Still considered by crews as one of the most demanding and challenging events in Europe and a definite to be ticked on your “must do” events list! HERO's Land’s End to John O’Groats Reliability Trial and Classic Car Tour is open to cars built before 1986.
An unusually bright and sunny Friday saw the 58 starters of Le Jog 2016 treated to wonderful views from the headland of Land’s End with the Scilly Isles clearly in sight – something that hadn’t happened in a lot of years at the start of the event.
The event followed its familiar format of a run up through the south west to the Bristol area before crossing into south Wales for some night time regularities and on to the mid and northern latitudes of the country for a final TC section before a brief overnight stop close to Chester. Sunday took crews from Chester via the M6 to Wirral, Lymm and Longridge before taking to the network of lanes that criss-cross Lancashire and Cumbria before reaching Gretna for a well-deserved rest before the final two legs. This year the event ran up the middle of Scotland on leg four, heading to Fort William for a two hour rest break before pushing on to Inverness, Skiach, Golspie and then to Thurso where the final regularity took place just before John O’Groats. The top crews were separated by just 40 seconds going into the penultimate regularity with a slide into a ditch changing the least penalties overall at the very last moment – it wouldn’t change the Gold Medal position and four crews were rewarded with the top honour of this event.
There was a close battle raging for the HERO Cup once again as competitors left Land’s End with Paul Crosby and Stephen Owens eight points adrift of one another going into the final leg – a none-finish from Crosby would hand the title to Owens for the first time and with both of them suffering mechanical issues in 2015, it would be a tense affair right through. Crosby was being navigated by one of rallying’s up and coming stars in Andy Pullan, all he had to do was secure a finish over the first two legs to seal this year’s Golden Roamer Trophy – achieving the first ever double in the series. Crosby was inline for his hat-trick should they take top points and speaking to him at the start of the event, the competitive Northants based ex-race engineer was in no mood for messing about.
The first control inside the Land’s End Hotel gave way to the traditional first driving test in the grounds of the complex with two crews tied for quickest time, Bill Cleyndert / Dan Harrison in their Mini and Paul Kirtley / David Jones pressing hard in the Arrive and Drive Porsche 911 – Kirtley using his past stage rallying experience to the full. Heading north east and up through Cornwall brought us to Okehampton and Betty Cottles Inn. This year saw a more linear approach on the Saturday with a quick transit through Devon into Somerset and then to Chepstow for the first evening halt of the event, this was after a regularity section around the infamous Caerwent military complex where a well sited last control took time from the majority of crews on the section, many asked if they could go back in and go around the section again!
Departing Chepstow and heading into the lanes in eastern Wales crews took in four regularities and a 45 mile TC section which would lead them into Ewloe for the overnight halt, the fourth regularity caused a few issues as it wound its way around the Gregynog area, the mix of grid references combined with jocularity instructions taking time out of several crews with excellent performances coming from Cleyndert / Harrison, Stephen Owens / Nick Bloxham, Andy Lane / Iain Tullie and new pairing Kevin Haselden / Bart den Hartog, the Nederlands based navigator really getting to grips with the pressure on Le Jog. Into Ewloe and it was Lane / Tullie that were in the prime position on least penalties, however Le Jog isn’t about overall positions it’s about achieving a supremely consistent performance in the differing disciplines – Bill Cleyndert / Dan Harrison were having the drive of their career but not one crew could hold a candle to Crosby / Pullan who had reached the end of the second leg with a perfect zero Gold Medal standards lost. After a differult start, Mark Godfrey / Martyn Taylor had got back into the swing of things and were now pushing hard for Gold, other crews that excelled in the Welsh section were Robert & Sue McClean, this being their 16th Le Jog, Keith Jenkins / Shôn Gosling in a Volvo 144 and the ever cheerful Andrew Buzzard / Robb Lyne who got their past Gold Medal winning Alfa through the section unscathed, unlike the 2015 event. One of the stories of the event came from Switzerland’s Alex Geigy / Carl-Gustav Mez who went a little awry on the route and managed to remove their remote gear lever linkage and housing, they managed to limp home, found a scrap yard with the necessary bits and salvaged (!) their Le Jog re-joining the event toward the end of the third leg at Gretna.
Ian Glass / Clifford Auld / Nick Ward were also experiencing issues in their 1953 Ford 103E nicknamed ‘The Flying Tortoise’, despite the vehicle being nursed round the event it was constantly boiling over and needed the head gasket replacing not just once, but twice within the first three legs, they only had one spare gasket left at Gretna so Ian undertook the repair and made a sterling job of it – ‘the Tortoise’ did make it to John O’Groats and was received with huge smiles wherever it went.
