Land's End - John O'Groats
Deputy Clerk of the Course Nick Reeves has been leading the design and working on the route of the 2021 LeJog Reliability Trial with HERO-ERA Competition Director and Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock since 2019.
After a long gestation period, Nick hopes the 2021 LeJog will live up to its fearsome reputation.
Nick Reeves; “We have everything in store for the competitors, we have some simple sections, some tricky ones, we have got a load of tests then there is the variable with the weather. At the moment it is pouring down outside, who knows what we are going to find?
“We are going up across the Brecon Beacons, it will probably be foggy up there, it really is going to be a big challenge which hopefully lives up to the reputation of the event.”
LeJog is also very different to the other HERO-ERA events in that there are no clear cut winners but rather a medal system as Nick Reeves explains: “ LeJog is quite unique in as much as we don’t actually have a winner on the event. At the prize giving in Wick we will hopefully be giving out a few gold medals but to achieve that they have to visit all the controls on time, then there are the silvers and bronze medals based on similar bit not as exacting criteria as the top echelon. In fact things can change quite dramatically, you can be in the silver medal position and a guy in gold makes a mistake and you get bumped up, and he drops down a grade. This is what makes the event really unique.
“To finish LeJog at all is a great achievement. It’s a long way, I’ve driven it in a modern car and it’s quite a challenge trust me. In weather like this in a 1960’s classic car with a poor ventilation system it is really going to crank up the pressure.
“Bearing in mind we had to cancel last year’s event, I’ve been working on this edition of LeJog since the beginning of 2019. We worked on it then put it away then worked on it again with various routes based on what you could and couldn’t do in the run up to the 2020 event. I am very familiar with it all to be honest, we have certainly found some very tight and twisty back of beyond places!
“The final sting in the tail is the departure from Newcastle with the teams running over night, with appropriate regulation breaks, taking them on the route to the finish at John O’ Groats early the following morning. Safety is a priority, we encourage crews to share the driving.
“But we do hope we have a real sting in the tail for them, it is still a proper full on event and I don’t think we would be doing the event justice if we didn’t have some tough sections. Everyone is going to have to be on it from the start to the finish basically! That includes us the organising team.
“Don’t forget we have an army of marshals and officials who come from all over the country working on this event. They will be stood out in the cold and wet at 2.00 am, usually with a smile on their faces as well!
“Add to that the possibility of snow or sleet in Scotland and you can understand the challenge of LeJog.
“A great entry too, especially our international friends from all round Europe. Credit to them, they have been very resourceful in dealing with the last minute changing COVID regulations, it shows the spirit of the individuals concerned to get over the hurdles to be involved in this event .”
Determination is part of the LeJog game as well as endurance, and two characters known for their perseverance are back to try and make amends. Paul Carter’s car failed to go the distance so he is back with his BMW 2002 with Matthew Abrey navigating for him. Bill Cleyndert also sadly failed after a valiant effort in his vintage Ford, he is back again too, although in a rather more comfortable car.
Paul; “Yes we both ended up in Chester two years ago and the wheels weren’t going round on either car, it was very sad morning. But I am back for more, I think this may be my 12th or 13th LeJog but I don’t want to count!”
Bill; “The Austin 1800 ‘Landcrab’ comes out for the third time on LeJog, it’s a good car to do it in, it’s nice and comfortable, it is an endurance event after all, plus I have a new navigator. Stuart Anderson has kindly lent me Emily, his daughter to navigate. She has been doing really well recently and won a gold medal on LeJog two years ago, so I am really looking forward to working with her.”
The only vintage car on the Reliability Trial this year is the 1949 Bentley Mk 6 Special of Chris Townsend. Two years ago he eventually found his way to John O’ Groats but took a different path to many others. Chris; “I have the experienced Richard Lambley navigating this year so we hope to make amends and be more competitive this time round!”
The ever present German crew of Klaus Mueller and Eric Schwab are also back for more but they are awaiting a consignment of new rear wheel bearings for their Lancia Fulvia before they can even think about starting the 2021 LeJog. Klaus; “Everything was fine and new in the workshops in Holland but when we arrived in the UK the rear bearings failed, a bad production run we think.! We are ready to fit them as soon as the package arrives – hopefully tonight!”
All the elements had been thrown at the 65 crews from Land’s End to Chester as Leg 1 and 2 came to a close at 4.10 am on Sunday morning. It started with high winds that nearly blew sponsor Michelin’s Bibendum over as he tried to flag the cars way at 7.30 am under the famous Land’s End sign post, then hailstones hit so fiercely that they formed a half inch layer skating rink for rally cars in places.
