Land's End - John O'Groats
Final Preparations as 71 crews brace themselves for a tough 1500 mile endurance event
The 24th edition of Le Jog promises to be as tough as ever as 71 crews from ten nations gathered in Land’s End for the start of the annual four day trial. Attracted as always by the immense challenge of driving the length of the UK undertaking demanding regularities and tests along the route, this year there are more Le Jog ‘Rookies’ starting the event than for ten years.
In the first briefing of the final build up day, Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock asked how many competitors in the packed room were first timers. Half the audience put their hands up!
Guy proceeded to offer them the following advice: “It’s all about consistency” as he continued to give tips to the Le Jog newbies. “Navigators, you need to control your drivers, be ready to go all the time, it will make such a difference.”
Navigators formed an orderly queue to receive their map references to route plot for Leg One and immediately went to work. “There is a lot of work to do this afternoon but the more you can get done today the easier it will be for you tomorrow” said the Clerk of the Course. Some of the regularities are self-starting where you write your own start time in the box on the time card. It was explained how important this was, especially when fatigue sets in to remember to actually do it. One year even one of the record medal winning navigators, Kevin Savage, had forgotten to fill in his start time and agonisingly lost a gold medal because of the error.
Regularities such as the famed Loch Ness Monster will require major concentration for an hour and fifty minutes said Guy Woodcock. “It’s an absolute classic to make mistakes on.”
Crews also have tests to look forward to, especially the tough Caerwent test on military land. “Three tests in the dark, it has lots of curbs so treat it with caution, we usually lose a couple of cars in there but it’s great fun” advised Woodcock.
The running order for the event is as per car number, so the first cars on the road will be the ever popular pre 1940s vehicles, back on Le Jog for the first time in eight years. Two of the crews in this class are running open tops, in winter! Brian Scowcroft and Chris Ford’s 1936 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe is the exception but lined up alongside two nineteen thirties Derby Bentleys of Stuart Anderson/Richard Lambley and Elliot Dale with ‘Rookie’ navigator Charlotte Ryall, all above the Land’s End rocks ready to start. With the roaring Atlantic in the back ground, Elliott Dale grimaced as he exclaimed’” I rowed across that! This is supposed to be easier but I’m not sure, it’s going to be cold and miserable at times, maybe fractious in the cockpit but we have to keep calm. Once you are wet your wet!”
Completing Class 1 for pre 1940s cars in the Atlantic line up was the record breaking Le Jog gold medal winning crew of Andy Lane and Iain Tullie in their 1932 open top Morgan 4-4. Quite a departure for the team who have previously won in younger cars with a roof over their heads.
Watching Iain Tullie squeeze into the tight Morgan cockpit with no room to read his map, other than half the right way up, allowed this comment from the expert navigator; “I have to stay in this position just to keep clear of Andy’s left arm otherwise he can’t change gear!”
Back for a second time, one of 27 Germans competing on the famed Le Jog, Hans Wilhelm Dercks in his BMW 525era felt compelled to return. “I came back because Le Jog is great for the brain! The long distance, tricky navigation and getting out of your biological rhythm make it very demanding in every way. Also, it’s not so easy for me as I get older!”
Representing Canada on his very first Le Jog is Branko Brkovitch. He listened intently to the newcomers briefing. “After all that advice I’m just going to do as I’m told! Although I have been regularity rallying for twenty years, Le Jog has been on my bucket list for a long time, it has a great reputation. However, I would say it’s very warm compared to Canada.”
Despite the high winds and swirling rain, most competitors are set for the challenge ahead. After many long hard months of hard work and preparation by the organising team and weeks of anticipation from the 71 crews, the 2018 Le Jog will finally get under way at 0730 Saturday 8th December.
Leg 1 & 2 – Le Jog 2018, driving rain fails to halt Le Jog push into Wales
71 cars left the start line at Land’s End in grim swirling rain and high winds as their headlights struggled to find the track around the rocky headland in the dark of Saturday morning.
This first test marked the start of the 24th edition of Le Jog, the driving rain set in for the day. The crews of the pre 1940s open top Bentleys and Morgan peered through their fur lined leather hats and scarves all wrapped in wet weather gear to try and keep the water out.
In true Christmas spirit, Andy Lane and navigator Iain Tullie arrived on the start line with fairy lights dangling around their 1938 Morgan, both crew in Santa hats! It may have been a jolly start for them, but it soon turned humbug as a float chamber fell off their SU carb followed by distributer cap problems. They are struggling on trying to find parts but made it to the end of Leg 1 at Hogs Head in Abergavenny.
With 9 tests and 5 regularities along the 305 mile Leg 1 route, including four tests in the infamous Caerwent Training Area, the cars have started to get strung out. Running at the back in 1983 Mercedes Benz 280GE (G Wagen) are a crew of four from Germany including former DTM racing driver Ellen Lohr. They had to try and limbo under a tree that had fallen across the road in regularity 4 just as a local arrived with a handy chainsaw! As the tree was across two banks a small section was cut out as the Mercedes just fitted its roof box under the neat bit of tree surgery!
Bill Cleyndert and Tony Brooks in their 1968 Austin 1800 Land Crab have been pushing on but not all has gone smoothly. ‘some has been really good but some has been really bad, we had some confusion in regularity 2 but at least we didn’t lose too much time. The car is a bit sluggish but it’s great fun.” Said Bill.
The biggest issue has been the rain. Waterlogged tracks, water in engines and bedraggled marshals.
Previous medal winners and Le Jog regulars Robert and Susan McClean in their 1962 Rover P4 100 found that their old wipers weren’t really up to it. “They spread the water rather than push it off but it’s a 1950’s system! Erhard Lang’s Lancia Fulvia got swamped with water and refused to start. “Luckily after a lot of persuasion it did” said Erhard.
The Tiverton test was a tight and twisty challenge that provided many lakes for cars to splash though, some misfired as the water sprayed the engine and then cleared again. But there was no stopping the flying MGB GT of Roger Tushingham and excellent young navigator Amy Henchoz as she pushed her driver on, the pair flew through the test. Also in flying form was current HERO Cup points leader, eye surgeon Swiss Daniel Gresly navigated by Briton Jonathan Hanccox, as they slid around the test on private land in their Porsche 911 SWB.
The Severn Bridge Test was like a massive car wash as the rain pelted competitors and officials alike. Marshall Weston Super Mare Motor Club and Tavern Motor Club Bristol bravely stayed at their posts saying they wouldn’t have missed it, all Le Jog fans.
On regularity 5, 63 cars eventually made the control. Tim Lawrence and Andrew Fish crashed into a Werrington Park bridge without injury in a test on private land but are still hoping to continue after overnight repairs to their MGB.
As Le Jog continued into the wet Welsh night crews were starting to fall like flies. Sadly the Ford Consul Capri of Paul Merryweather and Liz Jordan has retired with clutch problems. The German crew of Kai Dathe and Robert Renner finally retried their Porsche 924 after an initial fire on Friday night cased continual electrical problems.
Andy Simpson and Colin Sutton have had to pull out in their Mini 1275 GT and the glorious Chevrolet Fangio Coupe has cut straight to the over night halt at Telford to try and cure some technical issues. Brian Scowcroft only arrived late the night before the start at Land’s End admitting that due to other event pressures, this had hardly been ideal preparation.
As crews left a short rest halt to head into some exciting TC action deep in remote Wales, others had to also cut straight to the over night at Telford including Willy Davids Jaguar Mk 1 and Andy Lane’s 1938 Morgan which is still suffering mechanically.
Leg 3 Le Jog, Telford to Slaley Hall – The calm before the storm
After an epic first two legs of Le Jog ending with an exciting TC action in remote Wales in the early hours of Sunday morning, most crews reached Telford. Some were happy, some relieved but there were also some very disappointed crews who had to retire from this tough event.
After a few hours sleep, the remaining crews tackled 9 regularities and 3 tests along the 300 mile route to Slaley Hall Hexham. Although still a demanding day, most realised that this was the calm before the storm. Sunday night would be the last chance to get some proper rest before the push past the English border and on to John O’ Groats with just a short break in Fort William before the finish on Tuesday.
Some of the Le Jog veterans took pleasure in reminding the ‘Rookies’ that they weren’t even half way there yet, the last two legs covering six hundred and 35 miles would be the real sting in the tail!
Survivors from Saturday night’s terrors in Wales were quick to point to the tests on military training ground. “Caerwent frightened us to death” said one competitor who didn’t want to put his name to the quote, “it was fast and dark with big kerbs to bite you, we were glad to get through it!”
Paul Day’s MGB melted its light switches and had no spotlights for the eerie TC’s in the remote tracks of Wales in the dead of night. “It was just scary, we couldn’t see properly then on top of that we had a breakdown but eventually we got back into action.”
One of the bravest crews were James Gleeson and Roger Knight, just for the fact that they have been taking their large 1976 Jaguar XJC through many of the narrow and twisty Le Jog challenges, but to do it without windscreen wipers after the motor packed up is daring. They were last seen this morning rubbing potatoes over their windscreen, so the rain would streak over the glass.
From bravery to despair. Poor Daniel Gresly who had been in the medals in his Porsche 911, the Swiss navigated by Englishman Jonathan Hancock, endured a “shocking night” according to Jonathan. “My navigation all went to pot and we missed a time control, you miss one and that’s it, no medals for us.” Can Daniel maintain his lead in the HERO Cup points though?
Andy Lane and Iain Tullie managed to get their 1938 Morgan to Telford but no further. Andy’s hands were blistered from trying to steer the reluctant, misfiring car which “could hardly get up a hill” said Andy. “We just picked the wrong car, we should have been in a Bentley!” Iain Tullie just tried to keep his head down each time, yet another bow wave of water cascaded over the crew. Happily and generously, Iain hasn’t gone home but is working in the course car as navigator. Real dedication.
Pre-1940s open top cars don’t just cause discomfort they can strain relationships, such is the difficulty of going the right way, never mind hearing each other. Elliott Dale’s navigator and partner Charlotte Ryall who is another Le Jog ‘Rookie’ said: “It is a real test of our relationship, it certainly can be fractious in the car at times. But the thrill of flying along in the TC sections where we managed to get into controls on our minutes was just great.”
Another to have fun and seriously enjoy himself was Horst Pokroppa form Germany navigating for compatriot Henrik Verspohl in their 1957 MGA Coupe.
“It was just a marvellous night on Saturday, it is the first time in Wales that we have gone through the whole night without missing any controls! The link sections were very misty which didn’t make it easy, then we nearly drowned out in a ford which made it very misty inside too. But what a night!”
Another lady navigator doing well is Amy Henchoz sitting alongside driver Roger Tushingham in their MGB GT. “We hit all the controls but we just came out of one TC on the same time a little quick but the other car was fine with it. We had a good day.”
Some have not been so lucky. Car 39, the Nick Dawson and Andrew Tuggey MGB GT has had to retire after just 45 cars from the original 71 starters got through regularity 8 later tonight in Leg 3. Derek Skinner and Peter Scott had to retire their Cortina GT with rear suspension problems.
Rally champion and drinks magnate Steve Perez who is famous for his love of the Lancia Stratos, was kind enough to allow crews through his Chesterfield estate again to conduct a Le Jog regularity. However, the Dutch crew of Sybren van der Goot and Maiko Wellink in their fabulous 1971 Datsun 240Z didn’t believe they were on the right track as they arrived in front of Steve’s superb mansion. They did a neat u-turn fearing they had trespassed into somebody’s beautiful front garden by mistake!
As tired crews arrived at Slaley Hall on Sunday night, some felt they had really endured a long and difficult day. Experienced competitors on Le Jog told them this had been like a walk in Steve Perez’ park, the next 48 hours would be very different indeed!
