Part three of the popular HERO Challenge rallies of 2020, completes the trilogy set in historic surroundings of beautiful Somerset and Devon for the first time. The 150-mile one day event starting and finishing in Taunton will feature seven regularities and six tests in the HERO Challenge format of following a road book with straight forward navigation and no map plotting required.
The popular format has produced another bumper entry of 90+ cars across both vintage and classic classes, whilst HERO are running their fourth event in rapid succession which they are hoping will be as successful and certainly be as safe as the HC2 and Summer Trial two weeks ago when HERO-ERA ran 90 cars out of Bicester and a three day event with over 40 cars out of Telford for the Summer Trial.
Brian Whyte Operations Director explained the general COVID safety features of running HERO-ERA events that have inspired confidence amongst competitors.
“The format for the one-day events works well and is a big reason why we have so many cars entered but running events safely is another reason and that means it has to be very different from how we were running events previously.
“Everything is done online and there is no interaction with the crews, marshals or officials.
“Crews arrive the day before to collect their rally packs, which are packed 72 hours prior. The scrutineer checks the car virtually as the crews have already competed an electronic scrutineering form. This process takes less than 10 minutes.
“On the Saturday crews arrive 15 minutes before their due start time. Track and trace is completed along with a temperature check. Cars leave at one-minute intervals and the event keeps moving all day, so there is no opportunity for a gathering of people. Coffee and lunch halts follow current Government guidelines which means that we can deliver a safe and enjoyable day, not just for the competitors but for all the householders en-route, many of whom come out and wave. The businesses that we visit for refreshments also benefit with some much-needed customers.
“At the finish crews check in and go home. Results are posted online throughout the event and awards are posted out to the winners the following week.
“All in all a safe enjoyable days motorsport appreciated by all with a result that over 100 cars subscribed to the HERO Challenge Three, a very successful format.”
Historically, the rally will be passing a monument to the Duke of Wellington, a 175-foot-high triangular obelisk on the Blackdown Hills designed to commemorate his victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
In terms of rally history, the HERO Challenge Two route will take teams over some roads that were the heartland of South West road rally territory in the 60’s and 70’s although it will be at the much slower pace of the regularity format. The most famous of the venues is the notorious Porlock Hill the toll road known for its steep and slimy road surfaces under the trees with severe gradients that will get everyone’s attention. It has been used for RAC Rallies in the 60’s and 70’s, once downhill! Many will also remember it was regularly used for BTRDA events in the form of the Somerset Stages.
There will be two tests on the hill and if the weather is clear, non-rally competitors should be able to see across the Bristol Channel to Wales. It is expected that the ‘Expert’ Class 1 crews will shine here but one to watch is car 90 a potent Vauxhall Nova driven by Dave Smith with navigator Jo Johnson alongside in Class 9. The Maulden Garage proprietor is normally the backbone of the Technical Assistance Team sweeping behind the cars to help get crews back into the event, now it’s his turn to compete. For those who read the recent ‘Spotlight’ on Dave, will know he has an impressive competition record in his own right. HERO-ERA are expecting!
The entry list is strewn with winners as well as novices and intermediates. Susan Dixon and Darren Everitt return in their Triumph 2000 following their superb win on HERO Challenge Two a few weeks ago. Steve Robertson, the winner of the 2019 Summer Trial with his son Thomas is rejoined by his wife and navigator Julia this time in their Triumph TR3. Gold medal winners from Le Jog, Stuart and Emily Anderson are out in their 1937 Derby Bentley doubtless to do battle again with class winners on the HERO Challenge Two Elliott Dale and Charlotte Ryall in another Bentley, the Derby Special.
It is also great to welcome back previous HERO Challenge winners from Belgium, Nick Van Praag and Yann-Alexandre Tytgadt in their 1958 Austin A35 which proved to be such a giant killer in 2019, when Nick had Pieterjan Demulder alongside him.
Of the 10 classes of cars on the rally it will be the Andersons in the Class 1 for ‘experts’ and the Class 2 vintage open cockpit cars that should be all ‘arms and elbows’ and particularly entertaining on the six tests conducted at Smeatharpe Airfield where both crew will have to work hard. The cars will feel right at home as they go back to their era when this airfield was RAF Upottery a WW2 airfield. Opened in 1944 it was used by the RAF and the United States Army Air Forces primarily as a transport airfield for antisubmarine patrols.
Vitally, it was from Upottery that Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division boarded their C-47 transports and made their first combat jump into Normandy on D-Day on the 6th June 1944. The next day part of the four squadrons based here towed gliders over and released them with reinforcements over France. In 2001 the airfield received it’s plaudits again as it was featured in the first episode of the TV mini-series ‘Band of Brothers.’
However, thanks to HERO Challenge Three Clerk of the course George Mullins, the 1944 venue has been brought right up to date with new but temporary buildings. For one day only, luxury loos have been hired for the Saturday of the rally, bringing a whole new updated American meaning to ‘I’ve got to go to the can’ as these are posh enamel flushers. Mind you if the Yanks of yesteryear were to use them they would still make the journey across the strip by Willys Jeep, even if it was only forty yards away.
Following a regularity on Porlock Common, crews will head south away from the North Somerset coast and back across Exmoor to see the ponies roaming on the moorland and then some very picturesque Somerset villages such as Winsford. Regularity six will take crews back into Devon and then back to Smeatharpe Airfield for the final three tests. But it isn’t over until all the teams have made it through the seventh and final regularity entitled ‘Tricky Warren.’
Winners, podium sitters and medal winners can be spotted throughout the entry, but they all face a varied and challenging rally despite the straight forward tulip style road book.
Olivia Hardwick will be navigated by her father again as she was on the Novice Trial, this time they are in their Alfa Romeo Giulia GT. Making a rare but welcome appearance is the Chairman of HERO-ERA, Tomas de Vargas Machuca in his Porsche 911 2.2 S with Federico Gottsche Bebert navigating, previously Federico was driving a Porsche 911 on the 2019 RAC Rally of the Tests when he won his class with Nick Bloxham. Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane are back, eager for more success having hauled themselves back up the order on Summer Trial to grab the final podium place in their BMW 323i.
Whilst Somerset and Devon is a fabulous setting for a rally, it is undoubtedly the heady mix of competition cars, some of them unusual, that will make this event so special. John and Aileen Croft are in a 1966 Gilbern GT, Chris Mockridge and John Varney will take on the 911’s in their 1967 Austin A40 Farina. Paul Steddy and Gwyneth Steddy will be on the lookout for US Airman in their Ford Mustang whilst the more sedate end of the entry is at car 68 in the form of the 1968 Jaguar 420 of Richard Dalton and Richard Sinclair.
With a mix of history ranging from the Napoleonic wars to WW2, a bewildering variety of rally cars from the oldest a 1925 Bentley Supersport’s of David and Julia Little, to the youngest a 1986 BMW 325i of James and Gill Holt, the scene is set for a superb day of historic rallying enjoyment.
Photos by Will Broadhead and Blue Passion
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