Brilliant spring weather heralds the start of the HERO Challenge Championship
Brilliant spring weather welcomed 94 classic rally crews to North Wales for the Saturday start of the HERO Challenge Championship and HERO Challenge One based in Mold, a three part series that will be hotly contested this year as it was in 2021.
*Bumper 90+ car entry gathers in North Wales ready for actionApart from the title aspirants, there are teams contesting their first ever rallies, drivers trying out their new rally cars in anger for the first time and some who are on their first ever HERO-ERA event. The range of goals for the teams therefore varies considerably from just wanting to finish or just hoping to find the right route, to being quite confident about having a crack at the championship.
Equally there are three crews who are taking on the HERO Challenge One as a shakedown for the Flying Scotsman in little over a week, giving their cars a good outing before the premier vintage rally, but some are shaking off the winter blues aiming to sharpen their driving and navigation skills in preparation for the London to Lisbon in April.
John Lomas and Pete Johnson are one of two vintage cars being shaken down ready for the Flying Scotsman in their 1935 Riley Kestrel, the other is the 1937 Jaguar SS100 for classic motorcycle racers Mike Farrell and Zach Burns. Lomas and Johnson are a competitive paring who are also on the list of hotshots who could have a chance of the HERO Challenge Championship title.
In amongst this packed entry are some fantastic classic rally cars that have received a lot of attention during the winter to be ready.
Jeff Wincott who has Anne Tweddell navigating for him, has spent a long time totally rebuilding a 1961 Riley One Point Five that looks ready for action, but Jeff is not sure if it will go all the way.
Jeff; “I bought it unseen which is something I have never done before, but I have spent 18 months welding it back together and rebuilding it, this is its first time out! What we really want to do is just get round, but I have detected a little bit of sludge in the rocker cover so I am little bit wary!”
By contrast Val and Lou Lusardi arrived in their amazing 1963 Ford Falcon, looking every inch like one of the works Ford Falcons from the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, and having competed in a few HERO-ERA events before, they are looking forward to seeing how the rally unfolds and the car performs.
Val;’” We have done a few HERO-ERA events before. I’m not an American car fan as such, I am really along for the ride which is quite comfortable but noisy!
Lou; “We have had a Falcon before, it was an automatic but it was too good so we found this second one in Texas in the USA, we think it may have done some drag racing as it had some funny bits on it when we brought it over. But we have improved it with time and it goes well.
“In 1963 there were three works Ford Falcons, built by Holman and Moody, on the Monte Carlo Rally. Jeff Uren was Team Manager, but at the end of 1963 they handed over the preparation to Alan Mann. Bo Lungfeld drove a 1963 Falcon like ours on the 63 Monte and he was quickest on every stage, the only reason he didn’t win was because he had a clutch change that made them 40 minutes late for a control that give him lots of penalties!”
Dick Bains and his son Harry who navigates in their Mini Cooper S, were competitive last season but encountered a few issues that kept them off the podiums. Today they arrived in their car prepared ready for London to Lisbon too, so they don’t want to do any damage to the buzzbox this weekend!
Harry; “We are looking forward to the new season and this HERO Challenge One. We are hoping to enter all three rounds all being well, we did reasonably well on a couple of them lasty year so hopefully we can get somewhere this time. it’s going to be exciting as we have London to Lisbon coming up as well, but that’s in just a few weeks so we are going to take it easy and try not to damage the car!”
Scanning the scrutineering and car park area of the HQ Beaufort Park Hotel in Mold revealed another different and fascinating rally machine, this time Peter and Amy Joy’s 1959 Lotus Elite. This remarkable machine has tackled a wide range of events from sprints and hill climbs to loose surface rallies, now it is ready for HERO Challenge One and seems to be able to cope with them all!
Peter Joy;” We managed to break the diff towards the end of last year so we have fitted a new one, we have taken all the suspension out and put it all back in as well as changing the braking system. I have had the car for just under 30 years and we have competed in the Monte Carlo Challenge six times, Liege Rome Liege twice, sprints, hill climbs and gravel rallies all in this car. It is light weight, with long travel and soft suspension, disc brakes on all four wheels which was pretty good for a fifties car.”
Amy; “This is only my third ever event so I am hoping not to get lost and just enjoy it.”
Close by the Lotus was the MGB Roadster of Simon Ayris and Kim Bannister, the same car that was kindly loaned by Simon to HERO Challenge Championship winners Alistair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite last season, taking them to a class win after their trusty SAAB failed the night before HERO Challenge!
Having been in with a shout of the title themselves, Simon and Kim now return and are quietly confident of posing a championship threat, but when told he was considered one of the championship favourites Simon said; “Stop it now! It was so close at the end of last year so we want to try and make it even closer this year – that’s my ambition. I am putting myself under a bit of pressure of my own as I would like to see a decent class and overall result, but we will try to focus on what we are doing.”
Kim; ”We really enjoyed it last year, they are good events with close competition so we intend to enter them all and give it a go!”
They are not Lotus Elites but they were a product of the same design genius of Colin Chapman, the Lotus Cortinas. There are two superb examples set to go rallying on Saturday. What’s more, they will visit Clocaenog, the very place that formed part of RAC rally folklore with its wonderful forest stages, and for the fact that in 1966 World F1 Champion Jim Clark hustled his works Lotus Cortina through Clocaenog forest that same year.
Chris Howell and Jon Briggs will be in their 1964 Lotus Cortina whilst Chris Kemp will be trying his hand at rallying for only the second time, but making his Welsh debut, being navigated by Sid Sadique in their 1966 version. The analogy here is that Chris Kemp is a racing driver, so hopefully he will go as well as Jim Clark did all those years ago when he made his rally debut, lying eighth overall at one point amongst the best works rally teams and drivers in the world!
Paul and Roma Handley are competing in their new Triumph 2000, after a huge amount of work by Paul; “We got it last August and we have been working very hard to get it going and running, there have been a lot of problems with electrics! But we are here and hopefully it is going to do well for us.
“I am a Triumph man, I had a Stag as well which we did a few events in, it served me very well but I will be very interested to see how this 2000 goes on the tests. I have tried a few slaloms down the local lanes – but in the action on Saturday Roma will be in there hanging on, guiding me round!”
It is great to see Bron Burrell back and ready for action with her 1970 World Cup Rally Maxi, Puff the Magic Wagon, the car looking pristine. “ A lot of my savings have gone into the preparation!” Suggested Bron who will have Suzanne Barker alongside her in the navigator’s seat.
Car preparation is everything and if you check for good consistent rally results and want to see a great looking Renault 12 Gordini, then watch out for car 55 with Anita Wickens navigating its driver Malcolm Dunderdale. It comes as no surprise that the pairing have been tipped as HERO Challenge Championship contenders in 2022 by at least two of their rivals.
Making their rally debuts in an absolutely gorgeous 1981 drop head Fiat Spider are Victoria and Andrew Barbut. They were both enjoying open top motoring today and hope the fabulous spring sunshine continues in the rally on Saturday; Andrew; “ This little car was bought by me in 1981 in Vancouver, and it has stayed with me ever since, and followed me round the world. We have had a great deal of fun in it, mainly in the summer, we don’t take it out much in the winter. We started to think about rallying as I have now retired, so this will be our first formal rally!
Victoria; “I know, help! It could be bad especially if there are maps involved!” Andrew; ”We said to each other that this is a day to enjoy.”
Making a very welcome return to competition in 2022 after a successful season last year is Curtis Jacoby in the sleek and very effective Jaguar XJ-S HE. This time he has his son Dexter with him, a relative novice in regularity rallying who will be making his HERO Challenge debut, so good luck to Dexter.
Alistair Leckie and Matt Outhwaite have returned to defend their HERO Challenge Championship titles for driver and navigator , so how does it feel to be the favourites to take the 2022 title as well?
Matt; “We are still enjoying the beer from the Wriggly Monkey after taking the 2021 titles! Now we are about to go into the 2022 tile chase but we are not sure we are favourites, there are so many good crews who could challenge for the wins. These events are so fast, so quick, anything could happen.”
Alistair; “I’d keep an eye out for Simon Ayris in his rocket powered MGB, that’s a very quick car and John Lomas has Pete Johnson sitting next to him, they are a really good crew.”
Awaiting the 94 cars is a 140 mile route around some of the finest rally roads in Wales designed by HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock, as it is his backyard! Ably assisted by Deputy Clerk of the Course, Seren Whyte, there will be 10 tests and six regularities to contest around the great route that will take competitors over such famous roads as the Horseshoe Pass and routes around Langollen.
May the sun shine on all of them as they enjoy a great day of first class motor sport.