Starting and finishing in a huge aircraft hangar adjacent to the historic runway at host venue Bicester Heritage, 70 crews were grateful that HERO-ERA had managed, against the odds, to reroute and reorganise the rally according to new tiers within 24 hours, giving crews their final rally blast before Christmas. This is the fifth event the organisation has managed to run in a restricted 2020.
Within COVID government and Motorsport UK regulations, all the crews were relieved to get out rallying and complied with the organiser’s requests to make themselves and their rally cars as festive as possible! Snowflake decals, mini Xmas trees on grills with lights, tinselled bumpers mixed with a mass of Christmas jumpers worn by drivers and navigators alike, creating a Christmas atmosphere.
Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane won the ‘Best Festive Rally Car and Crew Award’ in their ‘snowflake’ liveried BMW 323i, both crew members dressed from head to toe in Christmas outfits including COVID Xmas masks with huge Santa moustaches. Angus and Mike were lucky to get back on track as they slid off into trees on the final ‘slick’ regularity, pushed out by the film crew with Mike bouncing up and down on the boot. There just wasn’t a reindeer in sight to help tug the BMW sled out.
Richard and Charles Rea were delighted to learn that they had won the Concours d’ Elegance Award for their Jaguar XJ150 FHC, although it’s flanks told a story of muddy conditions afterwards and will need a major high pressure blast to return it to Concours once more!
Teams were determined to have a final rally blast, aiming to blow the awful year 2020 away out of their exhaust pipes, as they covered the 75 miles, 11 tests and three regularities in a ‘full on’ code red event.
Dry and bright weather became a wind driven downpour by lunchtime. Huge dark clouds eventually moving in one large mass to turn dry again, but the slippy surfaces were by now slick. Surface changes and muddy regularity lanes made the fifth and final HERO-ERA event of the year even more exciting.
In fact, conditions were so slippy that rally winner, HERO-ERA Competition Director and Clerk of the Course for the PAAI, Guy Woodcock, went off the road into a fence grazing the rear quarter of the VW as he drove the course car through Test 3. Guy; “ When we were driving through, setting up the course yesterday, I said to the boys, ‘someone’s going to have that fence’ I didn’t think it was going to be me!”
Mastering the conditions to take a wonderful win after nine months accumulating ‘rally rust’ was four times HERO Cup Champion Paul Crosby with twice Golden Roamer navigator Andy Pullan alongside him in their famous green Porsche 911. This was a great relief for Andy as he had been up all night with food poisoning, and was desperately trying to keep his breakfast from reappearing whilst head down navigating the opening fast and furious tests.
Battling all the way to second overall, further emphasising the incredible ‘Rally of Champions’ entry, was Mini exponent and winner extraordinaire Darell Staniforth, navigated by his daughter Nicky Staniforth in their Morris Mini Cooper S.
Swapping his spanners for a steering wheel in third place overall was Dave Alcock navigated by Barry Green, who has very limited experience as a navigator. The ‘green’ pair were consistently quick in their Porsche 924S. Dave has limited competition driving under his belt in fact he said, “I’ve never won anything!” But he showed a real turn of speed, a total contrast for someone who is normally busy chasing around with the mechanical service ‘sweeps’ keeping competitors cars on the road.
Simon Mellings and Henry Carr just missed the podium by seven seconds in their ‘racy’ sounding, speedy Toyota MR2. They were fourth overall but won their class after a spectacular performance as they danced the little Japanese sports car over the slippy surfaces. Simon had not only ‘Christmased’ the MR2, but had Santa’s boots dangling from one side of the boot with his head and hat poking out of the other side. Having a little fun with the media communications crew, one side said ‘where is Gary?’ and the other ‘where is Tony?’, referring to videographer Gary Williams and HERO-ERA media boss Tony Jardine!
Colin and Anji Martin were in fine form in their Ford Escort 1600 Sport to take fifth overall, Colin displaying fine car control as he power slid the Escort close to the trees across the mud on the final regularity that used all the Bicester Heritage Airfield perimeter roads and more. They won their class too.
14 seconds behind them, as flamboyant as ever, were HERO Challenge Two winners Susan Dixon and Darren Everitt in their expertly prepared Triumph 2000. It was a joy to watch the duo revelling in the conditions as they appeared to have the tail out more than in on the tests, a great result against top opposition in the big car.
Regularity three caused some consternation for the front runners as HERO-ERA Chairman Tomas de Vargas Machuca came sliding through a mud swamped quadrangle of a farm yard slithering to a stop at a Timing Point with Dan Willan and Niall Frost chasing right behind them in their Volvo PV544.
Tomas and navigator Nick Bloxham had been delayed then caught by the Volvo, the duo carrying on to win their class in the Porsche 911. Tomas had earlier on in the event enjoyed the fact that the rally route had gone past the Manor in Hardwick, a historic property that he has taken an interest in. At the same time he was quick to praise his team for being able to make Per Ardua Ad Infinitum actually happen at all; “I really have to sing the praises of Guy Woodcock and his team for making the event happen, it has been a blast and everyone has enjoyed it. To manage to organise five events in this dreadful year has been quite a feat.”
Dan Willan and Niall Frost were lying third going into the final regularity back at Bicester Heritage when the steering arm snapped on the Volvo sadly putting them out of the event.
