Welcome to the start of what promises to be an epic RAC Rally of The Tests.
Starting in the manicured surroundings of Carden Park, near Chester, 93 competitors from across the world set off into the darkness on the RAC Rally of the Tests prologue, the traditional start to what has become a ‘must-do’ event in the historic rallying world.
Spanning three and a half days, crews will travel no less than 780 miles carrying out 29 tests, 21 regularity sections and two Time Control Sections set in the dark. The battle in the Golden Roamer Championship is intensifying with the top three navigators within seven points of each other. All three are competing in this event and the upcoming Le Jog, meaning that this event could well be pivotal in sealing or denying the title for one of them. The HERO Cup once again looks to be going to Paul Crosby, however, with Jayne Wignall just 29 points behind – Crosby needs to score points on this event to clinch it with Wignall (as yet) not competing on Le Jog.
Seeing the event get underway were Andy Lane and Tony Brooks in their Volvo 123GT with Lane, last year’s winner, looking pensive as they crossed the start line to head along the Welsh Marches and into the first action of the event, a regularity section starting to the north-west of Burlton, just off the A528 near Wackley Farm.
Running south-east into the village of Weston Lullingfields, the first timing point came up at the end of a farm track, which was easy to miss in the dark. Simon/NIall Frost struggled here losing 21 seconds, while Paul Bloxidge/John Youd dropped a maximum of one minute. Turning left and heading south, a slot right bypassing the village of Stanwardine in the Fields headed crews to the second timing point at a junction near Blackberry Hill, this was certainly testing some of the crews as Andrew Hamer/Bob Kerry lost one minute, as did several others. The last section on this regularity test took in Grug Hill and Elbridge, before the last plot of the instructions took crews the long way around a loop, before the final timing point at Tedsmore Hall.
The first test of the event ended in the dark at Rednal Karting, where a good-sized crowd gathered to watch the action as the first cars began to arrive. Paul Wignall/Mark Appleton were lightning quick here, as were Jonathon Hancox/Richard Lambley. The Triumph pair of Hancocks/Lambley also enjoyed a storming run in the lanes to end the prologue leading the event.
A short link section heading north east brought the event to Spunthill and a semi-marked map with some junctions omitted allowed for the crews to decide the route they would take. Again, a farm played a big part in proceedings with the first timing point set in a yard – this caught John Abel/Martyn Taylor out in their Alfa Romeo, along with Steve Sly/Nick Green. This regularity took in roads around some of the great Meres of the area with no less than five being passed along the way.
Leaving Colemere and crossing Pikes End Moss brought the second timing point into view. Through Welshampton and a longer section over Hill Top and Hampton Wood, the fourth timing point came up at Gredington, before the cars went on to the last timing point at The Bryn and reached the end of the regularity tests at Horseman’s Green.
The final action of the prologue came just outside the town of Wrexham, where a test at Demon Tweeks proved Steve Entwistle/Ali Procter, firing on all cylinders, to be quickest in their class, having already put an earlier electrical scare behind them.
Crossing back into England, Carden Park was a welcome sight. A good night’s rest was in order, as the first full day’s competition would total at some 280 miles. The prologue was a delightful taster of what was to come for the crews and, judging by the appetites displayed at dinner, it was an event that would be relished.
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