With a masterful performance over five days, two nights and 26 regularities and three tests, Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering controlled the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo from the front. The duo who won Gold Medals on LeJog in December teamed up again for the second tough rally in a row, demonstrating what a powerful combination they are. Kevin’s Mini Cooper S was equal to the challenge and never missed a beat – a fitting win for a type of car that first won with the late, great Paddy Hopkirk in 1964 on the Monte Carlo Rally.
Another star car from Monte Carlo rallies of the past, the Lancia Fulvia, starred again, although this time not winner Munari in 1972 but 2023 as the German-Italian combination of Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini finished second, three minutes behind the winning Mini. Not an easy rally, graded red in difficulty, which as Rolf pointed out, is run in the traditional UK way without any electronic aides and can be difficult for international crews to adapt to. None the less, the pair will be in the UK in a month to compete in the Three Legs of Mann, ready for more punishment.
A fine performance for the final podium place came from Dave Maryon and Andy Ballantyne in their MGB, which at one point had been stuck in snow on a regularity. Dave drove a great rally, but he rightly credited Andy Ballantyne whose navigation work was sharp both day and night, pinpointing the hidden tracks that many had missed.
As Andy and Dave stood by the finish arch on the Col de Turini, they fondly remembered Bob Rutherford, who had played a big part in this event, they had stood with him at the very same place three years ago. They commended the Bob Rutherford Historic Rally Scholarship for Young Navigators, and like HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock, equally praised Bob’s son Will, who was Clerk of the Course for this 22nd Winter Challenge for devising such an incredible route. He is clearly carrying on where his illustrious father left off.
There was a moral victory for former HERO-ERA champion driver and navigator Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan as they finished first on the leader board but their modern classic 1985 VW Golf GTi does not qualify for the overall historic awards, but they were the runaway winners of Class Five. As Paul intimated, ‘they know what we did’.
The highlight of the final day and holy location of this historic rally was the last regularity of the event on the hallowed tarmac of the Col de Turini, world rallying’s infamous and tortuous special stage. It can have a mix of snow and ice on one side and descend though black ice on the other and it has been the downfall of many a star rally driver, amongst them, Colin McRae, Bjorn Waldegard and Petter Solberg. For many on the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, this was the holy grail they wanted to reach. To drive the 34 hairpins on one side and go under the finish arch opposite the legendary Three Valleys Hotel on the same plateau where thousands of raging rally fans blast their air horns and let off fireworks as the WRC cars flash past, is a privilege.
There were great performances from Richard Prosser and Peter Blackett in the wonderful Reliant Scimitar, they were fourth overall, having been holding third for two days, but the mature crew showed many a younger team the way home.
Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane have now proved their skill on the tough rallies. They followed up their Gold Medal wins on LeJog with a fine unofficial fourth overall and second in class. They absolutely had a ball and were raving about the rally at the finish, which as Ian Canavan said, “it is such a brilliant event, I can’t understand how only 34 cars entered!”
A skilful performance from another BMW crew, this time the 320/4 of Germans Thomas Koerner and Udo Schauss, they were as entertaining as ever on the tests but absolutely flamboyant in the snow, they loved the conditions and it showed! Thomas and Udo were sixth on the leaderboard and second in class.
There were also stoic performances from newbies on this red event. One crew in a car that defied not just the laws of gravity but was the total antithesis of a what a rally car should be. The 1968 Rolls Royce Shadow of Nigel Keen and Bruce Norris squeezed it’s wide haunches between the narrowest of village streets, lurched and wafted its way into six point turns around the hairiest of fresh air hairpins, as the mature rally virgins were determined to make the finish and then take their rally car to the ‘Viking Funeral’ they promised the Roller.
Deservedly, Nigel and Bruce, college chums together from many years ago, were awarded the ‘Against the Odds Award’ at the glittering Monte Carlo Prize Giving Awards, an evening that was enjoyed by all. The other notable award outside the class and podium sitters prizes was for the ‘Spirit of the Rally Award’ which went to the MGB crew of Luciana and Graham Bryce.
