Choose a rally car. Choose a cold weekend in March on a rock in the Irish Sea. Choose history. Choose Fairies. Choose to compete in the footsteps of legends. Choose 26 tests and 21 regularities, across 360 miles all crammed into 2 days on an island that’s not even half as big as London. Choose changeable weather, rallying at night and all on the treacherous and exciting roads of the Isle of Man. This isn’t a choice, this is a compulsion, this is the Three Legs of Mann Rally.
The Three Legs, as it’s glibly referred to, is one of the most exciting events in the HERO-ERA calendar. Usually occurring biannually, the wait for this latest edition has been slightly longer, but now coincides with the diamond jubilee of the Manx Trophy Rally and the birth of rallying on an island that has been obsessed with motorsport since the beginning of the last century.
Yes, the Isle of Man is fanatical about speed on two and four wheels and as such is held high in the affections of petrolheads everywhere. “It’s just like coming home” says HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock, who has himself been involved in motorsport on the Island for the past forty years or so, and returning here is always special for him, but this year he is particularly excited for what is to come. Most of that is to do with the incredible strength of the entry.
“The field is as competitive as it comes” he tells me, “probably more competitive than the RAC Rally of the Tests, so many of those entered have a chance of winning and the fight for the overall class wins will be incredibly tight as well.” The entry is full at 60 cars, no mean feat considering travel to the island isn’t easy. It features a bumper array of championship and event-winning talent that includes current HERO Cup Drivers Champion Stephen Owens, the standing Golden Roamer Navigators Champion, and Island resident, Pete Johnson. Lining up with them there are multiple other winners and series champions, and those that have left this Island with silverware before. Those with a good memory will remember the incredible fight last time out, between Howard Warren and Iain Tullie, and Matt Warren and Ryan Pickering, a contest that went tooth and nail all the way to the final few miles. Sadly, only Iain Tullie returns from 2019’s winning crew, but with an even more competitive field, the competition could well be split between even more cars.
The competitors are travelling from far and wide too, with entries from across Europe, such is the draw of this special place, and whilst there are many that are returning, forever lured by the call of the Island, there are also first-timers looking forward to their maiden taste of Manx motorsport, including double HERO Challenge Champions Alistair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite, who will no doubt be excited to put tyres to the tarmac in this extraordinary place.
But what can they expect? Well, a special route to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Manx for one. As closely as possible the route of the 2023 rally will mirror that first rallying event on the Island, paying tribute to it and tipping the rallying cap to those that have gone before. It isn’t possible to follow in the wheel tracks of those first pioneers completely, as some of the roads have long been disused, reclaimed by the Manx Fairies and are now part of the Island’s rich tapestry of folklore and legend.
The total distance of the event will be 360 miles, but on a piece of land that is just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide that is some going and indeed it will be some going for all involved, as they tackle the three separate legs, including one that runs into the nearly impenetrable black of a March Manx night. Shoehorned into those miles will be 26 tests, including some on closed public roads – well, you couldn’t not do that with this island’s history – and Guy describes the rally as being like ‘Rally of the Tests on steroids.’ Indeed, with so much test action it might take a regularity or two to reduce the adrenalin levels, but in a place where even some of the main roads are barely two lanes wide keeping to time on these speed-controlled sections will be no mean feat and will need a steady hand on the tiller as well as the stopwatch.
Mistakes during any part of the weekend will be costly, and making up time on wrong slots difficult, as while this place loves speed, it also respects it and the dangers of the roads will need to be recognised and speed limits adhered to. The Manx Police don’t mess about and anyone trying too hard to recuperate time could well end up visiting Jurby at the pleasure of His Majesty, rather than to enjoy the excellent tests on the airfield.
To compete on the Isle of Man, in any capacity, is to become part of a special story and rich history. You cannot help but be inspired in this place, as you pass by monuments and indicators of the greats that have attempted to tame the Island, all in the shadow of Snaefell Mountain. There is something in the air over here, it envelops you, gets inside you and leaves you giddy with excitement. The 60 crews that take to the start next Friday, under the gaze of the famous TT Grandstand, will all take their place in the ever evolving legend of motorsport on the Isle of Man.
The pieces are placed for a titanic battle, in a place where there have been so many other extraordinary encounters before and with a field full of fierce competitors, on a route carefully curated for action and excitement in 2023.
The Three Legs of Mann is looking like becoming one of the greatest ever. It isn’t long now until the starter’s flag drops and this hotly anticipated rally begins, it will certainly be worth coming along for the ride.