Next weekend 91 hopefuls will begin the HERO-ERA Challenge Two, the ever popular one day rally format that is also part of its own mini HERO Challenge Championship. Whilst Bicester Heritage is serving as a base camp, the start will be from the beating heart of British Motor Sport, Silverstone, where the recent dramatic British Grand Prix was played out as Carlos Sainz won his first ever G.P. driving for Ferrari.
Variety is the spice of life as the event starts in front of the Silverstone Heritage Experience, but it will be new places in familiar territory, which is what competitors can expect from the road books, as well as a few old favourites too.
That could also describe the entry, with plenty of regulars looking to do well, as well as those that are competing in a HERO Challenge for the first time. There are any number that could win, and with the Masters amongst the field segregated into their own category, there is every chance of a new name on the trophy at the end of the day.
One pair that will be desperate to finish top of the pops will be the still relative newcomers Matt Outhwaite and Alistair Leckie in the big Saab. Second on the first Challenge event and last year’s champions, they are still yet to register a win and will be hoping to get that monkey off their back.
HERO Challenge One winner John Lomas has someone different in the navigator seat for this event, with teenage daughter Natasha in for Pete Johnson and once again spending some quality time with Dad after their entry into the 2021 Novice Trial and HERO Challenge Three. The old man will have to be on best behaviour though, as Tasha’s bark is certainly worse than Pete’s bite!
Elsewhere in the running is RPS man Simon Ayris who will be hoping to go one better than the fourth achieved in Mold and Tim and Mel Green will be hoping to convert some of their excellent recent performances into a solid result across the day. The form books point towards a decent result for Nigel and Sally Woof, this time entered in a Triumph TR4. They were unlucky on the London to Lisbon rally after being strong during the early legs until their Alfa Romeo let them down, but they did make it onto the third step of the podium on the recent Summer Trial in the Triumph. A one-day event is a different matter though, and they will need to be performing well out of the blocks if they want to register their first win.
But what can the assembled competitors expect from the day? It’s always a tough ask plotting a route in the Southeast and Midlands which are more densely populated than many of the places HERO-ERA go rallying, but, for every congested piece of highway there is a backwater cut through or a B-road blast, especially so in the counties that have Bicester at their nucleus. To ensure some variety, the route from the centre of British Motor Sport at Silverstone will allow the rally to push a little further north to new playgrounds in Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire. Competitors will have to remember their Stowe maps, although they may not be able to see Woodcote for the trees and they certainly wouldn’t want to end up in Hamilton.
Whilst the route does run across tarmac new, there are nods to previous Bicester events with a good handful of tests on the airfield at the Bicester Heritage site. These are now a staple for the rallies run from the HERO-ERA HQ, always eagerly anticipated by drivers and spectators alike, in fact it just wouldn’t be a Bicester rally without them. After the recent heatwave the ground on the more offroad sections of these will be scorched and dry, perfect for kicking up rooster tails of dust and throwing shapes in the cars. These bits will likely be more Safari Rally than Buckinghamshire regularity, and will no doubt be a highlight once again.
Clerk of the Course Seren Whyte describes the event as a “Classic Hero Challenge. It isn’t a route full of tricks, but it will be an intense day, so focus is essential. There are a pair of tests to begin the day, followed by three quick-fire regularities, all before coffee!” Seren is also excited about some top-notch transit sections that she is sure the crews will really enjoy, and then hints that the afternoon will also test concentration levels, with a flurry of a finish at Bicester Heritage.
But who does she think might triumph on the day? “I couldn’t possibly show favouritism” she tells me, “But it is a very strong entry, with every possibility for anyone who has a strong day to do well.”
So, there we have it, an intense but fun filled day in the best traditions of the HERO Challenge events. Some new roads to explore and some old favourites to get reacquainted with, and every chance for just about anyone to do well. It ought to be a close fight for the win.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases