After a tense and thrilling finale of the HERO Challenge trilogy, Alistair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite hauled themselves back up the leader board after a difficult morning to take their third runner up podium in their SAAB 900 Turbo and snatch both titles away from the disappointed series leaders Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane. Whilst Angus none started due to recovery from an eye operation, Mike Cochrane joined forces with Alan Pettit who provided his Volvo PV544 to act as the navigator’s championship platform for the points leader, only for Mike’s title hopes to lie in bits at the side of the road as the Volvo expired on only the second test of the day at Bicester Heritage.
Competitors were flowing in their praise for the 140 mile route comprising 12 tests and eight regularities taking the 72 cars around the Cotswolds from Bicester, finishing near Banbury. Devised by HERO-ERA Event Manager and Clerk of the Course Seren Whyte, winner Paul Bloxidge spoke for all the crews at prize giving when he thanked her and the entire HERO-ERA team for a great event.
Seren in turn heralded Paul’s grandson Oli who navigated him to victory in their Golf GTi. “He is the youngest ever HERO-ERA winner” (aged 15) exclaimed the Clerk of the Course. Add to that, Natasha Lomas, at just 13 navigated her father John to second in class in their 1936 Riley Sprite, Natasha’s face a picture as she beamed holding her trophy after fulfilling her wish to compete on a HERO Challenge event.
Simon Ayris and Kim Bannister were mighty as they pushed the title winners hard in their MGB, the championship outsiders enjoying a great run to a superb third place overall with Kim winning the prestigious Clockwatchers Award for Best Performance on Regularities.
Fourth place overall and class winners Damon Green and Sean McGuire deserved their accolades after such a spirited performance, particularly on the very popular Shenington Kart Track where the crew were simply throwing the massive Swedish brick around the little track which was entirely unsuitable for such a large car!
As a back drop to the HERO Challenge Championship fight, Jon Armstrong and Phil Hall were making their regularity classic rally debuts. Ironically, in just over two weeks they travel to Spain to conduct their own Junior World Rally Championship title battle, but as prelude they managed to scoop top awards on HERO Challenge Three by winning both the TEST Pilot Award for Best Performance on the Tests and Newcomer Awards for both driver and navigator.
They loved their car for the day, the Arrive and Drive Mini Cooper S which they were both asked to treat with care, but were duly fast yet smooth as they even beat the bogie time on Test 10 and then smashed the opposition again on the next!
Bike racer Mike Farrell made a great return to four wheels after successfully sharing his bike with TT ladies lap record holder Jenny Tidmouth at the Goodwood Revival last week. Mike, with navigator Zach Burns, won the pre 1955 class in their wonderful 1936 Jaguar Tourer.
In a very successful return to the sport, Tim Sawyer, who has made an amazing recovery from a serious condition and major operation, drove his Escort with verve to fifth place overall and a win in Class 4. Alongside him was Mr ‘Tea Cosy’ hat himself, and much missed navigator Nick Cooper who is now hopefully back on the regularity rally scene.
Curtis Jacoby remarked after the rally that he felt he and navigator Graham Tuer were improving and had gone well on the event. Yes they had, 10th overall and second in class, they were flying around the loose, dusty yet fast perimeter tracks of the Bicester Heritage Aerodrome in the unlikely, long yet somehow graceful Jaguar XJS.
HERO Challenge Champions in only their first year of regularity rallying, Champion Navigator and Driver, Matt Outhwaite and Alistair Leckie sum up their successes;
Matt; “It’s fantastic, we’ve had a brilliant year, I’d have loved Mike to have been in the challenge all the way to the end but we have thoroughly enjoyed it with good consistent results – second every time – we will take a victory one day! We can’t believe it really, we are thrilled. We really had no idea when we started out, if we’d been competing for class wins we would have been chuffed, but to be competing for overall wins is fantastic!”
Alistair; “We are gutted Angus couldn’t be here today, but we have had some great experiences with HERO-ERA this year. We will probably do some of the more difficult events with HERO next year as well and we are out marshalling on the RAC Rally of the Tests and Le Jog too!
Oli Waldock, ‘Youngest Ever’ HERO-ERA winner; Oli. “I’m losing track of all these youngest things! I am over the moon, really, really happy. Forget the youngest thing, it’s the Masters next year, that will be a challenge wont it? At one point we thought we’d lost it, stuck behind a horse box so it was just great to come through it and win.”
Paul Bloxidge who won the Scottish Malts Rally with regular navigator Ian Canavan just last week, Paul; “ I am really proud of Oli, he worked very hard for it, he did lots of preparation work last night and didn’t miss a call all day long today. In fact I think Ian Canavan is slightly worried that he might be ejected from his seat!”
Junior World Rally Championship title contenders Jon Armstrong and Phil Hall on their HERO-ERA Classic rallying debuts in the Arrive Drive Mini Cooper S.
Jon; “It was amazing, such a big challenge, I really enjoyed it, I thought it was a great learning curve for us in trying a different discipline of the sport. It was probably more difficult from what either of us expected. I personally enjoyed driving the tests, pushing the Mini to it’s limits, maybe over it sometimes! We got better as the day went on with the regularities, we’ll get even better if we can come back! There were some amazing cars out there but none as nice as our Mini Cooper S!”
Jon on the Junior World Rally Championship fight in Spain this October; “I think basically we are going to treat it just like any other rally. We have had a really good approach this year, every rally we have been to we have worked really hard on the recce and just carried that through the entire rally, not leaving any stone unturned. In the end it’s paid off, the performance has been strong in every rally, Spain should be no different. We don’t want to get caught up in the hype of it being a championship battle as that can be quite daunting. We will go there doing the best we can and hopefully that’s enough.”
Phil; “I always knew the regularity rally navigators were good, but having experienced it today I am even more impressed. I felt like we were getting into a groove towards the end of the day, but I have really enjoyed it. Can we say we had a few expected errors at the start as we were new to this? I made a couple of fluffs, but we soon sorted it out and got back on track again. I am happy with it and I think we learned a lot. There is a huge difference between the JWRC and regularity rallying, firstly in the techniques we are using, but in terms of the camaraderie and the friendliness of the people, it has been brilliant. We have been welcomed with open arms by everybody.
“Hopefully we will be invited back for more!”