An eclectic mix of vintage to modern classics from 1925 to 1985 started Leg One from the Holiday Inn Telford on Friday for three tests and four regularities under the scorching Shropshire sun. After 92 miles of concentrated navigation, fifteen year old Oli Waldock, the youngest ever HERO-ERA podium sitter, had navigated his grandfather and 2018 HERO-ERA Cup champion Paul Bloxidge, to a superb provisional first overall in their VW Golf GTi.
The heat brought the cream to the top as twice runners up Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane in their BMW 323i are lying second, hoping for a shot at the top slot over the next two days of competition. Showing that the big guns are out on the Summer Trial sniffing the podium, former champion driver and navigator Roger Bricknell navigated Andy Simpson’s Mini Clubman GT to a fine provisional third place overall.
With the heat came the dust across the airfields and lanes of Shropshire. The first test at High Ercall Airfield had history to match some of the cars on the event. In 1946 an Australian pilot bought a former Halifax bomber that was stationed at the same airfield, then charged passengers to take a flight with him to Australia. That marked the first post war commercial flight between the UK and Australia.
The test provided a great start to the Summer Trial as the cars literally took off, many crews unleashing their rally machines for the first time in well over a year. Later tests provided a mix a track and link roads for drivers to fling their cars around after crossing Shropshire trying to keep to the average speeds set by the organisers in the four regularities.
The grandest of the them all was the last regularity with the start set on the fine wide grass boulevard leading to the stately Chillington Hall. Although the road was loose and slightly rough before turning right onto tarmac in front of the hall, instead of the rally cars, it would have been quite a sight in 1724 when the horse drawn carriages made their sedate progress down the arrow straight drive to visit the landed gentry in the grand house at the end. The Grade 1 listed house was designed by Francis Smith in the early 1700’s whilst the lakes and gardens were designed by the star landscaper of the time, Capability Brown. For all it’s beauty and tranquilness, the Chillington regularity did provide a navigational sting in the tail for the unwary, catching out a few MGB’s who were spotted circling a crossroads in tandem.
For Pete and Jo John Johnson in their 1983 Austin Maestro it proved to be a good first leg as they finished fifth overall. Pete; “ We had a lot of traffic this morning but the last three regularities were good!”
John and Tracy King seemed happy enough in their 1977 Triumph Dolomite Sprint as they were ninth overall in the provisional overnight standings. John; “We were doing OK, just frustratingly being a little bit out, on the cusp really, but we did mange a zero! There were a lot of people out watching, that’s always good for us as we know we are on the right road!”
A crew who kept the local spectators gawking was Sally and David Ward in their 1974 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, quite a site through the Shropshire villages as they waved back to the locals. Like John and Tracy King, the Wards started as complete novices a couple of years ago but have progressed well to the intermediate level, showing their skills in 10th place overnight.
There are three contenders in the Masters Class for experienced and winning crews. Stuart and Emily Anderson who are lying second in their 1937 Derby Bentley did not have an easy day, Stuart; “We got held up on three of the regularities, but you come to expect it at this time of year, but really it’s just great to be out.”
Bill Cleyndert is out in his 1925 Bentley navigated by 2018 Golden Roamer Champion Ian Canavan. This car was the first chassis that W.O. Bentley installed a four and a half litre engine in and has been on the Peking to Paris in 2016 with Bill at the wheel. He had a lot of fun in the Gobi desert in the car but not so much fun with it during the first leg of the Summer Trial. Bill; “We came across a herd of cows, then two waring locals who couldn’t pass each other on a narrow lane so we just had to wait. Unfortunately there is now a little problem with the car but wea are trying to fix it.”
Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham are leading the class in their 1962 Porsche 356B, Stephen; “It’s been a brilliant day, it’s so good to be back rallying. My day has been easy really, just following the other two Masters. We all got held up on the last regularity, we each lost around three minutes so it was all back to square one.”
