The London Lisbon Classic Rally returns in 2022 for a 10-day adventure passing through five countries on its way south to the finish line along the shores of the Portuguese Atlantic coast. After a two year absence, this firm favourite is back, allowing the 44 crews entered to hit the freedom trail again after Europe opened up it’s borders once more.
The event is a blue level rally, aimed at intermediate crews some entering a longer, marathon style event for the first time, appealing to all abilities of the entry which includes a 1917 American LaFrance the marque which were originally fire engines!
The route will be presented completely by the form of a tulip road book with no plotting required, so from the moment competitors leave the start line at Brooklands they’ll be spiralling into a journey of the unknown. The event covers 2000 miles with a blend of 30 regularities and 13 tests. Heading through central France, through Andorra, and then from the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain.
This event has become about being back on the freedom trail, as the world moves out of the Pandemic and begins to live with Covid. This event is a celebration of being back out on the road, not just as a one off, but as the kick start for many more international rallies this year. Friends will be re-acquainted, cars will be admired as will the tremendous scenery, that with the addition of Andorra for the first time and the Picos de Europa, will be some of the best that Europe can offer.
The event will be emersed in heritage as the start will be at Brooklands, where pioneer racers and flyers first took to the track and the skies in the 20’s and 30’s. Crews won’t just soak up the history but they will taste the tarmac with a test that uses part of the historic banking. This is the first time HERO-ERA have managed to do that. Cars will be starting on the Trial Hill up and out onto the banking and finish down the start finish straight. Brooklands will also be open to the public on the day.
Heading off south, there are four regularities with a coffee break in between at William Medcalf’s Bentley facility. William, having just won the Flying Scotsman for the third time, should be in evidence ready to wish teams well as they head off to the ferry on their own competitive adventure.
The second day takes teams through France, finishing a really good day with an awesome test on a kart track before heading to Futurscope, a major theme Park. The highlight of the third day is lunch at Brantome which the competitors loved so much in 2017, that the London Lisbon has decided to return there in 2022.
With the much missed Bob Rutherford in mind, as he was heavily involved in this his favourite rally, Brantome is not far from Bob’s favourite patisserie that he and HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock frequented on recces. Guy takes up the story; “The first time we went there Madam came out from the back room and put our produce in a bag, she turned round to make us a coffee and there two big white floury hand prints on her backside where clearly her old man had made a grab in the back kitchen. That stuck with for Bob and I for years, so crews can look out for that story in the road book narrative!”
Guy Woodcock continued with the journey; “You can just about see the Pyrenees from there so the fourth day takes us into Andorra. We have a test at a kart track in the morning then we are having lunch at an eatery at the base of the Pyrenees, a place which was synonymous with the Tulip Rally. Le Patron is a friend of the musician Sting, in fact he cooked the food at his wedding, he is a little bit mad – but in a nice eccentric way!
“We reach Andorra after climbing all the way from France over the main pass which takes us to 2400 meters climbing up to the ski resort, over the top and dropping down about a 1000 ft into the main city in the valley below. There will probably still be snow on the ground at the top when we are there.
“We are into Andorra relatively early around 4.45 pm. It’s a free night for the teams, they can wander around Andorra which is a duty free paradise for all, perfumes, watches etc and there are great places to eat out – all really cheap!
“The FIVA representative Antonio Arderiu Freixa from Andorra will meet us the next day with the FIVA Association of Andorra providing car parking, and then flagging the cars away. They have really got behind us and been very helpful, so we are really looking forward to our first time in Andorra.
“The fifth day is a half day with a test and some regularities before we finish up at a monastery for lunch at Boltana then on to Pamplona. It’s a relaxing afternoon with no competition.
“A lunchtime start the next day is about a hundred miles from Pamplona at the Museum where the first London Lisbon restarted when John Brown ran it in 2000. This museum is one of just three where they have every marque of Bentley from a Mk 1 to Mk 7. Bob and I only walked round half the sheds but we found an eclectic mix of everything from Lamborghinis to Testa Rossas, so this will be another highlight of the trip. It is run by the nephew of the same gentleman who set up the museum and who also built the big castle nearby in the middle of nowhere. You get there and think ‘what’s this?’ As the museum is also in the middle of nowhere, but it isn’t open to the public, we are fortunate that we have been considered ‘special guests’ and have been invited in to look around!
“Day 7 will be the hardest day of the event with six regularities and two tests, it’s a day for the navigators and drivers. Then there’s an 80 mile section up over Riano which is just an awesome driving road – no competition, it is just for crews to go and have some fun basically!
“Day 8 we end up crossing into Portugal and stopping at the Vidago Palace. Those who have done the event before will remember it as it is an awesome and impressive hotel where we have dinner in the big ballroom under the balcony with the flutist and the harpist playing away.
“The next day will be another fun packed day with a driving treat at the end as we do get two runs up the Caramulo Hill Climb. We will have enjoyed a lovely lunch at a place called Quinta da Ponte, as we are making our way through the Dura Valley that day.
“The last day is a day of tests. We have five on the last day after starting off with a couple of regularities. It all ends at the Kiro Kartodroma track, where crews can take their lunch after their run then watch from the balcony as others take to the track. That’s the end of competition but it should be a great finish to the day. Then on into Lisbon for the party!
“The competition has been scaled back significantly from 2019, as day one, five and six are quite relaxed. We have kept the regularities a bit shorter and made the navigation a bit easier, although there are still some challenging days. There should be a lot more enjoyable driving than there was previously.
“We have kept off the motorways as much as possible- there are some occasions where we do use them a bit as we have to make ground or where we need to get into cities, but there is not much motorway at all. There are however a lot of D class roads as you have in France, the back roads in Spain and Portugal which are just great as there is hardly any traffic!
“Looking at the entry for this event, it looks like it’s anyone’s to win! From a navigator’s point of view it’s Pete Johnson’s to lose in my opinion with Stephen Owens driving, and he is due one (win) soon! But there are quite a few who could be in with a shout – the Robertsons in the TR3, Ken and Sarah Binstead could also do well in the Austin Healey. Andy Lane and Noel Kelly are looking good in the Volvo, as are Dave Maryon and Andy Ballantyne in an MGB and Nick Maris with Henry Carr navigating in a Datsun 240Z.”
One of the real pleasures of HERO-ERA’s endurance rallies is the sheer plethora of cars that enter, offering the competitors the opportunity to share the road with dozens of other likeminded enthusiasts, and then indulge in plenty of car-related chat. Of course, there are the classic rally stalwarts, like the MG B’s and Triumphs that populate many of the spots on the starting list and whilst they are wonderful machines, there are always one or two cars in the entry that really grab the imagination.
On the upcoming London Lisbon rally, nestled in amongst the Porsche’s, Healey’s and Alfa’s is one machine that really stands out. An absolute behemoth of a contraption, built more than 100 years ago, with a history that is more suited to rescues than rallies. The car is a 1917 American LaFrance Roadster, owned by John and Catherine Harrison and it began life across the pond as a Fire Engine.
The LaFrance is, for the uninitiated, a giant of a machine. A 14 and a half litre, straight six engine sits on top of a chassis that looks more like it came from the stock of a bridge building firm than an automobile manufacturer. It is a huge piece of heavy engineering, that dominates the road and looks like something that ought to be piloted by Kenneth Grahame’s Toad from The Wind in the Willows.
Watch out for the LaFrance as it is sure to be a London Lisbon favourite!
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases