An emotional Dan Willan was trying to come to terms with the enormity of his 90th Anniversary RAC Rally of the Tests win, moments after shaking the champagne with his brilliant winning navigator Niall Frost. He was quick to praise Niall, but the first thing he did was to call his wife to break the fantastic news to her and ask her to make room for yet another trophy to add to his recently acquired 2022 Motorsport News HRCR national Championship Cup that he won with team-mate Niall Frost. Now they have capped that with a win on the big one, The RAC Rally of the Tests, which as Dan added, “makes it an incredible year for us, I still can’t believe it!”
At the Awards ceremony in Torquay, Dan thanked Simon Frost, Niall’s father for the loan of the Volvo seven years ago, “and he hasn’t seen it since!” added Dan.
The Willan/Frost Volvo PV544 won by two minutes after four hard days which included 28 tests, 26 regularities and three TC sections, one on Epynt and two at Caerwent.
Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor, like the event, were relentless. They had their noses ahead on a couple of occasions but their pursuit of the leaders never eased. Paul and Martyn were on it from the Thursday night Prologue onwards, reducing a one minute deficit to 24 seconds at one point before Dan and Niall pulled out any stops that were left to ease ahead again. Paul said; “We were pushing really hard, but if Dan and Niall could still pull out that bit extra when we were on the limit, then hats off to them, a brilliant performance!”
Paul Crosby and Ali Procter were absolutely chuffed to pieces with their third place in the recently finished Mini Cooper S which didn’t go very well on its debut shakedown, the HERO Challenge Three, when as Ali said; “everything was wrong with it!” Crosby has spent two years totally hand building the car himself, including all the welding. Ali; “At one point there was just the roof, every panel, all the welding, every last nut and bolt was crafted by Cros, then he has had to learn to drive it in a short time. From HERO Challenge Three to RAC Rally of the Tests, he has transformed the Mini. It’s a great result for a new car.”
For HERO-ERA Competition Director and Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock, this was his last RAC Rally of the Tests in charge of one of the best events in rallying. As he said at the Awards ceremony, he is not going anywhere, but he is handing over the competition organisation of this rally to his team for next year; “It’s time to bring the young blood in and keep pushing forward with a fresh approach, but I am sure you will be in good hands with Seren, Andy, George and Nick”.
However, Guy made sure his final Rally of the Tests was a tough one on its 90th RAC anniversary and the 20th RAC Rally of the Tests with no let up, even on the final day, when he promised a sting in the tail, which was duly delivered.
Guy; “Apparently, some of the top crews had some issues this morning with the same wrong slot around a triangle Well, we’ve all had wrong slots, drivers not trusting their navigators or the navigators and drivers disagreeing I believe in some cases. That wasn’t actually planned but they followed the route themselves, so I’m not sure what happened, but I did want the anniversary event to be a tough one, although I believe most crews really enjoyed the rally.”
Dan Willan was fairly despondent at the first halt on the last day as he and Niall had lost a minute, they maybe thought it was all over until discovering that their rivals Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor had done the same thing and lost time! Martyn said; “ Obviously this morning wasn’t a great point. It’s not often I ask Paul to go back to have a look at something, and then that turned out to be something of nothing, so that was 45 seconds gone. So you’re looking at your own mistakes! We turned out to both be relatively the same on time between us as before.”
The roaring success of the 30’s pioneering RAC rallies had echoes in the 2022 anniversary event in the form of the 20th RAC Rally of the Tests. Not only did the competitors from all over Europe and the USA dress in traditional clothes from a time gone by, but they invoked the spirt of camaraderie during a really tough rally, as they used to be. The rally visited great rally locations of the past and venues that have been used for decades of rallying at the highest levels. All the ingredients were there to help make this RAC Rally of the Tests such a memorable experience for everyone who took part.
From the early mist over the scene of the first two tests of the day at Chepstow Race Course, making the going a bit difficult at times, to the monsoon rain at Glasto today, a fitting tribute to any self respecting music festival fan, trudging knee deep in mud to see their favourite band at the Pyramid stage, it was all there. The framed structure and soggy ground welcomed the 61 cars remaining as some of the rallyists formed a new band, the ‘Lost Boys.’ Trying to find the right turns around the sometimes bewildering tracks over the huge Worthy Farm Estate at Glastonbury wasn’t easy for some. A regularity gave way to a test with some very entertaining driving from many.
Some became a little over exuberant, and one turned in too early at the wrong bend, the errant Escort damaging the front wing of Clare Grove and Rod Hanson. The shame of it was that Clare and Rod’s own Escort had burnt its clutch out on Epynt and they had rushed home to pick up their trusty Maestro over night as a substiute, only to take a hit!
Wiscombe Park Hill Climb was another challenging venue in the spirit of RAC rallies gone by, where on the Sunday stages, race tracks and hill climbs that played host were not the usual clean tarmac, but a mix of November mud and fallen leaves. A slippery cocktail, that was Wiscombe, and everyone loved the slimy climb. Smooth and fast were Richard Boughton and Elise Whyte, ruing their brake problems which thwarted progress in Epynt the night before in their BMW.
Tomas de Vargas Machuca was having a ball throwing the HERO-ERA Arrive Drive Fiat 124 Spider around as he finished a fine 6th overall and first in class, a great result given his lack of recent competitive rallying.
Martyn Taylor won the Clockwatchers Award for best navigator over the regularities whilst Dan Willan won the Test Pilot Award for the fastest driver over the tests. All the three podium sitters received fitting rounds of applause at the Awards ceremony but there was major applause for Molly Hardingham who was on her first event as the lead hospitality manager.
The biggest noise however, was reserved for a special group, in fact there was a standing ovation for the six members of the mechanical assistance crews or ‘Sweeps,’ who for many, they had simply kept them in the rally, thanks the their tireless hard work at all times of the day and night.
Paul Dyas; “We will be back next year to try and knock them off the perch! But they did a great job. Well done to Dan and Niall, they performed flawlessly all weekend. This event was absolutely a blast for us, a proper rally and it’s the best kept secret in British Rallying. Everybody should do it!
“It’s absolutely full on, you can’t explain and people don’t believe how competitive this event is.”
Dan, “It was it nerve racking day, and unbelievably, I had to force my lunch down and it was roast beef, my favourite, but I couldn’t really eat! Yeah, my stomach was just in knots all day and driving carefully on the tests to make sure we kept it neat, we just don’t normally do that!
“It’s been such a tough close rally all the way through. We’ve been trading times with Paul and Martyn and never had any breathing space, either of us. It’s always been tight and it’s just such pressure, but Niall has been fantastic. The car has been fantastic, we just had the little scare with the sheared shocker mount on the axle but the late night welder sorted that. This is a happy, happy day.
“It’s been a hugely successful year, but to top the championship with the big one, the RAC Rally of the Tests is amazing. The first call I made was to my wife. She laughed, I laughed, I cried a little bit, but what an event!”