It’s a formula for furthering young talent and changing people’s hobbies. A Novice Trial uniquely combines classroom sessions on every aspect of regularity rallying with practical road sessions followed by a mini rally to put it all into practice against the clock and fellow pupils. Sixty percent of the field were totally new to the sport.
They came from Europe and the USA to learn and compete, and none were disappointed after Sunday’s rally covered nearly a hundred miles, comprising four regularities in the lanes of Oxfordshire with four tests at Bicester Heritage airfield.
A complete rookie, Charles Eve took the victory spoils on his very first rally driving a Rover 216 with Alistair Leckie navigating on his maiden outing as a navigator. A crew with minimal experience, Hannah Jenkins and Paul Hughes were second in their BMW 320. And flying the flag for the many junior competitors on the event was ‘young gun’ navigator Evan Martin with his proud father Jonathan driving their Austin Healey 3000 to the final podium, placing in third after a great effort.
Charles Eve; “it’s my first event. I was doing it with my brother yesterday practicing, but unfortunately, he couldn’t make it today. Alistair very kindly stepped in as navigator to help me. And he did more than that because we finished first! It just shows actually, if you stay humble, learn and keep making it as much fun as you can, you can still win, and it’s been great.”
Alistair Leckie; “Yes, I took the opportunity to navigate for the first time ever, but it was a bit last minute – I’d never picked up a route book up till last night, but as Charles said, it was really good fun today. He was great, he listened, and he’s learned really quickly today, there were some little route puzzles from the Whyte sisters, but we figured it out.”
Charles; “Recently I have retired, so has my brother. We both like cars, and we both get on famously so we’d seen HERO-ERA events and thought ‘A Novice Trial’ was a great place to start. I hope it’s part of a long rally journey.”
Hannah Jenkins; “We are really, really, pleased with second place, it’s a bit of a shock really but we are very happy.” Hannah also won a special award for the fastest time for the practice test course by foot on the HERO-ERA terrace on Saturday.
Paul Hughes; “I have a bit of a confession to make; that I wasn’t there for the foot test. I was doing something else, and HERO-ERA’s cameraman, Gary Williams stepped in, so thank you to Gary!
The rally was great, and everybody enjoyed it, but we feel like we’ve nicked it a little bit as we have done the Novice Trial before. But we very rarely compete, although we are not complete novices. It was certainly a very good day and we are so pleased to get onto the podium.”
Jonathan and Evan Martin; Jonathan “Absolutely, I am such a proud dad. I couldn’t say more, we saw you three weeks ago at Stoneleigh for Race Retro when it was Evan’s first time ever in the passenger seat of a rally and he used to get terribly carsick. So, I thought, well, I don’t know if this is going to work. We said, well, let’s give the Novice Trial a go; and look at what he has achieved this third place. I can’t believe it! It’s absolutely amazing; Evan was brilliant.”
Evan; “I can’t even think of any bad parts of today, it was all good! So, we have been thinking about more rallies in the future, probably thinking about the Scandinavian one when that comes around, but I do have my exams to finish. So not many rallies this year, but later on? Definitely.”
Jonathan; “My wife who has navigated for me before is definitely out now, no question. It’s a given, but my wife is happy for Evan to move up and she has never got me this far up the leaderboard before! It’s great. The first thing we did was call Evan’s Mum and she is absolutely chuffed for him!”
A 14-year-old Swiss, Alexander Leibundgut navigated his father Philipp to sixth place overall and second in class in the Arrive and Drive Triumph TR4A, whilst his 16-year-old friend from Basle, Nils Geigy, navigated his father Nicolas to 18th overall in the Arrive and Drive Austin Healey Sprite.
There was a great performance from George Nichols who celebrated his 14th birthday yesterday, holding down third place overall with his dad Paul driving their MGB when late on a timing error dropped them down the leaderboard. But George is another potential future talent as he took to navigation like a duck to water, and there was plenty of water around today!
Young Beatrice Valmarana was another to take to the hot seat with flying colours, finishing 14th overall with her American father Francesco, driving their Lancia Fulvia Monte Carlo. The father and daughter team went on to win the Test Pilot Award for the fastest crew over the tests!
They came from Switzerland and as far as the USA to learn and compete. Chris Covington came all the way from Austin Texas to drive in the event with his Irish navigator Paul McGeehan, the pair finishing 19th in the Arrive Drive Mini Cooper S.
Chris; “Oh man, the Mini was wonderful, I’ve never driven a car like this before! This was the first time ever. You can see why it’s very popular with customers, most definitely, if you’ve never driven one before, it’s a real hoot!
“I know a bit about the Mini in the history of rallying but I’m not really into it, but the idea of driving them in a place like this, who wouldn’t want to do that? I’m actually over here for just a little while from Austin, Texas.
“My friend and I really want to do the Peking to Paris, so we thought we will come over and do a little bit of training. Hopefully, that’ll help us!”
Seren Whyte, Clerk of the Course, a Novice Trial. “I think the results speak for themselves. When you’ve taken 37 crews, some complete novices, through all the training and an event and then you see the results from today, you can see just how far they have come. The journey is just incredible.”
Elise Whyte is a podium winner and top international navigator who worked with her sister Seren on the training;
“There has been a fantastic reaction. Everyone seems to be on a high, they’ve all enjoyed it. We’ve all learned something, whether it’s something small, or something big, they’ve all developed something from the whole weekend, which is great to see!”
Seren; “This is my favourite event because I get to share something that I love doing, classic car rallying, with new people, and they’re so receptive to what we’re teaching them. They want to be part of the sport and they want to learn, and I just love that.”
Elise; “It becomes a bit of a family as well. In the beginning, you can see that they are apprehensive and not really sure what’s going on. By the end of today, it’s like one big family and everyone’s cheering everyone on – it’s just fantastic to see.”
Seren; “I think it’s brilliant that so many young people are getting involved. It’s just superb to see, because they’re the generation that are going to take over and carry this into the future.”
Guy Woodcock, Competition Director, HERO-ERA; “I think it’s been a great event. Seren and Elise put on a wonderful route.
“There were lots of newcomers, lots of youngsters here, which is great to see, especially with all that we’re doing for the young generation, including the Bob Rutherford Historic Rally Scholarship for Young Navigators, it is very encouraging for the future.
“There has been a good buzz, lots of smiling faces. We were running at the back in the Closing Car and it was interesting. A couple of people were getting a bit stressed, but they got back on the right road, everyone seems to have come and enjoyed it.
“We’re looking to grow our base of competitors, and this is the first step for a lot of people in terms of maybe moving from tours to something a bit more competitive, or people who have been hill climbing or racing, where their partners have been sitting in the paddock just watching. Now they’re getting involved as well and that’s a big result!”