There aren’t many things to say about LeJog that haven’t been said already, or that people don’t know. It is one of the toughest historic endurance rallies in Europe, if not the world and packs more into the 76 hours that the five legs are run over, than almost any other event I can think of. Imagine if Le Mans were three times the length, or if a Grand Prix lasted for three days, it’s almost incomprehensible, but then to the uninitiated that’s probably what LeJog is; 5 Legs over 76 hours, 1500 miles and all completed in classic cars in the United Kingdom’s bleak midwinter – utterly incomprehensible.
There is more chance of winning the lottery than predicting who will do well on LeJog, such is its nature and reaching the finish is often all the entrants desire, and even those that begin with designs on a coveted gold medal can soon find themselves thinking only of the finish after a few hours enduring LeJog’s ferocious schedule.
A ferocious schedule it is, too. Beginning first thing in the morning on the wind-swept coast at Lands End, legs one and two happen concurrently, and competitors can expect to reach the safety of the hotel somewhere long after 3 am. Just a few hours of sleep are all that can be had before leg three begins and by this time crews will find themselves well north of Cornwall, but still nowhere near Scotland, never-mind John ‘o Groats and this sobering thought can either steel a crew for what is to come or instil terror. The good news is that Leg Three ends in a longer overnight halt, before the terrible twosome, Legs Four and Five, need to be conquered to reach the finish. These are the hardest, and experienced ‘Joggers’ will tell you one must just go with them, ride it out and try and take whatever comes your way in your stride. But as night falls on the afternoon of the fourth leg the darkness can seem particularly impenetrable, knowing that before the sun rises again, we will all have driven through the night on some of Scotland’s smallest roads, but make it through to daylight and with the dawn comes the knowledge that there is but a few hours to go.
This year the route plots a similar path to the 2019 event, but woe betide any team that begins to think they know where they are going as there are still plenty of surprises. There is of course the favourite night section in mid-Wales, where if it is wet the crews will experience an incredible challenge just to see the road ahead, never mind whilst staying on time. It will also navigate National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, such as the Brecon Beacons, Shropshire Hills and the Yorkshire Dales and once in Scotland will track a course past some familiar and some less familiar places, before the finish at the world-famous John ‘O Groats. There won’t be much time looking at the scenery though, particularly as much of it will be passed during the night. No, navigators will be firmly focussed on the maps and the drivers will be transfixed by the road, only sparing concentration to listen to their navigators, and any missed communications could spell disaster.
As well as being the toughest competition of the year, LeJog is also the last rally of the season, and as such has the climax of the HERO Cup and Golden Roamer competitions running as a sub-plot to the main event. This year each is a head-to-head, with drivers Stephen Owens and Noel Kelly in contention for the HERO Cup and navigators Pete Johnson and Henry Carr fighting for the Golden Roamer. Stephen Owens has a healthy lead in the driver’s competition, although as Stephen will tell you after disappointment on LeJog last year, anything can happen on this rally. In the navigator’s competition, Pete Johnson has the interesting dilemma of already having scored the maximum number of times during the year, so will have to drop scores. If all goes well on LeJog then that is no problem, but if he suffers and Henry Carr scores the maximum number of points there is every chance that Henry could overtake the current leader and triumph in the competition.
There are just a few days until the flag drops on this year’s rally, and the team behind the scenes are currently flat out making the final preparations for an event that fits more into a weekend than most fit into a week. But just what can the competitors expect for all this endeavour? Route planner and Deputy Clerk of the Course Nick Reeves had this to say on the upcoming rally, “This year’s rally will start with a bang and crews can expect a good morning of competition straight out of the blocks as we avoid the A30 and explore more of the West Country. Scotland will also be a little bit different, as we head in almost every direction of the compass, which might disorientate a few! It will be a tough event in as much as that is the nature of the beast, and the competitors can expect the usual gruelling LeJog schedule, but that is what we are all coming for.”
So, there we have it then, a rally that will test woman, man and machine like no other, all set against the backdrop of the miserable British winter. You would have to be mad, and it seems quite a few are, but for those that have done it the madness makes sense, and for those attempting the challenge for the first time, if they make the finish, they will become part of a special club.