The narrow and sometimes pot holed roads of the third regularity of Winkleigh were awash with the rain and subsequent floods in parts, which meant teams were either surfing or skating. Rally crews were not out of place with the surfers of Perranporth or Bude further up the North Cornish coast. In fact the cars could almost touch the surf boards in parts as the tough, second regularity Lesnewth climbed the cliff top roads with the long beaches and crashing waves below, then dropped along by the beach at Crackington Haven where it was almost impossible to stand up against the wind. The long and twisty, but incredibly scenic regularity, running along part of the Atlantic coast, started within spitting distance of Tintagel where many mythical brave Knights sat at a round table, and bravery is what the latter day Knights of the Road on LeJog shared with their historic cousins. Chris Townsend in the only Vintage car on the event dodged the bow waves and rain squalls that hit his 1949 Bentley Mk6 Special; Chris, “The biggest rain squall whipped across the passenger side with my new navigator Richard Lambley talking the full force, but it didn’t affect his job, we have found the right route so far, unlike two years ago!”
It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the toughest opening legs of LeJog for a long while as there was no easing in period. Yet at the same time the variety of the challenges were extraordinary. Apart from the many by now, deep fords the cars had float through, there was one regularity criss crossing canals and bridges via a fast and smooth piece of road with no margin for error. The many Dutch crews could have been forgiven for thinking they were back home already such was the low and flat lands through which the canals were cut.
Later, in the middle of the night, crews were lucky enough to test their skills across the legendary yet fearsome Epynt Military roads, even passing Dixies one of the most famous areas in UK rallying, a place where many have crashed out, including four famous WRC drivers on Wales Rally GB one year. The loose surfaces with huge bolders delineating the apex of the fast, flowing and plunging roads demanded real concentration in the dark. Climbing back onto a smooth tarmac section, the then gold medal sitters Rod Hanson and Clare Grove put their MG Maestro into a ditch. Luckily one of the media team’s vehicles was nearby filming and managed to pull them out.
The final section of the evening was nearly fifty miles of Time Control section in the mountain area of LLantysillo and Maesyrychen near LLangollen with some great hairpins to tackle.
The issue was, said Triumph 2000 driver Peter Barker, “that there was so much water on the roads it was getting in everywhere, we were misfiring and struggling at one point, 60’s cars cannot cope with this much water!”
Also misfiring to the point that they spluttered to a stop and had to pushed out of the way by fellow competitors on the regularity, were Tony and James Darwent in their 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. The mechanical assistance team of Tony Jones and Bob Harrod were soon on the scene trying to get a spark back into the electrical system. Tony Darwent referred to the attack of the hailstones as not being helpful either as he said; “At one point the hail lashed down so fast that it quickly became around half and inch deep, we were sliding all over the place!”
The mechanical assistance crews were worked very hard over the course of the two legs mostly with successful outcomes. The ever popular Bill Cleyndert, teamed up of the first time with LeJog gold medal winner Emily Anderson, had stopped and was forced to squeeze his Austin 1800 into a tiny field entrance so he didn’t block the road for the regularity and could only smile behind his OK Board as he declared “We have just stopped for a picnic!”
The reality was something had thumped the underside of the Landcrab and all Bill got for a gearlever was a stirring stick for porridge. “The boys found a small plastic washer that had been broken in the underside bang so they fashioned a new metal one which works like a dream, but unfortunately we are out of the medal chase now.”
Those that were still sitting pretty half way though the long night included Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson who confessed to having a great day. My own gold medal dark horses, Owen Turner and Andy Ballantyne in their unusual but effective 1973 Chrysler Galant were on the gold list along with Dick and Mark Appleton in their Mini Cooper S, although Mark did say tonight that their Mini is “making strange noises!”
Top of the silver list was Rob and John Kiff in their historic and venerable VW Beetle.
It has been a remarkable day and night!
After nearly 650 miles and 32 hours of 17 long regularities, 12 tests and a Time Control section, LeJog is starting its sink its teeth in with many using the word ‘tough’ to summarise any part of this internationally renowned endurance event.
With a long Leg 1 and 2 taking crews through from Land’s End on Saturday to a tired arrival in Chester in the early hours of Sunday morning in time to see the milk deliveries to the hotel, it has been clear today that there is a knock on affect into Leg 3 in terms of the attrition.
As the Mechanical Assistance crews bore witness, there were only 32 cars that had gone through the final control after the epic TC section with all its harpins in the mountains near LLangollen in the wee small hours of Sunday. This higher paced section followed hot in the spinning wheel tracks of the Epynt regularity blasts over prime WRC and national rally real estate, which in the past, has humbled the best rally drivers in the world. HERO-ERA assistance crews and officials were trying to find missing cars in the dark, wet Welsh mountains, some needed mechanical assistance, some had to be pulled out of ditches whilst others couldn’t be found. They had either cut to the hotel or in some cases had given up altogether and driven all the way home.
There were an estimated 20 plus retirements not to mention the wounded machines just about still walking, as this traditionally tough event takes its toll. Attrition has set in with the knock on effect from last night and another exacting day on Sunday causing the medal tables to shrink somewhat.
By Kirkby Lonsdale today there were just four left on the gold medal list. That is not to say that there won’t be many more changes to the list as the medal game of LeJog Snakes and Ladders takes its harsh course, but even experienced, gold medal winning competitors are finding the 26th edition of LeJog tough.
Jayne Wignall; Driver 1963 Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint; “Unfortunately we dropped from gold to bronze. It has been a very difficult event, the navigation in particular is very difficult, on the regularities you have map reading to do in conjunction with jogularity instructions so it is a lot for event the most experienced navigators to cope with. The TC section last night was very difficult, we dropped a lot of time when a lot of people got in our way. The weather has generally been OK although there may be snow in Scotland, but the good thing is the car is holding up!”
Andrew Duerden navigator, VW Golf GTi with driver Ginger Ostle; Andrew; “ The last road rally style section last night, we missed a slot early on which meant it just got worse and worse as we just couldn’t keep up to the schedule. We were dropping time and got to the other side of LLangollen and realised we were going OTL so we had to cut and run in time to get to the village. We had enjoyed a good day apart from that. Ginger is enjoying it but the car took a real battering last night.”
But there is still another 650 miles, 6 tests and 13 regularities including the ‘Sting in the Tail’ Loch Ness Monster at night to go. It is aptly named as it is huge at 65 miles and will make or break crews. What is not clear is just how many will be left to get that far? Essentially, Leg 4 will start at 8.30 am Monday and roll into Leg 5 after a short break to run all the way through to the finish at John O’ Groats on Tuesday morning at 10.20 am.
As ever, the German and Dutch contingent are really enjoying LeJog. Dutchmen Joost Bolwidt and Eric van Straaton have bravely brought their 1965 Citroen 2CV AZXAM to LeJog and they are still going strong.
Eric;” It’s going well but the poor little car suffers! It doesn’t have enough power, it’s too small at 600cc but it goes well in the handling, it really holds. Those tiny little lanes with the tight hedges each side are just made for her! Still power is the problem, we lose minutes every time but we are having great fun. We have put a lot of effort into the preparation and our goal is John O’ Groats!
Joost; “The navigation is not that difficult, the maps and books are very good as I have a bit more time to make instructions, we are not going that fast. The good thing is we have heated seats!”
By contrast to many others, Marinus Middelweerd and Jap van den Bent, also from Holland, are just having a cracking time in their powerful Porsche 928. Marinus; “It’s a very good event, very demanding but we love everything about it, except for the snow! Jap; “It wasn’t that bad last night, we were doing very well on the navigation and there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roads at night so we could really enjoy ourselves, all the opportunities were there to do it on the remote roads!”
The 2021 LeJog route continued to amaze crews and take seasoned veterans to territory unused or even new. In particular the section around Kirkby Lonsdale was spectacular, the roads were amazing with stunning views as cars wound their way through the Ribble Valley and on into the Appleby in Westmorland. The ribbon of road high up between the two valleys was simply jaw dropping, although the navigators would not get time to even lift their heads, never mind look at the view.
It was a case of real ‘uphill down dale rally roads’ with every kind of surface and bend, a supreme challenge. As a bonus at the end, the beautiful old village of Slaidburn was at its best dressed in all its glittering yet classy Christmas clothes, it certainly wowed the European contestants.
Although Scotland is beautiful, crews won’t see much of it as they struggle to concentrate and keep themselves going in the dark. It is grit your teeth time, the next 48 hours are not about wow, but how to survive.
“This is one of the toughest LeJog editions I have been involved with for 10 years.” The words of Guy Woodcock, Clerk of the Course and veteran LeJog participant and organiser. “Every bit of bad weather hit the event from high winds to hailstones, from snow to black ice and flooded tracks, last night I’ve never seen snow and ice like it in my life! It was an awesome route that Nick Reeves, Deputy Clerk of the Course put together. Crews were challenged from top to bottom and that is born out by the lack of medals that were won, there are only three gold, silver and two bronze, it’s a long time since that has happened, so LeJog has lived up to it’s reputation as being the toughest in Europe.”
To give them enormous credit, Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde were in flying form in their 1959 Alfa Romeo Guilietta Sprint to take gold. The amazing Dick Appleton on his first ever LeJog also captured a gold medal in his seventies with his son and ace navigator Mark alongside him in their Mini Cooper S.
However, praise is not enough to credit the ‘first big event’ driving of the large Volvo 142 in the atrocious conditions by Amy Henchoz, navigated by the calm and collected Niall Frost to stupendous crew golds. As silver medal winner Owen Turner said; “Its a big old car to thread through those lanes in those conditions and get no penalties whatsoever, those are proper road rally lanes and she was just brilliant, her and Niall were epic.” Andy Ballantyne navigated Owen in their unlikely rally car, the 1973 Chrysler Galant to take silver and was very happy afterwards; “All our Christmases have come at once, but it was probably the toughest most relentless rally I have ever been on!”
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage fought back from bronze to silver medals after some stirring performances in their 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint, Jayne remarking afterwards that it had been, “a very difficult rally indeed, especially for the navigators. It was one of the toughest LeJogs for many years” said the HERO Cup Champion.
Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson had been in the gold class but lost time behind another car, although they kept a great consistent pace to retain silver in their Volvo. Worthy and popular bronze medal winners were German LeJog regulars Klaus Mueller ad Eric Schwab, who were delighted to win medals at all after early problems with their superb 1965 Lancia Fulvia. Dutchmen Sybren van der Goot and Maiko Wellink were the only other bronze winners in their Escort Mexico after a very consistent performance.
Anyone who finished the event at all needed a medal. As a result of all the weather elements, there were fallen trees, water logged tracks and treacherous black ice with snow in some parts. The hard packed ice, in another sub zero night in the early hours Tuesday, combined to thwart over forty cars in the longest and most anticipated regularity of them all, the 45 mile Loch Ness Monster. The hills became so polished out that it no longer became part of the reckoning. The black and rutted ice was so slippy competitors could hardly stand up, never mind try to push their rally cars uphill.
The early runners managed to scrabble up the hills, whilst another four fitted their snow chains and clawed their way up, but all to no avail as the Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock had no option but to cancel the regularity. This was disappointing for Volvo runners Noel Kelly and Peter Johnson, Christopher Wilks and David Creech, who had all fish tailed their way through somehow. New regularity rally converts Callum Guy and Neil Dashfield, both used to special stage rallying, already had one snow chain fitted to a rear wheel of the HERO-ERA Arrive and Drive BMW 1602 and broke free from the stationary line of 30 + rally cars to complete the massive Loch Ness Monster.
The black ice with lumpy snow demanded extreme caution or a big reward for bravery. Many visited ditches, including the 2021 LeJog silver medal winning Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage, but they were pulled out rapidly by a Volvo.
Once the rally had regrouped, it was back to the rest of the tough regularities, but with even more treacherous ice, snow and black ice demanding extreme caution or a big reward for bravery. Many visited ditches, but the most scary section was a shiny toboggan run in regularity 5 where the only way to retard the car was to use parts of the steep bank for purchase. Andy Simpson and Brian Dwelly drifted helplessly downhill nose first into a ditch. Both were unharmed and the Mini was without a scratch from the snow filled ditch after HERO-ERA Mechanical Assistance crew of Dave Alcock and Mikey Jones pulled them out.
The conditions for Legs 4 and 5 over Monday and Tuesday were challenging and certainly adventurous. As temperatures plummeted crews passed around the mountainous area of the Spittal of Glenshee and over the Meall Gorm where only the reflective snow poles gave a clue as to where the slippy surface was taking crews next!
They started at 0730 on Saturday in Land’s End on the 4th Dec and finished at 10.20 am on Tuesday the 7th Dec after covering 1300 miles taking in 20 tests and 26 regularities from the toe to the tip of the UK taking the longest route possible with every element of the notorious UK weather thrown at them.
Crews from 8 countries crossed the finish line in the shadow of the famous JOG signposts, many embraced having made it after one of the most relentless and difficult rallies. In fact Porsche 924 driver Dirk Dohse’s navigator Jeanette Ressemann was so elated, yet relived to finish, she had a good cry on the podium.
Right to the bitter end, crews had to stay on guard. Even as they came out of the last regularity, there was a secret check point. This dramatically and sadly caught out Mike Cochrane and Angus McQueen in their BMW after a magical run in the gold list. The last hurdle was a cruel blow for them to take, but LeJog has established its hard reputation from the start all the way to the finish. It takes no prisoners.
The 1300 mile route was devised and developed with skill and creativity by Deputy Clerk of the Course Nick Reeves, to much praise by the competitors and by Guy Woodcock himself. But as Nick explains, it takes a team to put on such a challenging event. “I was a bit emotional when I got here, it’s been a lot of hard work but we couldn’t have done it without the effort of the whole team. It’s a proper team effort, when things start happening in the middle of the night, the snow comes down and roads get closed no one person can manage it on their own, everyone has to dig in and get the result to get us up here to John O’ Groats.
“Everyone thanks the marshals each time but they really do pull it out of the bag every time to give the service the competitors need, it’s fantastic how they all get together and work tirelessly on event.”