Following the relatively gentle Prologue on Thursday, The RAC Rally of the Tests hit it’s full stride on Friday with a hammering ten tests and seven long regularities. From the slick surface of Porlock Hill to the tricky regularities that caught out even the best navigators in the business, the navigator of car 17 the Porsche 911, Martyn Taylor summed the difficult day many had experienced by saying: ”most of us had quite a scrappy day”.
As the challenge has increased so has the level of competition, Steve Entwistle and Mark Appleton are still leading in Paddy Hopkirk’s Morris Cooper S by 20 seconds from a new second-place crew, Mike and Matthew Vokes in a Ginetta G15. Alexander Leurs and Bas de Rijk’s green Opel Ascona holds third despite missing a junction and having to backtrack quite a way on Friday morning. A fine performance for fourth, a mere two seconds behind the Dutch Ascona, is racing driver Phil Hindley navigated by one of the best in the business, Martyn Taylor. Phil “We tried to be the same, as consistent as possible. The tests went well, I’m enjoying it just trying to take it all on board, I’ve got the best man next to me though”.
Mark Appleton, navigator of the leading Mini Cooper S was a bit happier on Saturday morning before the teams set off for another hard day; “We are just pleased to hold on after a tough day but it’s still very tight, we only have a 20 second lead and that could go in a blink of an eye. We have the NEC showcase test which should suit the Mini, short, tight grippy but Swynnerton is to come later, that’s a big one.”
Moving up to second place is the remarkable little Ginetta G15 of father and son crew Mike and Matthew Vokes. The Ginetta performing well as it slid across the first part of the treacherous Porlock Hill test but as Mike said; “They told us it was going to be slippy in there, but we found a bit more grip than expected under the trees. The car is going very well, no issues, its been singing on the rev limiter many times. Tests like Porlock Hill really suit our car it’s a little race and hill climb car anyway, it just doesn’t like the rough stuff!”
Matthew Vokes is clearly doing a great job on the maps but even the 2019 HRCR Champion navigator is not finding it easy.
“This event is known to be tough, Guy and his team have lots of little tricks to catch you out, you have to be on your toes. The car is small and I’m tall but the seat is low enough on the floor and with a contorted effort to get into the car, then I’m comfortable. We have Swynnerton tonight but I think if we get through there we will be alright.”
Thomas Bricknell with father Roger navigating in his VW Golf has had all sorts of problems and yet the crew have hauled themselves up to seventh overall.
Thomas; “We had the clock reset itself as there was some kind of power surge with bad connections meant lots of quick thinking. Then the trip which has been great for two years failed going through a ford, we had no idea why. Then we dropped a whole minute on the first regularity. I’m mindful we are also working to support Roger in his quest to win Golden Roamer Award for navigators.”
Amazingly the 1937 Derby Bentley is still there in fifth place after a severe hairpin damaged one of the manifolds which the mechanical assistance crews immediately set to work on at the lunch halt, managing a temporary fix that put Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley back into the hunt.
Another team on the rise are the Whyte sisters, Seren and navigator Elise, up to 12th place in the little 1957 Standard Ten, looking to perform another giant-killing act as they did recently on The Icelandic Saga. Elise“ The navigation is tough, roads on the map look like normal roads but when you get there it’s just a farm track. You think that can’t be or would a car go up there? You have to trust yourself.” Seren; “Driving conditions are really difficult, there has been so much rain and so many leaves down it is so slippy. You have to prepare yourself to make moves much earlier than under normal conditions, it’s crazy out there.”
Elise Whyte currently leads the Golden Roamer Award battle for navigators but thinks this may be the end of the challenge. “You really have to compete on the Rally of the Tests and Le Jog to have a chance, I have no money and no driver for Le Jog so sadly I think Roger Bricknell will take it.”
It is also sad to report that the event lost one of their top competitors as Jonathan Hancox had to withdraw the light blue Triumph TR4 leaving navigator Richard Lambley to reflect on what might have been; “ It is a great shame that we are out. Yesterday we made just one mistake when we overshot a junction but otherwise, we would have been in with a good chance, although I must say this year has been one of the toughest RAC Rally of the Tests that I can remember! One great feature is the No boards which are placed on the ‘wrong route’ roads. They are really appreciated as it stops you going for miles down the wrong way and also makes it safer”.
