I once heard somebody describe LeJog as a welcome virus, and I suppose that there is some truth in that analogy. It hits every year in the winter, causes symptoms for about 72 hours and is best remedied by sweating it out and then plenty of rest, oh so much rest. Of course, to get to that point requires an incredible feat of endurance, that might well be unrivalled in the realm of classic motorsport. It is also, judging by the number of those that return each year, highly addictive and is therefore something that whilst it can be treated, can perhaps never truly be removed from your system.
It is about this time each year that thoughts become firmly fixed on the upcoming LeJog and, after an enforced exile thanks to Covid, is now looming large on the horizon again. This year the route delves further west into Wales and the Scottish leg will deliver a beastie in the east, although to complete the colloquialism there will be nothing ‘wee’ about it, and for those that make it that far another Loch Ness Monster style regularity that will firmly throw the neeps amongst the tatties.
There will be many miles and hours covered before that though, and with a field of 70 due to take the start at Land’s End, driving everything from Bentleys to Citroens, it is anyone’s guess who might make it to the finish and celebrate their achievement with their peers under a blanket of bagpipe lead festivities.
Those taking the start include Bill Cleyndert, who after the disappointment of retirement in 2019 will be hoping for success this time. In the maps seat for Bill is Emily Anderson, this being Emily’s second LeJog after navigating for Father Stuart in 2019, as an 11th hour stand in. Despite the odds being against a new fish doing well on this event, Emily claimed a coveted gold medal. This time it will surely feel like a walk in the park in the relative comfort of the Cleyndert Austin 1800, in comparison to the Anderson open Bentley!
Elsewhere Rob and John Kiff are paired together, the Kiff name synonymous with LeJog, and after preparing the route for the 2019 rally, John will hope that his experience on both sides of the fence will serve him and Rob well. These two crews are but the tip of the iceberg of hopefuls that will assemble on the edge of the Atlantic in Cornwall at the start of December. That is one of the incredible things about LeJog, there are individual stories scattered through the entire field. Lifelong friends, spouses, parents and offspring and siblings all pit themselves, and their relationships, against the beast and hope to come out on top, it is one of the ingredients that makes this rally so very special.
Another element adding extra spice to the competition, as if the cocktail wasn’t potent enough, is that this is the last opportunity for those at the sharp end of the HERO Cup and Golden Roamer competitions to amass points to win the crown of best driver and navigator across the 2021 season. The current leader of the Cup, Paul Bloxidge, is an absentee from the LeJog entry list, although he will be out marshalling. Indeed, the only driver in the top three is the ever popular Stephen Owens, who will be hoping to keep his nose clean and ward off any assault made by others in the great motoring trial, although with his closest challenger being former winner Jayne Wignall, his work will be cut out. Top of the Maps is currently 2018 winner Ian Canavan, a safe pair of hands if ever there was one, but separated from long time competitive partner Paul Bloxidge, his driver Richard Isherwood may just feel an ounce of extra pressure.
On top of all of this is the international element that is so prevalent on this rally. There are over 60 competitors making the journey from overseas to pit themselves against this endurance madness, at the beginning of a month, that sees those who make more conventional life choices thinking about the upcoming Christmas festivities, rather than a 1500-mile escapade on the cold, dark backroads of Britain. LeJog is not what Chris Rea had in mind when he penned his perennial Christmas hit, indeed it is another of his top ten records that has more in common with this little adventure, but still the black magic of LeJog continues to pull entrants from far and wide under its spell.
This year perhaps more than all others, it will feel fresher and more exciting than ever, and after an enforced absence all will be itching to get going. The team behind the scenes are working away to ensure that it finishes the season off in style and Competition Director Guy Woodcock had only this to say, “It’s going to be extremely hard. Get on with it but enjoy it.” A sentiment as simple as the ethos behind LeJog itself, an event with difficulty that is eclipsed by no other, but one where the satisfaction of finishing is so complete, even the Rolling Stones might call it a day.