Following the snow and ice of Leg One, the 14 tests and six regularities on Leg Two were awash as incessant rain produced rivers of muddy water in the tight and demanding lanes of Devon and Somerset. Despite the tough conditions and the demands of a red level rally, Paul Crosby and navigator Andy Pullan successfully defended their 2020 PAAI crown in their Porsche 911 with a dominant win of 3m 23 seconds over second place finishers Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan in their VW Golf GTi.
Paul Crosby, who also won the Test Pilot Award for the fastest driver over the tests said afterwards; “This was a tough but brilliant event. Many have said it was like LeJog and the RAC Rally of the Tests rolled into one but I think it was more difficult, all condensed into two days. My congratulations go to Andy for the incredible amount of work he had to do of concentrated navigation and plotting.”
So tough was the navigational challenge that Andy Pullan was one of the only navigators on the event to keep a clean sheet of paper, with no mistakes. Andy; “We didn’t drop a minute anywhere, a couple of bits could have been a bit better but I was really happy with how it went, with no fundamental errors. I do have to say a massive, massive thanks to the marshals, they are the absolute heroes of this event. From start to finish the weather has been bad, I’m not sure if it ever stopped raining after the snow and sleet, just about every road we drove down today has more resembled a river than a road. The volunteer officials and marshals were out there in all that, so we can’t thank them enough.”
Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan were absolutely delighted with their second place, both pointing out that this was a tough but enjoyable event; Paul, “The seeding committee got it right, we were seeded two and finished second, we are delighted. If you had asked me at the start of the event if we’d have been happy with second, I’d be thrilled to bits on what was a very tough event, as the Ardua bit suggests. It was a very compact, full on couple of days with little chance to relax but great tests and a really good TC section last thing.”
Ian Canavan; “If you speak to the other navigators they found it a bit of a stretch, today was probably a little bit easier but yesterday from the word go it wasn’t easy, the first timing point was even in a farm yard! Some of the well seasoned navigators found it quite tricky, including me, I made a mistake in the night section in the snow over the moors, I took my hand off the magnifying glass momentarily, when I looked back down again I picked a different crossroads to the one we should have been on, as simple as that. A great event though.”
Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson were locked in a great battle with Thomas and Roger Bricknell for the final podium position, Noel and Pete’s Volvo snatching it by one second as Thomas and Roger clawed back 18 seconds from their 19 second deficit having made a mistake at a crossroads.
Noel; “It was full on from the very start, it was another hard day but it was a great rally, amazing really, but to end it with a podium is very pleasing”.
Pete; “Being a bit picky here, it was too hard! The plotting was full on every morning but it’s no good if it’s too easy, everybody would be up at the front. I really enjoyed it, the route was fantastic, very compact, it was a shame we lost that regularity over the Quantocks yesterday, but a great rally.”
Fourth place navigator Roger Bricknell agreed with Pete; Roger,” Yes it was fantastic, a terrific event but a lot of hard work although I did feel sorry for the poor marshals out in the torrential rain all day today. It was very slick organisation with no delays.” Thomas; “We went into the TC section around the airfield with a 19 second deficit to Noel and Pete, we tried our very best but didn’t quite make it!”
With the Rally HQ based in Taunton, George Mullins, the Deputy Clerk of the Course devised a relatively compact yet circular route that contained a superb variety of terrain and surfaces to take crews on some of the best rally roads in the west country. His use of private land, particularly farm territory was inspired but clearly built on fostering relationships with companies and in particular, farmers.
At the makeshift COVID distanced prize giving hosted by HERO-ERA Competition Director and Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock, the winning navigator Andy Pullan referenced in his speech of thanks, not only the great work George had done but also the farmers!
Andy said; ”And a big thanks to George for all his incredible work in putting together such a great route, in particular his work in persuading so many farmers to let us use their land, he must have drunk so many cups of tea during all the negotiations!” Guy Woodcock added; “and whisky and beer!”
The inspired route included tests on former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell’s Raceway and Smeatharpe Aerodrome which not only hosted great and taxing tests, but also a thrilling TC section just before the final regularity on Saturday. Another hit with crews was the Honiton Showground with excellent gravel roads for tests where rally cars could really stretch their legs.
Not content with bringing the Nigel Mansell name into the Per Ardua, George Mullins also persuaded former rally legends to officiate on the event! Regular WRC co driver for many seasons, known in particular for his partnership with Per Eklund, and latterly Head of Nissan Motorsport Europe Dave Whittock was out braving the elements. Dave and his wife Dianne were time keeping at several posts during the course of the rally before they try to head out to the Monte Carlo Rally where their son Ross will be co driving in WRC2 on the famous event.
George Mullins commented; “We sadly had to postpone our own Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo but we had a good rally this weekend to be cheerful about. We have had all sorts of weather thrown at us, the snow caused us a few problems but you know what, it put some excitement into it, it became an adventure.
“It was a real shame that we lost the one regularity due to the snow, it was one of the best regularities on the event . We went through early, it was snowy, it was difficult but it wasn’t impossible, it was other road users that caused the problem, these rally guys know what they are doing. People with modern BMW cars with wide low profile tyres and snow don’t mix!
“I did take a huge sigh of relief once the TC section had been completed on the airfield. It was a big change around and raining like you couldn’t believe, the guys up there did an incredible job, but it ended up being quite exciting and I was quite thrilled about it all. The marshals have been superb, what a bunch of dedicated people, I thought we would have quite a drop off with the latest COVID situation going on but no, they were all there in that terrible weather, a major thanks. It is also important to remind everyone that whilst we are rallying in the west country or indeed any other part of the UK and Europe, that we as a company and all aspects of our rallies are carbon neutral.”
Other strong performances in the top ten came from Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane in their BMW, they won their class and finished an excellent fifth overall despite having to loop a long way around at one point having missed a turn.
Colin and Anji Martin were mighty, sixth in their often sideways yellow Escort which will now be going into dry dock for a full refit following many seasons of rallying punishment, whilst John King with new navigator Anthony Davies was pleased to take ninth after electrical issues lost him a lot of time on the TC section in their Triumph Dolomite Sprint.
What proved to be a stand out international effort was the performance of American Paul O Kane who came over from California and finished a fantastic eighth overall, navigated by Henry Carr, in his Mercedes Benz 280 SLC. The Merc must have been a handful at times down the narrow muddy lanes.
Paul; “An awesome result, thank you! It was so challenging, especially last night but the amount of water we saw today was ridiculous, there was flooding everywhere. That TC stage at the end was radical, absolutely amazing.
“This event is so much harder than the Malts which I competed on last year. I got a lot of help from my co driver Henry Car who HERO-ERA helped me find, I drove the wheels off it at times to stay on time, but we had a lot of fun together.
“I was a kart champion and I rallied back in the 80’s, I have driven F1 cars and I track a GT3 but in answer to your question, yes, I did know John Buffum, he used to help me a bit back in the 80’s when I rallied an Audi, he was a great driver.
“I decided to rally more in Europe as there is not much happening with the SCCA. I’m getting older and I like historic cars and I love being in Europe, so it is a great shame that the Winter Challenge had to be postponed as I was going to drive that next. Hopefully next year!