Land's End - John O'Groats
49 cars started LeJog from a dark and blustery Land’s End at 7.30 am on Saturday, but as the sun came up the backdrop revealed blue sky. Having enjoyed a relatively mild build up to Europe’s toughest endurance regularity rally, LeJog started to bite early as even experienced hands hit trouble.
Teams from 12 different countries started the renowned rally which travels from the tip of England at Land’s End to the northerly tip of Scotland at John O’Groats, taking the longest and hardest route possible. There are Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at stake, together with the final points for the HERO Cup Championship for drivers and the Golden Roamer Award for the top navigator of 2022.
With 300 miles, six tests and seven regularities behind them to end Leg One at the Hog’s Head near Abergavenny, two medal favourites had already hit trouble. Thomas and Roger Bricknell, a former Golden Roamer Navigator’s Champion, had made contact with an obstacle on a test, losing a tyre from their Volkswagen Golf Gti, indicating an early retirement. However, there was a text from the father and son saying they are going to try and re-join for Leg Three.
Also in some trouble were driver Noel Kelly and Golden Roamer navigator’s championship contender for 2022 honours, Pete Johnson in their Volvo. Pete is in a battle with Henry Carr for the 2022 Golden Roamer Trophy award for the top navigator of the year – and LeJog is the showdown.
Noel: “The Volvo has been running rough since the start of LeJog. I think it’s something underneath the head or somewhere as we put new exhaust valves in. Kevin Savage performed that operation before this event, because we were running a bit rough on the Rally of the Tests as well. We thought maybe the carbs were out of balance a bit, but it got worse again this morning.
“And even on the first test, once we got into the hill part, it just wasn’t pulling. So we’ve gone through the morning as quickly as we could, without trying to collect penalties, it was making some horrible noises. By lunchtime the mechanical assistance crews were rechecking the plugs, we checked everything. One of them was very badly oiled and wasn’t doing anything. So we’re on three cylinders.
“Normally the Volvo is so smooth, but it’s just one of those things and there is a long way to go.
“Pete’s chasing the Golden Roamer. I think Steven will get the Hero Cup if he can keep it going, but from my point of view, I’m more worried about getting Pete to the end. Hopefully we should get him there. Fingers crossed.”
Henry Carr remains stoic but the VW Golf GtI he is navigating in for American Paul O’ Kane has also been misfiring on Leg One, just when Henry needs a good charge to beat Pete Johnson.
Henry “There’s been a lot to do, keeping me on my toes. We had a bit of a car problem this morning, but it was fixed at lunchtime, the alternator wasn’t charging, but in between coffee and lunch they found the wiring had broken and we had to try and fix it en route. I also had to push the car to a Timing Point on the last regularity before lunch, so we dropped, a minute there because I couldn’t push hard enough! Then we lost another minute as we stopped to fix it! Still, we hit all the controls but lost two medal points really.
“ As far as the Golden Roamer is concerned, I think Mr Johnson’s in the driving seat or the passenger seat for that matter. Even though they’ve been misfiring quite badly at the moment, there is a long way to go for all of us.”
The Number of international crews entered the 2022 LeJog is impressive, and that’s just what they are here for, the endurance, or as LeJog is officially called, a Reliability Trial. Reliability is just what is needed in every department for teams to make it to John O’Groats.
To prove the reputation of LeJog as the finest regularity endurance event in Europe, there are competitors from 13 countries taking part. 16 Germans, 10 Swiss, 8 Dutch, 2 French, 2 Belgians, 2 Austrians, 1 from Finland, Ireland, USA, Sweden and 2 from the Isle of Man. The balance are from the UK and whilst medals are the big goal, many just want the satisfaction of lasting the course and getting to the finish.
It is not just the competitors who are fans of this event and historic regularity rallying. The CEO of Motorsport UK the governing body of the sport in this country, David Richards CBE, is also a fan of this branch of motor sport.
David; “ I think it historic rallying has got a great, great future. You know, people looking at cars today, electric cars, they’re a commodity getting you from A to B. Historic rallying is fun, taking an old car out and having a great fun doing an event like this or doing smaller events in an historic rally car is great. I really am a great advocate for historic events.”