Epic 24th Le Jog enhances its reputation
After four days and three hard nights, 51 surviving cars and their shattered crews made it triumphantly under the victory arch at Jon O’Groats Scotland. They had navigated and driven nearly 1500 miles the long way from the most southerly tip of England to the tip of Scotland.
After 16 tests and 31 regularities in conditions ranging from high winds, driving rain, mist and some ice over already slippy roads and tracks, eight elated crews were awarded coveted Le Jog medals for their achievements.
Four teams achieved gold medals, amongst them a young emerging star navigator, Amy Henchoz. With silver medals for Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham in a Porsche 911 SWB and Eric Michiels, Aswin Pyck in their Mercedes 450SLC 5.0 litre. There was bronze for one of the most unlikely rally cars in the event, a 1980 5.3 Jaguar XJS, the medal list is short indicating the hard challenge 2018 has been. Whilst they were the winners there were desperate losers too.
Living up to its hard reputation as Europe’s toughest classic car rally, the event lost two of its star attractions from the medal list on the penultimate day. Stuart Anderson and navigator Richard Lambley, competing on his fortieth HERO event, clipped a farm trailer at low speed on a blind bend damaging the 1936 open top Derby Bentley’s axle and its fuel tank. The duo, who had defied the elements and entertained with their brave driving of the vintage machine, were out. Nobody was hurt, just the poor Bentley.
Le Jog even lost its first ever 1936 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe entry, stuck in a ditch on Sunday.
The other team to lose gold medal status late in the event were the stand out pre-1940s class crew of Elliott Dale and his navigator Le Jog Rookie, Charlotte Ryall. Their 1937 Derby Bentley, slid on grass at low speed, driver and record breaking Atlantic rower Elliott said, “it slid and then we just got dragged into a ditch, I jumped out but fell into the water below! The only damage was to the spare wheel carrier, but we got towed out and got going again.”
Charlotte Ryall was a little bit more worried at the time. “I feared we were going to slip down into the water below as one wheel was waving in the air. It was close but we got away with it. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the last two regularities, so we lose our gold medals, but we are both fine and so is the car.” The hugely popular team were trying to salvage their class win on the final day when a half shaft broke dealing a cruel blow to the couple who had endured all kinds discomfort in the blinding rain when regular bow waves soaked them both in the cockpit.
Survival was upper most in people’s minds as they headed out for the final Leg 5 from Fort William to John O’Groats via the dreaded Loch Ness Monster test through the early hours of Tuesday morning.
This 50 mile regularity proved to be a real sting in the tail of the event, as cars went the wrong way, missed controls some even sliding into the unforgiving ditches. The Loch Ness requires maximum concentration but even the best can sometimes make errors as Andy Ballantyne did mistaking a Halt sign for a Junction taking the wrong turning dropping three minutes. Others made the same mistake but unlike Andy’s driver Mike Tanswell who spun the Ford Escort Mexico around, they did not return, doubtless swallowed whole by Nessy herself. It was a dizzying site as lost cars were cris crossing each other. Mike Tanswell was still wired with the excitement at 4.00 am saying, “I feel more awake now than I did at any time yesterday, that was fantastic.” Tanswell and Ballantyne still won Class 6.
Another to get away with it was three time Le Jog medal winner Stephen Owens in his Porsche 911 SWB. “I had just overtaken two cars who had been holding us up before a hairpin but went in too quickly and slipped into the ditch. A Swiss Jaguar tried to pull us out but instead pulled off his own bumper and toe eye! Then kind marshals in their Land Rover came to drag us out but after fifteen agonising minutes our gold medal was gone”. However, Stephen and navigator Nick Bloxham manged to retain silver and win class 4.
Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 driver Paul Bloxidge also had a story to tell. “We slipped into a ditch but were kindly pulled out by father and son duo Chris and Richard Exelby with their MGB. The deal was then they were to follow us, Chris said it was the best regularity result he’d had all season! The Exelby’s generous efforts helped Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan achieve a gold medal!
