The first ever live classic rallying competition to happen at the NEC as part of the Lancaster Insurance Classic Car Show was deemed a great success by the NEC, Clarion Events and HERO Events who run the heritage RAC titled rally.
Steve Entwistle and Mark Appleton increase their lead in Hopkirk Mini
Tales from the ‘bad’ place, Swynnerton
The original brain child of HERO Operations Director Brian Whyte, the live test has been two years in the making; Brain commented; “ It was been a long two years with a lot of meetings and work by all the partners to make it happen, but for it to be such a success is gratifying for all concerned. There was a considerable queue over 45 minutes before the first car even arrived so the Clarion Events team let the show goers in early to prevent any safety issues. We had given out 2000 entry lists, one to each couple or group. By the time the tenth car had arrived we had run out. The NEC estimate between four to five thousand people watched the test and then the re-start over a two hour period.
“Everybody is delighted, I think this has been a brilliant showcase for classic car rallying. We had a great reaction from people visiting the HERO stand afterwards. One gentleman and his two sons watched for the whole two hours and by the time they left our stand afterwards they had entered the HERO Challenge next year, they were that excited by what they witnessed.”
Five time RAC Rally of the Tests winner Paul Wignall was the expert commentator as the cars screeched their tyres and slid their way around the test course entertaining as they went. Then they parked up in show formation for the spectators to look at wonderful array of classic rally machinery. Interviews with crews proved popular as did some of the ‘crowd favourites’ when certain cars took to the floor. Spontaneous applause broke out for Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley’s 1937 Derby open top Bentley as well as Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini Cooper S in works colours, the first car through.
Results of the NEC test counted towards the results of this very competitive rally which is why Paul Wignall said to the crowd; “ The crews haven’t just put on a great show, they have really been going for it as there s a lot at stake.” Paul remained impressed with the standard of driving whilst also remarking as cars departed for further tests and regularities into the cold wet night; “ Much as I enjoyed commentating and watching the test, I am so glad I am not going out there into the awful conditions, it’s going to be a hard night ahead.”
Hard but fast for crews as they headed into torrential rain and biting winds over the top of Leek and into two airfield tests with visibility an issue for some in the inky black night. The Roaches was a spectacular regularity, the sixth and last of the day with a blast across a muddy and rocky farm yard with a fast right though a gate which revealed a timing point which literally threw Harm Lamberigts and Arjan van der Palen’s Dutch Escort Mexico into a full blooded slide on sight of the control. The leading Mini Cooper S of Entwistle and Appleton came through first chased by the Opel Ascona of another Dutch crew, Alexander Leurs and Bas de Rijk. The Ginetta G15 of Mike and Matthew Vokes arrived at the timing point just a bit ahead of the Porsche 911 of Phil Hindley and Martyn Taylor whilst Bill Cleyndert and Tony Brooks momentarily turned up towards the forty cows feeding in the sheds above the yard. It was that sort of exciting night, except that the blockbuster Time Control Section was last on the day two menu.
10 tests, 6 regularities then the daddy of them all the Time Control Section at Swynnerton military ground. The facility has gained it’s reputation as a foreboding venue that can shatter a team’s results through it’s complex and devious routes. So much so that champion driver Howard Warren calls it a ‘bad place.’
After some 35 to 50 minutes in there depending if you managed stay on track, crews emerged either with big smiles, big frowns or utter dejection on their faces. Rallies have been won and lost in Swynnerton. The following are some of the team tales from the ‘bad place’.
Steve Entwistle and Mark Apppleton who have increased their lead today to nearly two minutes after a great performance in the Mini. Steve; “Frantic in there, good fun though, I’ve worked up a thirst.” Mark; “I thought though we had one or two where we lost a minute or so that we shouldn’t have done. The Opel got close on the last regularity as we were taking it steady over some very rough road, they were around ten seconds behind us.”
Harm Lamberigts and Arjan van der Palen, have moved up to second place after a great performance in Swynnerton. Harm; “I loved it, he (Arjan) did an amazing job on this section, but not the whole night, some was very difficult.”
Phil Hindley and Martyn Taylor are into third 17 seconds behind the Dutch crew. Phil; “It was just mental in there, all going on but what a lot of fun. The visibility wasn’t too good we kept steaming up. We lost the trip for most of the day, a bit of a nightmare but we keep pushing.” Martyn;” Its been a long afternoon since the NEC with little or no trip.”
Matthew Abrey and OwenTurner who are in a Mini; “Matthew; “Absolutely fantastic completely nuts but brilliant.” The best bit? Owen shouted, “Overtaking Bill Cleyndert”. Matthew; “We’re getting there, we had a breakdown this this morning but we’re OK.”
An amazing performance by Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley as they really shouldn’t be that high up the leader board in a 1937 Bentley. Stuart; “Brilliant but very slippy, it is very difficult in this car, a bit too slow. The battery is flat too! Leigh; “some marshals push started us in the middle, we turned off the lights and got going again with that push. All the pages of my notes are pretty wet but muddling through didn’t work this time!” The Bentley Boys are eighth.
Mike and Matthew Vokes, Ginetta G15; Mike, “We survived, it was rough in places, but we got though and thoroughly enjoyed it. Matt; “We overshot a code board and nearly got stuck in a bog but just got out again, it was so slippy” The Vokes are in fourth place.
John Ruddock and Nick Cooper, Ford Escort Mexico who are now 13th. John; ‘”We did alright, dropped a bit on one then another but I’ve not been in there before, Nick has. It wasn’t as rough as the last reg over the top of the moors, it was very rough especially travelling at the speeds we had to.”
Peter Lovett and Matt Fowle who are twelfth but should have ended up higher; Matt, “Two time controls from the end I missed a junction, tried to reverse the trip but it zeroed, from there on in it was just guess work, so unfortunately we lost about five minutes.” Peter Lovett; “ We’re going to go and have a beer.”
Seren and Elise Whyte have reached the top ten in the Standard Ten!; Elise; “We didn’t go wrong, there was a lot of standing water which made it even more challenging! Seren; “ I’m still wired, the adrenalin is just coursing through my body so fast. I don’t think I’ve ever driven like that before!”
Paul Crosby’s sump guard was dragging on his Porsche and nearly falling off, we got a lot of traffic in there and we couldn’t get past. It was wet and rugged in there. “
Despite getting stuck on an elevated piece of road with their front wheels in the air and getting towed off, then stuck behind a gritter before finally beaching their Volvo in soft stuff, Paul Dyas and Martin Pitt are 11th overall, Paul; “a terrible night, the others must have had it much worse!”
It could be worse on the last day as snow has already fallen in North Wales and who knows what HERO Competition Director Guy Woodcock may have in store. Expect a sting in the tail, especially if there are white out conditions
Photos by Will Broadhead