It’s a rare old thing to arrive at Lands End for the beginning of LeJog and be able to see the sea, in fact I can’t really remember a time when the ancient cliff tops weren’t greeted by a thick fog, and the only hint of the sea below was the sound of the swell crashing into the rocks. But, today with just 24 hours to go until the start of this years Lands End to John ‘O Groats rally the sea was still and the air was clear, the calm before the storm perhaps.
There is probably no perhaps about it, as if there is one thing that is guaranteed to throw hell at the competitors on this rally, it is the weather, so they had better make the most of the sunshine, as it will not last. Metaphorically speaking, rather than meteorologically, the clouds looked to be building already for one or two, before the starters flag had even dropped, although this was more brain fog related to the route plotting, with a fair few questions being posed to poacher turned game-keeper Andy Pullan on the finer points of Jogularity.
No doubt as the event progresses those questions will become more frequent for Pulley, as will demand for the Mechanical Assistance, who so far have not reported any major issues for the starters, with the most engaging bit of work of the day being to balance the carburettors of Andy Lanes BMW 2002, who is back driving again this year with Ian Tullie in the navigator’s chair beside him.
It is Andy’s 12th time competing here, and he is but one of a number of veteran entrants that keep coming back year on year, a group that includes former HERO Cup Champions and LeJog Gold Medal winners. There are also the Kiff’s, Rob and John, in their Beetle that is almost part of the furniture on LeJog, as certainly the two brothers are that have goodness knows how many finishes and medals between them, “there’s at least ten” quipped Rob. But why keep coming back to an event like this, that is acknowledged as one of the toughest in Europe, if not the world? “I wish I knew” is former HERO Cup winner Jayne Wignall’s matter of fact answer to this question. This is her 12th time, or 13th, Jayne can’t quite remember, “we come here to face the elements, and hopefully get a finish” she says. Stephen Owen’s is another familiar face at this event, here again in his 911 with Nick Bloxham navigating, “It’s the fierceness of it” says Stephen, “This hard type of rallying, it’s a real classic and we just love it. We will be back again.”
To already declare your intent to return before the event has even begun tell’s you all you need to know about the addictive nature of LeJog, there is no known cure and as well as the experienced hands there are plenty of newcomers as well, that include current HERO Cup Champions Alastair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite, here to try their hand at an event that will certainly test them. “We just want to finish” says navigator Matt, an honest and humble assessment considering how quickly they have gotten to grips with this sport. “A week ago, the car didn’t even have an engine, it’s been rebuilt and the parts for it are complete unobtanium” driver Alastair tells me, “There’s still a small oil leak from the gearbox, but hopefully it will be ok.”
Another newcomer is Jon McCullough, “It’s my first one, I just want to finish” is his frank assessment, and that view will no doubt be shared not just by those that are first timers, but also those with experience of just what is to come.
Others have arrived from all over the world to compete, such is the lure of this event, including Austrians Herbert and Josef Stranzinger, “It is one of the most famous rallies that you have to do” they tell me. Fellow countryman Simon Scrivener agrees, “I saw a report on the event and thought ‘that’s exactly what I want to do’, long distance in cold weather. I haven’t much experience, let’s hope we make the finish line.”
Tomorrow the rally will begin and so will start five legs of adventure, from the bottom to the top of the UK the hard way. There are no two ways about it, this is one of the toughest endurance challenges there is for the classic motorsport enthusiast and not everyone will make the finish line. For those that do though euphoria awaits, as well as many other emotions and even the sound of the bag pipes playing the cars across the line is sweet melody for tired ears, as it signifies that the job is done. Who will be there remains to be seen, but in the immediacy is the start and leg one, after a nervous night’s sleep, of course.