So much so that David Richards was kind enough to invite all the LeJoggers to a coffee halt where all the cars assembled at the keyside in St Mawes, Cornwall where he owns and runs two hotels, the St Mawes Hotel and the Idle Rocks. Both provided a great backdrop to the rally as it briefly paused for breath.
The 2022 HERO Challenge Champions, Alistair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite have taken the endurance test for the first time as they plunge into their first ever LeJog.
Alistair; “It’s going really well, bearing in mind 10 days ago, we didn’t have an engine! We were still looking for bits, but it’s performed really, really well today, stronger than before. We are happy with how quick it is.”
As a navigator, Matt is also happy he is not in the little open MG they were forced to use on their last event when their SAAB 900 Turbo was still not ready. “It’s nice to be back with a roof over our heads.
“Definitely, I mean, space is really useful for this event more than anything, three map books and sheets of paper all over the place. So I am quite happy to be back in the Saab and it’s going well so far.
“This is endurance, something very different for us. It’s been quite hard to just let the seconds go on the regularity today and not worry too much about it because we know it’s a very long event, chasing seconds now it’s just not worth it. We will try to stay as fresh as possible and keep on the right route as much as possible.”
As LeJog runs deep into Saturday night and Sunday morning on Leg Two with the eagerly anticipated Time Control section, the first car was only due after 4.00 am on Sunday morning.
As a result many have been feeling the LeJog bite already as rally cars, the route or stamina issues affect the crews.
Germans Martin Burthenne and Max Schaefer were already making arrangements to ship their 1971 Mini Cooper S back to Germany after losing a lot of fuel with a major leak that proved to be irreparable. The Porsche 911 SC of Rob Hendy and Michael Joyce took a major wrong turn as the ended up on a wrong approach in a regularity. They cut to the hotel in Telford where crews will snatch a few hours sleep before Leg Three starts on Sunday morning.
A 9.30 am start from Telford for Leg Three of LeJog seemed quite generous until one checked what sort of time cars returned from their final fling of the night, the amazing TC section in the foggy hills around Clun Forest and the Vale of Montgomery to end Leg Two. It was 4.15 am onwards, before the first few returned elated after the adrenalin rush– looking forward to a couple of hours sleep!
Highlights of a hard edged day, before competitors struck north for a night halt just into the Scottish border in Gretna, included the well kept secrets of Shropshire’s amazing countryside and roads fit for fantastic regularities, followed by the ever stunning Peak District exemplified by the Tissington Estate with it’s great ribbons of roads and the fairy tale picturesque village on the estate as rally cars passed through at slow speed.
At the end of the estate road the regularity led to a vast ford, easily waded by the 1925 class leading Bentley of Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson. Just as they waded, the 1958 Austin A35 of Belgians Nick Van Praag and Nathan Vandekerckhove seemed to float and almost glide across at speed, a bit like a water beetle.
The first regularity of the day also included a ford, quite swollen with the recent rain, but more importantly there was a complete house party going on a the side of the road as a possie of spectators lining back through the adjacent union flag bedecked farm lane, were being treated to food and drinks from a well organised market stall. They all sat in a regimented way to wave and cheer the cars on.
The sixth regularity of the day ran high in the Yorkshire Dales over tight, slick switch back roads and then climbed into the waiting fog just to test the weary LeJoggers who were already working hard on their navigation, but now they couldn’t see anything to help their directional cause! The route skirted Ashbourne and Buxton before moving to Chesterfield and a test on the quick and smooth tarmac roads around former rallyist Steve Perez’s estate.
The pace, punishment and all out concentration continued as some crews fell off the medal charts as the lists of silver and bronze thinned out. But in the ‘golds’ there seemed to be a consistency by Time Control 3/3 at Stone Edge as Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson (Bentley), Rob and John Kiff (VW Beetle), Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson (Volvo), Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering (Mini), Andy lane and Iain Tullie (BMW), Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane (BMW), Simon Mellings and Karl Ellis (Rover), all returned great performances to retain their gold status.
