1. Paul Crosby and Ali Procter (MG TB Supercharged)
2. Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley (Bentley Derby 4 1/4)
3. Bill Clyendert and Ben Harrison (Bentley 3/4 1/2)
In an event where over the first four days the lead swapped at every main control and the top five were separated by seconds throughout Paul Crosby and Ali Procter have taken victory on the 2017 Royal Automobile Club 1000 Mile Trial by just ten seconds.
Setting off from the beautiful Oakley Court Hotel nestling on the banks of the River Thames, the event spanned five days and covered almost exactly 1000 miles to a tee. Sixty of the most beautiful and rare pre-war vehicles made the start with a huge range of marques present. The most prolific marque on the entry list was Cricklewood’s finest, Bentley, with no less than 26 examples present. Other marques that took part included Alfa Romeo, Lagonda, Frazer Nash, BMW, Talbot and MG to name a few, the event was over-subscribed some six months prior to the start and included crews from afar afield as the United States of America, Europe, Eastern Asia and Uganda.
Day one started in bright sunshine and was a gentle introduction for the many novice and newcomer crews taking part, the route presented tulip style making it easy for those new to the sport to grasp. The battle started after a lengthy run out passing Henley On Thames with the first regularity section close to Wallingford, from here three tests at the Bicester Heritage complex saw crews fighting over seconds, at lunch in Woburn Abbey it became clear that the fourth running of the event in modern times would prove to be yet another epic with the top five crews either tied or split by two-seconds. First on the leader board were Bill Cleyndert / Dan Harrison who’s mighty Bentley put in some amazing times on the tests and was supremely consistent on the regularities, Harrison was desperate to erase the demons of the 2015 event where he partnered William Medcalf – an error on a regularity section costing them an almost certain win at their first attempt.
Heading north to Whilton Mill Kart track via two more regularities saw the competition intensify and the leaders swap as Cleyndert and Harrison had dropped three seconds in test penalties and were leapfrogged by Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley, third at the end of day one were Paul Crosby and Ali Procter who were supremely consistent in the regularities but a tough class saw them being punished by the incredibly quick and nimble Frazer Nash BMW 328 of Peter Lovett and Matt Fowle.
The second day of the event saw the forecast rain materialise and has cause a few umbrellas to be raised along with some hoods on the convertible vehicles. The day’s competition would span 216 miles long and include four regularity sections and four tests. Setting off from Stratford Upon Avon, crews were waved through the town by enthusiastic spectators who were delighted to see such vehicles in their town. The route was quite linear with some longer road sections to take the event away from the industrial Midlands and north into the beautiful surroundings of Derbyshire and the Peak District. After leaving Stratford Upon Avon and its incredibly busy traffic behind the route took crews through Snitterfield and past the Jaguar Land Rover Proving Ground near Balsall Common before tests through Arbury Park and Curborough Sprint Course where William Medcalf / David Duncan had a flyer of a run only to clobber a cone – and a fence post – with their Bentley, William claiming a Deer had run out in front of him with a wry smile on his face.
Following this, on the short hop to Draycott in the Clay Steve and Julia Robertson’s MG developed a terminal head gasket issue forcing them to trailer the car home, this was a temporary issue and they returned after two days to finish the event. On the first day during a road section a spectator jumped out in front of them waving his hands, they stopped to be told: “I used to own this car!”, they had reunited a former owner with their MG, he lovingly patted the car and recalled fond memories of using it before the Robertson’s departed to the next section.
The first regularity of the day was the longest of the event so far at just under 14 miles long with five timing points to keep crews on the go, named Carr Wood the section started just outside Sudbury and snaked its way through Sapperton and Harehill via a loop and through a village that always welcomes the event with open arms, Boylestone. The lanes here are quite narrow and need to be driven with care yet a little gusto to keep on time.
Two tests ensued at Darley Moor Race Circuit and were a mixture of tarmac and loose to test the drivers, Gareth Burnett was spectacular as ever in his Talbot but an error on the test cost him quite a few seconds when he tried to split at the wrong place. Other great drives came from Ben Cussons, Peter Lovett / Matt Fowle, James and Charles Rosenmeyer, Heiko Harm / Birte Ballauf and the Bentley Blower of Jurgen Ernst / Karoline Seyerle.
North of the town of Ashbourne lies the picturesque village of Tissington, the name of the regularity mirrored the name of the village and the crews attempted an almost 13-mile section in the lanes through the village and north through Bradbourne, skirting Brassington and Parwich before end of regularity near Newhaven. The roads here are a mixture of open pasture land that roll over the Dales providing majestic views – when the rain abated! Tissington is noted for its famous ford and many crews had anticipated that a timing point would be placed after the lengthy ford, in fact it was situated prior to the ford on a downhill left hand bend causing consternation for several crews. Heading deeper into the Peak District and a change in the roads saw the open, pastoral settings replaced by narrower roads and dry stone walls meaning progress was tricky especially with the rain we are having.
Lunch was served at Chatsworth, where once again large crowds gathered to admire the amassed ranks of pre-war cars. ‘Wetter than an Otter’s pocket’ is the phrase we heard during the day but, despite deluges of Biblical proportions throughout the day, there was a very upbeat feeling at Carden Park near Chester where crews stayed overnight. Following lunch , the event traversed through some of the most stunning scenery in the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District. Leaving Chatsworth in the mirrors and despite the rain, competitors took in a series of scenic B roads and lanes across the heart of the Peaks and through the Spa Town of Buxton to take in the third regularity of the day, Toot Hill set in the Goyt Valley and Macclesfield area, this regularity had something for everyone. Starting out from the yellow at the top of Long Hill, the first section is set in open and flowing moorland which turns steep downhill affording crews stunning views towards the Goyt Forest in the distance and Errwood Reservoir directly in front as you drop down the hill, climbing between the woodlands, the first timing point was situated after a 90 degree left hand bend and just before a sharp drop down the narrow lane at Jenkin Chapel. The first junction came at Ankers Knowl, just before the Stanley Arms pub and then turned right into the leafy covering of Macclesfield Forest with the second timing point being just after the turn.
Taking the road between Ridgegate and Trentabank Reservoirs the road climbs in between the woods to come out at Dryknowle Farm and drops south to Wildboarclough between many wooded parts that twist and turn and cling to the side of Cessbank Common. Jonathan Procter / James Haithwaite were top dogs here with Sue Shoosmith / Trina Harley and Stuart Anderson / Leigh Powley with a fine two seconds lost.
Dropping off the tops of Ax Edge and into the outskirts of the old silk town of Macclesfield, a well deserved break at Capesthorne Hall gave competitors chance to dry off and catch their breath before heading into the salt mine and Mere area of the Cheshire Plains. Named Fox Covert, this was a stern test with descriptive text instead of tulips to test the crews. Bent and Martin Jakobsen struggled here despite their fine performances of late and missed the penultimate timing point. Despite their best efforts, they could not backtrack and find the correct point for the control. The roads in this area are quite narrow and flat but have high-sided hedges that disguise the topography making the roads difficult to read.
There were no changes in the top three but the very talented Olaf Pothoven partnered by Pieter van Leusden were climbing steadily through the field, their ambition was to finish in the top ten of the event and they were certainly causing some raised eyebrows from the other crews. Another pairing that were being considered as challengers were Jonathan Procter and James Haithwaite in their Frazer Nash TT Rep, some storming regularity sections saw them nestle inside the top ten and look menacing to other crews.
Day three saw a testing morning with over 50% of the entry taking penalties on the very first test of the day at Carden Park. Equal fastest times came from Bill Cleyndert / Dan Harrison and Peter Lovett / Matt Fowle on 35 seconds, just one second behind was the flowing Paul Crosby / Ali Procter. Unfortunately, Stuart Anderson / Leigh Powley fell foul of cone D which seemed to have caused most of the problems between the crews giving them a wrong test and dropping them down the leader board. There were nervou moments for Crosby and Procter as their MG was reluctant to keep its supercharger belt in place but some fettling at lunch saw the problem rectified and keep the pair in the hunt, they seemed resigned to a fine top three finish, little did they know what was about to unfold in the coming days’ competition.
Regularity one started just outside Pant-Glas and wound its way through Caemor Wood, Glyn Ceiriog and Tregerrnog with three timing points – all of which seemed to be very straightforward with most of the crews finding them with relatively little penalties incurred, the sting in the tail came with a steep climb from Tregerrnog to Foel Wylfa and a timing point situated just after the road levelled out. Tomas de Vargas Machuca / Bart den Hartog were on course for a clean section until this point, their little Aston Martin running out of steam at the climb costing them eight seconds at the end, Graham and Marina Goodwin had the power available to them in their Bentley but an errant tractor put paid to their chances of a clean, costing them 12 seconds on this point alone. Anderson and Powley had no such issues and to date were the only crew to clean every control, reward for having such a bad start to the day.
After leaving a straightforward regularity around Lake Vyrnwy, it was straight into the third regularity of the day called Pont Llogel with three timing points in the Vyrnwy Valley. The start at Boncyn Celyn threw many crews as it didn’t ‘feel’ right as it read ‘not as map’, plunging into trees at Yr Allt Boeth and climbing out of Pont Llogel, an easy to miss slot right downhill gave way to a steep climb over Nant Clwydiarth and Dolanog, the lanes tight and nadgery with high walls and undulating hills keeping crews on their toes. The final regularity of the ‘morning’ took in Clun Forest and included five timing points over 13.8 miles, throughout the morning there were seventeen timing points and to show how competitive it is at the sharp end of the event the top crews dropped between 11 seconds and 18 seconds in total over these timing points. The afternoon started with a regularity section to the north west of Tunbury Wells with a straightforward three timing point section that didn’t trouble too many of the crews, following this was a run up the world famous Shelsley Walsh where Peter Lovett / Matt Fowle took the quickest time up the hill from Gareth Burnett / Tony Brooks by just one second. Other great runs came from Stephen Owens / Niall Frost, Brian and Harvey Scowcroft and Wilfried Schaefer / Sandra Huebner in their lovely Talbot AV 105. The day had been about the regularity sections and carrying the event the 220 plus miles from Chester into Chepstow.
Day four saw the event really hotting up now as local traffic (six tractors in fact) held Bill Cleyndert / Dan Harrison up, causing them play their Joker to reduce a 33 second penalty down to five seconds. Leaving Chepstow and heading out over the River Severn Crossing back into England with a run through Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and stopping for lunch in Sherborne Castle in Dorset. There were two regularities and three driving tests to entertain crews and the scenery in the south west of England was breathtaking, leafy lanes that open out to give stunning vistas across rolling Downs, the sun illuminating the different fields in a riot of colour that changes constantly. The first regularity, named Badminton, saw some horsing around for Stephen Owens and Niall Frost as they were baulked by one of our equine friends and its rider costing them an estimated 20 seconds or so in penalties. Starting near to Little Badminton and running around the periphery of Badminton Park, this regularity had three timing points with the trickiest being the second one sited just on a right hand bend. Passing through the picturesque village of Luckington and heading via Giant’s Cave and Alderton to the end of regularity this was a relatively easy section for most. Three Tests at Castle Combe Racing Circuit allowed the drivers to open their charges up with stunning performances coming from Paul Crosby / Ali Procter, Andy Lane / Richard Crozier and Peter Lovett / Matt Fowle who were still smarting from picking up a line fault on a regularity yesterday.
It was the second regularity section of the day that brought about the changes, after having an average start to the day and dropping eight seconds on the first regularity section, Cleyndert and Harrison came across their Nemeses and brought a 2 minute 35 second deficit back to 33 seconds only. The Joker was played and this gave them 28 seconds back meaning they scored 14 on regularities for the morning. Best on the regularities this morning were Bent and Martin Jakobsen who had a stellar drive to incur just four seconds in penalties, other great performances came from Pothoven / van Leusden on seven, Crosby / Procter on six and Lovett / Fowle on five. Crews in the wars were Jayne Wignall / Andy Ballantyne who seemed to have a mare of a day round Badminton, forcing them to gallop through the rest of the regularities. Sadly, Serge and Suzanne Chabbey snapped their exhaust manifold and culd go no further today, the SS 100’s front pipe disconnected by a protrusion in the road, making it too loud to carry on.
It was all to play for on the final day.
Leaving Winchester and heading out towards Aldermaston, the Friday traffic was heavy and it was this very traffic that turned the event on its head. Leaders, Cleyndert and Harrison were in the first of four regularities and three tests that would decide the event and found themselves struggling with a hairpin relegating them to third behind Anderson and Powley who were having a stellar run. Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock had set a challenging route for the crews, adding to the intensity of the competition. Crosby and Procter led for the first time in the event and were shocked at how the lead had swapped so quickly, this was a shorter day with just 140 miles to complete and the pressure was mounting on the MG crew as they were still battling mightily with Lovett / Fowle on the tests. To say that it had been a stellar year for Crosby is a bit of an understatement, a fine win after experiencing mechanical issues on the Endurance Rally Association’s Flying Scotsman had Crosby wondering if he could do the double in pre-war terms, the tension in his and Ali Procter’s faces at lunch was quite something, just three tests stood between them and a famous victory, Paul cruelly robbed of this in the 2016 running when electrical problems cost him and Andy Pullan the event.
Their nerve held and so did the supercharger belt, they crossed the finish line in a jubilant manner with Paul, arms raised, punching the sky in delight. It was emotional for Ali too and whilst being interviewed he welled up and was unable to speak. Nothing can take away the fine performance of Stuart Anderson and Leigh Powley that took them into second place, had there not been a wrong test they would have been clear winners, the same could be said about Bill Cleyndert and Dan Harrison, they had dominated the event for long periods of time but luck wasn’t on their side.
The Royal Automobile Club would like to thank the small army of marshals and volunteers who made the event such a success, we return in 2018 with a new and exciting format for the event.