Another crew worth watching were the father and son team of Stephen and Alex Chick, winners of the London to Lisbon Rally in 2019, as they grappled with the big Austin Healey in the slime. They ended up 21st overall but won their class after a great effort.
The vintage brigade were not having their young car eating day as they had at previous rallies this year. The lack of grip in the ever changing conditions, plus the appearance of the heavy weight ‘Rally of Champions’ players out front helped push the vintage Bentleys of Elliott Dale and Charlotte Ryall, to 24th with Stuart and Emily Anderson 25th, enjoying their own tussle as they ended up second and third in the vintage class respectively.
But the vintage class winners in a superb 15th overall were John Lomas and Pete Johnson in their Riley Sprite. Despite a spin in front of the cameras for driver John on his birthday, this was a great result. The fourth place vintage car was another Riley, this time the low slung 1929 Brooklands Riley of Nigel Dowding and Mary Antcliff. They could not see past the mud spattered flyscreens so literally hung out of the sides to drive and navigate. At one point, Mary had to stand in her seat to be able to see where the control was.
There was a great reward for Eric Michiels and Aswin Pyck, making the trip all the way from Belgium as the Europeans finished ninth overall and won their class; “Getting here was quite an adventure, but it was worth it” said Aswin who famously made a great speech as he was presented with his Gold medal on Le Jog last year.
The final regularity around the perimeter roads of the Bicester Heritage site, a former WW2 bomber airbase superbly recreated as the epi centre of Historic motoring and now of the vintage aero world too, was just a really exciting, but exacting regularity. Set for the most part at a 30 mph average, which taking into account stops at controls, meant crews really needed to motor on. The problem being for most that they couldn’t get much traction, they ended up scrabbling for grip.
The surface changed from tarmac to gravel to grass and mud. There were spins and minor offs for many. Rikki Proffit, Elliott Dale, Angus McQueen, to name a few even though there was a caution board leading to a very slippy long right hander into a narrow gulley, but as one of the most successful drivers in the history of classic regularity rallying, Howard Warren said; “it made it entertaining!” Howard and ace navigator Iain Tullie were 11th overall in Howard’ son’s Ford Escort, Iain making a rare mistake on the fast final regularity.
Robert and Julie Clifton were probably the most broadside everywhere in their Xmas festooned Vauxhall Viva as the lights and tinsel on the back danced to the tune of the ruts to third in class and 28th overall.
Further down the field, the big Jaguar XJS of Curtis Jacoby and navigator Graham Tuer finished fifth in class and 50th overall. Having been in the top twenty for a while, it was an encouraging performance from the pair; Graham; “I used to do a lot of road rallying, some with Curtis, but this is just our third regularity event and we are learning more each time, especially about the navigation, but loving it. We had a great day.”
Paul Crosby, 1st overall Porsche 911; “It was brilliant, absolutely a blast. It was very tricky but the competition was really fierce, there was only a couple of seconds here and there between the top four at lunchtime, the tests were great but the last regularity was special, we really enjoyed that one”
Howard Warren 11th overall, 3rd in class Ford Escort; “It’s a few years since I’ve have driven the Escort, it’s a very different car from the Porsche, thank you Matthew for letting me use your car, I don’t think we’ve damaged it, but we will see when we get it home!
Nicky Staniforth, 2nd overall, Morris Mini Cooper S; “It’s been a great day, it was nice to be back out after quite a while. This morning went well but this afternoon on the regularities it was slightly more scrappy and we lost some time, but it was a great way to end 2020. It was pretty slippy, but thankfully I wasn’t driving.”
Andy Pullan 1st overall Porsche 911; “It was pretty close with Darell and Nicky for a while, Nicky was leading earlier in the afternoon but both drivers, Paul and Darell drove really well on the tests. It was really slippy, very difficult to get traction. At one point I was telling Cros to go faster but he just couldn’t go any quicker at all it was so slippy. There was a lot going on in that last regularity, it was difficult for both sides of the car.”
Dave Alcock, 3rd overall, Porsche 924S; “A fantastic event, great fun out there, what a venue! We’re not experts at it, we were out there having a bit of fun. It was first time out in the Porsche, it does what it’s meant to do, I’m happy with it, but it was very slippy. You were looking all the time to see where you could get grip otherwise you were going off somewhere!
“It is my first ever podium so I am delighted. The other competitors who are used to seeing me with the spanners say ‘what are you doing out driving?’, so I just said we want to see what you do for a change! It’s been a good day, Barry Green my navigator has been absolutely brilliant and I want to thank HERO-ERA for putting on a brilliant event.”
John Lomas and Pete Johnson, 15th overall, 1st in vintage class; John; “It was challenging, take Crosby at the front he’s 200 bhp, we are probably 80-90 bhp, but what an amazing day! What a 48 hours for the organising team to get this together after what happened with the changing tiers, but it has been just brilliant, that last test was just mind blowing. Yes I know, I had a big birthday spin right in front of the media team! It was one of those moments, there was a care board, but I felt it go then we pirouetted around, I was really pleased that you were there with Gary and Will the photographer! ”
Pete. “It’s been a great day, we were lucky with the weather, it only rained when we were in the hangar for a quick lunch! I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Photos by Will Broadhead
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