The overall winners of A Novice Trial 2022 are:
1. Jonathan and Molly Walton – Triumph TR3 (Arrive & Drive)
2. Lee and Freya Clarke – Triumph TR4
3. David Creech & Chris Wilks – Volvo Amazon
The starting point for 94 people, some embarking on an historic rallying journey for the very first time, was made in the HERO-ERA HQ late on Friday afternoon with an initial classroom session for the 2022 Novice Trial.
The ‘freshers’ couldn’t have had better instruction as A Novice Trial Clerk of the Course, Seren Whyte and her winning navigator sister Elise, took the eager 94 through the basics, from signing on to essential road book work for an hour and a half. The teams, who come from as far as the USA and range from total beginners to former Peking to Paris Motor Challenge competitors, will hope the next stage on Saturday morning will go as smoothly when their cars are scrutineered ready for road training sessions and the actual A Novice Trial on Sunday. That is what the teams will be working up to, when all they have learned will be put to the test in real competition.
So what did some of the classic rallying newbies think of their induction session?
Terry and Judy Tolbert (USA) Car 31 Arrive and Drive Alfa Romeo GTV 1750
Terry; “We are visiting and decided that this is something we would really like to do. My wife and I have raced off road cars in the past and we tried one form of rallying in the US in an old Fiat that we have. So we thought we’d like to give this a try and see if it’s something that we like.
“The first part of the course was very good, very informative, it helped answer a lot of the questions we had on the route maps and tulips and so I think it was a big help. I wouldn’t try it without it!
“Yes, we have gone all the way and hired an Arrive and Drive car, we have a little Alfa Romeo which we’re gonna try tomorrow, it fits into our like of Italian cars which we have at home, so it works!”
Roger Smith and Mike Blayney, car 7 Lancia Aurelia
Roger, “It was really good, really interesting, whether it was everything or not I don’t think so, but we had all the documents so we read through those, but it just concreted everything. However, I’m sure we’ll have forgotten everything by the morning!
Mike; “This is our very first time having a go at regularity rallying. We have both got classic cars, mine is not running at the moment but Roger’s is so we just thought it would be nice to use them. I think the other thing is, it’s nice to meet other people who have got a similar interest and see what we can learn from them all.”
Roger; “What we aim to do is to get around in one piece on Sunday and not get lost!”
Mike; “And try not to become kind of bottom, I’m navigating so it’s all on me!”
Molly and Jonathan Walton, car 40, Triumph TR3
Molly; “It’s an amazing thing. What an amazing opportunity, this is the first time that I’ve done something like this, and it’s just made me very, very excited. I don’t really know how I’m going to be at the navigation, but I’ll try my best, I might need some help from Johnny, I don’t know what I’ve let myself in for!”
Jonathan; “Yes, I’m a little bit pleased that I’ve got the keys and driving it rather than navigating, I think I’ve lucked in on that one!
“We had to actually change from the Arrive Drive Fiat 124 because I was too tall basically. So now we’re in the lovely TR3 instead.”
Molly; “I have never been in a TR3. I just went and had a peek before in the workshop, it looks amazing, but I’ve got no idea what anything does, I’m very, very new to it, but very excited.”
The 49 Novice Trial crews were not only fuelled by the Heroics Café with fresh sandwiches on Saturday, but they also enjoyed a sandwich course of double classroom lessons with two fillings of practical road work.
A non-competitive programme of visiting Principal Controls in four regularities included two brilliant training events on foot, one test on the roof of the HERO-ERA HQ and the other, the first time a regularity has been attempted on foot, as it took teams around a course at Bicester Heritage with hidden controls.
Seren Whyte, the Clerk of the Course for Novice Trial explains the rationale behind the Novice Trial;
Seren, “ The rationale behind the whole of the Novice Trial really is to attract new people into the sport. We encourage them to enter then train people so that they’re ready for any of our blue and green events at HERO-ERA. My ethos is show them all the tricks that we have, we show them how we try to catch them out. Then we give them everything and let them make the mistakes on this novice event so they learn for next time. And when they come and tackle the Hero Challenge or the Summer Trial, they can actually understand what they’re doing and hopefully do really, really well!
