite deep puddles near by.  These would have to do to replenish the radiator having exhausted our water supplies half an hour before. Radiator cleaned and full we pushed on to the base of the rock climb that we had to winch up the day before. Today we drove 90% of it with only a little winching required to get round a large diff catching rock.

At the top of this long climb the steering went heavy and the battery light came on. Sure enough, as Tony could confirm from outside the car, the main fan belt which drives the water pump, power steering and one of the alternators had been shreaded. We didn’t have a spare with us so it was another retirement and this time a tow back to the pits.

As we sat waiting for a tow, the leading cars were starting to lap us on their second lap of the day. So we made the decision to retire. At the rate we were going through water and the frequency and time it was taking to stop and fill up the raditor, we would struggle to make one lap within the 3 hours 12 minutes. We could have completed the course within an estimated 3 hours but this would have risked more damage to the car.  Instead we favoured taking the DNF (Did Not Finish) option which would have given us a final time of 3 hours 12.  For the sake of 12 minutes we decided to call it a weekend.

That’s the nature of racing! You have good events and bad ones! The competition was ultimately a lot harder then last year but at no time did we feel there was any obstacle we could not do. Sometimes it’s better to retire and learn from the lessons that have been taught to you.

As with every event its always a team effort and we could get any where with out the help of Adie, Marek, Richard, Steve and for this event also dom and Gary. A big thanks must also go to the company’s that help support the Team Terrafirma, Veho and Kam diffs.”


Paul Acketts


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