It is the island battle that is living up to expectations, tight and hard-up front, whilst relentless action across 15 tests and 10 regularities for everyone in the field meant a long day and a slippy, foggy night. After leaving the Victory Café in pelting rain and blinding fog in the shadow of Snaefell Mountain, crews headed out for more regularities and two long, adrenaline-filled Time Control sections.
The battle was already swinging towards second place Dan Willan and Mark Appleby at the end of Leg One as their Volvo PV544 closed to within four seconds of the leading Porsche 911 of Paul Crosby and Ali Procter who had received a marker penalty on the fast Mansell’s Mount at Port Erin, whilst the rapid German crew of Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini were third in their Porsche 911.
But Paul Crosby and Ali Procter endured a night to forget as Paul said, “it was horrible out there and we just made too many mistakes – we are now at the bottom of the time sheets somewhere! The fog was horrendous, it was pouring rain and there were some very slippery forest tracks, some people enjoyed it, but I thought it was horrible!”
By contrast, it was a good night for Dan Willan and Mark Appleton who took the lead in their Volvo PV544 after a fast but controlled night in the blinding conditions. Dan: “There was a bit of fog here and there, in fact, it was a pea soup, but it was an amazing night, very, very difficult, really tough.” Mark: “It was very difficult, it was very intense you know, you couldn’t lose concentration for a moment, or you’d be going the wrong way. So, it was a great night section and just kept the pressure up the whole way. Loved it. I think we’re probably at the top of the results, but you never really know what everyone else has done. So, we have to wait and see.”
Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini were also in trouble and lost third place in the fog and mist as their Porsche 911 ended up in a ditch. “We were too eager, it was very slippy and difficult to see at times, but we couldn’t get out of the ditch and lost a lot of time. I had seen that we were fourth and maybe I was a bit too eager, it was a good position that doesn’t happen that often and downhill I was a little bit too fast so as you can see, I am a bit sad.”
Taking a brilliant podium with one day to go are Steve Head and Graham Raeburn in the spectacular Ford Escort as the pair continue to impress on their first-ever HERO-ERA event. The crew are often out on HRCR events, but this time have decided to try one of the toughest events on the HERO-ERA calendar, the Three Legs of Mann and they are smashing it so far.
Not everyone suffered, Mike Cochrane and Angus McQueen enjoyed the challenging conditions and were buzzing afterwards, Mike, “It was fantastic, absolutely brilliant, the fog was a challenge, but it was mainly cars in our way, great adrenalin!” Angus, “You can’t go from 8.00 in the morning to midnight without an adrenaline rush, it was perfect, absolutely fantastic!” The crew were eighth.
Also, up into the top ten after a great night in their Toyota Corolla are the father and daughter pairing of Nicky and Darell Staniforth. Former HERO Cup champions Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage have also moved into the top ten after a strong performance in the Alfa Romeo.
Sadly, dark horses Nick Bloxham and Niall Frost had to withdraw from the battle lines in their Ford Escort this morning having set some very fast times. Whilst the car sat forlorn near Jurby Motor Museum, Niall later carried on his navigational work, this time in the Course Car for HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock in the night of Leg Two.
Also, suffering was another favourite, Bill Cleyndert, winner of the Sahara Challenge last year with his daughter. This time he and navigator Emily Anderson were in Bill’s Mini Cooper S which was flying until gear selection problems lost them an hour, later Bill was worried that the car might not make it through the night so took off back to Douglas.
Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor held fourth at the end of Leg One in the Volvo Amazon have moved into second place after Leg Two, whilst behind them, Andy Lane and Iain Tullie were struggling to see after a windscreen wiper had fallen off, so Andy was seen zip tie wrapping the existing wiper arm to the bonnet grill, so it didn’t fly away. Earlier Lane and Tullie had nearly come a cropper over the fast crest and down the other side of Mansell’s Mount which Andy just managed to sort out. Andy and Iain are fifth overall.
Martyn Taylor summed up the conditions in Leg Two; Martyn, “Everything including the kitchen sink, the washing up liquid and all the water was thrown at us. I think that covers everything that they could throw at us with rain, sleet, and thick fog in front of your face. But an absolutely incredible event, especially on the airfields and the plantations, I really enjoyed it very much.”
In sixth place, at the end of Leg one we’re Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane who are consistently running in the top ten now on the more difficult red and black events, they are eighth overall.
2022 Golden Roamer navigator champion, Pete Johnson is an Isle of Man resident and rally man. Sadly, his regular crew partner and driver Noel Kelly is recovering in hospital from a heart condition, but Noel generously told Pete to carry on and use his Volvo 122S so Pete drafted in his wife Jo who is an excellent navigator whilst Pete took on the driving role instead.
As a local, what did Jo think of the conditions? “If you don’t like the weather, you just drive to different parts of the island, and we’ve driven to pretty much every part of the island today, and we’ve had pretty much every sort of weather”.
Pete, “We will have to wait till we see the results, we don’t know how we have done but we’ve had a cleanish run-through, Jo has done well, it was hard. And it shows by the amount of cars that you see already in the car park, I was only expecting around six cars here, then so you know, it’s 20 cars so they’ve cut and run, it was tough.”
Jo: “We’ve been exchanging some messages, lots of support has been coming in for Noel from Team Pete and Joe rather than team Nolan Pete which we call Nope. So yes, he’ll come out tomorrow after lots of tests. He’ll soon be back and recovering, so we want a decent result for him.” In fact, Pete and Jo have moved up to sixth overall at the end of Leg Two.
The rally started from the famous TT grandstand and immediately turned into two tests right behind the stand. A mixture of regularities and tests ensued with the most glorious being the test and subsequent regularity along the Marine Drive with the Irish Sea on one side and the craggy rock face on the other. Crosby and Willan were already having at it and looking quick as they made light work of the sweeping coastal tarmac.
F1 Champion Nigel Mansell used to be a Special Constable on the Isle of Man, and he lived in a mansion high above Port Erin. Had he still lived there, he would have approved of the windy, bumpy road running past the grand gates of his former house and being used for a test on the HERO -ERA Three Legs of Mann. It was spectacular as different drivers kept the power firmly switched on as their cars squirmed around under them in the dips and kinks of the uneven tarmac. The Orangebox Mini of Andy Harrison and Henry Carr was quick as was Bill Cleyndert’s with Emily Anderson navigating before trouble set in. The Porsche of Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini just squatted and darted its way up the hill.
Before the mid-evening rest halt, and the final TC sections, there were some very taxing regularities to cope with as well. The fourth regularity of the leg was over some tight then flowing but narrow roads, but towards the end, it turned off into some very rough and slippy tracks, one of which was so wet there seemed to be a swimming pool in the middle of the road which some crews used part of the bank to get around.
From plantations to the complex of roads around the Jurby airfield, the second leg was the one that was going to sort out the cream who could stay the course. The toughest part is over but there is still a hard final final leg to go so will the leaders stay calm; will they keep up the speed and can they resist the challenges that could take them over the edge? Perhaps they had better ask the fairies for help tomorrow because anything can happen on the Isle of Man!
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases