The Three Legs of Mann produced the most tense and dramatic HERO event finish ever on the island as a family battle that had raged for two days and one hard night. It was finally resolved in the father’s favour - at the finish line!
A fierce battle raged between Howard Warren and navigator Iain Tullie in their orange Porsche 911 throughout the rally and son Matthew Warren with navigator Ryan Pickering in their red Ford Escort. The family teams had swopped the lead during the rally with Matthew edging away at the end of a ‘Hard Day’s Night’ over slippy forest tracks and a tight bewildering variety of lanes lashed by rain.
Drama unfolded on the last day as Matthew started to encounter clutch problems. Time was lost as the slave cylinder pushrod broke, but navigator Ryan Pickering was quick witted, stopping to find some bits that had fallen off, the pair managing to coax the Escort back to the Jurby halt. Navigator Ryan Pickering found the HERO Assistance team who made a new bolt launching the crew back into the fray. Ryan reckoned they could still be in the contest at the time, “ I reckon we’ve dropped around one minute thirty seconds so we might be still in the top three?” In fact, they left for the final tests dead level!
Father and son had to battle over four tests at Jurby then a long regularity described by winner Howard Warren as ‘the sting in the tail’ with a final two tests at the TT Grandstand. The tension continued as the two crews were parked close together at the finish in the TT course pit lane, not knowing the results until they were made final at event HQ an hour later. Howard had beaten his son Matthew by just 14 seconds!
“ I am really pleased but I had no idea what the verdict would be, Matthew and I have competed against each other for over nine years, but this was probably the most tense and close for a long while.”
Matthew had been able to come to terms with the close call on victory later on: “ I’ll get over it, I needed to give him one or two anyway, but I’m happy to finish second and keep it in the family.”
After 26 tests, 22 regularities, and demanding time controls covering 400 miles, 37 out of the 46 starters who finished the tough rally, congratulating each other in the TT pit lane at the finish. Amongst them a relieved Paul Crosby with navigator Ali Procter managing a podium for third despite severe brake issues in Leg 3. The failure threatened to end their rally when a brake pipe broke on their Porsche 911, said Paul; “ the brake pedal went to the floor, it could have ended badly.”
Ali Procter added: “ We were really lucky to be able to get to the HERO Assist crew who patched us up meaning our position was unaffected!” Crosby and Procter finished one minute sixteen seconds behind Matthew Warren.
Neil Wilson drove superbly throughout using the skills of sharp young champion navigator Matthew Vokes in their Porsche 924, to take fourth place. As an ex-top special stage co-driver, winning the Manx Rally here with Russell Brookes in 1991, this result meant a lot to Neil: ‘It was a great event very enjoyable, but the man sat next to me navigating made a big difference, he was exceptional.’
The biggest smile by miles on the Isle of Man belonged to Mini Cooper S driver Bill Cleyndert on his first visit to the island, taking a fantastic fifth place and a class win navigated by former Golden Roamer winner Martyn Taylor: “Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling, even laughing sometimes as I enjoyed it so much. The night action, the narrow lanes, the plantations, the Mini was well suited to them. We lost out a bit to the more powerful cars on the tests, but what an event. I’ll be back!”
Noel Kelly took a very strong sixth place navigated by Peter Johnson in the Volvo 122S, the crew always seemed to be in contention although Isle of Man resident Noel said it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“We had a few issues earlier today, although it improved later on. I was asked if local knowledge helped, and it does when you know your way around but you still need to perform well and the car must last the distance, which she did. Peter and I are very pleased.” They also won Class 1.
Another Manx resident David Morgan was very pleased with his seventh place, navigated by Leigh Powley, who can normally be found in the hot seat of a vintage rally Bentley. The duo worked well together, David having taken a podium here in 2017.
An absolutely startling performance was achieved by ex Jaguar development engineer and racer Ed Abbott navigated by the very accomplished Paul Bosdet, to take eighth. The noise of the Jaguar V12 alone was enough to stir the soul, despite it’s none suitability for the ‘lanes’, Ed asserted that the car was “well engineered.”
Nick Bloxham and Niall Frost scored a super ninth place overall, having been up and down the leaderboard with various issues. Nick who is also a star navigator drove hard and well, despite still nursing an injured foot. Niall and Nick won class four in the Escort Mexico.
Navigator Richard Lambley reckoned he and Volvo Amazon driver Shaun Arnold would do well to get into the top ten after a difficult Friday night when they even had to push the car after an off. But they made it just outside in 11th with a fine climb up the order on the last leg. Said Shaun;” the car took a few knocks, some parts of the route were a bit rough for these old cars, but the Volvo did it. There are quite a few who didn’t make it. We are both really happy to be in top twelve.”
Whilst the top crews enjoyed the incredibly close competition many were happy just to finish this tough event.
Chris Woodhead and Robert Walker were 31st and fifth in class 1, but the real back of the pack heroes were Richard and Susan Watkinson who gamely persevered against all the mechanical and navigational odds in their Austin Healey Sprite in 37th place, eighth in class. Susan was clearly delighted to finish her first ever rally in her 70th year, as she waved furiously to the support crews when she crossed the finish line with husband Richard at the TT Grandstand.
Equally, John and Tracy King deserved their fifth in class finish in the Triumph Dolomite Sprint after only their second full event. “We chose one of the toughest events, perhaps it was a bit too adventurous,” said John who reveled in the handling of his ‘Dolly Sprint’ throwing her around at every opportunity. Wife Tracy was just relieved to finish: “ We have finished another one, although this was very tough we are learning all the time.”
A great sight on the rally, over forest tracks, tight tarmac or on the loose was the incredible Mercedes 190E Cosworth of Malcolm Dunderdale and navigator Anita Wickens. The low slung Merc looked more like it should have been on a race track but somehow despite it taking a real battering the crew still finished 30th and fourth in class. However, just after an interview with a video crew, the gear linkage broke! Said Anita; “ I think they were a jinx! Luckily the HERO Assist crew were nearby and the team were able to get back not the competition.
Team spirit was much in evidence despite the demands of the rally and the stormy weather which very nearly caused the event to be cancelled. After Tony Sheach and Rachel Wakefield were forced to retire their Triumph 2000 when the rear shock absorbers punched their way through the chassis, they were both naturally dejected.
That didn’t prevent Tony from weighing in later to help try and fix the stricken Volkswagen Beetle of John and Rober Kiff which had also had to retire. The 1958 machine had worn away the outer pulley that drives the generator but they needed to get the car on the ferry early next morning to get home. A team effort made sure they did.
From just about every angle, most had found the 2019 Three Legs of Mann to be a demanding yet satisfying event with enjoyment for all. The reputation of the event has certainly gone up another notch, establishing it’s self as a firm favourite on the HERO calendar.