The HERO Challenge moved locations to Bicester for the very first time in 2017 and produced incredibly tight battles in both the Clubman and National B sections. The event is a round of the HERO Cup and Golden Roamer Championship in association with EFG Private Bank and Zenith Watches, as well as being a round of the HRCR Clubmans Rally Championship for the National B section.
A record entry of 120 cars were down to start the event, however, just prior to the event starting mechanical gremlins struck several crews with a range of varied maladies, Seren and Elise Whyte’s Standard Ten broke an engine mounting on the way to the event, Andy and Ros Simpson’s Mini developed gear linkage issues whilst one of the favourites for an award in the Clubman Class, Andy Lane, arrived at the event with just two gears, the BMW 2002tii developing the issue during the drive to the event. All these crews managed to make the start, however, Rod Hanson and Claire Grove reversed their Volvo off the transporter and drove into the car park only to feel the differential break, there was no easy repair and the pairing decided to call it a day. In true historic rallying spirit, they offered to marshal on the driving tests at Bicester Airfield all day and were awarded the ‘Spirit Of The Rally Award’ for their dedication and enthusiasm.
There were a large number of novices and first time competitors on the Clubman event showing that the format had a wide appeal, the first part of the day saw both sections tackle five tests around the Bicester Airfield based at the stunning Bicester Heritage site. National B crews were first to tackle the tests and it was a disastrous start for HRCR contenders Matt Warren / Andy Pullan as their Ford Escort Mk1 snapped a driveshaft at the second cone on the very first driving test, tests on the airfield were a mixture of loose and sealed surfaces that tested the strength of the transmission systems.
Paul Crosby / Ali Procter were fastest on the first group of tests in their Porsche 911, just five-seconds in front of father and son pairing Thomas and Roger Bricknell who were incredibly smooth in their Volkswagen Golf. John Abel / Martyn Taylor were third fastest on this group of tests, just one second behind the Bricknells’, in fourth were James Griffiths / James Howell who were having a stormer, their Mini 1275 GT sounding fantastic with its straight-cut transmission, the combination of loose / sealed surfaces took its toll though in the second group of tests and they were another crew to snap a driveshaft, denting their chances for the Championship. In fifth were Darell and Nicky Staniforth in their Mini Cooper S, Darell was his usual self, hustling the Mini through the tests, but an overshoot on cone E on the fifth test cost them several seconds – and possibly the lead at the first data collect.
The Clubmen were equally as competitive with some new faces and new vehicles out on display. Jonathan Amery / Tom Van set Gucht were flying in their Renault 5 Gordini Turbo, Jonathan having recently imported this rare vehicle from Spain and thoroughly enjoying it. Paul and Roma Handley were going well in their MGB Roadster to hold fifth, but the new pairing of Ed Abbott / Richard Stok held them at arms length in the mighty Jaguar XJ-S, Ed using all his Jaguar development knowledge to weave his way around the cones magnificently. The top three were all seasoned competitors, with Andy Lane / Pete Johnson taking top spot from Steve and Julia Robertson, Patrick and Hubert Lynch lay third, there was a threat from just inside the top ten as father and daughter team Stephen and Emily Wild were getting to grips with their Triumph 2000 to lead Class 2B, remarkable that this was Emily’s first ever competitive event and that we had three generations of the Wild family competing as Head of Clan, Duncan, was out as usual with Steve Skepper on the maps in the National B section.
The first three regularities of the event took place in the lanes to the north-east of Bicester, edging on Tingewick, Evenley and Akeley respectively, the National B section were first into these test and straight away Caroline and Bernard Northmore threw the gauntlet down with a one-second lost performance over the 9.6 Miles of ‘Barley Fields’ as the regularity was known. The National B section were given this hand out at signing-on and other great performances came from Tim Wicocks / Mark Dunkerley in their Volvo, Nick van Praag / Yann Tytgadt in their Austin A35 and Clwyd Vale Motor Club’s Peter Williams / Andy Darlington all equalling the one-second penalty. van Praag / Tytgadt couldn’t carry on after the third regularity as their A35 developed brake issues and the had to retire at lunch, sad, as they were going incredibly well in the diminutive vehicle. In the Clubmen, things were a little more sedate with easy to follow tulip jogularity as the route presentation, the route on this first section wasn’t too testing with just four junctions over the 9.6 miles. This was reflected in a flurry of ones and twos being lost, amongst others great scores came from Tony Darwent / Jim Jackson, Nicholas Harries partnered by sister, Catherine Cullen in their TR3 and Jill White / Helen Tanswell in their Porsche 924S.
