17th-20th August 1998:
So much happened in the four days we spent filming, it's difficult to know what to keep and what to drop. As we were reserves, we didn't know how long we were staying. Chris and I turned up around 9:30am, were given ID cards and told where to dump the robot and other stuff. We did all this and wandered off around the pits looking at other robots and chating to people. The day mostly consisted of things like getting the robot weighed (85kg - a bit more than we thought!), still video'd (for the onscreen menus) and not much else. They eventually gave us a table and we carried on chatting. After a quick drink with the crew, it was time to go home. We were told that there was a good chance we'd be in, so we had to return the following day.
Day two, and we arrived early. We found out that Panda had been moved around into the House robots pits. We still didn't have outfits, and it looked like we may be for the early bath. Filming started for the Parade (where the robots come through the doors and do their twirl). We were told to get Panda ready and were soon in the queue. We hadn't run her since we added the new batteries, so I was a bit nervous as we walked to the control box. We couldn't see Panda below because of the doors. We got the signal to go (after 'From Burgess Hill in Sussex - Panda Monium!' boomed across the room). I pushed the controls forward and Panda went sailing off to the side! DOH! They hauled her back and Derek (Foxwell) told us to adjust the trimmers to make her go forward. We tried again. this time, they hadn't opened the doors! I thought they would chuck us out! Finally, we got it right. With Craig Charles watching from above, Panda sped into the centre. Span a few times, moved the spike a few times and gently crashed into the barriers. Didn't matter, we'd done it."Speedy, isn't it!" stated Craig.
We returned to the pits, still not knowing what was going on. After lunch, we were out for a stroll when Mary-Jane (Evans, assoc. producer) came after us. "You're on. A robot (Cassius) has dropped out and you will take their place. Get ready to film the Gauntlet." We rushed around getting outfits and giving people details before getting Panda out of the House robots pit and onto the main pit table for filming the introductions. Then we were pushing her up into the arena. It was very hot and bright. The smell of petrol hung in the air from the house robots. We'd seen Killalot in the pits, and we'd also seen what he'd done to Caliban - totally destroyed. Perhaps we won't go that way. I wasn't convinced about the clearence for the ramp, so that left angle-grinder alley! We climbed to the control area and waited to start.
I decided to use a nudging style to control Panda. No one had got to the end yet, so no need to rush. I coaxed her towards the grinders with Chris egging me on. We got into the alley and the grinders went back and forth 4 or more times before we got through. The spike had hit the grinders, but they didn't reach the body. Having got through, I darted round Matilda and hit the back wall!! We'd done it! First contestants of 1998 to complete the course. (Also the slowest BTW!). I forgot to run up to talk to Craig. We were on cloud nine. We did the interview and then ran down to pick Panda up and get out. We were welcomed out to Phillipa (Forrester), a film crew and a huge round of applause! (Thanks guys, it meant a lot!) I don't remember what we said to Flippa. We had to spend about 2 hours after that calming down, putting the batteries on to charge and checking for damage.
Day three, and we were up for it. The next task was Skittles - knock down as many barrels as possible. Matilida, Killalot and Sgt. Bash were ready to 'help'. Then, disaster! We found out from David Crosby (Napalm) that we had to come down off a ramp! We had a look at it - no chance. we'd get grounded! We spent 2 hours frantically fitting extra casters on the back so that when Panda grounded she would ground onto castors and drift down. Derek had said that if we got stuck, Killalot would 'help us down'! Hmm, no thanks! It worked and we came off the ramp straight into the centre of the barrels, setting off the pyrotechnics. Very dramtic. Then we got a bit stuck (see More Panda pages to find out the problem) so I backed up - straight into Matilida's path. She tried to have a go, but at first the chainsaw couldn't grip the plastic shell. Then she got onto the aluminium side strips and cut a hole down to our chassis. I turned again and took off Matilida's tusk just as the round ended. She had a go, trying to bend the spike mounts in revenge, but soon had to stop. We'd done enough for round three!....