But the punishment meted out on the machinery required more HERO-ERA Technical Assistance crew attention as their surgery at the night halt in Gretna Green bore testament. The Citroen BX Sport of Dutch crew Floriaan Eiling and Wendela Wapenaar needed hydraulic suspension work, the Belgian A35 of Nick Van Praag and Nathan Vandekerckhove was having windscreen wiper attention. The German MGB V8 of Siegfried Gronkowski and Daisy Walker was in for minor surgery but the fantastic little Dutch Peugeot 204 Cabriolet was giving cause for concern as the alternator and other electrics kept stopping the engine, but were better when things cooled down!
The Porsche 911 of Rob Handy and Michael Joyce headed home for retirement after a drive shaft problem and the lovely Triumph TR3A of Jonathan and Peter McCullough has also retired.
Mike Farrall and Zach Burns Ford Escort Mexico; They are usually in their vintage Jaguar SS100 and had contemplated running the open top car on LeJog but built their Escort Mexico up for the event instead.
Mike; “I served my time at Quicks of Chester on Fords so I kind of know the Mexico’s worked on the RS’s and I had Mexico RS in fact two but I couldn’t keep hold of them they kept getting nicked, they just got stolen all the time. So I was just working on them quite a lot.
“So I said to Zach, the best car we can have is the Mexico, they are dead easy to work on, you can look after it. I will help you to educate you on the Fords. He’s been helping me, we’ve got two Mexico’s now, one in bits and this one. This the other one’s got a BDA engine! I have to say I am amazed those memories came flooding back, of the handling, the stability, down those little lanes. Absolutely great and the reliability. The confidence you’ve got in the car for reliability and handling and everything’s blown me away a bit.
Then someone ran into it on the TC section last night and we thought the worst, but actually as Zach said, the Escort came out of it better and stronger.”
Bill Clyndert, 1925 Bentley 3-4 ½
Bill; “I don’t know how many times I have done LeJog. It must be 6, 7 or 8. I’m not sure we’ve lost count. We’ve got a number of silver medals, a number of bronzes and a blue ribbon, but the gold’s always been elusive.
“Emily has done really well to keep us on track, she’s done brilliantly. I mean, navigating in a car like this is incredibly difficult, especially last night, the night section through Wales, and the TC section which was exhilarating. How she manages that, I have no idea.
“I feel my upper body strength increases on events like this, my shoulders and my biceps ache like mad afterwards but it is great, fun.
“I gave Emily the choice of a Mini, the Austin Land Crab or the Bentley and she chose the Bentley, I was really rather disappointed, I was looking forward to a comfortable ride with a roof over my head but It’s a good challenge. The car has been working brilliantly too.”
Thomas Bricknell, VW Golf GTi
Thomas and Roger Bricknell made a welcome return to the action today after missing most of the first two legs.
Thomas “Yeah, well, I just made a big mistake on the first test yesterday, the back end got away, put us on the grass, but on the inside and there was a rock which bent the wishbone and that was really the end of the rally before it started. We found a spare wishbone at Exeter. We got someone to come down, pick us up with the trailer and take us there. I’ve never hit so much as a cone, never mind a rock, before, but there we are, things happen.
“We had the wishbone refitted and the bent the gear linkage got straightened out as well, so we’re here just enjoying ourselves now. And now I’m navigating, I’ve been sacked, I’m not allowed to drive anymore!
Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham; Porsche 911, with Stephen on target to win the HERO Cup for the very first time, he explains how things have been going so far.
“We got off to a wonderful start. We were the fastest on the test, which I’m delighted about in our class. And it’s been going quite well since we had that great first morning, really good. We had one to two issues in the afternoon and a slight altercation with another car, but it was on a friendly basis and it’s all been resolved. purely accidental. That’s sorted.
“The TC section was fabulous early this morning. It was just incredible. That’s when you really learn to believe in your car and tyres, as the TC section was just out of this world. At the end there was a little bit of fog, but it didn’t spoil anything.
“It was just such a quick part of the rally, it was terrific. Some good calls from Nick, he’s brilliant, he’s done a superb job. You know, we wouldn’t be in this position without Nick, we just work very well together as a team. The way he calls it, the way he feeds information in to me before we even get to the issue, he is just very good and we work very well together.
“If you go back in history, the HERO Cup has been within my sights on five occasions. I’ve come second on five occasions, but this time I think that I really am in with a chance.
Nerves are jangling, bodies ache and rally cars are being feverishly fettled as the LeJog showdown of the final two legs in Scotland are being played out.
At the two hour rest halt at the Clansman Hotel at Corryfayness at the edge of a very dark Loch Ness, crews were snatching a couple of hours before going into the final fray, either sleeping on couches or the floors, whilst others were frantically working with the HERO-ERA Technical Assistance crews to fix their cars.
Some just want to make it and cross the finish line at John O’Groats, their absolute goal, whilst others are fighting to retain their medal positions in either gold, silver or bronze. Stephen Owens cannot contemplate failure of any kind over this crucial period of competition as he leads the HERO Cup points championship and wants to crowned rally king after so many times as runner up. He and navigator Nick Bloxham cannot make a slip otherwise the driver closest to threatening that position, Noel Kelly will dive in.
Alongside Noel in their Volvo is Pete Johnson who is leading the Golden Roamer Award for the top navigator of the year, but equally Pete has to keep it clean and hit all the controls as Henry Carr is breathing down his neck in the VW Golf GTi navigating American Paul O Kane.
Multi medal winners Andy Lane and Iain Tullie have already dropped from gold to silver medal status after hitting a cone on a test whilst Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane are desperately hoping to retain their hard earned gold so far after losing out dramatically in the final recking of LeJog last year. Angus was outside the Clansman hotel refusing to rest but trying to fit a different fan belt as theirs was screeching and stretched. He was also worried about keeping gold after a rival German BMW was taking time out of them in the tests; “At least there are no more tests now, just lots of hard regularities!”
For the unwary, this last 36 hours could catch them out. Not just the general toughness, but difficult navigation as well with some possible hidden controls or complex roads to navigate. Tired crews and cars have to be ready for anything as the current gold medal status Mini team of Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering are alert to, due to their previous winning experience. Ryan; “This is the real showdown, cars and crews are tired but one mistake could mean everything is gone, it is time to really concentrate and focus for the final phase of LeJog.”
As of Time Control 4/3 at Alexandria, the 1925 Bentley of Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson were in gold, Bill has never won a gold on LeJog before but Emily has. Simon Mellings and navigator Karl Ellis were also in gold in their 1985 Rover 216. Karl was looking decidedly nervous as he talked about the next 36 hours!
The cars and crews have already taken an incredible route from Gretna Green to start Leg Four with amazing scenery and challenges, the first was through a farmyard then later the Rest and Be Thankful Hillclimb, then over long winding and slippy regularities leading to a route past the Faslane Nuclear Submarine base to skirt past Inverary. There was even a test laid on at Oban Airport after the runways were closed for the day but still lit up for the LeJog crews and manned by airport staff.
Past Loch Long, Loch Awe with a superb sunset and the moon peeking through, it was on via Fort William and the West Coast route to the Isles.
The final fling takes the LeJog Reliability Trial up north and then turning eastwards as they take a path via a multitude of regularities heading to their final destination at John O Groats. Tired eyes will need to pick the right road and quick decisions from navigators are going to make the difference.
With medals, class wins and championships at stake, it is going to be a long hard and tense night and next day on the road to success or failure. For the first timers such as Catherine Exelby with her Dad in their MGB, all she wants to do is conquer the route and make it across that finish line in John O’ Groats, the bagpipes will never sound so sweet.
Europe’s toughest endurance rally, LeJog 2022 has finished after five legs and 1300 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats (Dec 3-6). Competitors tackled 33 regularities and 17 tests, but significantly, the large European contingent from 13 different countries and one American, really enjoyed their dose of endurance over some of the toughest but most remote roads in the UK. Their clamour for LeJog’s unique endurance recipe helps maintain its reputation as one of the most demanding yet adrenalin packed historic reliability trials in Europe.