The final day was not without its ‘heart in the mouth’ moments for crews hoping to maintain their hard-earned class and podium positions as they have very nearly arrived at the first regularity in the hills way above Menton and Monaco. The council road works team had decided to close the road section to lay new concrete just before 30 rally cars arrived. It was literally like watching paint dry as teams waited, except it was concrete!
To complete their works on schedule, more road technicians with diggers decided to make holes in the already thin strip of sinuous lane winding around the hills that was called Peille for regularity one. There were some vans, a lady on a horse totally oblivious to any rally traffic as she rode and laughed at messages on her phone, and some exceedingly tight hairpins, ruts and bumps. This was just the sort of heart stopper needed to remind the competitors that ‘it aint over yet!’
With regularity two of the day blocked, it was into the break at the centre of L’Escarene to the L’Union Café, whose boss was a rally lover, looking on adoringly as the cars parked in the square and the sun shone. The Adrenaline of the first hour was forgotten as people just enjoyed the moment and got excited about the Col de Turini to follow. There was nothing but praise for the rally which seemed to have everything, from Winter conditions to amazing roads and brilliant company.
Car 4, Driver; Kevin Haselden
“Ryan has done a brilliant job, we’ve done it, we are on top of the Turini and we have done it in a Mini, I was going to say 1964 for Paddy and all that stuff. I’m ecstatic, the Mini was special in the snow though.”
Car 4, Navigator; Ryan Pickering
“It was great teamwork, we did it, but look where we are, up here by the famous Three Valleys Hotel on the Col de Turini, there is great rally history here, winning in a Mini Cooper S for example, and the best is there are no French scrutineers to kick us out! We are both very happy.”
Car 6, Driver; Klaus Mueller
“Im really happy. I didn’t expect that at the end we would be here-and we had a really crazy rally and and even this last regularity, it was like a hillclimb racing against time, it put this kind of smile in your face, it was fantastic of course.
We would like the win, to take it home, but that would not have been possible with some gap which was too big to Kevin and Ryan but the end podium result was great.”
Car 6, Navigator; Rolf Pellini
“It’s wrong to say I’m happy I am more than that I am speechless, so if I’m speechless I must find some words!
“It was difficult in the Navigators seat. at least it was one HERO method. That was good but European and British rallying are very different, the UK regularity is difficult still, it’s a challenge for us Europeans but we’re looking forward for the next one in one month, the three legs”
Car 8, Driver; Dave Maryon
Amazing, I am very happy and of course a word in memory of Bob Rutherford, as this is for Bob. I spent a lot of time here with him. A fantastic job by Andy of course, because I couldn’t find my own way out of a paper bag, but he is so good he found all the routes. I loved the snow that the roads through the vineyards. Just very, very happy.”
Car 8, Navigator; Andy Ballantyne
“I might miss one or two slots but that’s mainly down to things like tiredness and just the fact that the event is so relentless, but I think as Dave said, this one is for Bob. You know, it’s amazing to think it wasn’t that many years ago we were stood up here with him and this is really his event, just his place. We had that in the back of our minds as we were on our way to the podium.
“Now with the Bob Rutherford scholarship of the young navigators, which is open now, it’s got to be a case of we have to try and get more new navigators on board. The younger the better really, that’s when it’s the best time to learn, that’s what Bob would have wanted. Absolutely.”
Car 27, Driver; Paul Bloxidge
“We know what we did, and everyone can look and see what we did, but Kevin is one thing, he and Ryan together were brilliant they deserve it. We put him them on our tip list and we picked them for this event, absolutely fantastic.”
Car 27, Navigator; Ian Canavan
“Why is this it that we only have 30 or so cars on this incredible event -I have no idea. This is this is the type of rally that we want everyone to do. To finish here and to go through this rally experience, it’s just a bit emotional. They were such perfect conditions as well. We’ve had everything, we’ve had some snow and ice. We’ve had dry roads, everything, it has been just brilliant.”
