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LeJog 2023 - Thirty Years Since the Original John Brown Event, the Big One Returns Again for its Usual December Slot

LeJog 2023 - Thirty Years Since the Original John Brown Event, the Big One Returns Again for its Usual December Slot

Each year, on a certain December morning excited eyes open, greeting the morning with a belly full of butterflies and anticipation. A long day stretches ahead of them, and many may have been unable to achieve a good night’s sleep, full of excitement about what is to come. Of course, I’m not talking about that day in December, no, this is a day that is known to far fewer but has come around in one fashion or another for the last thirty years. But if not Christmas, then what? This particular annual event is the Land’s End to John O’ Groats Reliability Trial, or as the colloquialism goes, LeJog, and this year it turns thirty years old and begins in just a few days’ time.

The LeJog rally conjures up a whole mix of emotions for those in the know, the sheer scale of the challenge is both terrifying and awe-inspiring in equal parts. Running over five legs and 76 hours, it plots a course from the most southwestern point of the UK to the most north-easterly point, tip-to-top, the long way around. Some 1500 miles will have been chalked up on the odometer by the time the competitors reach the finish, to complete such a distance they will have travelled through the night, often on roads that are usually best avoided during the winter months. All of this, completed in classic cars as well, as if the challenge wasn’t tough enough.

It is an event that has evolved over the years since the first one was run back in 1993. This year, as the rally enters its fourth decade, the clock will be turned back somewhat as the rally returns to its roots somewhat and has the endurance element placed firmly back at its core. “The event was starting to see a bit of a transition to tricky farmyard regularities, and I wanted to take it back to its basic elements a little bit” says Clerk of the Course and HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock. “There are some really big regs in this one, and we’re accelerating our progress out of the west country and spending more time in Wales, which is really the meat of the event.”

Of course, the Welsh part of the event on Leg 2 will be completely in the dark, one of the extra elements of difficulty that competitors have to deal with on LeJog and will end with the always popular time control section to round the night off. Guy recalls that the last time they spent this much time in Wales the weather conspired against the event, with Snow causing issues for the later runners. Since then, regulations have been brought in about winter tyres and Guy is adamant that because of this “it will be like the old days, if you come across a car stuck in the snow, you’ll have to help get them out of the way to continue.”

There is a line with the weather, of course, and everyone involved will be hoping for just enough wintery conditions to add a certain amount of difficulty to the mission, without causing too much stress. This is part of the magic of LeJog, after all, if it wasn’t you would run it in summer. It just wouldn’t be the same though, there’s something extraordinary about rallying in the snow and the ice in the early hours of the morning, as if the landscape itself comes alive and is certainly part of the reason so many keep coming back for another go at LeJog.

One of those crews that keep coming back are the Kiff brothers, John and Rob, who between them have been involved in LeJog since the very first event, when John was the only navigator to achieve a coveted gold medal. Since then, John has been involved in around 25 of the events, as a competitor, deputy clerk of the course and a marshal, it is, as he puts it, an un-scratchable itch. They will be there again this year, in WTR 440, the Beetle that has become synonymous with their LeJog campaigns and this time around it will be 20 years since John and Rob first took the car ‘Jogging. In that time the car has probably become the most successful machine to enter, with 5 gold medals and 9 class wins, a feat they will both be hoping to repeat this year. They are but one hopeful crew of many though, on an entry that lists competitors not just from the UK, but from all over Europe as well.

Nothing is guaranteed on this rally though, there is nothing quite like it in terms of its test of endurance of both car and crew and it is no wonder that Guy wants to firmly put the endurance element back in the spotlight. There will be some monster regularities this time out, one of which will be contested over more than two hours and 66 miles and both driver and navigator will have to work extremely hard to retain hopes of a gold medal. This rally isn’t really about being top dog, drivers and navigators come here for medals, they come to triumph over the event itself and all of the difficult elements that conspire against them. To finish is an achievement, to finish with a gold medal, well, that is something very special.

So come wind, rain or snow, this Saturday the cars will depart Land’s End for the big one, the rally that is quite possibly the toughest event of its kind in Europe, if not the world. “The weather is looking like it will play its part,” says Guy, “it’s going to be a tough event and I can’t wait to get going.” I’m sure his sentiments are shared by all of those involved, although the excitement will be tempered slightly by the trepidation of what is to come, a feeling that has been shared by everyone who has ever taken on this event, over the course of the last thirty years.

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