“Each time we’ve run this event we’ve run more and more cars. I actually thought after last year when everyone was so excited to get out and compete again post COVID, that it was going to be a bit different this year. I was not expecting to see those levels again this year, but in fact we have even more cars entered this year. It’s so fantastic to see so many newbies wanting to learn, as they represent approximately 80% of the field.
“We had to actually ask them where they were all coming from because we didn’t know! Some people have just seen our videos online. They have seen YouTube videos and just said I want to try that. Some people have been recommended by friends. Some have actually come on one event before and not really understood all the different aspects but returned to come and train with us, then hopefully understand and compete in more events, but they are a real mixed bag.”
After three comprehensive classroom sessions and one Saturday debrief, all led by the experienced sisters Seren and Elise Whyte, the newbies will move to put all their lessons into practice in real competition.
Seren continues, “ Sunday is the actual ‘A Novice Trial.’ This is a mini rally in exactly the same format as they would find on any of our blue and green events, but just in the morning, so they’re all going to get ready to start 0830 when they’re going to go out and try out every element they’ve learned about in the classroom sessions in the practical training they’ve had so far, and hopefully we’ll find our winner for the ‘A Novice Trial’ 2022!”
Ben Maidment and Alistair Hastings, car no 22, 1963 Riley Elf Mk 3
Alistair, “I think we want to give our perspective as two young guys, I’m 22 Ben is 23. Yeah, we want to show that it’s something that we can do as two young guys, particularly people that are into cars and nearer our age who will be into stuff of our era.”
Ben, “And having done this for three or four months and being into it, it’s just cooler. Looking at these cars they are cooler and more visceral. You can enjoy them more, and it’s only taken a couple of months for us to notice that, so if we can give that to other people, then great. You learn so much more about driving as well, the actual mechanics of driving.
“I’ve driven an Austin Seven like two or three weeks ago, it was a completely different experience in terms of the gearboxes that work backwards and super slow and all those kind of things. So it’s just a learning process.”
Alistair, “Yes we are probably motor nuts if that’s the right word. This is something I would like to progress.
“I’ve always been very interested in navigation, probably since I listened to a podcast once with Nicky Grist, that really sort of turned my head onto it. So when Ben said, do you want to sit next to me on this rally? I said, Yeah, obviously so quickly. We’re going to give it a go. We’re going give it our best shot, this will be the first competitive rally event ever for us.”
Ben “Part of it is self pressure because we want to show we can get into it. It’s probably not a good application for young people if we come last. We’d like to win!”
Giles Gunning and Charlie Waller, car 9, Arrive and Drive 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider
Charlie, “I’m ready to get started after all those sessions. I feel like I’ve been revising all night, but I’m sure that we’ll go wrong four or five times! But the main thing is to not argue as they’ve advised us, then it should go well, and we hear there’s a prize at the end.”
So what attracted Giles and Charlie to have a go?
Giles; “Our jobs, our work in the industry is to provide valuations of historic vehicles, we are ‘The Classic Valuer’ so any chance we could get to kind of get involved and actually understand a bit more about the environment and the people that are involved in Classic cars and rallying, we grabbed the chance.
Charlie, “We’ll talk about attaching value, but this HERO-ERA Arrive Drive Alfa Romeo we are using car has just been fully refurbished, it should probably be in a concours rather than a rally so we have to look after it.”
Giles, “It is exquisite. Thomas has done just 30 miles and I think we’ve added a few more, everything is absolutely mint, the engine bay and the interior are perfect, the job is amazing. It’s important to bring it back in one piece!”
“I feel the pressure on the navigator, there is a lot of work for Charles, actually!”
Charlie; “I think the geek in me is really starting to come out as I’m reading through all of the different tulips and understanding where we are and I’m feeling confident, although maybe naively.
“Sunday’s the big day, because that’s actually the Novice Trial when you’ve got to put everything into place, the Saturday practice is done, we can ramp it up on Sunday, as long as we have fun. But we have to bring the Alfa back in one piece then everyone’s happy.”
Julian Cork and Henry Mainwaring, car 39, 1978 Aston Martin Vantage v540 Fliptail
Julian; “I’ve had the Aston for 16 years now, but this is my first rally so I’m very excited to be coming out in the car, It’s going be awesome.”
Henry’ “We have been friends for 35 years and we have always loved cars. When Julian bought this one, I was not actually with him. We had looked at a few before but then I’ve had a few cars over the years, so it’s a passion for both of us and we thought this would be a great way to actually use our cars.
Julian; “Henry’s got a Lancia Fulvia as well so that’s also going to be some fun in the future.
“But I think we have had a lot of fun with this car over the years. We’ve got quite a few miles on it with various trips around the place. It’s been to France and Spain and so it’s no stranger to taking distance.
“The intention is to learn and progress and maybe do some more events.”
Gavin and Emma Print, car 51, 1990 Mazda Eunos Roadster
Gavin, “ I was drawn into this as I’ve been a petrol head since I was tiny, from moving little toy cars around on the carpet. Mum and Dad weren’t into it but I was surrounded, the guy next door built stock cars, the guy over the road built racing chariots. Somebody else did an engine swap and a pickup change on a 70’s Chevrolet. I had no chance, I was going to be a petrol head whatever happened!”
Emma, “We work as superyacht crew, Gavin is a Captain and I’m a Chef, we’ve been working together for 11 years and Gavin has worked in the business for 20 years this year.
We sailed across the Atlantic in November, we were in Antigua in January but it was a little bit chilly when we got back!
“This is about learning with a view to taking it up when we can. I got into it because of Gavin’s perpetual petrolheadedness, but I grew up with a Dad who had three daughters and who really wanted a boy, so I grew up in garages and with Scalextric.
“I’m quite competitive. So I don’t want to say the aim is to win because it’s obviously our first ever event, but we would like to do well.”
Gavin; “We want to get round in a respectable time without having an argument, that would be great and we want to do another event again afterwards. We were already talking about doing the London to Lisbon and we would love to compete in the Peking to Paris at some point!”
Molly Hardingham and Helen John, car 37, Arrive and Drive 1977 MGB Roadster
Molly; “I was a bit surprised that we had the fastest time on the ‘foot test’ apparently we were the quickest, but there were lots of people behind still to go, so we could have been beaten.
“Of course we’re here to win, we are competitive! Everything went OK this morning after our little engine boil up, the boys fixed that. It’s gone pretty well. There’s been a couple of things that we’ve not got quite right, but we realised those mistakes ourselves and corrected them, and managed to get ourselves back on the right road, we’re happier with that we’ve managed to fix our mistakes.”
Both the navigator Helen John and Molly Hardingham work for HERO-ERA, Helen as Head of Finance and Molly as a Hospitality Manager so it’s great that an in house team is learning more about the business in a hands on way.
Molly; “For me, I’m surprised at how much I am learning. I’ve kind of thought that I knew enough about what I would expect today, but it’s actually pretty different to what I would have expected. So it’s nice to see that there is actually loads to learn. It’s also nice doing it and seeing it from a competitive perspective. It’s actually really great fun and engaging.”
Helen is normally crunching all the numbers for finance and now she is working on the timing numbers and navigation figures, so which is the toughest? Helen’ “I think doing this is tougher, but it’s very satisfying when you get it right – much better than reading a balance sheet.”
Lee and Freya Clarke, car 11, 1962 Triumph TR4
Freya, “Yes this will be my first one and then we’re doing the generations rally next year so this is preparation. It’s been pretty good so far, not too bad, but I got a bit of stressful on the last bit like working out the timings, everything was more tricky than the first session when we were just going by directions.
“I work quite well with Dad, I think we’ve been quite good team, no crosswords yet.”
Father Lee arrived from New York on Saturday morning just in time to take over from Mum Cathy.
Lee; “I had hoped to be in yesterday but work took me over to New York. It’s fantastic to be able to travel though after two years of having been locked away. I’ve got a team in New York so it was a great chance to see them. It’s was great to see them but I hotfooted it straight to the airport and then dashed here to be on the rally.
“My wife was looking after things until I arrived, Cathy held it all together. We’ve only got the car back from the garage yesterday, it’s only just running as we blew the engine up on the last rally. So fingers crossed, it will work.”
