John o'Groats Reliability Trial defies the odds and all Mother Nature could throw at it
All 27 finishers of December’s Land’s Endto John o’Groats LeJog Reliability Trial made it to the UK’s most northerly-inhabited point on time on December 7 after four days of bitter conditions forced organisers to re-route competitors throughout much of the event.
The Trial started as it meant to go on at Land’s End, where snow had fallen for the first time in 25 years and four of the 39 teams failed to take the start. HERO events director Peter Nedin says:’It became obvious that conditions were worsening, so we sent out an advance car eight hours ahead of the crews. They reported back any problem areas one leg at a time.’
Black ice made stopping astride a line intests at Stithians, near Truro, harder than normal, so the penalties were revised and a subsequent series of regularity time challenges through mid-Wales was cancelled.
At the first overnight halt inTelford, Shropshire, four teams were on course for a coveted Gold medal – the reward for not missing atime control or incurring penalties on tests or regularity sections. Top performing test and regularity crew was the Morris Mini Cooper of Kevin Haselden/David Kirkham: top navigational crew was the Ford Escort RS2000 of Paul Davis/Mike Cowburn: and overall top performer was the BMW 2800 of Christian RuterlStephan Huber.
Despite the best efforts of snowploughs, deep powder around Frosterley in County Durham meant more cancelled tests and crews headed straight for the next overnight halt at Gosforth Park near Newcastle. Nedin adds: ‘Many crews asked if we were going to cancel, but we decided against that: we would never put competitors at risk and we didn’t want people going off on their own – it was apparent that many were determined to push on to John o’Groats regardless.’
With snow and black ice making many roads impassable, crews were again re-routed to Livingston, West Lothian, taking in a test on farmland near Sunwick that included sprinting through a cowshed – a favourite from a previous LeJog. The Austin-Healey 100 of Roman Schlommerl Bruno Mueller and the Triumph TR4 of Tony Sheach/Richard Lambley did best, with just 53sec each of penalties. It was remarkable the TR4 was running at all- its engine had been in bits at Land’s Endwhile the crew replaced the camshaft.
With the worst snow storms in 45 years grid locking roads, organisers cancelled all competitive elements in favour of just getting everyone to Kinloch Rannoch, then on to Evanton and Lybster inthe Highlands, just afew miles from the finish. Nedin says:’I can honestly say nothing has come close to how tough this event was.’
As well as overall victory, the Ruter/Huber BMW took top spot on the final regularity section, accruing the lowest number of time penalties (729) and receiving a Silver medal. Gold medals went to the Haselden/Kirkham Mini (second overall), the Sunbeam Chamois of Jean-Marie SchmitlThierry Hilger (fourth overall), and the MercedesBenz 280TE of Helgo and Selina Helmbold (sixth overall).
Atrio ofTriumph TRs (two ‘4s and a ‘6) claimed the Team Prize,while Duncan and John Macleod intheir Austin Mini Cooper received the award for best performance by a novice crew – what an event to make your rallying debut.
Aside from the LeJog awards, Scottish Malts winners Robert and Susan McLean were popular recipients of the inaugural HEROCup after competing on all four HERO events in 2010 with their venerable Rover P4-100, aveteran of ten LeJogs, and their FordAnglia, on the Throckmorton Challenge.
The next HEROevent isthe Irish Trialon May 2-6.
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