Le Jog, Europe’s premier historic car rally renowned for its endurance driving challenge, has just got tougher. The 25th Anniversary event has gone back to its original roots following in 25-year-old wheel tracks when 44 cars finished out of 47 starters from Land’s End
John Kiff, the first ever and only gold medal winner on the inaugural event in 1993 navigating for Evan MacKenzie in a works replica Triumph TR4, has designed the 2019 route for the 25-year celebration. It has been conceived to replicate the original ultimate endurance route as much as possible from 1993 as John explained; ”We have managed to replicate quite a lot of the original route, and a number of the same test venues and main controls, 20 odd locations all used on the first event with a lot of that first NW Scottish route. As a navigator on the first Le Jog it was something like a trip into the unknown, parts of the country I’d never been to before! We didn’t know what to expect especially coming from event originator John Brown’s fertile brain, at times we just thought it was over the top, just so hard.
“Yet when I look back at the old route card, there was less content than more subsequent events”.
John Kiff was route planner for Le Jog from 2011- 2014, he also won a gold medal as a driver with his brother Rob in their 1958 VW Beetle in 2003. Rob is navigating a Saab 96 for Keith Jenkins on the 2019 event. With his immense rallying experience, including so many Motoring News night rallies, John Kiff is in the best position to judge how tough 2019 will be compared to 1993.
“We have tried to pack as full a content as possible considering certain constraints that weren’t there in 1993, it’s a linear route as always but it’s going to be as tough as it’s possible to be.”
John has been involved in 17 Le Jog events either organising, driving or navigating. “I’ve marshalled on most of the others that I haven’t done or spectated on the rest. I’ve pretty much seen every one of them in one way or another…it gets in your blood whether you are a competitor or an organiser!”
The commitment is clear, as John mentioned others who have Le Jog in their blood and still work or compete on the event. “Vincent Fairclough was on the first Le Jog and is competing again this year navigating Paul Carter’s 1936 Bentley Derby. Brian Colin, John Surridge and Chris Seymour have worked on every one in the course cars. Also, Peter Nedin has worked on so many both in support, route design and being in charge. Whilst Vincent and myself competed on the first one, Peter Barker was entered in the gold medal winning TR4 from 1993 but has recently sold the car to Tony Sheach. Tony has judged that the car is not in ready enough condition, so it’s sad we won’t see it on the anniversary event but we have to respect that decision” Can a TR4 can do it again as there is one entered for David Hankin and Peter Rushforth? “Absolutely” quipped John.” Peter is another one who was involved in that first event and many others since – supporting John Brown and Peter Nedin.
“But it is about getting there. Like when I was navigating last year, and we had to rebuild the collapsed front suspension on the Sunday. We were out of the medals but rejoined and still made it to John O’Groats.
“Whether organising, competing or marshalling this event gets to you, 25 years on it is still exciting! I will be in the advance car checking that the venues and controls are all ready over an approximate event distance of 1400 miles. The route will take the long hard way on the most remote roads, just as we did in 1993.
“One of the spectacles I am really looking forward to is the return of more vintage cars after their comeback last year. It’s great to have the vintage brigade back, with nine cars, seven of them Bentleys, I expect one of them to capture a gold.”
The most common aim amongst competitors is just to be able to cross the finish line at John O’Groats such is the arduous task for crews over four days and three nights with a total average sleep expectancy of 12 hours. However, for the more experienced teams there are Gold, Silver and Bronze Le Jog medals at stake which remain amongst the most sought-after awards in classic rallying.
Medal winners returning after a while away from Le Jog are five-time RAC Rally of the Tests winner Paul Wignall navigated by six time winner of the RAC event Mark Appleton. Paul recently excelled out of his 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint for a change, to perform excellent live RoTT commentary duties at the very first competitive test to be held inside the halls of the Lancaster Insurance Classic Car Show at the NEC. He was unaware that his wife and front running driver Jayne Wignall was lying second in the HERO Cup drivers’ championship awards, nor was Jayne, but now she is!
Lying just 3.75 points behind leader Steve Robertson, winner of the Summer Trial, Steve is not entered so Jayne needs a good finish to overhaul the leader to take the title in her Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. She will be navigated by multiple gold medal winning navigator Kevin Savage.
As further evidence of the 25 year attraction this event has built up, John Kiff recalls in his excellent account of the 1993 Le Jog (please click the link at the foot of this preview), that there was even an observed ‘slow running test’ on Le Jog and that it was run by the same Kevin Savage! Furthermore, Test 14 at Downholme was officiated by Paul and Jayne Wignall!
The award prospects for 2019 are good for Jayne. Third place Seren Whyte is also not entered, she is a Competitor Liaison Officer on the event. Previous gold medal winner Stephen Owens in fourth place navigated by top map man Nick Bloxham, are expected to make a serious podium push in their Porsche 911 SWB.
Other returning gold medal winners include Kevin Haselden, Simon Harris, and Thomas Koerner who will be out in his BMW 320.
Equally hard fought over the season has been the championship award for navigators, the Golden Roamer.
Elise Whyte has enjoyed a great season and still leads the Golden Roamer championship award. Yet despite efforts to enter Le Jog, opportunities have not reached fruition with work also making demands on her time. Her challenger for honours is Roger Bricknell. Roger is navigating his son Thomas who both enjoyed a good outing on the RAC Rally of the Tests, he is 67 points behind in second. So, the duo needs a good result on Le Jog to propel Roger onto the top step of the navigator’s podium. Andrew Duerden is just 37 points adrift of second place so should keep his podium as fourth and fifth place navigators, Ian Canavan and Julia Robertson are, like Andrew, not entered.
