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Looking Forward to Action With Rally Retrospective!

 

23 Feb 2021

Now Motorsport UK have announced that organised Permitted motor sport can recommence on March 29th, (in accordance with all national and regional regs) competitors everywhere are keenly counting down until their branch of organised sport can obtain their permits to restart.

For some in the regularity rallying world, their last blast was the HERO-ERA Per Ardua Ad Infinitum Rally at Bicester Heritage when the organisers managed to re route the event safely within 48 hours of changing regional tiers affecting their plans. Most were grateful of the chance to get out into action just before Christmas.

None more so than Volvo PV544 star and top runner Dan Willan who was second in the RAC Rally of the Tests in 2018 with Martyn Taylor navigating.

Here Dan looks back at his own last day of rally action in 2020 with navigator Niall Frost before lockdown.

Per Ardua Ad Infinitum – palma non sine pulvere?

2020 wasn’t a vintage year, for reasons we all know. Competition was infrequent and, for yours truly, not particularly successful! A bent borrowed Volvo in January and a catalogue of bad luck in August’s 2CV 24hr race looked to be it for the year, until HERO announced a one day event to finish off the annus horribilis. “Was I interested?” asked Niall Frost, son of PV proprietor Simon. Certissime!!!

Based at the Bicester Heritage site (a mecca for classic car enthusiasts – so much industry in one place!), the event promised 11 Tests around the old airfield and 3 Regularities, the last one being a private land affair around Bicester to finish the day off. Plenty of drizzle on the Friday hopefully meant damp greasy conditions, which would be perfect for the PV. We were car 3, behind the indomitable Porsche 911’s of Paul Crosby/Andy Pullan and Tomas de Vargus Machuca/Nick Bloxham and ahead of numerous other potential winners, including Howard Warren/Iain Tullie (Escort), Darrell & Nicky Staniforth (Mini) and Owen Turner/Andy Ballantyne (Chrysler Galant). Abeamus!

Saturday began with 6 Tests back to back around Bicester’s old airfield, a mixture of tarmac runway, loose gravel tracks and the slipperiest grass known to man. Pulling up to the start line in the resplendently rebuilt and resprayed Volvo was slightly nerve-wracking, the old girl having never in my eyes looked so clean and straight. Simon, after initially suggesting only car shows and gentle touring from now on, had capitulated of his own accord and administered a dose of Go-get-em to Niall & I. Who was I to argue with the Doc? 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 5000rpm, sidestep the clutch and send it! After all, it is a rally car.

15 minutes later I’m panting, perspiring profusely and giggling like a girl. Turns out Guy Woodcock has designed some very enjoyable tests, with enough mud and gravel to really get the car moving around. During its ice-induced-Bagger-bashing internment at Kevin Savage’s a hydraulic handbrake had been fitted, and what a revelation! Tests are so much easier with a flickable derrière. Considering Niall & I had only competed together once, on a night rally with no tests or regularities, his Gaelic guidance made total sense and I felt able to attack the coned layouts with abandon. Those roots from Glaswegian Grandma Willan still prevail.

A 20 minute holding control at Bicester’s exit allowed some leg lolling and clock tolling. The first loop felt like it’d gone pretty well, but only the stopwatch tells the truth. 2nd quickest, 3rd, 1st, 4th, 5th and 2nd left us lying second, just behind perennial winners Crosby/Pullan. So far so good!

Regularity 1 had been shortened due to the neighbouring county (Buckinghamshire) going into Tier 4, so just two timing points to discover. 1 second early at each; Niall’s concerns of rustiness clearly superfluous and second place maintained. Back to Bicester for the second loop of Tests, starting with a long combination of the morning’s T1 & T2. I’ll freely admit to not being the most physically endowed chap. Integrate that with the non-assisted steering box in the Volvo and a three minute Test. I literally had to take a breather before the next start line. Hustling this old bus can be really rather exhausting!

Exuberance got the better of me during Test 9, cutting a right hander slightly too much and brushing a cone on the inside. I thought I might’ve got away with it, but an eagle-eyed marshal had spotted my transgression. Silly mistake, 10 second penalty. Regularity 2 also didn’t go quite to plan, despite starting beautifully with a 0 at the first timing point. Shortly afterwards we happened upon the rear end of car 2, Tomas de Longname’s 911, who was face to face with a flustered Ford Fiesta on an incredibly narrow section of road. Knowing we hadn’t passed any laybys it was left to the UK’s best selling car to try and back up. Funny how some people can’t reverse without half a turn of lock isn’t it? Tick met tock and rushed around the clock, time ebbing away like the clutch plate in the poor Fiesta. Eventually an opening was found and we were off, but now stuck behind the Italian Stallion’s wriggling orange tail. We knew we were looking for a farmyard, which presented itself all too soon. As expected, the next timing point was in the middle of the muddy mire. Not enough mileage to claw back enough time, 36 seconds late. Another 7 late at the next TP while still following Tomas & Nick, then a 3 and a 0 to end the Regularity as cleanly as it started.

Despite all this we were still lying 3rd overall at lunch with just the private land Regularity around Bicester airfield to go. Bellies full of turkey casserole, every man and his nav was looking forward to a final blast on what I now know to be a great venue. The last countdown and away we went, pitching and rolling across the runways, slithering and sliding atop the lushly lubricious grass. A couple of timing points in, back onto the tarmac, wide open 90 left, slight drift, straighten up, straighten up, straighten up? Hmmm. Not a lot of obedience from the steering wheel. I immediately knew that was game over, but we still tried to get round the next left hand corner. Left wasn’t a problem, but right was. “Oh look, there’s HQ just on the other side of that fence. Might as well park up here eh?”

I assumed broken steering and upon alighting was proven correct, the left hand steering arm hanging down under the front bumper for all to see. Being an optimistic sort I took solace from the fact it happened where it did and not on a narrow lane somewhere in the middle of Northamptonshire. Thanks to HERO’s efforts to organise an event “Through Endless Adversity” there was in fact a plentiful bounty of positives to take from the day. The Tests had provided multitudinous moments of magnificent merriment, the Regularities had, bar one instance of force majeure, been serene and unruffled and, if nothing else, it had been a pleasure to catch up with old friends who we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the year. Top boys Paul Crosby/Andy Pullan took the laurels with Darrell Staniforth/Andy’s partner Nicky Staniforth in 2nd. Those that made the effort were rewarded with a great day’s sport.

Here’s to 2021?

Dan Willan.

Muddy, but aesthetically undamaged, Volvo PV544.

Photos by Will Broadhead

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