Jonathan Money the driver of car 45, a Porsche 911S had discovered the No boards. “We visited all the controls, got all the stamps and then found a No board.” His navigator Phil Feast described how he felt due to the demands of this rally; “ I feel just like a rabbit in the headlights!”
The first two tests were back at Exeter Racecourse early on Friday morning, this time in the daylight, they were quite a wake-up call. The first test was a real high-speed blast that required commitment in the long sweeping turns, then total car control in test two, a high-speed slalom on gravel and broken tarmac. One section contained a quite disturbing dip that pitched the cars into buckaroo style yaw but most kept the throttle pushed down hard to ensure the car pulled through.
The regularities caused consternation right through the long day as tricky sections over narrow, slippy roads tested the best. A hidden timing point on a triangular road on regularity three caught out even the top navigators as they went the wrong way. Howard Warren and Iain Tullie had to reverse their Porsche 911 in front of a batch of photographers and a camera crew. Sixth place man Harm Lamberigts and Arjan van der Palen in their Escort Mexico went flying a long way past and had to spin turn around to come back to the control. The majority were caught out.
Ed Abbott and Ray Crowther’s long Jaguar XJ-S didn’t go far past, but trying to turn the big Jaguar around the severe hairpin to the control was almost impossible and Ed brushed the bank with the left front headlight. Most crews suffered with tricky instructions designed to catch out every level of the team during the day.
Luck also played its part. Dermot Carnegie and Paul Bosdet just managed to turn their Volvo out of a narrow T junction in the beautiful little village of Rottreaux Mill as a huge tractor turned in. The locals sitting on benches outside their cottages had all received their letters from the organisers advising them the rally was coming through, they were all thoroughly enjoying the experience.
The slippery slopes of Porlock hill were tackled after a wonderful lunch served by the ladies of Porlock Village in the Village Hall. The surface was treacherous, especially after the start in the damp section under the trees where the leaves had been compressed into slime. Bill Cleyndert was spinning the wheels of his Mini Cooper S in every gear, Ed Abbott was struggling to use all the power of the Jaguar as he fought for grip, but it was a great spectacle.
HERO Chairman Tomas de Vargas Machuca was unable to start the event in his Porsche 911 due to work commitments but has happily handed his car over to colleague Federico Gottsche Bebert. Tomas, “ I guess my calendar got really crossed but at least I was able to come to Torquay and see everyone on the Prologue, I will also be working on our stand at the NEC Classic Car Show on Saturday, I hope Federico enjoys this great heritage event.”
Federico said; “Wow, to be able to compete on the RAC Rally of the Tests, it’s just a wonderful experience. There was a bit of scare mongering going on between Tomas and navigator Nick Bloxham and it is tough, but not that tough. I’m getting used to the car now after one or two problems and working well with Nick who is such a great navigator.” The duo are now 20th.
Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson had been very competitive as ever, in their Volvo, but slipped off the road in very difficult conditions on Friday night. On a very narrow downhill road with a slick surface, the Volvo skated straight on wedging Itself on a soft bank with it’s right front wheel dangling over a stream.
Noel explained; “ We knew there was a control at the top of the hill but we were just a bit too fast. An Escort kindly tried to pull us out, they moved us a bit but the tow rope snapped. The technical assistance crews got us out, we finished the regularity and the last one of the day, so we are back in the rally.”
One of the pre-event favourites Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan suffered gearbox failure on their Porsche 356B and had to arrange for the car to be transported home. Paul and Andy have returned now with their green 911. Paul; “We have brought the trusty green 911 to compete instead so now we’re just going to have a lot of fun over the last two days.”
Once crews have enjoyed the test at the NEC, a great opportunity to demonstrate classic rallying live to a show audience, crews will head to the dreaded Swynnerton test. Howard Warren explained why it has such a reputation; “ It’s a bad place, 40% of the field will be in there at any one time in the dark. They are fast military concrete roads but because of the nature of the tracks, you will see headlights everywhere as if they are coming towards you. Next minute you dive off into the bushes and onto gravel tracks. There are passage controls and time controls as well so it really is complex, in fact, I don’t know how they manage to set it all up. The rally can be won or lost in there, you could go in lying 30th and come out first. It really gets the adrenalin going.”
Photos by Blue Passion Photo