Into Lunch and in the National B section, Crosby / Procter were four seconds in front of Abel / Taylor whilst 14 seconds behind them were the Bricknells’ who headed off the tied pair of Simon Mellings / Ryan Pickering in their Toyota MR 2 who were brawling with the Staniforths’ on 11:37 penalties. The Clubmen were equally toe to toe with Lane / Johnson four in front of the Robertsons’ whilst Matthew and Dood Pearce were showing a clean pair of heels to the Bentley Derby 411/4 of Stuart and Emily Anderson.
A parity of some sorts came after lunch as both sections were tasked with using maps for the following section, Cherwell Valley. At just over 11 miles long, this section did seem to stir the Clubmen up, the Lynch’s were on fire with two-seconds lost, as were Branko Brkovitch / Kevin Savage in their Volvo 122S. Jonathan Amery / Tom van Set Gucht were amongst the prime movers too in setting a two-second penalty score, excellent from this first time pairing. The National B section’s navigation was a little more taxing however, tasked to find their way by use of symbols with no less than 12 speed changes to negotiate, top performers were Crosby / Procter and Stephen Owens / Ian Mitchell in their similar Porsche. Starting just outside Middleton Stoney, the route took in Bucknell before a timing point around a left hand bend. A staggered junction at the B4100, gave way to the only ford on the route which proved easy for the competitors, the less-experienced crews were slightly confused as they met oncoming event traffic at a scissors junction before turning into Stoke Lyne. passing Lone Barn and Stoke Bushes, an easy to miss timing point was situated around Stoke Bushes before the final section took in Hardwick, Hethe and back to the scissors for a slot left to end of regularity at the junction with the A4421.
The final three tests loomed at Bicester Airfield and a battle was ensuing for fourth to sixth as crews left, regularity five was to sort the order out in this event for the rest of the day, Darell and Nicky Staniforth were the first to crack dropping 29 seconds on this section to be overhauled by Ian Crammond / Matthew Vokes , whilst Thomas / Roger Bricknell were once again on excellent form, revelling in the plot and bash handed out on this section. The Clubman were back on tulip style jogularity and with three timing points over the eight miles, laced with five speed changes, it was a turning point in the event.Steve and Julia Robertson had come from behind the BMW of Lane and Johnson, taking a narrow lead into the final three regularities, it seemed that the BMW pair buckled slightly and last year’s winning navigator succumbed to the narrowest of winning margins, two seconds between them and the Robertsons’. It was a great win for Steve and Julia in the Clubman class, they had experienced bitter luck in recent events and this was a deserved win, the husband and wife team doggedly battling against the more powerful machine of Lane and Johnson to ‘Triumph’ in the end…
The National B section was settled after the end of test 11 with Crosby and Procter dropping just ten seconds over nine timing points, this was enough to hold off Abel / Taylor into second place by seven seconds. Simon Mellings / Ryan Pickering made a fine recovery in the second half to claim third spot albeit 42 seconds behind second place. A special mention for Clive and Anji Martin who took top Novice with an excellent performance on the events, their test times in the Ford Escort Mk 1 1300 Sport leaving some red faces in the more powerful machinery. In the Clubman section, Stephen and Emily Wild finished seventh whilst Alan Pettit and daughter Louise finished tenth, an excellent result as this was the ladies first foray into regularity rallying.
The HERO Challenge will return in 2018, the dates and venue will be announced in due course.
All images are © of Blue Passion Photo / HERO
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