The 2023 Summer Trial sprang into action this afternoon, under the vast skies of Lincolnshire as 74 competitors took the flag for a total of two days of classic regularity rallying, spread across three consecutive days – all taking place within the boundaries of England’s largest county.
It is the second consecutive year the annual event has based itself in Grantham, after previously spending two years in Shropshire and a bumper field of classic machinery took the starters flag again, with the particularly splendid Porsche 356 of Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham leading the field away at no 1. They are in the master’s category of course and whilst not eligible to win outright, there will still be pressure to perform in an event that is aimed at those crews that haven’t attained the master’s classification just yet. Those other 73 hopefuls will no doubt find the current HERO Cup champion a useful benchmark to their own progress, but don’t be fooled, this is still a field full of talented crews, with plenty of previous trophy winners in amongst those hunting for the win.
For the cynical in our midst, it was probably somewhat predictable that an event with ‘Summer’ in its title began under dark clouds and pouring rain, the Great British Summer had certainly turned on the sprinklers for the start and those gathered to see the cars depart did so swaddled in raincoats. The heavy shower didn’t last long but had left the surface of the events first speed test, at a Kart Circuit at Ancaster, somewhat greasy and the competitors were understandably tentative on the first competition section of the event.
A timid approach might have been the order of the day for most, but for some it was very much a case of ‘full bore’ early on, an apt Royal Air Force expression considering the circuit is in the shadow of RAF Barkston Heath, and we are very much in RAF country. This approach resulted in mixed success, with some, like Stephen Hardwick in his Talbot 105, pushing the limits of adhesion too far and spinning, although it wouldn’t hurt the progress of Stephen and navigator Ian Riley too much, ending the day in the midfield, rather than marooned at the back of the pack.
The afternoon ahead of them was a short one, with one more test and a trio of regularities aimed at bedding the less experienced crews into proceedings, with many attempting their first multiday rally. There are a total of 27 novices in the camp, including 20 graduates of this years A Novice Trial training event, and over the weekend the competition will slowly increase in difficulty.
That being said, this afternoon’s competitive sections weren’t simply arrow straight drives, and despite this county’s reputation for being somewhat flat and featureless there were plenty of changes of direction and even the odd fluctuation in elevation to get to grips with. There was also the weather, with waves of rain blowing in throughout the afternoon, punctuated with dazzling sunshine offering up visibility problems in places as the saturated asphalt reflected the light into the eyes of the drivers.
Rain certainly wasn’t stopping play though, and in truth it was never quite as bad as the first downpour of the day and it does always feel worse during the summer. The roads were still soggy though, and at the second test of the day, at the Fulbeck Kart circuit near Stapleford, the track surface was slippery enough to induce plenty of grip issues, whilst being dry enough to entice the drivers to push on. One driver who seemed to be pushing the levels of adhesion with some success was David Ward, with navigator Sally Ward, competing in a Lancia Fulvia 1600HF. The bright red machine looked and sounded fantastic in the late afternoon sun, and the pair, who are usually seen in red Ferrari, have obviously gelled with this particular rosso Italiano.
They would go on to finish the day in second place overall with 9 seconds of penalty, with Dick and Harry Baines in their Mini tied for third with Nick Maris and Ian Canavan, entered in a Datsun 240z, both with 12 seconds. The early leaders are the number 66 car of Paul O’Kane and Iain Tullie, in Paul’s Porsche Carrera, posting just 7 seconds of penalty across the first afternoon.
It is though far too early to begin talking about times and a leaderboard, with just one afternoon of competitive action completed. We can though talk about retirements, and sadly our masters Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham are out of the event after losing drive at the Fulbeck test, and their experience in the field will certainly be missed.
Tomorrow is a full day, with ten competitive sections, split across six regularities and four tests, as well as plenty of other controls for the crews to get to grips with. By the time we arrive back in Grantham tomorrow evening the shape of the competitive landscape will be much clearer, and anyone left needing to make up ground will only have half a day left to do so.