‘Tradition is not the worship of Ashes, but the preservation of fire’, so said Gustav Mahler, the 19th century Bohemian Composer. He was one of the greatest conductors of his generation, and like other prodigious talents in his field, knew when to tread lightly and when to build the instruments up to a crashing crescendo. The 2021 Rally of the Tests, a rally immersed in the traditions of the past, could also be compared to a symphony of sorts. However, it will likely be more Tchaikovsky than Mahler, and whilst the 1812 tells the story of another battle, it could just as easily be the accompaniment to the titanic clash that is in the offing as final preparations take place for the rally that everyone wants to win.
This year’s edition, the nineteenth running of a modern-day classic, has been two years in the making, thanks to ‘Cindee Oven-Tin’ shutting the world down for 18 months. HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock is not viewing this as time lost though, rather as an extended period to perfect the special blend of tests and regularities that attract so many entrants from across Europe. There are 79 crews this year, with 34 drivers and navigators making the trip to the starting city of Leeds from overseas. But just what can they expect from a route that will span 750 miles across three days (plus the evening prologue), between Leeds and Edinburgh?
Well, for seasoned campaigners the answer is obvious, a healthy mix of thrilling tests and testing regularities, that according to Guy will be “Intense”. It is an adjective that is often used in relation to this rally, but this year is applicable due to the action each day finishing slightly earlier, to give a longer break between legs and therefore condensing the competition. “The two-year gap has given us plenty of opportunity to not just hone the route, but also take into consideration competitor feedback” Guy tells me, “Lots of the crews wanted an earlier finish each day, which we have managed to accommodate without losing any actual competition time.” The result is a rally that will maintain the pace of the competition, with very little filler, or time for the drivers and navigators to relax, and all who have entered will have to be on top form if they wish to claim the coveted podium positions come the arrival of the event into the finish in Edinburgh.
Tests will visit hill climbs, army camps and of course circuits, and resurrect classic venues, such as Duncombe Park, that have been off limits to rallying action for a number of years. From the North Yorkshire Moors, through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, the scenery will be just as spectacular as the driving, but for our crews there will be precious little time to enjoy the view, as the tests will of course be linked by challenging regularities, some of which will occur at night. Guy is looking forward to the evening of day two in particular, “The final test of the day will be within the Warcop Training Area, in the dark, and whilst we would usually end the action there, we still need to get to Slaley Hall, so there will be a further two really challenging regularities to finish the day, the last of which finishes in the grounds of Slaley Hall itself.”
It is a captivating insight into what awaits those that have entered, and with Guy’s reputation for wanting to reveal as little about the route as possible until the event begins, it is likely that this beguiling temptress of a rally will over deliver, rather than underwhelm. But of the 80 odd driver and navigator pairs, who might be in with a chance of taming the beast? In truth it is almost impossible to say, and a quick glance at the entry list reveals no end of familiar names, as well as previous winners of course, that could be capable of glory if the dominos fall in their favour.
The first real indication of who is on form will be given by the traditional prologue, which Guy describes as being a pair of night-time tests that will “sort the men from the boys” and setting the tone for the rest of the rally. Of course, the event cannot be won on the first evening, and a less than satisfactory performance from any of the hopefuls won’t necessarily finish their chances completely, but it might well lengthen their odds considerably, and could also throw up a few surprises as well. As whilst there is a healthy amount of the ‘usual suspects’ in the mix, there are a number of those that have been performing well in HERO Challenges and other recent events that will be looking to continue their good form on this more difficult of stages.
The stage is very much set then for the return of this classic event, hewn out of the customs and rituals of the past, and now very much a tradition setter itself. This year will build upon those customs and traditions, celebrating all that is good about the past whilst writing another chapter of history, and very much preserving and stoking the fire in the process.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases