Welcome to the 19th Lands End to John O Groat’s Classic Reliability Trial!
The event started off this morning at 07:45 from the beautiful surroundings of England’s most southerly point. Crews were gently eased into the event with a test in the adjacent grounds, many competitors were straight into their stride with some superb driving skills on show.
This year has seen an entry list comprise of competitors from all over the world, many taking advantage of the HERO “Arrive and Drive” to allow them to compete on this internationally renowned and revered event. Amongst the cars competing is the fabulous Volkswagen Iltis 4×4, direct from the Volkswagen Museum in Germany, this is the actual car that competed in and won one of the Oasis Rallies, pre-cursor to the now famous Paris-Dakar.
Several competitors have had problems prior to and on their way to the event, Andy Lane suffered an engine failure just over a week ago, the cause being a collapsed oil filter. Needless to say, it was good to see this multiple winner cross the start line this morning! Kevin Haselden and David Kirkham’s Mini was a sad site to see leaving on a car transporter with engine maladies.
The mornings events started properly with a regularity section just away from Lands End, north east of Sennen to be exact. Here the roads twisted for approximately 6 ½ Kilometres close to the coast, many crews found this section straight forward, but even at this early stage, it took time from some crews. Moving north Via the A30 brought the next test at Camborne, and then on via the A3058 to the China clay workings at Stenalees for test 3.
Regularity B was the next offering, starting close by to Temple Fisheries, this tricky section took in the unfenced roads round Carbilly Tor. An early timing point was the order to keep crews on their toes, followed by a run over Treswallock and Harpurs Downs to the second timing point on a tight hairpin left. By-passing Watergate brought up the third timing point, placed once again to keep crews guessing. Passing Crowdy Reservoir, this “Beast of Bodmin” regularity gave way to two tests in Davidsow Woods, which saw crews taste the first woodlands on this event. A link section took crews through some stunning scenery to the Main Control and Lunch at The Bickford Arms at Brandis Corner.
Feverish activity with the spanners saw car 9 crewed by David Mustarde and Shon Gosling take some running repairs, with electrical repairs to the headlight system needed by Tony Sheach and Rob Kiff’s TR4. A tricky slot left on a link road saw many crews drop time as they made their way from lunch, this led to Regularity C which started at Highstead, and wound its way through Dippermill, past Upcott Wood and Alscott, before a triangular loop caught out the unwary at Woolaton. Again, a timing point hidden on a tight hairpin left led the way to regularity finish and Fuel at Great Torrington.
Even as crews were on non competitive sections, the exacting nature of “Le Jog” demands complete concentration, several “long way round” triangles needed accurate plotting and a navigator who is on top of their game.,. Three such controls were situated on Exmoor, designed to constantly keep the pressure on as the rally headed towards probably one of its most famous sections, Porlock Hill. Here saw the first real drama of the day as the ultra steep and unbelievably twisty hairpins caught out Richard Boughton, partnered by Kevin Savage in their BMW, costing the pair a minute in regularity penalties on as they managed to extricate their car from the edge of a steep drop. The Ladies of Porlock once again did the event proud by serving their legendary “Somerset Cream tea” to now tired crews, darkness was approaching and a run out to Bridgewater via RSE and four timing points around Cockercombe. A hop up the M6 to Gordano Services saw the final test of Leg 1, and a brief respite for crews before the night section and on into Wales.
After the rigours of the first leg, Crews were glad of the respite at Gordano Services on the M5 at Bridgewater, Somerset. Two hours gave crews to further plot the route. There was an air of both expectancy and nerves as the crews milled around sharing stories of the days events. Unfortunately we had lost a few crews, Car 65, the Range Rover of Sgt Gary Dunning, L/Cpl Will Reeks and Ben Cheal had called no more, and a sense of despondency was very apparent from these guys. Car 49, the Peugeot 404 of Christian Ruter /Stephan Huber had terminal cooling problems, the crew and car not making it out of the South East unfortunately.
As the results had become available, it was obvious that Lane and Tullie had got the bit between their teeth up to Gordano, rising six places to take the overall lead. Drives of note into Gordano from Lunch were Bricknell/ Johnson in their TR4, the similar mounts of Jarvis/Pickering and Sheach/Kiff were having an epic battle, all three previous trying to overhaul the BMW 2002 tii of Lane/Tullie. Ladies weren’t letting the guys have it all their own way, The Whyte Sisters were putting in a solid performance in their BMW, tenth overall a credit to their tenacity. Similarly, Claire Nedin/Rachel Wakefield in the Cortina GT were very consistent, interesting to note that both crews were out in HERO “Arrive and Drive” vehicles.
The route out of Gordano took the rally over one of the Severn Bridges, with a test at Aust just prior of the bridge crossing, next up was RSF “Jingle Street” where seven timing points and the steep, twisty lanes round Lovers Leap and Devils Pulpit found crews ending up to the west of Monmouth. A short link section joined this and RSG “Traders Territory” head north towards famous old sections of The Gremlin and Welsh Marches rallies of old on RS H and I.
After a brief overnight halt in Llangollen where many crews managed just a couple of hours sleep, the Sunday leg of LeJog set off from the services on the A483 at Ruabon, Wales. It had sadly become apparent that some competitors and cars had decided to call time on the event, the strict schedule and nature of the route devised by John Kiff taking its toll and rightly earning the “Toughest Classic Rally in Europe” tag. One competitor from France, Jerome Ambrosini had commented that his navigator, Yves Thirionet had described his brain as being “LeJog Jet lagged”! Unfortunately Jerome and Yves were one of the crews to leave us at Llangollen, their Audi having brake problems.
As far as the event goes, Sunday is relatively relaxed with a later start, not as many time controls and an early finish. This was greatly welcomed by competitors, a chance to get some much needed rest before Mondays epic run through Scotland to John O’Groats.
After leaving Ruabon, a short link took the rally over the border as LeJog left Wales, and entered into England via Cheshire. RSJ ( Cheshire Plains) literally started on the border, heading north easterly skirting Malpas, crossing the A41 and heading past Bunbury and Peckforton Hills before its end at Beeston. No let up though, as the crews were challenged with a test at Beeston Auctions. This wasn’t the last action seen in Cheshire, as a further test at Delamere, close by to the beautiful meres and forest Cheshire is famous for. Leaving Cheshire sprinting north, the next test was in Lancashire, close to the M6 at Longridge, this had lulled crews into a false sense of security, the next regularity was Cow Ark (RSK). For the more “experienced” amongst us, this name is synonymous with Motoring News and road rallies past, although in those days (or nights!) the stunning scenery this section provides would have been lost upon you. Starting off on Longridge fell, the section twists and undulates over the Forest of Bowland, taking in such famous sections as Gibbon Bridge, Inn at Whitewell, Marl Hill and ending up at Slaidburn, where if you were on time, this section took a full hour to complete. Gisburn Forest was the next link section, again a reminder of the MN days and nights as LeJoG wound its way out of Lancashire and on into Yorkshire. Clapham was lunch halt before the weather turned on us and made the afternoon very damp indeed.
Hawes Ropeworks provided the first manoeuvrability test of the afternoon, and with the rain lashing both competitors and marshals horizontally, the rally wound its way over the infamous Butter Tubbs where the blind crests and switchbacks took time off the crews on their way to MC18 at Tan Hill. Stainmore provided the next, short regularity. It was time for one of the highlights of the rally, Stanhope Ford. Crews watched in awe as the river flowed through, and many competitors shared stories with us about soggy clothes and even soggier cars! Three superb tests followed in an old quarry working at Eastgate which gave those competing real food for thought, it was manned by a small army of marshals who provided a first class series of tests. The final regularity over Allendale saw crews drive back to a well deserved rest at The Crown and Mitre Hotel in Carlisle, where a welcome meal and chance for a good nights rest before the final push through Scotland.
HERO /LeJog would like to thank the Marshals who have braved the elements and made the event the success it is, without your help and persistence, we would not have LeJoG.
When crews entered Newtown, the demands of the rally were obvious, David Mustarde/Shon Gosling decided to retire their Alfa Giuletta ti with bent steering. Boughton/Savage, still recovering from their excursion at Porlock had mechanicals to repair, as did Lane and Tullie, the competitive nature was put aside as rival crews helped each other and the fantastic on event service crew to enable their cars to carry on. It was apparent the Welsh roads were a test for both cars and crews alike. Ryan Pickering commenting that the toughest was yet to come as the rally was scheduled for a series of 4 minute sections around the Berriew/Llanfair Caereinion area before resting for a few hours in the Llangollen area.
The spirit of this rally has been mentioned many times these last couple of days, none as much as by Mel Hatton and Phillipa Robinson, their Riley 1.5 suffering from half shaft failures. Their support, Peter, has done sterling work. At 5am in Newtown, some spectators helped “Team Bluebirds” / Straight 8 logistics find someone willing to weld their broken half shaft and get them under way. At Llangollen, the car decided “no more” as the repaired part, even though still strong, wasn’t compatible with the axle. The decision was made to run to Carlisle, where a friend of a friend gave the crew an axle and full use of their garage to get them back into the rally without cost. A wonderful and truly sporting gesture!
After a good nights rest at Carlisle, today was the day that the majority of the event mileage would be run. Listening to the buzz and excitement from the competitors at breakfast, the sense of expectancy for this leg was very high indeed.
Also apparent were the stories of competition and camaraderie from competitors and marshals alike. Many had travelled large distances to help out on several controls, often spanning many hours apart in some of the remotest parts of the country. The awe and prestige this wonderful event holds is humbling yet intensely gratifying. It is also wonderful to see and hear people strike up new friendships as well as the seasoned campaigners greeting old pals with warmth.
This section of LE JOG is a marathon, not a sprint, running on time this would take crews 26 ½ hours to complete. The nature of the roads and the way the route is presented would mean that some would take a little longer than this, a true test of skill and determination. From past competitors’ comments, it was decided that more of the final section would be run through Scotland in daylight, the weather had been kind and this ensured stunning views of some of the finest scenery Europe has to offer would be available to those left in the event. At the evening halt at Kyle of Localsh, 49 crews out of the 67 official starters, including tourers, attempted the last sections, but many of these had rejoined at some point. The actual number of cars completing the whole, or vast majority of the event, could be counted on one hand.
So LE JOG left Carlisle and took in three tests, Longtown Cattle Mart, Gretna Gateway and Castlemilk Estate before the days regularities started. It was here that the top crews started the battle Royal for overall positions.. Leaders at Carlisle, Buzzard/Lyne were still holding on, but Lane and Tullie had started to claw back some time to rise to second, Sheach/Kiff were third, with Jarvis/Pickering fourth and Bricknell/Johnson fifth, the TR4 clan were snapping hard at the heels of the BMW and Alfa mounted crews. After the regularity at Annandale Water, a run up to Loch Lomond saw crews take in another test, this time, Lomond Shores was the venue and then a short regularity round Glen Fruin, the not as map road proving tricky to master.
Then on to one of the most famous sections, the awesome “Rest and Be Thankful” test, resplendent in its new tarmac, this was a superb spectacle as crews battled in turn along this old military road, the steep climb testing both driver skill and car reliability.
HERO events have an enviable reputation now for locating fine food, the stop at Loch Fyne Hotel gave the event time for a breather and to stock up for the run to the Kyle of Localsh, this would be via two tests, one at Inverary Castle, one at Oban Airport and a regularity as darkness started to fall over Appin.
The run into “The Kyle” was via the famous old battlefield at Glen Shiels, here some cleverly placed code boards made sure that navigators were on their toes as some of the location were given approximately meaning crews had to search down whites for the passage check to be recorded correctly.
After a two hour stop at Kyle of Localsh, which gave crews time to plot the night event and enjoy a meal, Plockton airfield provided a test before the meat of the event started. It was here that the event would be won and lost, as crews were to make their way up the west coast via regularities at Bealach Na Ba (pass of the cattle) and Inverbain before a brief stop at Inchbae Lodge in the small hours of the morning. Inverpolly Lodge, Drumbeg and Skerray were the next regularities, taking the crews on the final section at Castletown before dropping down into the finish at John O’ Groats, first over the line were Patrick Burke and Max Behnrdt in their TR4 in the touring class. They were followed by David Bryan and Ian Humpherson in the Escort Twin Cam, the crew doing the event in the memory of David’s Wife, Lynda, who has sadly recently passed away from Cancer. The crew have raised over £1400 towards her memory and for Cancer related charities on this event alone.
As this is written, car 3, the MGA of Curt Wagner and Horst Pokroppa is the first competing car to cross the line, the piper playing well as elated and emotional crews savour the sunshine and breeze we have here at John O’ Groats.
I spoke with Andrew and Robb after the event, I asked Robb to some the event up, “ Epic” was the only word he could say, the tears once again welling, demonstrating what this event meant to win for the Alfa pair. The coveted Gold was theirs
In second were many time winners, Andy Lane and Iain Tullie. The battle between the two crews raged on through the second part of Sunday into Carlisle, and all through Monday into Tuesday, Buzzard had the bit between his teeth, and the slick map skills of Lyne meant that the outcome would only go one way, however, Lane and Tullie were also in top form, receiving first in class and Gold Medal Status. Third went to Tony Sheach and Rob Kiff in a TR4, they had been in close contention but slipped back on Sunday, their battle was then with fourth place Nick Jarvis and Ryan Pickering, both crews in similar vehicles, the battle royal was wonderful to see, neither crew was prepared to give quarter, Scotsman Sheach partnered by the ultra experienced Kiff emerged on top to claim the upper hand. In fifth, Roger Bricknell/Pete Johnson were superb, Johnson over the moon with their achievement.
However, one of the stories and achievement of the event goes to Simon Harris and Russell Joseph. The Golf mounted crew took a fine 6thoverall, after leading on the first day. However, their efforts were rewarded with a Gold Medal, the last of the three awarded this year. A stunning result.
Amongst the classes, Phillip Haslam and Peter Fletcher guided their XK 120 to 10 o/a 1st in class CD, Clare Nedin and Rachel Wakefield took top honours in E1 with a super consistent drive, 17th overall was also theirs in The HERO “Arrive and Drive” Cortina GT. Sheach/Kiff were top dogs in E3, whilst Seren and Elise Whyte, also in a HERO “Arrive and Drive” car took F1and 11th overall, F2 was Lane/Tullie. G1 went to Harris and Joseph and the last class, G2, went to father and son Michael and Simon Baker in their Porsche 911 SC. They had a fine run to take 14th.
This has been a superb event, with a fine entry, the trial has confirmed its status as the toughest Classic Rally in Europe, see you all next year for Le JoG 20!
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