Amongst the other crews on the event, Charlie Harrison / Richard Lambley had a torrid night in Wales, their Triumph 2000 developing wheel bearing issues which saw them reach Chester at 07:00 on the Sunday and give them just over an hour and a half’s rest before departing for the third leg. Another bright and clear day dawned on the Sunday and after two tests at Hooton Kart Circuit, a car park style test at Lymm Services and a similar affair at Red Scar near Preston, the first regularity started just outside the picturesque village of Inglewhite. This wound its way up to Beacon Fell where an easy to miss slot left threw a spanner in the works for several crews, over Blacksticks, through the not as map village of Chipping and finally passing Cow Ark before the end of regularity just before Slaidburn. A lengthy section over Lythe Fell and a test in Bentham brought Le Jog to lunch at Bentham Golf Club before taking in a test in Kirby Lonsdale and a regularity named Fox’s Pulpit, it was here that Cleyndert / Harrison made their first real error with Dan realising they were wrong as they crossed over the M6 – it wasn’t on the route he had plotted, this dropped them down the order considerably and out of Gold position. Remarkably, Simon Harris / Matt Fowle were still in the hunt for a Gold despite covering the majority of the route without a trip meter, this was a testament to the crew’s skill and experience and even when the trip did ‘repair’ itself, they decided to keep going without it, using the timings and landmarks in the jogularity instructions to keep themselves in the hunt. Darkness fell on the third leg and took in three tests and a regularity section in Warcop, this wasn’t as fierce as the Caerwent section the previous night but still had many instructions and turnings in terrain that could easily be overlooked costing crews penalty after penalty.
After a great night’s sleep in Gretna, a frosty morning greeted the crews once again, under a magnificent sunrise with hundreds of Geese flying off the Solway and Dornock marshes, the long push to Fort William and then on to John O’Groats started. First action was at Mulkirk and Kames Circuit where Peter Lovett / Rob Kiff sent their rapid Porsche 911 to quickest time – they repeated the feat at the next test also and pushed their way a little further into the honours. It wasn’t all sweetness and light for the front-runners at the second test of the day though, a murky and dank Forrestburn, Paul Bloxidge / Ian Canavan had been their usual consistent selves until Paul collected a cone and dragged it with him along the test affecting his penalties by 10 seconds.
Loch Lomond brought the leg into darkness and a brief stop at The Inn on the Loch saw Le Jog head to Fort William via Glen Douglas, Glen Orchy and Loch Leven in three fairly straight-forward sections, tiredness was starting to set in and the next two regularities would lead to some changes in the least penalties / Gold Standards dropped. 2015 saw the reintroduction of a past Le Jog favourite – the Loch Ness Monster, a regularity which spanned over 60 miles with numerous timing points, the 2016 version wasn’t that long but at 52.95 miles, 174 route instructions and ten timing points, this was a regularity that would definitely change things up. Crosby / Pullan fell foul of the Corkscrew at Inverfairgaig, a six hairpin section of road that is not as map, this cost the Porsche pair a one minute penalty and lost their zero Gold Medal lost standard for the event – a shame as the performance until this point had been outstanding. Fuel in Inverness and a regularity around Strathconon took the event into the small hours and a rest halt at Skiach Services, the final section was in sight but it wouldn’t be straight forward as freezing fog was settling over the tops at Strathfleet where regularity 5/4 took place. Navigators had to be wary as not just one but three long way round triangles were used here with two of them being timing points to take time off the tired and weary.
The final twist came on regularity five with Crosby / Pullan slipping off the road and being towed out by the minute man, they had handed the least penalties lead back to Lane / Tullie and allowed Cleyndert / Harrison above them into second best on penalties lost. Thurso hosted breakfast before Castle of Mey regularity section once again took crews to John O’Groats, it was an emotional time as usual for many crews with the familiar sound of the bagpipes welcoming finishers over the line. Richard Boughton / Kevin savage took yet another medal on the event to keep Savage as the most decorated competitor in the history of the event, other crews that did exceptionally well were Tony Sheach / Rachel Wakefield in their Triumph 2000, Jon Miles / Andy Elcomb in their Porsche 356B, Klaus Mueller / Eric Schwab (Lancia Fulvia) and Belgium’s Eric Michiels / Aswin Pyck in their mighty Mercedes-Benz 350SLC who despite this being their first Le Jog ended up with a Silver Medal for their hard work.
The HERO Cup this year goes to Paul Crosby with his hat-trick of wins and The Golden Roamer goes to Andy Pullan for the second time in a row, a truly magnificent performance from both of these competitors throughout the year.