This is a big celebratory event, 20 years of the RAC Rally of the Tests as organised by HERO-ERA and incredibly, 90 years of the RAC rally which first started in Blackpool ending up on the English Riviera in Torquay in 1932. Guy Woodcock outlines how he and the team are going to treat the event and what is special for the anniversary.
Guy Woodcock; “From my point of view it’s my 10th one as well, so it’s another anniversary. I will have organised 10 editions now, the same as Fred Bent. The event will be pretty much as good as it gets in terms of how we will put it together, making it one to remember, then we can mark it as a rally really fitting of its anniversary.
“We’ve got all the venues we wanted bar one, but we have some locations harking back to original RAC times which will help make it special as well. We’ve got really intense groups of activities in the three legs for the 2022 RAC Rally of the Tests. The prologue, which is going to sort the running order for leg one will run in the dark on Thursday evening, with two regularities, including one on private land, and one test.
“The next day we start the first full day of competition. We have got some really good tests to start the day with followed by a couple of regularities, then we’ve got to travel from the north to the south of Manchester, so it will be busy, but the reward will be into regularities and then two tests at the Spa Francorchamps of the UK, Oulton Park and some lunch. Many a previous RAC Rally visited the historic race track and its surrounding roads making it an anniversary treat!
“Oulton Park is genuinely an iconic venue from the RAC Rally which we have used before, but it always has echoes of the past and motorsport history. We leave there and head basically down through the borders and Staffordshire taking in regularities and tests. Then we get to Stone for a supper hold and an important refresh for what awaits the competitors. We have three regularities in the dark and the Peak District which will sort the men from the boys!
“It’s a 10 hour day and it will be, let’s just say, exacting in the last three bits of competition in the dark. Saturday sees us set off diagonally across the UK from Stoke to Llandrindod Wells, another classic rallying stronghold over many years. We will be picking up tests and regularities on the way using some old favourites of competitors in the previous events, and some venues that have been used on the RAC Rally in the past.
“We have to thank the owners of rally central hospitality, the Hotel Metropole in Llandrindod Wells for accommodating us. We will take our lunch break in the infamous venue long associated with the RAC Rally of the Tests and LeJog, together with British and World Championship rallies in the past and the rally stars who have graced the famous rally haunt.”
In terms of the celebration, Guy and his team are taking crews to a lot of the landmarks in rally history and taking crews over routes, some of which that have been travelled over the events of the last 90 years, so did he think the pace would slow a bit at this point?
Guy; “No, there is a lot more to come, we are only half way into what will be an intense and relentless competition. That afternoon we strike out across Wales, onto the classic Epynt Ranges for a full afternoon of competition followed by a run to another venue which can make or break a crew’s event before the overnight halt in Newport. The last day starts with a visit to Chepstow racecourse and a duo of tests at the racecourse before leaving the Principality and heading off into the West Country where we’re going to pass fifty metres from where our much missed colleague and friend of HERO-ERA, Bob Rutherford was born. We will tip our bowler hats in a nod to a great character as we pass.
“After a coffee break we are heading to another hub, not of rallying this time but of music, the venue for one of the world’s greatest music festivals, Glastonbury! It will be quite a busy operation and this will be the first time we have been there since 2018. We’ve been there three times now in my reign.
“ It’s going to be great, with regularities all over the festival site, there are just roads everywhere and some roads leading to tests as well. There’s lots of weird stuff to look at like all the Mad Max vehicles as you drive through, so it should be quite an experience!
“And all that Rock and Roll before lunch on the last day! We then are being kind to crews with some fun and there are five tests to the finish including Mansell’s Raceway and Wiscombe Down Hillclimb which we have never used before, but has been used on RAC rallies in the past. That’s a first for us!
“Then we go to another test venue for a couple of tests, which we used on the ‘Per Ardua ad Infinitum,’ then we head to the final regularity which will be a bit of a sting in the tail.”
The rally then heads to the finish, as it did in 1932, in Torquay with the first car expected around 4.30pm.
So with recreating the past across traditional venues and the original Blackpool to Torquay route, does Guy then expect everyone to play their part and dress traditionally?
“Of course, there are the Whistle and Flute and Top Hat Awards, so we would love people to dress in the period of their car. You’ll have people in 50s and 60s garb like last year, and some people with the more modern cars making a major effort, like Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins dressing in full 80s ‘Rave Gear’ it was great. It just adds to the atmosphere and ambiance and makes a real difference, this year we’re going to try and get as many marshals and officials to dress up in period outfits as possible as well.”
With a bumper entry, what does the HERO-ERA Competition Director attribute the success of RAC Rally of the Tests to?
Guy; “I think it’s very much like the old RAC rally where you’d always save your money up to try and do it. I think there’s a number of people who have not done many of the HERO Challenge events this year because they’ve saved the money to come to compete in the RAC Rally of the Tests.
“I think it’s pretty much the big competitive end of year ‘must do’ event. It’s the event in the historic rally calendar for competitive people with a slightly different angle to LeJog as we know. There’s probably 10 or 12 crews that could win, I think Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor will take some beating, if they get it right. Paul Crosby and Ali Proctor will go well with the new Mini, if the vehicle stays the course, they’ve got to be the favourites. Then there’s Dan Willan and Niall Frost another potential winning crew, if Dan doesn’t break the car!
“A Mini has been the car to have in the past, if you have the right driver navigator combination, as we had with Steve Entwistle and Mark Appleton in 2019, it can easily be won by a Mini.
“The classes have worked out so that everybody’s got two or three competitive people in each class. So crews like the Dutch duo of Hank Melse, and Bart Den Hartog could do well in the Porsche 365B, or we have the Belgians Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde in a Lotus Cortina in the same class with the Minis, who could be right up there.
“So again, there’s a combined two or three competitive people in each class, so it’d be difficult to predict winner. That’s because of the scoring on tests, there’s 28 tests. If you are first on it, you get zero if you’re second on the test you get three seconds. So on 28 tests that could be almost 90 seconds of penalties. So you can see how important the tests are, and it’s quite a lot to make up on the regularities. There are 28 tests, 26 regularities and three TC sections, but it is still feasible that a car in a smaller class could win”
There is clearly going to be a major celebration of both the 90th RAC and 20th RAC Rally of the Tests anniversaries, the biggest tribute to the wonderful events that all started in 1932, is through the 2022 route and competition venues, with so many echoes of the past. Crews from all over Europe will respect and enjoy the traditions, but with the added glory of winning a major anniversary event, the competition fight at the front will be harder than ever!