The 2015 Royal Automobile Club 1000 Mile Trial was won for the second time in a row by John Abel and Martyn Taylor in their 1937 Lagonda LG 45, writes Kev Haworth.
The event wasn’t all one sided as a spirited drive by William Medcalf/Dan Harrison saw them push the winners right from the very start – if it wasn’t for an error by the Bentley mounted crew on the innocuous Lake Vyrnwy regularity, the result could have been totally different. In third place were Paul Crosby/Andy Pullan in one of the drives of the event – their Arrive & Drive AC 16/80 March Special proving a delight to watch on the driving tests, remarkable in that the very talented Crosby had first sat in the vehicle just one week prior to the 1000 Mile Trial.
Forty-one vehicles lined up for the six day event outside the country home of the Royal Automobile Club’s country home at Woodcote Park, Epsom, the weather was a little grey and drizzly but spirits were high as the route promised to deliver a driving experience beyond compare for the assembled crews. The vehicles assembled ranged from an Austin Seven Super 750 right the way through to the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este award winning Mercedes-Benz 500K Cabriolet A. It is safe to say that the quality of entry was in a league of its own. Amongst the other vehicles taking part were an Alfa Romeo 6C Mille Miglia Supercharged, its family provenance stretching back to just after the war – the gentleman driver, Count Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Lurani, rescuing the precious vehicle from life on a farm as a chicken carrier! Couple this with the ex-Donald Healey Triumph Dolomite 8C and the sublime ex-Tazio Nuvolari Bugatti Type 37A of Viola Procovio/Jessica Dickson and the picture becomes clear that such a gathering has never been assembled before in the UK.
The first leg took competitors from Woodcote Park to Hook near Hampshire and the elegant surroundings of Tylney Hall where crews held their first overnight halt. From the off a fierce battle raged between Abel/Taylor and Medcalf/Harrison as they swapped seconds on the regularity sections, the Bentley pair were in a class of their own on the tests and were edging out a small lead into day two.
Heading out of Tylney Hall and forging their way north through to Coventry and Coombe Abbey the first full day of competition the top five crews were separated by just five seconds – with second to fourth tied on 36 seconds penalties. Robert Crofton/Fred Bent were a late entry as a crew onto the 1000 Mile Trial, their Arrive & Drive Riley 9hp Brooklands proving spectacular on the tests and with the addition of Bent’s huge navigational experience they were a force to be reckoned with on the regularities. Stopping at Blenheim Palace for lunch a large crowd gathered around the historic vehicles as they assembled in the external courtyard, it was to be a theme that followed the whole event and demonstrated the affection in which these cars are held.
Coombe Abbey saw huge local interest with the local BBC radio station sending an outside broadcast unit to interview crews and organisers alike, as the event progressed more and more people lined the route cheering and waving the competitors on. The third day was once again a tough battle, Crosby/Pullan were the class of the field, rising to second overall, pushing Crofton/Bent into fifth behind another rising crew, John Ruston/Jeremy Haylock in a Talbot 105 Alpine. Lunch was served at Chatsworth House where another large crowd assembled to greet the crews – the staff at Chatsworth commenting that they had never had so many people midweek in the grounds and could only put this down to the visit of the event.
Day four saw the turning point of the event, leaving Chester behind,t he event ventured across the border into Wales, what seemed like a straightforward regularity proved to be the downfall of Medcalf/Harrison, starting the section on private land allowed the organisers to place a control under the statutory two miles, arriving at the control 48 seconds early was a massive blow for them and promoted Abel/Taylor into the lead. The scenery in Wales was breathtaking, the last few day’s rain had held off and gave competitors superb views across Horseshoe Pass, World’s End and Tanat Valley before heading down the Marches into lunch at Gregynog Hall. The afternoon halt was held at Croft Castle where a jazz band played to welcome crews with many of them being applauded by the assembled crowd. Martin and Lesley Neal were having a great run and held a fine sixth overall, another new pairing saw Viola Procovio/Jessica Dickson held tenth, a testament to the skill of Dickson as this was her driver’s first ever regularity rally. The afternoon saw two iconic locations used for driving tests, Shelsley Walsh and then Chateau Impney the final action of the day and scene of the overnight halt before the penultimate day’s action.
The fifth leg took crews from Chateau Impney to Goodwood on av ery linear route that would call in at Slaughters Inn for coffee with lunch at Wilton House where a test was scheduled. The afternoon saw the outstanding run of Crofton/Bent come to an end with dynamo problems, they were able to get back in the hunt with a quick repair from the travelling mechanics allowing them to finish the leg, albeit in 13th, not a good day for Fred and it was his birthday. Heading into Goodwood via two tests at the hallowed hill-climb, Abel/Taylor held first with Medcalf/Harrison and Crosby/Pullan tied for second. The final day had some interesting sections and would pile the pressure on the Lagonda pair.
An air of apprehension was hanging over Goodwood as crews left for the final leg, however, some merriment overnight saw the Triumph Dolomite 8C of Turner/Cussons given a full custom wrap in tin foil, the revenge was sweet after they found the perpetrator (Katarina Kyvalova) and filled her car with straw bales – then cutting the string to release their contents! Abel/Taylor eased off the pressure on the final leg to conserve the release bearing on the Lagonda but kept an eye on the competition behind them at all times, not even a final charge from Medcalf/Harrison could stop them now though.
The champagne flowed as the finishing crews crossed the line in front of the imposing and beautiful Woodcote Park, many members and guests were assembled to welcome the competitors to Epsom. It had been a very closely fought event that went down to the wire, ending with a well-deserved second victory in a row for Abel and Taylor, but they had been pushed all the way by Medcalf and Harrison.
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