Freya; “Definitely the toughest part is the timings, getting all the numbers right in my head. Trying to do maths on the move is hard, I haven’t done this much mental maths since I was in secondary school. So yeah, getting used to all that is quite a challenge.”
Francesco and Alexandra di Valmarana, car 16, Arrive and Drive 1964 Triumph TR4
Alexandra, “ The timing I found tough, the navigating was easier than I thought it was going to be, but the timing was really hard.”
Francesco’ “I think it’s the long distance historical element that I’ve always liked the idea of, and so this is dipping our toes in the water, we may or may not progress to something further afield, which could be kind of fun.
“We like the look of the bigger events, like the ones in South America and then of course the grandfather of them all, the Peking to Paris, just phenomenal. I don’t know if we’ll ever make it but it’s a great thing to aspire to.”
After a mixture of classroom training and road sessions, the Novice Trial event, which is aimed at bringing fresh blood into the sport, produced an extraordinary result from the huge cross section of entrants.
In a contrasting result that combined an entire age and occupation range, a former Olympic rower who finished fifth in the 2016 Olympics men’s double sculls, with World Cup and World Rowing Championships medal wins to his credit, successfully swopped disciplines and as he said, ‘found a new sport.’ His wife Molly equally was in new territory but took to the art of regularity rally navigation with aplomb, the pair were unfazed when their first choice HERO-ERA Arrive Drive Fiat 124 didn’t accommodate Jonathan’s lanky frame, instead they switched to the fleet’s 1956 Triumph TR3 and made it into a winner!
Lee Clarke just made it in time for the Saturday training session to work with his young daughter Freya after a dash from New York. Their Triumph TR4 had just had the engine rebuilt after a blow up so the car was nearly late to the party as well. In her very first event, navigator Freya was second overall ably driven by her father, but a new talented navigator has emerged.
Chris Wilks may think about switching roles to navigator permanently after swopping seats with David Creech in their Volvo Amazon, after the pair agreed to the transfer when David endured a torrid time navigating on LeJog last year. After learning the new roles over the course of two days, the crew took the final podium position.
HERO-ERA Arrive Drive Manager Mark O Donnell was delighted that his near record entry of 11 (the record was 12 on LeJog) all finished the event. Their 66 year old, beautifully prepared Triumph TR3 took victory in the hands of a totally novice crew whilst the Volkswagen Golf GTi of David and Sam Hewitt was second in class with the Arrive and Drive Porsche 911 SWB third in Class 3 driven by James Sharp and navigated by Hangar 136’ Oliver Gatland-Pendleton. Both were newbies to the sport and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The youngest crew to succeed on their regularity rally debuts were 22 year old Ben Maidment and his navigator, 23 year old Alistair Hastings in their 1967 Riley Elf. Not only did they finish fourth overall but Alistair was delighted to learn afterwards that they had been the best crew overall on the regularities. They dropped just 29 seconds and vowed to be back soon in their new chosen sport.
Fifth place overall was the all female crew of Helen Lomas and Anita Wickens in their VW Golf GTi. This was another extraordinary result as Helen is the wife of John Lomas, the boss of Blue Diamond Riley Services, and whilst she supports the class winning navigational efforts of their young daughter Natasha, Helen has never really had the inclination to compete.
Once Helen decided to learn the ropes and entered Novice Trial, she was supported by Anita Wickens, who normally navigates for partner Malcolm Dunderdale, and the pair also won Class 4. Anita started her navigational career on beginner events like Novice Trial and has since progressed to class winning efforts with Malcolm on the tough Flying Scotsman.
It was also great to welcome the Superyacht duo of skipper Gavin Print and his wife Emma who works as Head Chef on board, back to Bicester Heritage after all their efforts to learn both in the class room and on the road. At the end of ‘A Novice Trail’ they were 14th overall but more importantly to Gavin and Emma, second fastest overall on the tests in their Mazda Eunos Roadster.
Seren Whyte, Clerk of the Course of A Novice Trial and rally classroom course leader along with her sister Elise Whyte, summarised her feelings after the event.
Seren, “It’s so great to see so many happy smiling faces coming over the finish line, especially after starting from scratch. Some of these people have never done anything like this before and you really see the start of them taking on the knowledge and then trying it out. When they to come to the end of the event, they understand more, they finish and they’ve succeeded on the route. It’s just absolutely fantastic.
“We had a high proportion of finishers and a low proportion of mistakes. From what I’ve seen of the results we’ve had all the cars that started this morning finished, and we’ve had a huge improvement on results. There were very few mistakes, especially this morning, which is absolutely brilliant to see. The best is that people are thinking about coming back for more, from what I’ve heard, people want to try more of our events which is really, really exciting. Just to hear that some have got the bug for the sport that we all love is heartening.
“And finally what a fantastic age range of competitors we had!. It was really great to see such a huge range of competitors, we had youth, twenty somethings, middle aged to mature crews, male, female, plus lots of different cars, which was so great to see.”
1st overall, Jonathan and Molly Walton, 1956 Arrive and Drive Triumph TR3
Molly “Thank you, I don’t know how this has happened. Genuinely, we’ve learned so much. I think we’ve just been drinking in all the information that the people here have provided, it’s just been incredible, they have been feeding us knowledge and then the competitive spirit kicked in. It’s been an incredible journey from turning up on Friday night not knowing anything then a steep learning curve. The people here have just been incredible, everyone was so friendly. And yeah, we are absolutely thrilled, it’s been an amazing, amazing experience.”
Mark O Donnell had to say to Jonathan that he couldn’t fit into the Fiat 124 as he was too tall. But then Arrive and Drive came up with the TR3. Jonathan’ “Yes the Triumph TR3 has done us proud as it certainly been an absolute beauty, I absolutely loved driving it. No, it was clearly one of those things that was meant to be!
“This is a totally different game to rowing. Molly said to me, you’re so competitive, but you’re only as competitive as your navigator. So we are obviously absolutely buzzing to win this. I have seriously loved finding this new sport and hopefully we can do lots more events. I think we’re absolutely hooked.”
Molly; “ Jonathan did drive well but one thing that I said at the weekend is that you have to listen to me and he did. So we’re still friends at the end, still smiling.”
Jonathan; “I can’t say enough about Molly’s work from classroom through to translating it into winning the event. It was a bit of a joke when we turned up on Friday that Molly thought we just follow the car in front and she’d be here just having a bit of a jolly around the countryside. So I think yesterday was a huge learning curve, and we made a few mistakes yesterday but I think we really learned from those today and yeah, absolutely smashed it today.”
“Well, I guess it was something that I always tried to do during my rowing career which was to try to do the basics really well, and I think that’s what we did today. We really did just nail every single thing that was in our control, and the rest of it took care for itself.”
2nd overall Lee and Freya Clarke, 1962 Triumph TR4
Freya, “ It’s quite a surprise but obviously we are really, really pleased, we can’t really believe it. One thing is that we beat my brother’s result when he did this event, so I am happy with that! I am sure there will be more events now – especially as we have done quite well here!”
Lee, “Freya did really well, she didn’t put a foot wrong. I think it’s going to become a family tradition with Freya following in her brother’s footsteps. I don’t think there were any sticky moments, some of the timings we probably could have done a little bit better with, but we were miles behind the team in front.”
3rd overall, David Creech and Chris Wilks, 1963 Volvo Amazon
Christopher and David, took the final podium with third place on A Novice Trial, after they swapped places in the car for this event.
Chris- “After four gruelling days and nights on LeJog last year, David said to me at John O’Groats, how he’d not enjoyed the experience, whereas I had loved it. He didn’t see anything of the country, ‘are we actually in John O’Groats?’ he asked. So I said, why don’t we swap seats and I’ll get your experience and you can have mine. So we promised ourselves we’d go back and do the Novice Trial as complete novices in each other’s seats. And it’s true. I’ve never navigated and David has never driven a rally car. So it was a first for both of us, as you would expect we are delighted with the result!
“It was pretty intensive and at times stressful. It’s given me a completely new respect for all the navigators and David in particular.”
David, “It’s been great. I was living my best life this weekend, it’s the most relaxing weekend’s rally we’ve ever had, I think, and not a little amusing to hear my navigator shouting and swearing and saying all the things I normally say back at me, it was fantastic!”
