In an event that spanned just over three days and 751 miles, the RAC Rally of the Tests has been won by Andy Lane and Richard Crozier in their Volvo 123GT.
The event was the seventh round of the HERO Cup in association with EFG Private Bank and Zenith Watches – Official Timekeeper to the HERO Cup and has put second placed driver Paul Crosby into a strong position going into the final round – Le Jog – which takes place in December. Paul was partnered by Andy Pullan and the result could have been so different with the final margin being eight seconds over the whole event, Crosby’s Porsche 356 had engine compression problems meaning the majority of the event was completed on three of the Porsche’s four cylinders. In third were last year’s winners, Howard warren / Iain Tullie in another Porsche 356, two in a row proving a bridge too far for the ultra-experienced crew, traffic in the lanes costing them dearly in penalty points in the middle of the event.
Nothing can take away the magnitude of the win by Lane and Crozier though, they had started slowly and as a relatively new pairing they had taken a little time to gel, even Richard commented that: ‘It’s great to have Andy with you in the car, he’s a pretty decent navigator in his own right and it’s always good to have another pair of eyes look over your route’ showing that it was indeed great teamwork that had brought them – almost stealth like – up through the leader board after being joint ninth on the prologue in Bournemouth.
This was the first running of the RAC backed Rally of the Tests since 1960, the events after this date taking on a different feel with more forestry stages involved, as such it was hugely supported by the classic car community with hundreds of people turning up to watch at the spectator locations around the route. Keeping the theme of the original event it rewards vehicles of a type first produced before 1962 and as limiting as this may sound, 40 of the 99 vehicles met this criteria and were eligible for overall awards. Manxman Noel Kelly partnered by Pete Johnson were the cream of the crop on the prologue of the event, starting and finishing in the seaside town of Bournemouth on the south coast of the UK. This was a relatively straight forward two-hour section that comprised of one regularity and two driving tests, the first one being situated in the Lower Gardens in Bournemouth Town centre. A large crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle and first over the line were Warren and Tullie who were followed by William Medcalf / Andrew Mann in a 1925 Bentley SuperSport – they were one of two crews, the other being Stuart Anderson / Catriona Rings, to attempt the event in open vehicles.
Leg one started on a cold and crisp Friday morning with the first placed crew overnight leading the pack away, a visit to Bovington Army Camp before heading west to Cerne Abbas and the Clay Pigeon Raceway where two of the later starting crews Steve Hall / Rachel Wakefield and Peter Lovett / John Kiff posted joint fastest time of the day. Into the Quantock Hills with two regularity sections before a visit to Porlock Hill for two tests and lunch with the wonderful Porlock Ladies. A further three tests followed with Paul Bloxidge / Ian Canavan posting quick times but being outdone by Lovett / Kiff in their rapid 911, however, Kings of the Hill went to Tomas de Vargas Machuca / Nick Cooper with three out of five fastest times, a line fault on test seven being the only fly in the ointment. Two regularities over Exmoor and Bampton Down led to tests at Smeatharpe before the evening section which skirted Wookey Hole and led to the now infamous ‘Farmyard’ which so many competitors struggled with just before the end of regularity.
One crew who were exceedingly consistent were Seren & Elise Whyte in the Maulden Garage Standard Ten – despite the car being just 948cc and struggling on the tests, the two ladies were gaining in confidence throughout the event, it would lead to them finishing a fine second in class behind Ted Gaffney / Brian Goff and a truly credible 11th overall. Despite it being only his sixth event, Tim Sawyer had been paired with Andrew Duerden in a MkI Ford Escort 1600 and was going well on the event also, this led to Tim being awarded highest Newcomer Driver Trophy and a 2nd in class in what was a very competitive class to be in. At the end of the day a monumental battle between John Abel / Martin Taylor and Naaktgeboren / den Hartog went the British pair’s way with a slight 11 second lead.
Day two was another beautiful day and unlike the 2015 running we had two days of sun in a row, leaving Bristol behind it was straight into action with a driving test at the famous RAC Headquarters at the side of the M5. Once again this attracted a large crowd to cheer on and encourage competitors as legendary race and rally driver, Paddy Hopkirk flagged crews away from the start line. Six crews tied on fastest time at 36 seconds, with Steve Entwistle / Henry Carr setting a time one second slower in Paddy’s famous Mini, 6 EMO which had previously won the Classic Marathon. One tests at Washingpool Farm and two tests at Chepstow Racecourse came up next with Patrick and Hubert Lynch battling with Clive & Anji Martin for top honours ‘Down on the farm’ whilst Sybren van der Groot / Jaap Jongman put in a stunningly quick time at the longer first Chepstow test with Naaktgeboren / den Hartog fastest on the second. Navigationally, a battle had broken out between den Hartog and two other crews, Martyn Taylor had gone with a route he had tried to second guess and it proved the wrong choice dropping them down the leader board. Paul Crosby / Andy Pullan had an amazing day despite the total lack of power with an ailing engine – compression issues still apparent but had fought their way up to third behind an ever-improving Andy Lane / Richard Crozier. They were chomping at the heels of Naaktgeboren / den Hartog who although ineligible for overall awards were all out to take the unofficial top spot. The night section on day two was held in Swynnerton Army barracks with two time control sections delivered on tulip style instructions, using the maze of lanes inside the complex the first section was slightly longer and was not only quick but testing. Jonathan Turner / Ben Cussons were out in an ex-works Austin-Healey 3000 that had been used by Timo Maakinen and Rauno Aaltonen as well as Paddy Hopkirk in times past, Turner exclaiming that it was one of the finest motor sport experiences he had taken part in with many crews also voicing the same feelings. The second section was still as competitive, Crosby / Pullan were in a class of their own and rose right through the ranks despite their mechanical issues. John and Peter Dignan were hoping to better their finish on last year’s event and lay in unofficial fourth – a fine performance from the Father and Son team.
The final day started with three tests in and around the JCB Estate and facility, crews were greeted at the VIP visitor centre before attempting ‘Reginald’s Revenge’ in a car park and then onto two tests on the Bamford Estate. Both of these tests included tight hairpins which caught out many, Alan Pettit / Graham Watson were one crew who couldn’t quite get the hang of a hairpin left on the third test and dragged a cone 10 yards or so out of place. Garry Preston / Mike Sones put in a great performance here, deftly passing the junction and then flicking their Austin Westminster round with a deft touch on the handbrake. Fastest time here was tied by Entwistle / Carr and Naaktgeboren / den Hartog. It was going down to the wire after lunch with the final kart circuit test taking place at Rednal Karting, two loops of the circuit and on to the periphery of the rack with its moss covered concrete was welcomed by all, Dermot Carnegie / Paul Bosdet seemed unusually subdued whilst newcomer to regularity rallying, Andrew Frankel (who was partnered by Bob Hargreaves on the maps) tied times with the legendary Rallycross driver. Charles Colton / Ryan Pickering were flying here as were Ross Butterworth /Andrew Fish who had replaced the clutch in their MkI Escort Mexico the previous day, Robin Eyre-Maunsell / Peter Scott finished the test with exhaust issues on their Nissan Sunny, they had been having an excellent run and this eventually hampered them. After lunch, a run out from Llangollen took the event to the Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock’s ‘back yard’, using his local knowledge and route planner Anthony Preston’s skills, they provided the last two regularities of the event – ones that would challenge and turn the order around. The sting in the tail came at the very first timing point on the last regularity, accurate use of the trip meter saw crews turn on to private land where other fell foul to a road just before it, Naaktgeboren / den Hartog miss read the instruction and the ensuing timing point, dropping them out of contention. At lunch, Crosby / Pullan had narrowed the gap on Lane / Crozier to just 11 seconds and were gaining, the final pair of regularities and test brought crews into Chester to find out that even despite a monumental effort from the Porsche pair they couldn’t quite squeeze more than three seconds more out to leave Lane / Croziers winning margin to eight seconds.
The emotion was obvious for Lane / Crozier as they crossed over the finish line in the middle of Chester, their faces beaming with delight as they sprayed the victor’s Champagne, as they collected their awards at the presentation ceremony, both crew members’ voices cracked as they spoke of what the win meant to them – a well-deserved victory from two of the sports keenest competitors. The 2017 RAC Rally of the Tests will start in Chester and finish in Harrogate, entries will open very shortly.