“This is one of the toughest LeJog editions I have been involved with for 10 years.” The words of Guy Woodcock, Clerk of the Course and veteran LeJog participant and organiser. “Every bit of bad weather hit the event from high winds to hailstones, from snow to black ice and flooded tracks, last night I’ve never seen snow and ice like it in my life! It was an awesome route that Nick Reeves, Deputy Clerk of the Course put together. Crews were challenged from top to bottom and that is born out by the lack of medals that were won, there are only three gold, silver and two bronze, it’s a long time since that has happened, so LeJog has lived up to it’s reputation as being the toughest in Europe.”
To give them enormous credit, Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde were in flying form in their 1959 Alfa Romeo Guilietta Sprint to take gold. The amazing Dick Appleton on his first ever LeJog also captured a gold medal in his seventies with his son and ace navigator Mark alongside him in their Mini Cooper S.
However, praise is not enough to credit the ‘first big event’ driving of the large Volvo 142 in the atrocious conditions by Amy Henchoz, navigated by the calm and collected Niall Frost to stupendous crew golds. As silver medal winner Owen Turner said; “Its a big old car to thread through those lanes in those conditions and get no penalties whatsoever, those are proper road rally lanes and she was just brilliant, her and Niall were epic.” Andy Ballantyne navigated Owen in their unlikely rally car, the 1973 Chrysler Galant to take silver and was very happy afterwards; “All our Christmases have come at once, but it was probably the toughest most relentless rally I have ever been on!”
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage fought back from bronze to silver medals after some stirring performances in their 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint, Jayne remarking afterwards that it had been, “a very difficult rally indeed, especially for the navigators. It was one of the toughest LeJogs for many years” said the HERO Cup Champion.
Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson had been in the gold class but lost time behind another car, although they kept a great consistent pace to retain silver in their Volvo. Worthy and popular bronze medal winners were German LeJog regulars Klaus Mueller ad Eric Schwab, who were delighted to win medals at all after early problems with their superb 1965 Lancia Fulvia. Dutchmen Sybren van der Goot and Maiko Wellink were the only other bronze winners in their Escort Mexico after a very consistent performance.
Anyone who finished the event at all needed a medal. As a result of all the weather elements, there were fallen trees, water logged tracks and treacherous black ice with snow in some parts. The hard packed ice, in another sub zero night in the early hours Tuesday, combined to thwart over forty cars in the longest and most anticipated regularity of them all, the 65 mile Loch Ness Monster. The hills became so polished out that it no longer became part of the reckoning. The black and rutted ice was so slippy competitors could hardly stand up, never mind try to push their rally cars uphill.
The early runners managed to scrabble up the hills, whilst another four fitted their snow chains and clawed their way up, but all to no avail as the Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock had no option but to cancel the regularity. This was disappointing for Volvo runners Noel Kelly and Peter Johnson, Christopher Wilks and David Creech, who had all fish tailed their way through somehow. New regularity rally converts Callum Guy and Neil Dashfield, both used to special stage rallying, already had one snow chain fitted to a rear wheel of the HERO-ERA Arrive and Drive BMW 1602 and broke free from the stationary line of 30 + rally cars to complete the massive Loch Ness Monster.
The black ice with lumpy snow demanded extreme caution or a big reward for bravery. Many visited ditches, including the 2021 LeJog silver medal winning Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage, but they were pulled out rapidly by a Volvo.
Once the rally had regrouped, it was back to the rest of the tough regularities, but with even more treacherous ice, snow and black ice demanding extreme caution or a big reward for bravery. The most scary section was a shiny toboggan run in regularity 5 where the only way to retard the car was to use parts of the steep bank for purchase. Andy Simpson and Brian Dwelly drifted helplessly downhill nose first into a ditch. Both were unharmed and the Mini was without a scratch from the snow filled ditch after HERO-ERA Mechanical Assistance crew of Dave Alcock and Mikey Jones pulled them out.
The conditions for Legs 4 and 5 over Monday and Tuesday were challenging and certainly adventurous. As temperatures plummeted crews passed around the mountainous area of the Spittal of Glenshee and over the Meall Gorm where only the reflective snow poles gave a clue as to where the slippy surface was taking crews next!
They started at 0730 on Saturday in Land’s End on the 4th Dec and finished at 10.20 am on Tuesday the 7th Dec after covering 1300 miles taking in 20 tests and 26 regularities from the toe to the tip of the UK taking the longest route possible with every element of the notorious UK weather thrown at them.
Crews from 8 countries crossed the finish line in the shadow of the famous JOG signposts, many embraced having made it after one of the most relentless and difficult rallies. In fact Porsche 924 driver Dirk Dohse’s navigator Jeanette Ressemann was so elated, yet relived to finish, she had a good cry on the podium.
Right to the bitter end, crews had to stay on guard. Even as they came out of the last regularity, there was a secret check point. This dramatically and sadly caught out Mike Cochrane and Angus McQueen in their BMW after a magical run in the gold list. The last hurdle was a cruel blow for them to take, but LeJog has established its hard reputation from the start all the way to the finish. It takes no prisoners.
The 1300 mile route was devised and developed with skill and creativity by Deputy Clerk of the Course Nick Reeves, to much praise by the competitors and by Guy Woodcock himself. But as Nick explains, it takes a team to put on such a challenging event. “I was a bit emotional when I got here, it’s been a lot of hard work but we couldn’t have done it without the effort of the whole team. It’s a proper team effort, when things start happening in the middle of the night, the snow comes down and roads get closed no one person can manage it on their own, everyone has to dig in and get the result to get us up here to John O’ Groats.
“Everyone thanks the marshals each time but they really do pull it out of the bag every time to give the service the competitors need, it’s fantastic how they all get together and work tirelessly on event.”
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases