The focus of the awards is always the winners of the HERO Cup for the best overall driver and Golden Roamer Award for the best overall navigator, fought over the eligible HERO events across the season and always hotly contested. This year the HERO Cup went to Stephen Owens, finally winning the trophy after finishing runner up no less than five times, and certainly judging by the response in the room, the people’s champion. Speaking of his success Stephen thanked those that had navigated for him across the season, including Pete Johnson and Ian Canavan, and regular partner Nick Bloxham. In a wonderfully delivered acceptance speech he had this to say “It’s just wonderful, it’s been a long time coming and I can only thank a lot of people. It is a privilege to stand here amongst a wonderful sporting fraternity here at the Royal Automobile Club”.
The Golden Roamer was awarded to Peter Johnson, another popular winner, the perennial top navigator, also known for his prowess behind the wheel, having been involved in the sport for a number of years and often seen navigating for Noel Kelly in Noel’s familiar red Volvo. Winning HERO Challenge One in 1936 Riley Sprite with John Lomas, Pete had been successful across a number of competitions this season past, including navigating for Stephen Owens on the London to Lisbon, where they were first in class, and upon accepting his award he commented “It was very close with Henry, [Carr] and with dropped scores taken into account he was ahead going into LeJog, where we had problems with the car”. Looking back on the year Pete also joked that the highlight of the year “was getting to St. Andrews without dying of Hypothermia on the Flying Scotsman”, after sitting alongside John Lomas again in the open top Riley Sprite.
HERO-ERA’s annual award ceremony took place within the historic walls of the Royal Automobile Club, Pall Mall, on Friday evening (27th Jan) to celebrate the success of their competitors in 2022. The organisation’s awards returned to the celebrated and much missed venue after a three -year enforced hiatus. As well as looking back on a fabulous 2022 there was also the opportunity to look ahead, not just to 2023 but to many years after as well.
HERO-ERA Chairman Tomas De Vargas Machuca’s speech highlighted the recently announced three- year calendar, highlighting such events as the Pearl of India (2025) and the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, that will run in 2024 and 2025. Tomas pointed out that since 2020, the 30 events and 24 thousand miles travelled, all the support and competition vehicles and the companies’ Bicester HQ emissions and business travel, was all offset to make the company totally carbon neutral.
At the same time the Bob Rutherford Historic Rally Scholarship for Young Navigators was launched to help young navigators with their futures in the sport, whilst a fun photo quiz raised funds for young apprentices via Startermotor and Heritage Skills Academy, which takes their total raised for charity since the audience were last together in 2020 to £60,000. The quiz raised a further £4,225.
The top awards are of course always the most coveted, but it is just as important to encourage those with less experience and to that end the HERO Challenge Championship was set up as a mini championship, for those involved in the one-day HERO Challenge events. These less demanding, but no less enjoyable rallies are contested only by those that have not yet attained Masters status, and since the formats conception have provided close and exciting competition. The 2022 championship was no exception, with 2021 Champions Alastair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite both retaining their crowns, despite car failures and a poor start to the final round threatening to derail their bid. Narrowly missing out where Tim and Mel Green, who were overall winners in the final Challenge and finished runners up in the championship. Of their repeat success, Alastair said “It’s great to be here, three years ago when we were at Race Retro starting out, if you had said we would be winning the Challenge Championship I’d have said you were mad, we’re absolutely thrilled.”.
It wasn’t just success in the main HERO categories that was celebrated either, with 2022 seeing a return to the longer endurance ERA style events, with no less than three long distance endurance rallies taking place in three different continents. These rallies were of course pioneered by the late great Philip Young, and so it is only fitting that the award for the best performance across these rallies should carry his name, and so it was that Manuel Dubs was announced as the winner of the Philip Young ERA Award for Best Performance 2022, after completing the Lima Cape Horn rally solo, after his navigator was unable to attend, unofficially finishing the event fifth, despite having to drive and navigate.
As an organisation that protects the past, HERO-ERA also looks to the future, and celebrates youth involvement within the sport, so the Youngest Podium Winner 2022 was presented to Georgia Cleyndert, who navigating alongside Father Bill, won the Sahara Challenge, her first ever rally. Georgia will be in action again on the upcoming Flying Scotsman in April.
Further to the celebration of youth, there was also a special announcement at the commencement of the awards, revealing the introduction of the Bob Rutherford Scholarship for Young Navigators, a scheme that has been launched to propel young navigating talent to the forefront of the sport through a generous support package. The scholarship has the full endorsement of the sport’s governing body Motorsport UK, which includes the winner to be included in selected Motor Sport UK Academy courses. More details can be found on the HERO-ERA website.
There was also recognition of the involvement of rally medics Dr Isobel Morely and Paramedic David Swart, who had saved the life of a young boy during the Sahara Rally and a special award for Chief Mechanic Tony Jones for his services to the sport.
With a celebration of current champions and a firm nod to the future of the sport, HERO-ERA look forward to 2023 and beyond.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases