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HERO Challenge Three, the finale | it’s tighter than a drum at the top!

*7 points between top six drivers, but just four points between leading seven navigators

*Closest championship finale of four series to date

*Title fights to hit new venues north of Preston and Lancashire moorlands

*Former title winning navigator Andy Pullan to make his debut as HERO-ERA Clerk of the Course

HERO Challenge Three, the finale | it’s tighter than a drum at the top!

74 rally cars will be heading to Lancashire on Friday 6th October, ten of them will be heading to a showdown either to try and lift the HERO Challenge Championship for Drivers or for Navigators. In short it is as tight as a drum at the top of both championship standings, then there are a further six outsiders who could still snatch the respective crowns if all goes wrong out front for main title protagonists.

It will be the closest HERO Challenge Championship fight of the four series so far, but as ever, each has gone down to the wire with 2023 no exception.

What better setting for the battle than the moors of Lancashire where big battles took place in the War of the Roses all those centuries ago? These roads, some unused before like some of the tests, will provide the final challenge of this year’s trilogy, the fourth in the remarkably popular series, this time over a 140 mile route with seven regularities and six tests.

James Holt leads the HERO Challenge Championship for drivers in his BMW 325i on 25 points just one ahead of Simon Ayris in his MGB who had been leading after his round one win with Kim Bannister. But since Kim is unavailable again, a tactical switch by Ayris could just prove to be a master stroke. Simon has drafted in former double championship-winning navigator Matt Outhwaite! James Holt had his son Archie navigating on HERO Challenge One, the 17-year-old was one of HERO-ERA’s youngest ever podium sitters after their third place, but Archie has resumed his studies so the faithful Chris Matthews is again alongside James to see if they can hold onto that slender lead until the flag falls on Saturday night.

Breathing down both of their necks with his lance poised is Dick Baines, the farmer with flair, just 4 points back in the Mini Cooper S. Previous London to Lisbon winners with his navigator son Harry, the young farmer is leading the HERO Challenge Championship for Navigators by just two points from challenger David Broome. David has his quick and consistent BMW driver Chris Chapman to support his title aspirations – although Chris cannot be discounted as an outsider for the driver’s title either.

There is a lot at stake, but for the Baines trying to do the double could be as challenging as trying to beat the weather to get the harvest in – both want to beat their opposition and take the crop of championships.

One point behind Dick is John King, known for his driving prowess. He recently enjoyed a great run to the podium with Henry Carr alongside him in the Toyota after wife Tracy broke her arm, but she is happily back and ready to support John in his championship tilt, this time in their Triumph Dolomite Sprint.

Rob Robinson is on 18 points as is his navigator Peter Mellor in the Audi Coupe GT, sixth and fifth in their respective championships, so could they spring a surprise? Mike and Liz Dixon have not entered but John Lomas leads the drivers outsiders on 16 points in the oldest car in the rally, his 1936 Riley Sprite. His daughter and young navigator Natasha is just 4 pts behind leader Harry Baines. Natasaha could be the youngest ever HERO Challenge champion if the family team can prevail.

However, it only takes one slip, one cruel tractor holding up the leaders, and the other championship hopefuls will pounce. Everyone knows that this is always a possibility despite HERO-ERA attempting to find the quietest roads possible, they are still public. Then there are the tests on private land where crews would hope to make up any deficit.

Looking at the entry list, there are two White Rose Knights of Yorkshire who could well plant their horses, all 100 bhp of them in the Cooper S, into the mix out front or even take the lead and they are the winning daughter and father team of Nicky and Darrell Staniforth.

The same applies to the father and son duo Steve and Alex Chick after their great second place on the second round in their Datsun 260Z. The former London to Lisbon winners finding form on the shorter events where the pressure is on all day.

Whilst talking champions and fights, Mike Cochrane, a top navigator who previously nearly won the title, is alongside twice championship winning driver Alistair Leckie who will bring out his title winning car, the SAAB 900 Turbo. There is more pedigree in car 24 as Graeme Comthwaite’s Mini will be navigated by the wife of Flying Scotsman winner and Northern Road Rally Champion Navigator Ali Procter, Lyndsey.

Just eight days ago, Lynsey Procter navigated Ali to 11th overall on the exacting Clitheronian night Road Rally over 150 miles in Lancashire.

Away from the glare of the championship fight there are the crews who have just graduated from the HERO-ERA training Academy to venture into an intermediate grade event for the first time and gain experience.

Bob Rutherford Young Navigators Scholarship finalist Daisy Walker is continuing to gain experience, navigating her father Patrick in their Alfa Romeo GT 1600 Junior, as is Beatrice Valmarana also navigating her father in an Italian car, this time in dad Francesco’s Lancia Fulvia. Beatrice has now competed in three rallies this year and seems to be determined to make the grade.

Making his HERO-ERA debut as Clerk of the Course whilst Competition Director Guy Woodcock heads to the Middle East for the start of the Badawi Trail, Andy Pullan has been in many championship fights, mostly emerging on the winning side. So what advice can he offer competitors to beat that tight drum of opponents?

Andy: “My advice would be to not think about the championship. If you start thinking about things in too much depth and detail, then you stop concentrating on events in front of you. You have got to prepare, keep a clear mind, keep cool, calm and collected and just concentrate on the event. If you start overthinking things or thinking of what could happen, you may lose concentration.

“As with every rally, it will be a roller coaster, you’ll have some good bits you’ll have some bad bits, but you’ve just got to think about the doing the best you can with every section.”

Andy Pullan, a patriotic White Rose himself, has recently returned from the final recce of the HERO Challenge finale battleground in order to make a few changes. So what can he give away about the route and any new roads and venues?

Andy; “ There are six tests, some of them are quite tricky, so both sides of the car will have to concentrate and communicate well to get good results on the tests.

“There’s a new venue which has never been used in historic road rallying, a really good kart track that we’re really pleased with, so I’m sure crews will enjoy it.

“In terms of regularities, as with most of these events, it’s easy if you do what it says in the book, so crews have just got to pay attention to what’s in there and not get distracted. The roads are a mix of tight little lanes and then opening up over the moors.

“We start off by heading into the Trough of Bowland. They are really a couple of nice scenic regularities to start things off. Then we head in for two tests before coffee, then another regularity and back for a repeat of the two tests.

“We are using Myerscough College for scrutineering and pre-event formalities. The motorsport department is hosting us which is great as they are one of the few colleges to offer a

Motorsport specific course. It is one of the few education facilities to offer such training, so the next generation of mechanics could be fixing your historic car!

“In the afternoon, we head to the Fylde Peninsula that sticks out towards Blackpool, it’s a lot less scenic, but challenging as it is over very undulating peat based roads, so they are literally like a roller coaster in places because they’ve sunk and gone up so much in places. It will make for interesting driving.

“I’d say that competitors need to keep concentrating right to the end as you never know where the last trick might be!”

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