The final day of the RAC Rally of The Tests dawned with another crisp and clear morning to greet crews.
Overnight, the lead for the fewest penalties had gone to the charging Mini Cooper ’S’ of Steve Entwistle and Ali Procter, the pair edging in front of Paul Crosby/Andy Pullan by just 14 seconds. Behind them were Neil Wilson/Matthew Vokes in a Porsche 924, who were a further 35 seconds behind. This may sound a sizeable margin but, as with all recent Rally of The Tests events, it isn’t over until the final check sheets are tallied up.
The big news, though, was that John Abel/Martyn Taylor had extended their lead in the in overall awards class to more than a minute and a half from their nearest rivals, previous Rally of The Tests winners, Howard warren and Iain Tullie in their Porsche 356. The final day, although testing with some seriously tricky terrain to cover, would be a little shorter than the previous two days where crews had covered 560 miles. Still, 170 miles would be enough to shake the field up once again as the organising team planned some great venues for the crews to explore.
With crews setting off at 08:00am once again, there was little traffic on this bright and crisp Sunday morning as the RAC rally of The Tests headed south past Darlington and on to a brace of tests near Downholme Moor. Crosby/Pullan heaped the pressure on Entwistle/Procter here, so much so that they were caught by a line fault, costing them an extra 10 seconds in penalties. The morning was to prove pivotal, though, as Entwistle/Procter lost more than a minute on the first two timing points of a regularity test in Catterick and handed the lowest points lead back to the Porsche pair. It wouldn’t all go to plan for Crosby and Pullan, though, as a mistake on the third regularity cost them 29 seconds, meaning the final sections of the day would now be crucial, particularly the regularity in Bramham Park.
Setting off from Bowcliffe Hall, the regularity was held in its entirety on private land. Diving into Dawsonfield Plantation, the first timing point came up on a roundabout of sorts near Black Fen. This didn’t cause crews too many issues but the next two timing points would seal the event. It had taken almost 750 miles to cement the result, such was the quality and competitive nature of the entry on the event.
A rising star could be seen in car 69, the immaculate Ford Escort Mexico of Holland’s Harm Lamberigts and Arjan Van der Palen. Arjan struggled initially in the event but grew into it with every leg. A solid performance from the pair saw them top of the continental crews at the end of the event, which was, again, a great result as some of Europe’s top crews were competing on the event.
The second timing point on Bramham Park was situated close to The Temple and it caught out Howard Warren/Iain Tullie to the tune of 28 seconds. It looked like game over for them but an error from Abel/Taylor on the third timing point on Obelisk Avenue would briefly swing the event back into the hands of Warren/Tullie. It was the briefest of swings, though, as the usually unflappable Warren/Tullie were forced into a second error on the same timing point, which removed any chances of taking the overall win there and then.
Two tests at Harewood Hill Climb couldn’t change the day and all that was left was a tense drive back through Wharfedale to the finish at the Majestic Hotel, Harrogate.
A jubilant John sprayed the celebratory fizz over Howard and Iain and third-placed Paul and Mark, who had won the event in 2013 when it last finished in Harrogate. Martyn was beaming from ear to ear after it had seemed that the event could have been lost on the very final regularity section of the event.
This was a classic example of the RAC Rally of The Tests, one that challenged crews and forced errors from those who lost concentration, the consensus being that the balance of the event was just right and heralded a return to the more competitive events of years past.
The 2018 RAC Rally of The Tests will run from Harrogate to Bristol and entries will open soon.
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