Also winning their class after overcoming brake issues with a quick visit to Halfords was Kevin Haselden with Gary Evans navigating their Austin Mini Cooper S. The ever popular Ted Gaffney and with experienced navigator Paul Bosdet alongside won class 8 in their VW Golf GTi.
A rally fan favourite, a 1968 Austin 1800 in London Sydney spec was driven with great gusto by Bill Cleyndert and navigated by the experienced Tony Brooks. They were in the silver medal class until the duo took the same wrong turn as the Escort Mexico but realised earlier and threw the Land Crab into fast reverse – straight into a ditch! As Tony pointed out, “the concentration needed in that complex was major, but the whole event was really tough, one of the hardest.”
Sleep deprivation and fatigue played their part, some even talked of hallucination in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the surviving 49 crews from 71 starters having been in action almost none stop for thirty hours. But as HERO Events Managing Director, Patrick Burke pointed out, “we go out of our way to make it as tough as possible, that is part of Le Jog’s attraction. It’s hard to believe but this was the 24th edition, yet we aim to keep improving it.”
The sweeper crews of mechanics had hardly any sleep at all as they fixed, towed and patched up rally cars got to get them back into an event, where just finishing at all is a major achievement. They are the real heroes of Le Jog and they never sleep.
Watching the speed of MGB GT driver Roger Tushingham in the tests on private land suggested he had a really good navigator who knew how to make the calls. Not only did the young and relatively inexperienced Amy Henchoz sitting alongside him know how to navigate, she also has a calm disposition.
When many experienced navigators around her were losing their way and maybe their cool in the daunting Loch Ness Monster at night, Amy found all the controls. “We were 15 seconds up into a series of nasty hairpins when we stopped to check if Elliot Dale and Charlotte were OK as they had stopped. We lost some time but got within our minute at each control for the whole regularity. We nailed it!”
Amy is not quite as famous as another lady competitor on Le Jog this year, not yet! Former DTM and Dakar star Ellen Lohr absolutely raved about Le Jog which she knew and had followed in the past due to its reputation. Ellen has been here with Thomas Geiger, Ralph Wagenknecht and Berit Bremer taking part in a Classic Mercedes-Benz 280GE, or G Wagen as we know it from 1983. They enjoyed quite an adventure.
The unlikely Jaguar XJS rally car of Ed Abbott and experienced former Le Jog medal winning navigator Nick Cooper, was a sight to behold. It glided over the torrents of Welsh water on day one and purred its way around the test kart track in Scotland but it didn’t like the ice on Sunday night.
Nick Cooper, “It got a bit scary but settled later.” Edd added, “we did it for England and Jaguar, I’ve always wanted to do le Jog but in something special.” The pair took bronze medals.
Another Le Jog Rookie who made a big impression was Noel Kelly with his navigator Peter Johnson, they took a much deserved class win and gold medals, a hard standard to reach on this relentless event. In fact, it was going so badly for the pair in Nessie’s Monster Regularity that Noel said, “we were seriously thinking of throwing in the towel and going straight to John O’Groats but then we got our heads together. As Guy said, you have to keep going”
HERO Competitions Director Guy Woodcock was very happy with how well the event went. “It was a really tough event as crews did all the route, unlike last year when sections had to be cut due to weather.
“Wales, with the very wet conditions was a killer for many cars, then the ice on Monday night made it a real Le Jog. It is a major undertaking to make a successful event like this, we have forty staff and an army of marshals from motor clubs the length and breadth of the UK to help make it happen, so I really want to thank them all for their hard work and commitment. There are 250 controls alone to operate, never mind the rest of the organisation!”
Next year will be the 25th edition of Le Jog so we are going to make it something special by taking it back to its original roots as much as possible. In the spirit of the early events we have asked John Kiff, who was the first gold medal winner in 1993, to be route planner. We are all really looking forward to another cracking Le Jog to celebrate its quarter century.