Paul Day and Alun Jones, 1963 MGB, Paul; “ It was going OK until the new gearbox we are running here for the first time overheated in the tests. It got through OK but we had to wait for it to cool down so we could get the gears again. Alun; “We are on the phone to the guy that built it now hoping we can get something done!”
Patrick and Christopher Shaw, 1970 MGB GT, Patrick; “I’ve come a long way for the Summer Trial, 450 miles from Land’s End! And yes we did do Le Jog five years ago, it was on our door step!” Christopher; “It was our first event, it was only afterwards that they told us it was the toughest in Europe!
“We had a bad start this morning, the gear lever broke off in my hand, I must have eaten too many Wheetabix this morning! We could only join back in after the first coffee halt but we found an incredibly obliging garage who welded it back up for us, then we had a great afternoon. We are very pleased to be back in the event, we thoroughly enjoy it.”
Richard Leggett and Julian Green, 1976 Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Julian; “We had a great day, we were at a Timing Point when a very nice lady started to talk to us! I was sure I knew her and it turned out we had worked together in Norwich five years ago but she now works in this part of the world! It seems she had been chasing the Alfa to have a look.”
Richard; “It’s been hard work with no power steering, but still a good day. I don’t think we will attack tomorrow as we need the practice for the Classic Marathon in Spain and Portugal in July!”
Peter and Kit Moore, 1936 Riley Special, Peter; “The fuel pump played up a bit last night but we are going to risk it as we have a spare in the back. My youngest son Kit is with me on his very first rally, he’s the clever one. I brought my nephew on this event last year and we got best in class so I have got great expectations!” Kit; ”Well let’s see how it goes, lets see if I can prove him right! I have had a couple of lessons from another navigator so it should be interesting!”
Rally personality and 1970 World Cup competitor Bronwyn Burrell is being navigated by Suzanne Barker in the Summer Trial in the very Austin Maxi that took part in 1970, ‘Puff the Magic Wagon.’
Bron; “It’s just so good to be back, honestly it’s just like being back with the family!”
Ian Thomas and Peter Dyer, 1962 Austin Healey 3000 Mk 11. Ian; “It is so lovely to be out rallying, the sun is shining, were on the Summer Trial, I’m in my shorts what could be better? We were on the Novice Trial a few weeks ago, we were doing well then threw it all away, se we’d like to do a bit better here. The more events we do, the more we learn.”
Peter; “We nearly didn’t make it across from the Isle of White as a drunkard on the ferry was threatening to throw himself over board before the ferry even left! Amazingly it got sorted and we even got across a bit earlier!”
Barbara and Daniel Weidemann, Lancia Fulvia Sport, Zagato. Daniel;” The car hasn’t moved since the Malts last year, it has just passed it’s MOT! We are really pleased to be here as we just managed to get a late entry.”
Barbara; “It’s great to be out again and the car is going well. We have had the car since 2007, it’s first event was the first Icelandic Challenge, the Lancia continues to go from strength to strength.”
William and Simon Garrett, 1978 TVR Taimar; Simon; “I’m not sure we are ready, the car is, it’s fully prepped, we have just got to work on our navigational skills.” William; “I don’t think we have used the car since last year!”
Steve Farmer and John Gearing; 1977 MGB GTV8. John; “It is fantastic to be back and on the Summer Trial. I have done this event before so hopefully if the driver can keep it on the road and the tests go OK, I am sure I can get us through the regularities and get a reasonable result.”
Steve; “We managed a warm up event with Loughborough Car Club last weekend and it went OK so lets hope we’re not too rusty.”
After a blazing first day, Leg Two will be the big one when the navigational and driving skills requirements of the Summer Trial get turned up another notch. It is also the most scenic day as the rally drives over great viewing areas like the Long Mynd, although crews who will be tackling the nine regularities and two tests will be a bit more focused on the road books and timing than the gorgeous North Shropshire Hills.