The first round of the HERO Challenge Championship which started and finished near Stonehenge began in gloom, but the sun soon melted the grey away to shed its light on three victorious crews, one of whom was just 19 years old.
Taking in the very best roads and scenery in both Wiltshire and Dorset, the 156-mile route took in six regularities and eight tests over the very fast and demanding Bovington Tank Training area. With a lot of the route still bedecked in Union flags from the Coronation, the many historic villages and buildings formed a beautiful backdrop to the 72 classic cars that started, some of them dating back to the thirties.
After some stirring performances on the tests by driver Simon Ayris and great navigation by Kim Bannister, who had just returned from a long working trip overseas, they took the win by 13 seconds in their MGB, pushed hard all the way by Chris Chapman and David Broome in the BMW 323 which finished second. Kim said of the route, “it was simply stunning!”
There was just one second separating second from the third-place father and son team of James and Archie Holt (19) to demonstrate just how competitive the event was. In fact, just two seconds behind them in fourth were Charlotte Ryall and Elliott Dale who literally charged down the stand side in the afternoon to make their bid for the podium in their Ford Escort 2000.
David and Ed Liddell had been second at lunchtime in their Triumph TR4 but made a rare mistake in the afternoon which dropped them all the way down to 18th by the finish. Equally, London to Lisbon winners Steve and Alex Chick dropped down the order from fourth to eighth by the finish in their Datsun 260Z after what Alex described as a ‘horrible afternoon.’
Worse than that, Duncan Wild and Steve Skepper had been leading until the first morning halt in their Mini Cooper until their half shaft pulled out. They managed to put the shaft back in temporarily but then missed the tests to take the rest of the regularities in a gentle fashion.
If Simon Ayris was taken by surprise by the win, then young Archie Holt was shocked to end up on the podium and as his father James said “I never imagined it in my wildest dreams!”
James also took the ‘Test Pilot Award’ for fastest over all the tests whilst a deserved ‘Concours de Elegance Award’ went to the immaculate 1964 Bentley S3 Continental Flying Spur of Charles and Andrew Eve, and it remained so even after the tests which Charles remarked afterwards had been ‘very comfortable to drive over in the Bentley.’ The Eves’ Alfa Romeo had failed just before the event, but Charles was determined they weren’t going to miss HERO Challenge One and so they took the cover off Crew’s best and headed for Stonehenge.
The tests at Bovington were fast and demanding but set in a part of the military establishment away from the training for the Ukranians and any tank activity. The camp is infamous as just after World War 1 a certain Lawrence of Arabia came out of the area on his motorbike only to meet his end marked by a special sign close to the tests. As an adventurer, he would have approved of the rally cars making use of the facility and as Simon Ayris said, “They were long and fast, we could really go for it and let the car stretch its legs.”
From experts to novices and nine newbies, there was a common agreement that the HERO Challenge format had something for everyone and yet still be suitable for all the different levels of crews.
Steve Way was on his very first rally, but no gentle introduction for him as he was navigating for Stephen Hardwick in his thunderous 1965 Ford Falcon, but he managed to ‘get his head around it’ as the crew finished well.
Edward and Henry Vandyk, grandfather and grandson, were on only their second event after the Novice Trial in their 1959 MGA Twin Cam and absolutely loved it. They will be back for more events together but before then Henry will be competing on the HERO-ERA Rally for the Ages with his father at Bicester Heritage on the 3rd June. Whilst Edward has a lot of competition experience in racing (Le Mans Historic with MG) and special stage rallying, he believes this HERO formula, really works, “so we are going to do more for certain.”
Simon Ayris now leads the HERO Challenge Championship for drivers with 20 points from Chris Chapman, and Kim Bannister leads the championship for navigators also with 20 points from David Broome.
Simon Ayris, “We came this morning with no expectation at all, we were just going to have a good day. It turned out differently, I needed to go fast on the tests which were great. But absolutely it was a tremendous result but as we were talking earlier, if it wasn’t for the HERO-ERA crew putting it together and the marshals all being on point, and we had lots of them today, it just wouldn’t happen.”
Kim Bannister, “Absolutely, it was fantastic. Some days it’s your day. Anytime we ever had a holdup, there was always enough time to catch back up another day the margin would be way around the corner so you just have to take it while you can and it was just fabulous. And Simon’s performance on the tests were quite stunning. I think he was the fastest in the class on every single one of them which says a lot, you know. It’s great fun, particularly on those faster tests but It never feels anything other than fully safe, fast and fun. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Kim and Simon are now leading their respective championships, the navigators and the driver’s drivers HERO Challenge Championships which has made for a great start.
Simon, “We tried it before and got close, but we weren’t really planning to do the whole series this year just because of work commitments. All of a sudden we’ve got a different problem. We will have to go back and look at the calendar and our diaries.”
James Holt, James’ “I couldn’t believe that for a moment (on winning the Test Pilot Award) because there was the couple in the white Porsche 911. I did see them in the distance they were driving very smoothly and looked quick but our times appear to have been quick. I was quite shocked, really shocked.”
Archie “Actually I can’t believe that, I was not expecting this. I thought yeah, we had a fairly good day. A good morning, but I thought the afternoon was a bit mixed. But it was just when we were here and looked at the results, amazing!
“You asked me yesterday about the championship and I said I’m not sure that’s quite our league, but I guess now we’ll have to give it a go now. Yeah, why not?”
James. “We were joking when we said we’d be good to beat the regular podium sitters Matt and Alistair but I never thought in my wildest dreams we’d actually do it today! So it’s been a good event, Archie’s performance and work was electrifying. All I can say is all that money on his education is not completely lost. He was rarely ever seen in his room doing any work but apparently, he must have done something because his brain is all there, he was brilliant! I must also offer major congratulations to George Mullins as well for his fantastic route through the beautiful countryside.”
Archie, “Dad’s driving was just pretty awesome. I mean, he did what he was told and he also put his foot to the floor, very impressive.”
George Mullins, Clerk of the Course HERO Challenge One. George, “To be paid many compliments by the competitors on the HERO Challenge One is very pleasing.
“We are all delighted, as I said at the start, smiley faces at the finish are what I was after. I think we’ve delivered a good event as they liked the route, and enjoyed tremendous scenery, but above all the crews provided fantastic competition. It was so close you just couldn’t believe how close the times were and how the leaderboard changed.
“ It was also great to see young Archie Holt at just 19 years of age in third place. What about that, but it also means our long-standing youth policy is working and it’s good to see young talent coming through. And we’ve had some crews from all over the experience ranges, some navigators really doing some great stuff to provide very close competition.
“I mean, you talk to some experienced guys and they reckon that HERO Challenges are like a bit of a dark art form in themselves and so you get some of the Masters that will come and compete, and they are not necessarily winning you know, these guys are coming along to enjoy it just as much as the novices and intermediates – it’s great!”