5th overall, Helen Lomas and Anita Wickens, 1983 VW Golf GTi
Helen, “Amazing, we are absolutely thrilled, I absolutely loved it – brilliant. John said you’ll get the bug you will want to do it again and I think I do as Natasha wants me to do one with her. John’s in America, for one of them so I think we might do one together.”
Helen’s husband John Lomas runs Blue Diamond Riley Services. He’s a driver of some repute with the Lomas’ young daughter Natasha already a successful navigator. John and Tasha were marshalling and supporting Helen when they could during the weekend.
Anita Wickens who navigated Helen to fifth place started herself on Novice Trial, with her partner and regular driver Malcolm Dunderdale, so what does she think about this event as a platform for moving up to other events?
“It’s very good for people who don’t know, it’s very interesting and the team give a lot of details. I’ve never done the walking tests, or the walking regularity before so that was quite amusing but good, especially for Helen who’s never been in the car before, to actually experience that communication and get it right, it was good.”
4th overall, Ben Maidment and Alistair Hastings, 1967 Riley Elf Mk 3
Alistair, “We got used to the car and it’s driving style, on a rally which we’ve never done before, so we should be pleased.
Ben, ”And we managed a first, a first in class! We’ve got a first at some point, that’s all that matters!
The crew were then told that they had been the most successful team over all the regularities with the least time lost at just 29 seconds.
Ben, “That’s amazing, it’s great, did we really?” Alistair, “That’s brilliant but I still feel a bit bad due to the time on one of the tests, we missed something. It’s amazing though and we will definitely be back for more!”
14th overall and second fastest test pilots, Gavin and Emma Print, 1990 Mazda Eunos Raodster
Gavin “We had we had a cracking event, we really enjoyed it. It was superbly organised and we learned a lot. I think it’s fair to say at lunchtime yesterday that things weren’t going swimmingly.”
Emma, “My head was falling off, judging by the evening yesterday, I was in bed by nine o’clock and it was just overload with an awful lot of work and an awful lot to take in.
We finished in the top 20 and were second overall quickest in the tests so that was a phenomenal result today.”
Gavin, “In a 1.6 MX5, I’ll happily come second to a V8 MG. That’s fine.
We spent a bit of time thinking about how we wanted to communicate on the tests. We wrote some pace notes, so we were saying ‘my side and your side’ and apparently Guy Woodcock uses that method with his daughter, when she is navigating. A lot of people told us we were doing it wrong, but I think we did it right.”
With a certain amount of pressure and precision required Gavin was asked if there was any comparison to his life on the waves as a Superyacht captain?
“I’m used to parking 50 tonnes of boat in a high crosswind that is worth five to 10 million. And that puts your heart in your mouth especially when you’re doing it in front of the boss. So when you’re on the start line, and it’s your own car, and they’re just cones, but you’ve got a little bit of jitters because it’s your car and preparation costs, but I’m used to that feeling.”
Guy Woodcock, Competition Director HERO-ERA
Guy; “I think it’s absolutely brilliant, we had 47 crews who turned up I think there was about 75% have never ever done anything before. I did the main control at the end and to see the elation and relief on the faces of the competitors as they came over the line was great and, nobody said that was too hard, they enjoyed it. Yes they made mistakes, but that’s what it’s all about. It’s a learning curve.
“We want to bring new people into the sport and then get them to graduate from here.
There’s people already talking about Summer Trial, HERO Challenges and at some point somebody suggested they wanted to do LeJog.
“It’s interesting. I sat last night with Alistair who won the Novice Trial two years ago and he said we’re doing the job this year. So there is a natural progression for people to take.
“The team has done marvelously to put it all together, Seren has driven the event with Elise on the training and then the rest of the team pulling it all together, so overall I’m very happy.
The next event for HERO-ERA is the Summer Trial, which is in the middle of June, but there’s lots of planning going on. People are off all over the country and all over the world. We’ve got a team going off to recce the European leg of P2P tomorrow. Andy and I go to Greece in the middle of June, and the RAC Rally of the Tests and LeJog are kicking into life as well. So it’s a big busy time for the team over the next three months.”