HERO events titled their classic Isle of Man rally after the original ancient name Mann as a tribute to the island’s long history, particularly its association with motor sport.
It’s a coincidence that the first I.O.M. TT motorcycle races were held in 1907, the same year as the first Peking to Paris ran, an endurance event still running today, now under the Endurance Rally Association banner part of the HERO group. Many winners on both two and four wheels have become myth on the island as they still stand out in in the mists of time: Dunlop, Agostini, McGuinness, Duke and Hailwood. Rally fans praise such famous winners as McRae, Vatanen and Roger Clark.
However, the first road rally on the Isle of Man was organized by the infamous Ecurie Cod Fillet duo of John Brown and Roy Fidler in 1963 when they had the idea of first rallying on the island and met with the Manx Tourist Board to discuss the proposal. All went well, Roy devised a great route but just as the pair were leaving for the ferry, the Tourist Board boss in saying his goodbyes casually asked if it would be of any help to close the public roads! Stunned but quickly saying that would be marvelous, one of the UK’s finest rallies was born that day. It eventually morphed from a road rally into the event that still runs still today, the Manx International, part of Motorsport UK’s British Rally Championship.
Many competitors are conscious of the history of the island as soon as they drive off the ferry at Douglas and encounter the horse drawn trams moving slowly along the promenade. Rally drivers experienced in Manx conditions are aware that the sea sometimes throws its shroud of mist like a blanket over the land, often to lift as quickly as it had obscured the view. That’s when rally crews have to keep their balance, stay on course and drive to the conditions.
The Three Legs of Mann triskelion dates back to the 13th century when the three legs were first joined together in their heraldic pose, the motto underneath is very relevant to rallying, when translated means; ‘which ever way you throw it, it will still stand.’
This was translated from the ancient Manx Goidelic Celtic language written on many signposts under the English names across the 688 miles of the island’s roads, just to add to the confusion of any navigator quickly looking for direction at night.
For most, the Friday evening night stages on the 2019 Three Legs of Mann will present not just a huge challenge but a tremendous thrill. This is one of HERO classic rallying’s big features as the roads can change from fast and wide to suddenly slow and narrow, with plenty of natural obstacles to catch out the unwary as the night plays tricks on tired eyes. Double trouble if the mist descends.
Last time out in 2017, the event was won by John Able and Mark Appleton in their Ford RS2000. With them not returning this time there is a chance of a new winner across the mix of fast tests and regularities around the maze of tight lanes.
Top contender is Howard Warren who starts at car number one in his Porsche with one of the best navigators in the business alongside, Iain Tullie. They were involved in a fabulous three-way contest on the recent Tour of Cheshire with Thomas and Roger Bricknell in their Golf GTI, the two virtually inseparable, but the Cornishmen just snatched victory in a nail-biting finish. Howard and Iain Tullie were on the podium for third as the duo were pipped by Ian Crammond’s Mercedes.
That VW Porsche battle could be repeated on the island especially if Paul Crosby and Ali Procter get involved in their 911. They were fourth in 2017 having lead but missed a board at night.
A native Manxman could emerge from the mist with top honor’s, David Morgan with Leigh Powley navigating in the Volvo Amazon should be very competitive. David finished third last time on the Three Legs of Mann with Richard Crozier navigating.
There are so many great names in rally folklore that mean it is Manx time again. Druidale, Foxdale, Creg ny Baa. They conjure up thoughts of what is in store, forest on lose gravel, fast approaches and potential navigational pitfalls, regularity on backroads, all will keep the best crews on their guard.
Always a favourite yet scenic challenge, Marine Drive is spectacular as it hugs the cliffs and tests the cars agility at the same time. It will be great to see Le Jog Gold medalists Roger Tushingham and young navigator Amy Henchoz back in action in their MGB GT, whilst multi Gold medal Le Jog winner and successful driver Andy Lane has turned navigator. He will have his hands full in Roy Stephenson’s big Mustang. John and Robert Kiff will be providing the contrast and the reliability in what they hope will achieve the crew another a good result, their venerable and wonderful Beetle, still going aged 61.
Myth and folklore are one on the Isle of Man. Manannan the Lord of the Sea provides the cloak of mist which can sometimes shroud the island but from Snaefell Mountain on a clear day you can see the seven kingdoms, and a bit closer, the Fairy Bridge. Woe betide any rally crew who forgets to pay respects to the fairies as they cross, just a quick ‘good morning’ would do to keep luck on their side.
The TT races are ever present and not forgotten on this ‘pacey’ rally. The Gooseneck section takes its name from that famous part of the course, other landmarks from the 37.7-mile circuit will also be passed, Ginger Hall, Glen Helen, Barregarrow and of course the TT Grandstand on the Glencrutchery Road, where crews will start and end their adventure on the Islands roads.
Seasoned crews such as Tony Sheach and Rachel Wakefield are expected to be on full alert as they make their return in the Triumph 2000 which has proved fast but not always reliable. They will be hoping to banish all mechanical demons, so they had better be nice to the fairies!
The fight of the navigator ramps up on the Three Legs of Mann, champion navigator, Golden Roamer Award winner 2018, Ian Canavan returns alongside Richard Isherwood in a VW Golf GTI, but he will be expecting hot competition from young guns Elise Whyte and Amy Henchoz.
Whichever crews reap the rewards at the prize giving on Saturday night, firstly they will have earned them, but secondly if they celebrate too hard, they will have to remember the Three Legs of Mann ancient motto, ‘whichever way you throw it, it will still stand’.