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HERO Challenge – An Event for All Comers Delights in Oxfordshire

 

04 Oct 2019

While then sun set on scrutineering Friday evening the crews both novice and experienced armed with their road books and maps set about the day ahead of them, some tackling the first regularity stages while others headed back to their lodgings huddled round a table for the evening to work out their plan of attack the following morning.

Words and Pictures by Lyndon McNeil

Bicester Heritage Provides the Base for Early Autumn Event

While then sun set on scrutineering Friday evening the crews both novice and experienced armed with their road books and maps set about the day ahead of them, some tackling the first regularity stages while others headed back to their lodgings huddled round a table for the evening to work out their plan of attack the following morning. 

Saturday morning arrives, while overcast and a chill in the air, the teams gathered at Bicester Heritage for the first of four tests and a further 138 miles around the Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire countryside ahead of them. 

Final preparations took place, cleaning of windscreens, last minute checks to make sure that the cars and navigators were ready for the 8am flag drop. Ed Abbott with Paul Bosdet, were keen to get started in their Jaguar XJ-S having spent the last 18 months converting it from automatic to manual, making it easier to get traction, especially for the gravel tests later in the day at Bill Gywnne Rally School. Despite competing for the last three years in HERO events Ed still feels new to the game. 

“They’ve made me a Master but I’m still learning” he said “It was way back in the 80’s when I was really competitive in rallying.” 

With over 100 entrants, Nick Van Praag and Pieterjan De Mulder in their Austin A35 were the first to be waved of the line, tackling Blenheim, Vickers, Hawker and the Halifax test around the disused perimeter roads of the former World War Two airfield. 

As the final teams were crossing the starting line, the front runners were following their Tulip route book, winding their way through the villages of Bainton and Hethe on the first regularity test with two time points to hit. 

The start of Juniper Hill regularity test saw the teams travelling 14 miles into Evenley, on to Westbury before turning into Turweston Aerodrome where tess five and six were conducted on the gravel surfaces at the Bill Gwynne Rally School. 

Brothers, Anthony and Peter Thompson, the latter travelling all the way from Scotland, were looking forward to the challenge of these tests despite the turning circle and lack of agility in their four and a half litre 1934 Lagonda 3 4/5, which Anthony has owned for the last 4 years, after buying it back when he realised his mistake in selling it. This was only their second event with HERO, their first being The Flying Scotsman earlier in the year. Later in the day Anthony was praising his brother for his timing on the regularity test, especially as he wasn’t even using a stopwatch! 

Following on from the two tests at Bill Gwynnes it was a dash to Boycotte Farm where it was a chance to for the teams to stretch their legs, get themselves a cuppa, a slice of cake and take stock of the previous two hours. For the likes of James and Anna Fettiplace, it was good timing for the mechanical assistance team to have a look at their MG Midget and get them back on their way. 

From Boycotte Farm it was the start of the third regularity test, coving just over 20 miles through Buckinghamshire into Northamptonshire, where the teams had five time points to make taking in the villages of Leckhampstead, Thorton and ending in Potterspury. 

There was a chance for a quick fill up of fuel 65 miles into the rally at Roade before starting regularity test four, Bugbrooke. Another 20 mile test with six time points to master. This was the stage when the sunshine disappeared and the rainclouds gathered culminating in a short sharp but heavy downpour between Bugbrooke and Greens Norton, adding more of a challenge to the open topped teams. Ending in Syresham it was onto The Green Man just outside the village of Silverstone where this time it was time for the teams to sit down, take a breather grab some lunch and if needed, check that everything was still running smoothly with their cars such as Richard Lambert and Ian Brown in the Volvo 122S Amazon. This was their first ever event and were petrified before the start of the rally. They completed the HERO Training Academy only the day before.

“Thankfully we haven’t had to use a lot of the information we have been taught on the course because it feels like you have to be somebody from Mastermind to work through all the timings and routes.” Ian continued “We’ve managed to catch a couple of the controlled points and haven’t had to guess too much. We’re just learning the ropes and 61 out of 140 I think!”

For some it was chance to reclaim the front valance of their MGB and pop it in their boot for the rest of the journey, while others, like Andy Pullan, studied the maps and road book for the sixty miles of the challenge. 

Lunch over and stomachs lined with food it was back to the Bill Gwynne Rally School and tests seven and eight, which were a repeat of five and six. 

After a quick un-timed section it was the start of regularity test number five, Poodle Gors. An average speed test over twelve and a half miles back into Buckinghamshire taking in four time points ending in the village of Poundon. 

It was then off through the villages of Twyford, Marsh Gibbon and heading back to the outskirts of Bicester where the start of the sixth and final regularity test, Muswell Hill took place. This was another average speed test against the clock, over 14 and a half miles and four time points to make before crossing the now disused Bicester Military Railway in Upper Arncott. Upper Arncott lead into Lower Arncott where the teams were greeted with the sight of the The Tally Ho Hotel, the chequered flag and a round of applause from all involved. 

With some teams on their first ever event, Richard Lambert and Ian Brown, using this as a small taste of things to come for  Le Jog, or others, like Rod Hanson and Claire Grove in their Ford Escort fresh from a class win and seventh overall on the Icelandic Saga The Hero Challenge has truly been an event for all.

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