Motorsport is part of the way of life on the Isle of Man, you can’t go too far in any direction on the island without coming across some reminder of its petrol-soaked history, whether it be the famous mountain course landmarks, or the umpteen museums dedicated to this motoring mecca.
Next year is a milestone for one form of motorsport that is popular on the island, sorry, The Island. 2023 will see the 60th anniversary of the Manx Trophy Rally, which has continued in many guises and names over the last 60 years. It was the event that kick started the sport of closed road rallying on the island. Next year also happens to see the return of HERO-ERA to the Isle of Man, with the ever popular Three Legs of Mann back on the calendar after a four-year gap.
The Three Legs hasn’t quite got the longevity of the Manx just yet, with the first version of that being run in 2010 under the CRA banner, but with the rest of the island marking the Diamond Jubilee, it seemed only fitting that HERO-ERA paid its own tribute to a rally that over the years has had some of the fastest stages in Europe.
It wasn’t always like that though, and the inaugural rally would be run as a restricted event, essentially a navigational rally limited at 30 mph, albeit on closed roads. The rally ran under the banner of the Manx Automobile Club, which wasn’t quite all it seemed, and the event was the brainchild of and organised by John Hopwood, Roy Fiddler, and members of Ecurie Cod Fillet, who saw the narrow Manx lanes as an opportunity. This was certainly helped by Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, having the power to close roads for motorsport – as it had done for half a century for both two and four wheeled competitions.
During this first year there would be no flat-out special stages, but it would count towards the Motoring News Rally Championship, with liberal sponsorship from the Daily Mail and the Manx Tourist board ensuring that the sport’s best would turn out for this brand-new event. The rally would be run over three days, from the 24th to the 26th of May and comprise of a tough 120-mile night section on the Friday, followed by 40 miles of timed sections on the Saturday and then driving tests on the Douglas prom on Sunday.
Navigators were handed the full route on the Friday after scrutineering, with a few hours to plot maps, on the brand new 87 that OS had produced for the occasion. This would give a much needed helping hand to the 50 cars and crew that had travelled over from the mainland, as the locals knew the constricted lanes of the island with much more intimacy than perhaps Vic Elford, who was fortunate in a way that his navigator Mike Butler had not made it across the Irish Sea. Vic may have seen the good fortune in being assigned a local to replace him, but sadly for Vic, he would never find out. He retired with a broken diff through the rough roads of the Curraghs during the night sections.
The roads continued to be rough, and the pace was fierce, despite it being speed controlled. The locals treated it like one big special stage, and the tourists put on a good show as well, with Reg McBride coming around the famous Creg-ny-Baa sideways to the delight of the many spectators that had lined the road at the popular TT vantage point.
At the end of if all it would be the oft sideways Allardette of McBride and Don Barrow that would win the maiden Manx and begin the legacy of rallying competition on the island. The following year the Manx would become a special stage event, with John Brown as Clerk of the Course and the rest is history, but a history that will be honoured with next year’s celebrations.
HERO-ERA’s own take on Manx rallying, the Three Legs of Mann, is already an event that runs close to the ideals of that first Manx meeting, albeit condensed into two days of running, across three legs including the tough night sections. The organisation may not be gifted the privilege of closed roads, but with little traffic on the island once away from the populous of Douglas, it does sometimes feel like you have the place to yourself.
In a tip of the cap to the Manx, and in honour of its diamond celebration, the 2023 Three Legs will run as closely to the original route of that first event as is possible. Sadly, some of the roads don’t exist anymore, covered by Mananan’s cloak, their whereabouts known only by the fairies, but you can rest assured that any replacement bits of tarmac will stay true to the original ideals.
There will still be plenty of place markers that point to the route those pioneering competitors took, including the Curraghs, Tholt-y-Will, Injebreck and Druidale, as well as plenty of forays onto the famous mountain course. There may even be an Allardette in the mix, stranger things have happened. To find out though, you will need to enter, and there isn’t long left, March will soon be on us and the Three Legs of Mann, and Manx road rallying, will roar into life once more.
HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock, a regular himself on Manx Rallies, has worked hard with clubs and authorities to put on this special event. He explained why he is looking forward to it so much;
“The Island has a close affinity with me as I first competed on the Manx National in the 80’s having been over to watch the international event on many occasions. I have returned virtually every year since that in some capacity from competitor in both seats, and then as an organiser with John Skinner in the 2000’s of the Manx National Rally, before finishing 2nd and then 1st on the 2011 and 2012 Three Legs of Mann events. It was only natural with my knowledge and contacts on the island that I took on the running of the events in 2017 and 2019 working with Alan Teare and other local contacts and it’s an honour to run the 2023 event celebrating the 60th anniversary of closed road rallying on the island.”
Go in any pub on the island and it will likely have photographs on the walls of some of the giants that have raced here. Amongst the TT shots you will find pictures of rally cars, some of them dating back 60 years to that epic first event which kick started rallying on the island. Motor sport history, myth and magic are all intertwined on the Isle of Man where even the fairies get in on the act, with Fairy Bridge adorned with various trinkets. It is a reminder of other reasons why people visit this rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, and why some competitors look to visit the bridge to make a wish for good fortune before another challenging 3 Legs of Mann.
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