Le Jog’s reputation holds true as manifested in the bumper entry of over 80 cars from 10 countries listing a variety of fascinating classic rally machinery. From a 1973 Citroen D Super 5 to a Peugeot 403 and Mitsubishi Galant. Andy Smith and Pat Shaw are entered in their original 1963 MG FIA B but the pull of the event has even drawn recently married Tony and Rachel Sheach to enter in their VW Golf GTi as part of their honeymoon!
Favoured front runners for gold and silver medals will have to ensure they have vehicle reliability and good relations in the car to achieve their goals. Most are well established and seasoned crews, but two Vintage Class Bentleys could upset the order and seriously disturb the ‘moderns’. Stuart Anderson and Richard Lambley in their 1937 Bentley Derby could replicate Stuart’s fourth place result which was the performance upset of the RAC Rally of the Tests. Record breaking Atlantic rower Elliot Dale is back with his navigator Charlotte Ryall in their Derby Bentley attempting to put on another incredible show as they did last year before a late accident sadly put them out. Bill Cleyndert navigated by Leigh Powley, who partnered Stuart Anderson to that glorious fourth place on RoTT, has switched back to the Flying Scotsman winning partnership with Cleyndert. They are in their Scottish winning Ford Model A Special, surely candidates for gold medals.
Other front runners are likely to be Jayne and Paul Wignall in their respective Alfa Romeos navigated by super successful navigators Kevin Savage and Mark Appleton. Klaus Mueller and Eric Schwab in the Lancia Fulvia should also be in the middle of the medal hunt.
A great combination in the 1965 Volvo Amazon is Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor. Paul was a comeback third on the Rally of the Tests whilst his successful navigator for Le Jog, Martyn Taylor was a superb second in a Porsche 911 as Martyn tamed racing driver Phil Hindley to take the second step of the podium. The new pairing has prompted Paul Dyas to confidently predict the outcome; “We’re going to win Le Jog.”
In a slight twist, two prominent medal winning drivers have turned navigator for this event. Former Le Jog gold medal winner Andy Lane will be navigating Derek Skinner in his Ford Cortina GT whilst Sue Shoosmith will be taking the plunge in the hot seat of Michael Kunz’s Dodge Senior Six.
The entry includes Eric Michiels and Aswin Pick in their quick Porsche 924S, Robert and Susan McLean on their 20th Le Jog in their slower but reliable Rover 100, a Ford Sierra XR4i plus a Fiat 131.
For the second year in a row, the Vintage Class runners make a welcome return to Le Jog. With no less than seven vintage Bentleys and two American oldies, a Chevrolet Fangio Coupe, a Dodge Senior Six with Bill Cleyndert’s Flying Scotsman winning Ford also entered, the class is growing back on Le Jog. A stirring sight on Friday afternoon on the seafront apron in front of the Land’s End Hotel start point will be the Bentleys gathered for a photoshoot in celebration of their centenary. The magnificent machines range from 1924 to 1949 and most of the crews will compete with their tops down in the winter weather adhering to true vintage tradition.
What awaits the crews apart from potentially bad winter weather, for which organisers mandate the use of winter tyres. Fatigue and an arduous route taking the 80+ cars over 1400 miles north over the longest and most remote route possible from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Starting on Saturday 7th December over Cornish cliff top footpaths there are five legs, beginning with South West England into Wales for Leg Two and some of the narrowest, steepest and toughest lanes and moorland roads that Wales can offer, all at night.
There will be the chance for a few hours sleep in the early hours of Monday morning, but an early start will remind everyone that this is about endurance. The advice for first timers is to grab food and sleep when they can as there is not much about, secondly to try and keep to the right route over and above timing accuracy which is seen as secondary on this endurance event.
Leg three in the North of England from Chester to Preston will hit the upland roads made famous on night rallies. The moors and dales across Lancashire and Yorkshire will provide some challenging regularities then the long drive north to South Scotland for some amazing roads for the competitors, one example being the fabulous Rest and be Thankful hillclimb. North Scotland brings an absolute belter, the Bealach ne Ba regularity. Known as the ‘Pass of the Cattle’, it is the highest unclassified road in the UK reaching 626m above sea level, the sea is just three kilometers away, so that gives a clue to severity of the climb!
After a short rest, another gem set in stone for the crews is the road past Inverpolly Lodge that just like the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ was used in 1993. The section after that qualifies as the twistiest, steepest and most narrow B road in the UK and it is called Drumbeg. The name is as memorable as will be the driving experience. As John Kiff and Evan MacKenzie motored through the mist on this section 25 years ago, they were both struggling to stay awake, fatigue had set in. John thought he was hallucinating when a 1919 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost whooshed past in the opposite direction out of the fog, he remembered seeing a ghostly vision of the driver and navigator swathed in scarfs and goggles. It wasn’t a dream as in his stupa he remembered they were on the rally. But to this day, he doesn’t know where they were going!
Running north across the wilds of Sunderland to Durness the most north- westerly town in the UK this almost non-stop 36 hour push takes teams to the north coast and the run to John O’ Groats, but for the weary and wrecked crews now struggling to stay awake, let alone concentrate, there are two more testing regularities to go. In 1993 just when they thought they’d reached John O’Groats with the finish line in sight, crews were handed a diagram with no route on it for the final test in the car park before they could finish. “A typical John Brown sting in the tail” said John Kiff.
After completing the final regularities, teams head for the relief and joy of the finish line in John O’Groats where the pipes and a cold blast of North Sea air will help them wake up. If that doesn’t do the trick, the obligatory wee nip of whisky will.
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