HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock and his team have put an enormous amount of time and energy into the organisation of the RAC Rally of the Tests for it’s return after two years. Just hours before the start of the rally with the Prologue taking place in the dark, he explained the effort that has gone in and what lies ahead for the crews from nine countries.
Guy; “It’s been a long time coming, we’ve had two years of planning so there are no excuses for not making it one of the best ones we have run. We have worked really hard, George Mullins, myself, Seren Whyte and the team, to hopefully give the competitors something they want. We are so glad that 75 teams have turned up in the current situation to come and do an event which is probably the best classic car rally on the calendar.
“We are delighted that the Dutch, Germans, Swiss and Belgians have made their way over and I am sure it will be well worth it for them and hopefully they enjoy what we have planned for them.
“It will live up to it’s reputation as a tough event, but we have contracted the rally running time by about an hour each day so that the competitors can catch up with their friends afterwards and tell the stories of the day. However, we have achieved that without reducing the amount of competition on each day so it will be full on once they start, but with a bit more down time after each leg.
“The Prologue is a nice mixed surface regularity to start with then a couple of tests, all in the dark. On Friday we have a wide range of surfaces, gravel, concrete, tarmac and some great tests at Harewood Hill Climb and then we go to the army ranges of Catterick in the evening which is a mixture of gravel and tarmac. We have some classic forests for the 75 crews to enjoy as well.
“There are more army ranges for them to enjoy themselves on at places like Warcop, but then the Sunday morning is going to be pretty full on. We planned quite a few things that we didn’t think could happen, but we managed to achieve it all so Sunday could prove to be a bit of a sting in the tail with nine tests and four regularities, all before lunch on the last day!
“Many of the crews have dressed up to the period of their car which is great to see, and of course for the spirit of the event. Some have taken it to the enth degree, we have even got the Blues Brothers out there!”
So why have the competitors flocked back to the event? Dan Willan last competed on the RAC Rally of the Tests in 2018 and finished second on his first attempt. Dan “I was just blown away by the whole experience, it was so magical I just had to do it again. We had a really good four days, we kept our noses clean, the navigator was really good, but you do need some luck, everyone needs fortune for this rally. It’s a long event and a lot can go wrong, and with the long days it is easy to make mistakes and a lot of it is in the dark so concentration is essential.
“This event has heritage, it must have been quite an adventure in the fifties and sixties. There was no social media, and limited communication, they just worked off their maps although I am sure it is as challenging now as it was back then. “
“One of the things that really makes these events for me is seeing all the people, everyone is friendly so the social aspect of it is massively important, just as much as the competition.”
Sadly for Dan just an hour after The RAC Rally of the Tests started from Bowcliffe Hall in the early evening of Thursday, he and navigator Niall Frost were the first retirement, out with a major engine failure as there was a hole in the side of the Volvo PV544’s engine block. This was a cruel blow for one of the event favourites and second place finishers from 2018.
With two regularities and two tests in the dark and chilly Bramham Park Complex, there was some trepidation amongst some crews being thrown straight into the fast forest track tests at night. There was a mixture of surfaces, all of which were slippy, as the RAC Rally of the Tests started as it means to continue in it’s own challenging way.
Some of the Dutch contingent were loving it straight away. Roy Bolks who is navigating Peter Jan Smit in their 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia was beaming as he alighted from the car at the end of the prologue; Roy. “It was a good start for our first time over here – we loved it in the dark, it was a bit slippy but it has to be doesn’t it, it was fun! We did it all well so hopefully we can do it all again tomorrow.”
Jon Dunning and Henry Carr found their way through the complex OK in their 1980 Escort RS2000, Henry; “It was interesting, as we expected, we saw a few cars going in different directions in Bramham. We’re both from Yorkshire so we are looking forward to Friday if we can’t do well tomorrow we probably should give up really!”
Joe; “We caught a couple of cars up but we lost time as well, it was slippery and quite quick in there, although there were too many ‘stop in the boxes’ for me!”
Jonathan Hancox and Richard Lambley survived the first night after a little scare in their 1962 Triumph TR4; Jonathan; “ It was very tough round there, we overshot! We have had some previous experiences of getting stuck in fields, so when we wrong slotted into a field tonight which was very muddy, I thought here we go again! I could feel the car losing traction but somehow we managed to keep her going and we got out. Then on the transport section before the final regularity my brake pedal disappeared to the floor. Luckily the one of the mechanical assistance team, Dave Alcock is on it now and it is only the rear brake adjuster so we will be back for Friday- we survived!”
Dave Bryan and Tony Brooks, 1974 Ford Escort RS2000, Dave; “We are a bit rusty and of course the first event straight into the darkness made it a bit daunting, I prefer to have a start in the daylight. We had a few problems with the lights as well but generally the car is behaving!”
Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan, 1963 Porsche 956B, Paul; “The Prologue was very challenging, it was difficult to navigate and very slippery but it was great! It was a real challenge for both sides of the car but I think we did OK.”
They did do OK, in fact Crosby and Pullan lead overall after the Prologue with the most successful crew ever on the RAC Rally of the Tests hot on their heels, Paul Wignall and Mark Appleton, who between them have won this event 11 times!
Third overnight is the potent combination of Alexander Leurs and Ryan Pickering in the 1975 Opel Ascona, with another top navigator guiding his driver to a great start although ineligible for an overall classification due to the year of the car, Martyn Taylor, with driver Paul Dyas in their 1965 Volvo Amazon sit in third. Nicky and Darrell Staniforth have started brilliantly too on their first RoTT, fourth in the Morris Mini Cooper S.
The cream is definitely on the top after the Prologue, but there is a long way to go and anything can happen, just look at poor Dan Willan and Niall Frost.