The second of three 2023 HERO Challenge one-day regularity rallies provided a tough but fun-filled day of competition on Saturday September 9, as sizzling conditions and stunning scenery combined for an event that fully lived up to its name.
The crews relished getting to grips with a total of six regularity stages and four tests for a combined total of 134 miles across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, as father-and-son duo Steve and Thomas Robertson claimed a narrow overall victory in their MG B GT V8. The duo logged just 50 seconds of penalties to get the better of another family pairing, Stephen and Alexander Chick, by just two seconds.
“As in all sport you just have to be consistent and we were,” said Robertson Sr. “We only had one zero score all day but all the others accounted for only one or two seconds of penalties. For the tests, we hadn’t changed from winter tyres for this event and yet they went fine.
“We all know it’s the navigators that win these rallies rather than the drivers and it’s a young navigator with an agile brain that made the difference here. I’ve been rallying with my wife for 10 years, but today I had the stand-in – and he’s been rather good. Embarrassing for the normal navigator!”
The day’s intense heat was already building as the crews left the Kingfisher Hotel in Milton Keynes bright and early on Saturday morning, heading for the first of two tests on gravel at the Bill Gwynne Rally School. The dry and dusty conditions created a few visibility problems, but the drivers relished the chance for some sideways motoring – not to mention the odd handbrake turn. “That was absolutely hilarious – I couldn’t see a thing!” exclaimed Jonathan Martin as he punched out of the test in his Austin Healey 3000. The crews then headed for the first of the regularity runs before stopping for a quick coffee break.
At this stage, King and Carr were top of the leaderboard, but equal on penalties with the Audi Coupe GT of Rob Robinson and Peter Mellor, and the Riley Sprite crewed by John Lomas and his 14-year-old daughter Natasha. But others had already hit trouble.
The Belgian-Franco duo of Kurt Vanderspinnen and Valentin Charlet, running first on the road in their beautiful Lea Francis, were looking glum. “The fuel pump is losing all power and the engine is not getting enough fuel,” reported Vanderspinnen. “We have to change it, but unfortunately we don’t have a spare one. It’s looking like the end of our rally.” It was, the pair announcing their retirement as other crews returned to action.
One standout effort came from David Hemstock and Colin Readwin in their humble Austin Allegro, which was looking a little sorry for itself slumped low on its nearside-front quarter. “We’ve hit a snag – and a couple of bad bumps!” said Hemstock. “We’ve broken a hydro-elastic displacer, so we have no suspension on the near-side. So it’s on Tarmac-spec on the left side and forest-spec on the right side, sitting at a rare angle! But we’ll see if we can get around because we’re doing well on the regularities today. We’re not sure we’ll make it to the end.” Amazingly, the pair did make it back to the Kingfisher Hotel, to finish 44th overall.
As a contrast to the gravel test at the rally school, Shenington kart circuit offered a very different challenge to crews, who enjoyed a pair of back-to-back runs around the narrow track. “The Audi is a little big for the kart circuit,” said Robinson, “but those tests were fun – and noisy with all the skidding wheels.”
“The kart track was just amazing,” added Lomas. “You feel like Nigel Mansell at the end of it.
As the crews paused for lunch at The Gate Hangs High pub, King and Carr still topped the standings, now from the Robertsons, but the Lomas father-and daughter duo had dropped down the order. “The tests have gone really well, but I slipped a bit on the maps,” said Natasha. “We dropped to 31st from third by lunch,” said Dad, “but we knew we would because the maps were very hard. The tests were amazing, but I got into trouble because I handbraked on gravel and filled the car with dirt, which wasn’t the best!”
The afternoon was filled with more regularities and a return for another test at the Bill Gwynne Rally School, before the mid-afternoon return to the Kingfisher Hotel finish. The Robertsons were delighted to claim the victory, with the Chick duo demoting King and Carr to third. “We had one section of a regularity where we were being approached by other cars and there was no way through,” King explained. “We lost a lot of seconds there, but it’s all ifs and buts. Navigator Henry has been impeccable.”
“We’ve had a really good time,” said runner-up Chick Jr, whose father was celebrating his birthday. “We weren’t really looking at the standings, so we were delighted to come as high as we did, with just two seconds in it.”
James Holt and his navigator Chris Matthews claimed the Test Pilot Award for the best performances across the four tests in their BMW 325i. Sally Woof, navigator to Nigel Woof in their Volvo PV544, won the Clockwatchers Award for best performance on the regularities – on their way to an excellent fourth overall and class victory.
Chris and Fred Winter’s delightful red Hillman Imp took the Concours d’Elegance honours, while the team award went to Team Loughton – made up by John Harvey and Steven Brown’s VW Golf GTI, Brian and Andrew Yeomans’ Volvo P1800E and the plucky Lomas duo in their Riley Sprite.
“I’m very happy with today,” said Clerk of the Course Seren Whyte. “The weather has been fantastic, although unfortunately that makes the traffic slightly busier, but it was nothing too untoward. I think everyone has enjoyed the slight step up in competition since the last HERO Challenge. This was an intermediate level event and each one should be a step up. That has been achieved nicely today.
“We’ve had a good mix of tests, the Bill Gwynne Rally School on the loose and the Shenington kart circuit on asphalt, so different challenges for different cars. It’s been fun.”
HERO Challenge Three, the final round of the 2023 championship, takes place on October 7 and will be based north of Preston, on the moorland roads of Lancashire and the area of outstanding natural beauty bordering onto the Yorkshire Moors.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases