On the 4th of July, when the starters flag drops and the first car crosses the threshold of the Classic Marathon start line, it will be the first time in 483 days that wheels have turned in anger on an international HERO-ERA rally. 483 days since the end of the New Zealand Classic, when we last rallied somewhere other than the British mainland. On the 4th of July across the Atlantic, our American friends will be celebrating their Independence Day. On the 4th of July in Spain, we won’t quite be achieving independence, but I offer up that as cars travel under the starters arch, we will be taking some giant leaps in the right direction.
As that flag drops, the rally community will be remembering a dear and wonderful friend in Bob Rutherford who tragically died whilst on the final recce for this very event of which he was such a big part. Whilst he was an organiser, navigator and major rally man, he loved the Marathons. It is with sadness but tinged with joy too, that the family have urged HERO-ERA to ensure the event goes ahead as they said that is what he would have wanted. It will be a tribute to Bob and his work, but also as they are sure he would have wanted, everyone should have fun and enjoy a fabulous event, as Bob, no doubt, would have done and entertained us along the way.
Now, one shouldn’t get too grandiose about the significance of us having the freedom to rally across borders again, there are, of course, far bigger things happening in the world. But in amongst our community, it is significant, and it is a step to recapturing a freedom that we haven’t experienced in a very long time. This only serves to add some extra spice and excitement to what is already destined to be a superb week of rallying action in Iberia.
The Classic Marathon is arguably the one that started it all, way back in 1988. Over the years the event has changed, but it still holds true to its principles with endurance at its core and with 2000 km’s being clocked across 6 days, crews will no doubt be hoping that their machines haven’t developed any unexpected gremlins in what may have been an extended period of dormancy.
The field, although compact what with the pandemic still affecting international travel, is a competitive one. First away will be the last Classic Marathon winner, Paul Crosby, with his long-standing navigator Andy Pullan, and they will no doubt be pushed hard by the chasing pack which is made up of HERO Cup winners, Golden Roamer champions and many that have lifted trophies on everything from one day events through to the longest and toughest endurance rallies. This is a group of competitors full of people that want to win, a field full of participants that are as competitive as they come and will all no doubt be yearning to do well after so much time away.
The competition will play out across the quiet roads of northern Spain and Portugal, heading up into the mountainous regions, through national parks and along the rugged coastlines. The route will be reminiscent of the historic Alpine rallies as well as treading the same boards as the WRC across many of Rally Portugal’s finest stage settings. Whilst the backdrops will be stunning, the drivers and certainly the navigators will likely have little time to take in the vistas, as eyes will very much be on the job at hand, as they anxiously attempt to incur as few penalties as possible, although the accumulation of these will be inevitable.
At the end of it all though, once all of the sorting out has been done, the crew with the least of these will be crowned winners of the 2021 Classic Marathon. They will be winners of an event that is so much more than that though. Whilst the original Marathon was the pioneer of the classic rallying scene, this edition will be remembered as the pioneer event as competitors sought to find a way back to international competition in a world ravaged by Covid.
For those working behind the scenes it will be remembered as the event that was the culmination of 18 months of setbacks, cancellations, postponements, and sheer bloody determination to getting events run. It will also be an event that many will no doubt dedicate to the memory of Bob Rutherford, a man forever in our hearts. So, mark up your maps and start up your engines, international rallying is back, and it is back with a classic, the Classic Marathon 2021.