Deputy Clerk of the Course for Le Jog, Nick Reeves, changed the route for 2022 to run up the west coast past the gateways to the Scottish islands, then across the top of the remote rugged coastline roads to John O’Groats. The adventurous route included a night test at Oban Airport after the runway closed for the day, its staff ushering the cars into position using their glow battons normally reserved for guiding aircraft. The European teams, in particular, loved the rugged nature of the testing tracks. Nick Reeves was happy with the immediate feedback.
Traditional historic venues such as ‘Rest and be Thankful’ were still in the popular mix, but during the final two legs the pressure mounted as crews ran for 26 hours with just a two hour break. There were two long regularities over narrow fast undulating tracks to keep teams on their toes in the Strath More Hills and past Loch Naver. The final regularity came after a welcome dawn breakfast, and it proved to be a real ‘sting in the tail,’ the final punch which had some navigators swearing, others in awe. Whilst the international teams loved the adventure of LeJog, some were less enamoured by the traditional Scottish breakfast which included haggis and black pudding served at dawn in their two hour halt.
12 medals were awarded, six golds, four silvers and two bronze after a great battle by different crews and their cars to achieve the traditional LeJog valued medal status.
Two HERO-ERA championships were resolved at the same time during this, the last HERO-ERA event of the 2022 season. Stephen Owens finally won the HERO Cup for drivers, a championship he has been runner up in on five previous occasions! Pete Johnson also won the prestigious Golden Roamer Award for the highest placed navigator in 2022 after a tussle with another top navigator Henry Carr.
Stephen Owens; “Eventually it’s come good. I owe a lot to HERO-ERA for looking after me down the highways and byways of the UK, it’s been really, really competitive. Nick Bloxham my navigator has been brilliant to help get me through. It has been a tough 2022, and to cap it all, LeJog has been very tiring – it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. There are some great competitors and we have enjoyed some really good relationships this season.”
2022 LeJog gold medal winning navigator Ryan Pickering summed up the event just before he went into action for the final two legs with his gold medal winning driver Kevin Haselden; Ryan “It’s a very tough challenge and we’re just getting into the endurance leg now. There’s probably another 20 odd hours to go and this is where it’s make or break for everybody. This is where your mistakes will happen. It’s where the pressure will really build and build all the way to John O’ Groats, hopefully.”
Kevin; “It’s just one of those great events, which are so good to do. We had a few problems with the track rod end but everybody helped us and sorted that out. We ran out of brakes at the end but it was absolutely fantastic.
Ryan; “The last regularity was unbelievable, it summed up the whole event for me. It was tough and challenging for both sides of the car, but really fantastic! Now I have my first gold medal, so I’ve got a bronze a gold now, but Kevin has five golds!”
Despite all the popping and banging from their Volvo, Pete Johnson and his driver Noel Kelly had a great run to silver medals, but in addition Pete won the Golden Roamer Award for navigators after a great and close battle with Henry Carr.
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage put on a great spurt in the final 12hours to move from silver to gold status in their 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Jayne is a former HERO Cup Champion and now multi gold medal winner; she was quick to go over to Stephen Owens as he crossed the line in his Porsche 911 at John O’ Groats and congratulate a fellow HERO-Cup winner.
John and Rob Kiff were celebrating more gold LeJog medals to add to their collections as they enjoyed another great event in their 1958 VW Beetle which has seen more action on this event, and many others, than any other historic rally car. John has competed in 13 LeJogs and organised five of them! John; “Yeah, bonkers. It’s a disease, I should warn people it is a disease! The Amazing entry from Europe was fantastic too, we were delighted to see so many foreign groups as they can’t do this sort of thing in their own countries.”
For Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane in 2022 there was huge relief and a sense of atonement after their heartbreak on last year’s LeJog when they dropped out of gold status as they missed a control just before the end of the event. This year they made amends with a great performance to take the much coveted gold! Although as Angus said;” It was touch and go, even at the finish line in John O’Groats we weren’t sure, but afterwards when it sank in there was huge relief, and of course joy!” The BMW 323i was outperformed by its lighter and faster German crewed rival, but Angus and Mike played the long game with aplomb.
LeJog is not just for the experienced rally crews, although the experience helps in a major way. At the opposite end of the scale, there are crews whose aim is just to finish the major endurance event. Germans Thomas Boemmer and Nils Marose both competed in a HERO Challenge rally before throwing themselves into the deep end.
Thomas; “It was wonderful and very special, however, if I do come back I have to get the permission of my wife. I have to say thank you to LeJog and to Nils, we have done the job, we just wanted just to finish.”
Nils. “It was really tough, we got to the blue ribbon status early on but then it got too tough, but still had a lot of fun. Some of the incredible tests and maybe the wonderful streets and routes will mean we will be back again.”
If John Kiff is Mr LeJog, then German Horst Pokroppa is Mr Super LeJog man in his MGA which is almost a fixture at the venue. Horst; “Yes in all this time of coming to LeJog, I have done it 13 times and the MG nearly as many, but in all that time I have never won a medal –never mind a silver, now 13 is clearly a lucky number and I am so excited. I will be back again in 2023, I will book my place now!”
Simon Mellings and Karl Ellis are another team celebrating a medal, this time an amazing gold in their 1986 Rover 216 VP.
Simon; “It’s a mixture of everything, isn’t it? We did really well on the TC night section, which is where we were quickest of all the cars, which made a difference and helped our confidence. “
Navigator Karl Ellis was very nervous before the final two long regularities, it was the big one, and he was feeling it, but Karl held it all together and the duo left for the prize giving determined to celebrate.
Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson were just sensational in their 1925 Bentley with has no hood, so they were exposed to the elements the whole way. When the heavy rain hit it didn’t help that Emily’s wet suit had fallen off the back of the Bentley in a test so she had to endure the cold and wet for 12 hours in some ski gear.
Having also been praised by Bill for her astute and detailed navigation while being thrown around, when it rained heavily in the open cockpit of the vintage car it became event more difficult to navigate as Bill said; “I just don’t know how she did it, but she was fantastic!” Bill and particularly Emily, kept on delivering despite the discomfort. The deserved result, gold medals, Bill’s first and Emily’s second.
However, Emily was not impressed with the very last regularity of the event which she felt had too many tricks in it, designed to confuse the navigator. Emily;” Can I swear please?
Agathe Bubbe and Luc Maruenda from France brought their 1953 Austin Healey 3000 over for their very first LeJog together. The small hood which let water gush in, and the fact that their battery kept losing it’s charge, meant the French pairing had an adventurous time.
Luc; “It was total madness, very long and tiring but that’s the best feeling right here. The media team even jump started us once!”
The crew were seen a few times in fuel stations or at the side of the road and suddenly they were off again, this time flying past again with the Healey working again, as if by magic.
Agathe; “Okay it doesn’t have much of a hood, I mean it can be freezing, it’s like driving an umbrella, you know the thing is we are both still smiling as we really have enjoyed it.”
HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock gave his view on the 2022 LeJog. Guy; ”The numbers of Swiss, Germans, Dutch and Belgians was impressive, but it is important for us to always attract different nationalities.
“I think we almost got more foreign than British crews in the end, which is smaller than the norm, but yeah, there’s been a lot of newcomers, some first timers who have never ever done a rally before and they start with a LeJog one of the hardest of all!
“But they’ve been here smiling and they’ve loved it and learned as they’ve gone on. It is a reliability trial. Not all the cars made it, we lost five cars, most through mechanicals, a couple in Cornwall, on the way up and a couple last night. On average, I think the percentage is about the same and finishes with the slightly different route, which I think worked out. David Richards, the Chairman of Motorsport UK, invited us to visit his hotel in St. Mawes in Cornwall on Saturday which changed the route a little bit, but we did a quite a lot more in the southwest. A little bit less in Wales, but we’ll be back to normal next year.
“To summarize 2022 for us, HERO-ERA have been busy with lots of hard work from an absolutely great team. I think it’s 14 events and a number of Tours this year. The team have worked immensely hard, from my team in the competition side, hospitality, media and everybody else was in the office included.
“And in 2023 we have 16 events! We will have a couple of weeks off over Christmas for everybody to recharge, then we start off with the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, Three Legs of Man and then whatever comes next. There is so much going on, just check the website!