“You know, everyone makes errors. We all make errors but it’s how you recover from the errors that gets you towards the top of the table. And we’ve had a great week, this man beside me didn’t make one mistake!”
“But hasn’t it been great? I don’t know which road you came over to get here but we went over the roads leading up to Turini, we wanted to see all the the track marks of the WRC cars. And that’s all part of the emotion isn’t it, you are following in the footsteps of the greats.”
Car 10, Driver; Richard Prosser
We are very pleased with that. Very pleased. I’m probably not going to do it again if they hold it again, but it’s been a cracking event. We’ve haven’t had as much snow as perhaps we wanted, but we’ve been driving a car that is a handful. But anyway, we’ve got it. We’ve done really well. Great fun, good route. Particularly the marshals, we can’t thank them enough.”
Car 18, Nigel Keen and Bruce Norris
Nigel, “Well, I think it’s very good, but the car is huge although it has very sensitive car steering. So going on the hairpins is actually not a problem. You have to be accurate if you want to get into my garage at home every day, that is much more difficult than anything as it is just an inch wider than the car. The Rolls was happy over the bumps too.
Bruce, well, he is the bravest man in the world because he’s just sat in that car for the last 20 mins up the Turini taking a white-knuckle ride.”
“Navigation is really good because I understand maps and so on. But It’s very different walking in the Brecon Beacons with a map and a compass to sitting next to him going around hairpin bends, trying to read a one in 25,000 map.
“But it has been a great experience. I would like to say that on one of the night rallies sessions, think I was very close to the edge,”
Car 30, Driver; Angus McQueen
“It’s been a fantastic, fantastic rally.
“This week we’ve been having a lovely tussle with the German crew of Thomas and Udo, then we’ve got Klaus and Rolf. I think that in front of us or behind us, we’ve been going zigzag zigzag for the whole week, everywhere up and down the leaderboard as well. It’s been amazing.”
Car 30, Navigator; Mike Cochrane
“It started off quite an easy, then I was making really stupid mistakes. And I thought it’s not really that difficult, but it’s become a real eye opener, it’s been fantastic. Great map reading great regs. You know, it’s been really full on a real drivers and navigators rally, I really loved every minute of it.”
“We had a quick rack put on the car, you’d never do these happens without it, it’s absolutely fantastic. So, loving it, and we enjoyed a bit of snow. Coming down the ski slope two days ago was absolutely brilliant. Real Top Gear stuff”
Clerk of the Course, Will Rutherford
“Here we are in the cold but bright finish of the rally on the Turini. Three years of hard work due to COVID, and this all comes together this week really nicely with the right mix of snow, ice, and a real challenge. There were difficult conditions with the maps for navigators, good roads for drivers, so we are pleased.
Great reaction from the crews so far. everyone seems to be very positive and there is sunshine and that always helps. And maybe, maybe as an organiser, the challenge aspect for us is making things work, thinking on your feet on the fly and just using the maps you know to get the best result for the competitors.
“The highlight for me? The snow on leg two. I think it really made the event. Hopefully the next one will be in 2025!”
Guy Woodcock, Competition Director, HERO-ERA
“It’s been an absolutely marvellous event exactly the sort of challenge we wanted. Some great driving roads, some great weather, both good weather and snow, which is what the winter challenge is all about. Yeah, a few challenges today, there were some roadworks, which put us all a bit on the back-foot but we’re all here and everybody just enjoyed that thrash up the Col de Turini, that’s really great to finish at the top of the col, plus a great reaction from the crews. Everybody’s loved it. However, it’s down to Will, many have come across and said well done, how the route has been great, but it’s all down to Will and his efforts putting it all together. You have to remember three years ago; this was started by him and Bob.
“And in Bob Rutherford’s memory, a lot of people have remembered him this week, but now we have a scholarship of course, in his memory. That’s the next step, now we can push on with that you know, let’s get some more young people into this wonderful scholarship we have put together.”
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases