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The long way down

Nine tough tests, eight exacting regularities over 221 miles and 12 hours, it’s just another leg of the hard edged RAC Rally of the Tests, its reputation as the relentless rally of concentration still in tact, whilst the winning reputation of some others lies in pieces like their cars.

The long way down
*Most successful RoTT crew fall from the lead to retirement

*Three different leaders, two hit problems as Dyas and Taylor now lead with the Staniforths 2nd

*From the highest pub to the lowest dale in sun, wind, mist and torrential rain

Poor Paul Wignall and Mark Appleton, having snatched a two second lead last night fell from the top of the world to the bottom and retirement after an axle ball joint broke shattering their hopes of extending their impressive winning record of 11 RoTT wins between them. Whilst champion and multi rally winner Paul Crosby’s aspirations to win the 2021 RAC Rally of the Tests took a hit as he and navigator Andy Pullan left the treacherous and dark military roads in their already battered Porsche 356 B from a tank trap in Catterick last night.

Paul Crosby takes up the story; “We were pushing a little bit too hard, it was understeering off but I thought I’d saved it and was just about to pat myself on the back when the left rear caught and dragged us down a steep bank into a tree. I had already dropped around three minutes in the first TC section, so I was going for it, this was the second part on a 45 right off camber which was down to me, just driver error!

“I wasn’t in the best frame of mind following the incident in the tank trap last night with the damage to the rear of the Porsche, but at least with tonight’s hit, it is in the same place. However, we have now had to retire so I will just have to try and win it next year!”

Into the lead goes Paul Dyas, with the confident Martyn Taylor alongside him in their Volvo Amazon. There have been three different official leaders but Alexander Leurs and Ryan Pickering continue to impress in the 1975 Opel Ascona that leads its class but doesn’t qualify for the overall awards although they are the runaway leaders!

And with a stupendous first RAC Rally of the Tests challenge, Darrell and Nicky Staniforth are up to second place overall in their Morris Mini Cooper S. But they know it’s never over until the last page of the RoTT Road Book is turned on Sunday which is set to provide a sting in the tail for the survivors.

At the moment it looks like racing driver Phil Hindley with ace navigator Iain Tullie alongside him, could pull of another podium as Phil did on his debut in the RAC Rally of the Tests two years ago. The crew are holding third overall with Dutch duo Hank Melse and Bart den Hartog fourth in their Porsche 356 B.

It was a glorious start this morning in the mild air and clear skies above Raby Castle for an aristocratic thrash around the fast castle grounds, watched by an army of beaters and their dogs ready to go to work once the rally had passed through.

All that changed as the rally took to the heights of the Arkengarthdale and Sleightholme Moors as the wind began to whistle a tune and the rain led a merry dance to it. After five tests and a tricky regularity, crews reached new heights as they stopped for a break from the intense competition at the Tan Hill Public House, the highest pub in Britain. Staff served lashings of hot coffee to teams from eight countries around the world whilst those unfortunate enough not to get inside were lashed by torrential rain whilst working on their cars outside.

Some regularities in the hills ranged from narrow twisting tarmac over high moorland to gravel tracks through forests and around the edges of the hills, there was no let up as concentration was paramount.

The tests were equally demanding. The ninth test of the day in the shadow of Shap must have seemed like a straight forward burst over the top of the M6 Motorway into an extremely fast slalom – until it descended into the slimy concrete tracks of cow effluent lined by tight concrete walls of Waters Farm. There the wind beaten but friendly farmer Edward Wood was enjoying watching the action from his little workshop resting his chin on the end of his slurry rake. As two more cars over shot the tight turning between two stone walls he commented; “It’s normally worse than this, we’ve had a lot of events over 20 years around the farm, some of them in snow. I’ve rebuild that dry stone wall a few times! It’s not a problem, we love the sport coming here!”

The major challenge of the day was to prove to be military ranges again as their fearsome reputation continued to hold sway as proved when even a top class championship winning driver like Paul Crosby can get caught out.

Warcop was not for the unwary. The red flag fluttered over a sign that said ASSAULT in capital letters, which was exactly what crews needed to do if they were to conquer the daunting military roads by day, let alone at night. One Porsche came careering down the tracks the wrong way, a Volvo dropped into a ditch from which it didn’t get out as hundreds of rally lights tried to blaze a path through the inky blackness that was Warcop on Saturday night.

Rally champions and their reputations are on the line in the RAC Rally of the Tests, but what about the crews who are attempting it for the first time? Philip Wood and Kelvin Phipps are doing just that in their ‘The Saint’ monographed Volvo P1800 and it’s been a bit of a wake up call for Philip; ”This is our very first time. We usually compete in one day events where the mileage may be 150-200 miles per day, this one does more than that in a day, for us it’s like four back to back national rallies!

“We are trying to keep going, we tore off the tank guard yesterday and every time we crunch the sump guard, particularly in the military roads we just wince, we are loving it though!”

Spare a thought for Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan in their VW Golf GTi with no windscreen wipers at all in the blinding rain. Paul; “We managed to fix them just before going into Warcop in the dark, up until then we were surviving with rainex on the screen.”

Darrell and Nicky Staniforth, Morris Mini Cooper S; Darrell, “We weren’t too bad this morning, we had a couple of regularities where we didn’t quite get in on time but in the tests we went really well at Raby Castle and Warcop, they suited the Mini, but we can’t keep pace with some of the Porsches, the orange Dutch Porsche came past us very like we were standing still! We know there is a sting in the tail on Sunday and we are only just over half way, but we just have to keep plodding away! As usual, Nicky is doing a great job in the navigator’s seat.”

Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor, Volvo Amazon; Paul, “ It’s been good, the regularities and the tests have both been good. Last night was really hard but this morning had gone really well. We have been on Martyn’s home patch, he’s a Cumbrian lad, he knows his way around which is hopefully an advantage.”

Kevin Haselden and Gary Evans, Mini Cooper S; Kevin; “ Leg two has been pretty good, we set some good regularity times but we did get quite lost on Warcop trying to find the second test, we had to ask the other competitors, in fact it was Ryan Pickering who pointed out where it was, without him we would have missed it!”

The final day of the RAC Rally of the Tests, Leg three, will run from Hexham to Edinburgh with a total of nine tests and four regularities. No expects it to be easy, in fact Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock has already stated that he thinks it could provide ‘a bit of a sting in the tail.’

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