The 25th Anniversary Le Jog which finished at John O’ Groats today (Tuesday 10th December) had it all. Bad weather, challenging tests, amazing regularities over a variety of terrain, difficult navigation with one of the toughest ‘Time Control’ sections high in the Welsh hills, ever seen on Le Jog. Completed in the early hours of Sunday morning, this was just one part of an event schedule that made sure the organisers were as busy as the competitors.
True to it’s origins from 1993, John Kiff organized a route that was close to the original and tough like it’s predecessor. Peter Rushforth experienced it first hand in the navigators seat of a Triumph TR4, he should be able to make comparisons as he worked on 15 Le Jog’s organized by John Brown; “ But this is my first time as a competitor (aged 80+!) and it’s a lot more fun. The route was almost the same as 25 years ago but I think it was slightly tougher then as you had two nights out of bed, not one!”
With just an average of ten hours sleep over the four days and three nights, the final two legs from Monday to Tuesday morning were as gold medal winning navigator Andy Ballantyne said, ‘relentless.’ Andy; “the first day was tough, the first night was even tougher but the last 24 hours have been relentless, we really were feeling it last night. I think it’s going to take time to sink in and appreciate the enormity of what we have achieved. The car nearly didn’t make it out of Cornwall, but thanks to Stewart’s hard work and with the support of others we got back in the event.”
Many felt the fatigue, including another gold medal winner, Gary Evans navigating Kevin Haselden’s Mini Cooper S to glory, who said, “we were so fatigued in the early hours of Tuesday morning that we weren’t thinking straight and started losing concentration, so we talked to each other and then drove harder which helped”. Both admitted they were highly chuffed at winning golds, in fact they just couldn’t stop smiling and after crossing the finish line, celebrating with a picture of them with their Mini Cooper S in front of the famous John O’ Groats sign with finger posts to most key cities in the world. The fact is that the Mini Cooper S nearly didn’t make it to the finish. Kevin had to hang on to his steering boss after the bolts worked loose on the TC section, then they slid off into the rocks on the famous slimy ford and thought it was all over. Kevin; “ We managed to limp out and sort it out but we were lucky, today we have had a noisy wheel bearing, but finally we did it!”
Paul Dyas was absolutely delighted to win a gold medal and his class with top navigator Martyn Taylor whose gold accompanies his previous gold medal win. Martyn; “Paul listened, he did alright and did as he was told but I don’t want to say how good his driving was as he will get too big headed! Following the duos podium on the recent RAC Rally of the Tests, this joint performance could just have cemented their in car relationship. “We really gelled, we sorted out the regularities and worked well together, it’s just that we made another slow start, once we got going we climbed up the medal table.” Said Paul.
Martyn really enjoyed the challenge of Le Jog and felt the 25th version lived up to it’s reputation. “Take the fourth regularity today, Drumbeg. In it’s character it was a lot like Mull and you really had to press on to make the time.”
Equally impressive was the regularity before it, Inverpolly Lodge. As Andy Ballantynes gold medal winning driver Stewart Christie who upheld Scottish honour with the win in his MGBGT observed; “That was a tough one, really narrow in parts and slippy too.” A description endorsed by Swiss Daniel Sauter in the huge Chevrolet Fangio Coupe. “There was a lot of ice this morning, it was also very narrow for our car so the tail kept sliding, great fun, great event though. Daniel and navigator Severin Senn competed in the Peking Paris earlier this year but have equally enjoyed Le Jog. “ Whether it is the desert or the forest you are generally following narrow tracks, but this event is much tougher for navigation, a real challenge.” Said Severin.
In fact, part of the Inverpolly Lodge road is so narrow in parts that the official 4X4 event vehicles only just squeezed past the rock face on the inside and solid stone wall on the outside.
To further illustrate not only the variety of regularities but also the real challenge they presented, the Glen Lyon regularity was just an ice rink! Later on Monday evening crews visited the mysterious Ardverikie House regularity. A pure forest track running through high pines, ranging from a wide fast road to start then narrowing to a very tight and demanding downhill section. This Trial for the Vintage and Classic cars of Le Jog was worthy of inclusion in the 25th edition. Not everyone knew as they were too busy rallying, but at the end of the downhill section, sitting serenely was Ardverikie House which will be seen as part of the new Bond movie, ‘No Time to Die’. The way some of the rallyists drove, they could have auditioned for parts as stunt drivers and been employed straight away.
The highlight of Leg Four was the visit to tackle to famous old hill climb course, Rest and be Thankful. Competition started there in 1948 on the old road climbing up Glen Croe once the new one was built. The Maserati Club had been there in September with 120 cars, the Bentley Club had also there to celebrate it’s centenary so it was a privilege for HERO to again be allowed to use the course. The view down the valley as the cars clawed their way up the hill was stunning. The Chevy Fangio was impressive as was the Belgian Alfa Romeo of Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde, they won silver medals overall, well deserved.
Rest and be Thankful is well known to rally fans as this is where Ari Vatanen broke the diff on his Escort on the 70’s Burmah Rally. The service crew flagged down a passing 3 Litre Capri as it’s diff fitted the rally Escort BDA, stripped the mans car and gave him a voucher for another part at a dealer. Ari’s car broke that diff two stages later and ended up having breakfast with Rest and Be Thankful photographer Andrew Tomlins in the forest as he waited for the stage closing car!
Late last night teams managed two hours respite before the final 30 hour push through Scotland to John O’Groats, at the Kyle of Lochalsh Hotel. As crews either hunkered down on chairs or floors to grab some rest, the wind outside whistled up to 55mph. With lashing rain and trees bending over with the blast, the scene was set for an uncomfortable final ride in Leg five, especially the open top Vintage Bentley brigade of, Rob Jeurissen and Rob Ellis, Elliott Dale and Charlotte Ryall with Stuart and Emily Anderson, all in Derby Bentleys.
As they mounted up, Elliott explained that he didn’t have goggles. In really bad weather like this; “ I press my nose right up inside the windscreen, of course it gets in the way of the steering wheel but I can see”. Charlotte was geared for the elements but not the laser rain stabbing straight at her. “It was most uncomfortable and painful at times, but we got through it.
Stuart Anderson: “ I have never been buffeted around like that in the Bentley before, It hit every part of you pushing and pummeling you in every direction. It was not pleasant at all”. Stuart’s daughter Emily who filled in as navigator after Richard Lambley became ill in Cornwall at the very last minute, agreed about the sever buffeting as she prepared herself for the onslaught.
It came as a great thrill for the father daughter team as they were confirmed as gold medal winners at the Prize Giving in Wick. Chris Townsend and Mike Parkinson were conspicuous in their red Bentley Mk6 Special, and although very inexperienced making lots of errors, they kept going and reached the finish. Typically Mike had an explanation; “The pair of us can’t walk, can’t see properly but we have really enjoyed this event.”
One of the best and most experienced navigators Paul Bosdet was another very deserving gold medal winner, navigating Richard Boughton in the BMW 2002 Tii. Paul was careful to manage their medal position but also was full of praise for Richard’s driving.; “I wanted to mange the position, which we did. We weren’t chasing milliseconds but rather concentrating on finding the right route.
“The BMW is great, it has space, it’s comfortable and has a great heater! The handling is superb, it really sticks to the road. It’s our first time in the car together but I have to say I am really impressed with Richard’s driving. We are both ecstatic to have won gold medals”.
Eric Michiels and Aswin Pyck were the sixth and final gold medal Le Jog winners in their Porsche 924S. Eric made a brilliant and very funny speech of thanks after explaining that Aswin has a name you will remember, but suggesting that ‘he is not for sale’, he explained that they had won silvers before but to achieve gold meant they had finally achieved their goal.
Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham slipped from gold to silver after a stop astride infringement. Stephen; “We worked well as a team and got a good team result but it was a tough rally, when the fatigue set in the early hours of this morning it was difficult but what a great event. Nick felt he suffered a bit more from the fatigue as he hallucinated once; “ I thought I saw elephants at the side of the road but fortunately they turned out to be rocks.”
Roger and Thomas Bricknell had dropped to the silver category yesterday but maintained their strong position today in their VW Golf GTi. Roger; “ It was really tough in Wales, almost too tough! There were a lot of PC’s which really tax the mind, we just made the one mistake yesterday but that’s how close it is.” Thomas made a lightening F1 style pit stop in the forest yesterday to change a punctured tyre. “Just three minutes it took so we only got a 45 sec penalty!” “If McLaren can do it why can’t we?” Said Roger. Roger will now have to wait for the Final Results of the Golden Roamer Award for navigators for which he is in the running.
Jayne Wignall is also in the running for the HERO Cup. She arrived at the start of this event in second place overall, needing a good result to help elevate her to the title. Jayne and her navigator Kevin Savage scored a couple of excellent maximums on two legs, but had to nurse home their ailing, down on power Alfa Romeo after the exhaust was left hanging off and temporary repairs had to be made. They also will have to wait for the outcome of the championship this coming week.
The Dutch crew of Karel Kolkman and Roeland Heuff were delighted to finish Le Jog in their much loved Citroen DSuper5 which quickly became an event favourite. Two very laid back characters, Karel and Roeland took the event in their stride with a great attitude; ”We finished it for the second time”, said Roeland, “ When you have a great car like this it’s easy, it is so comfortable. The only problem was last night at around 4.00am when we were both so tired. We talked to each other, when it was really bad, or we could take a two minute stop. Karel; “The rally was great, all the right spots, all the beautiful tracks, a big congratulations to your organization.”
Photos by Blue Passion Photo and Will Broadhead