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HERO Challenge One 2024 | Bloxidges land the first blow despite a rusty navigator

*Second place for Simon Ayris and Matt Outhwaite after difficult start

*Steve Farmer and Tim Sawyer score best ever in third and surprise themselves

*Young crews show their mettle

*Devon to Cornwall return route is the cream for crews

HERO Challenge One 2024 | Bloxidges land the first blow despite a rusty navigator

Paul Bloxidge and his son James landed the first HERO Challenge round one blow as they took a great win in mixed conditions in their VW Golf GTi. It was even more remarkable when considering that James was very rusty as he usually only manages one rally a year. As a bonus, James took the Clockwatchers Award for best navigator of the day on the regularities.

After a great battle over a 150-mile route across Devon and Cornwall that teams described as ‘the cream,’ the Bloxidges beat Simon Ayris and Matt Outhwaite’s MGB by just 10 seconds. After six tests and six exacting regularities – the fifth of which was navigated on maps handed out by the organisers - Simon and Matt were absolutely delighted to make it to the podium after traffic hold-ups this morning meaning they had to play their Joker. Simon also scooped the Test Pilot Award for best performance over all the tests.

Simon Ayris won the 2023 HERO Challenge One but lost out in the final round, so he and Matt are happy with their start to the 2024 campaign.

Surprise and delight were both emotions felt by the third place crew of Steve Farmer and Tim Sawyer who not only took their respective ‘highest ever’ placings but Tim scored a podium on his first-ever rally as a navigator – he normally drives. Their Volvo Amazon 123GT was as quick as it was solid.

The young crews on HERO Challenge One showed their mettle too. Bob Rutherford Scholarship finalist Daisy Walker was eighth overall in the Alfa Romeo GT 1600 Junior driven by her father Patrick and they won their class. Daisy; “ We are both so pleased as we were 20th at the lunch halt but managed a top ten finish by the end.”

Bob Rutherford Scholarship winner 2024, Danielle Pool was another class winner, and 23rd overall, navigating Dave Alcock’s Datsun 280Z with aplomb which caused Dave to comment; “Danielle was tremendous, it was a pleasure working with her, she is an undoubted star of the future.”

Natasha Lomas is unable to make the second round of the HERO Challenge Championship as she will be taking her GCSEs, but as the fourth placed navigator in 2023, she laid a marker for 2024 with second in class and 37th overall navigating her father John in their Riley Sprite.

Two more young navigators returned to action in 2024 – the two Beatrices – Barclay and Valmarana. They also showed their mettle as both scored class podiums with their respective fathers, Piers Barclay (the same crew winning the ‘Youngest Crew Under 18’ award at the inaugural Rally for the Ages in 2023) enjoying 40th overall in his Alfa Romeo Giulieta Sprint Veloce. Francesco Valmarana was 42nd overall in his Lancia Fulvia Monte Carlo, despite the trip not working which meant Beatrice V had to make manual calculations on the fly. A great result for both Beatrices.

The weather was a factor for all to deal with. It was so mixed that at one stage crews experienced heavy hail stones on top of Dartmoor. Those in open top, vintage cars such as John and Natasha Lomas in their 1933 Riley Sprite were quite uncomfortable, John said; “We hit the hail on top of the hills, but in an open cockpit like ours, you have your head down trying to avoid the worst and maybe opening one eye, it was like trying to peek out of a Tiger tank! We experienced all weathers today, hail, rain, sleet, sun and high winds – all we needed was a plague of locusts to get the full set!”

In a field of 55 cars there was a great variety of machinery. There was an Aston Martin DB6, a Ford Mustang and a couple of Hillman Imps. But amongst the very different machines was a fleet MGB of Paul and Phil Wells. Paul was on his first event and won the newcomers award for drivers. Rob Ellis won the newcomers navigators award as he guided Nick Brayshaw’s Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV home.

The HERO Challenge One winners had this to say, Paul Bloxidge; “This is remarkable, James only does one rally a year and now we have a win, so maybe that's the answer, bring James more often, now my regular navigator ‘Campervan’ may have a real problem!”

James Bloxidge: “I've been described as rusty, I was a bit, but I just wish I had more time to do these events, what a great rally HERO Challenge One was, an absolutely great event. I love it every time I come out and thanks to my father for having me on board.”

The second place crew of Simon Ayris and Matt Outhwaite were equally pleased with the turn around after a difficult morning; Simon said; “We've spoken a couple of times during the day but we weren't expecting this at all. So yes, it is brilliant but well done to the HERO-ERA team as this was a really, really good event again. This has been a great start to our 2024 campaign, so yes, I've got a problem now!”

Matt; “That's really nice to turn it around after a difficult morning. It was a good afternoon and I felt like we were there or thereabouts, but still really great for us to be on the podium.”

None of the podium sitters were more chuffed or surprised that the third place crew of Steve Farmer and Tim Sawyer in their Volvo.

Steve; This is my highest ever finish, it is quite remarkable, but nobody's more surprised than myself to be standing here on this podium! It was a great day, a really good event but so well navigated by Tim Sawyer who steered me through all the trials and tribulations, he was just fabulous.”

Tim: ”This was a very pleasant surprise, this is the first time I have navigated. I've never done it before, so to get this result was really unexpected!”

The Devon to Cornwall route across Dartmoor and back to Exeter was the cream for the crews as they raved about the rally which covered 150 miles with six regularities and as many tests. Starting and finishing at Exeter Racecourse with tests bookending the start and finish of the day.

Typically, the HERO-ERA’s Competition crew, lead on this occasion by Clerk of the Course Nick Reeves, spared no detail and left nothing to chance, even when there was the possibility of Chief Marshal Chrys Warboys Timing Point being a bit exposed on the moors, Nick ordered Chrys to cover himself and Judith Warboys in camouflage – they duly obliged!

The route took crews past an old 13th century clapper bridge, and over a new bridge which, as legend has it, is renowned for ‘Hairy Hands.’ It has seen so many accidents in the past because a pair of dismembered hands can appear and grab the steering wheel forcing the car off the road!

Whilst there was a less dangerous bridge further on it was still old, a horse bridge from 1437. On regularity four there was a strange sight of a very old Peugeot which had literally taken root with huge weeds growing out of the old chassis, but regularity five in practical terms was quite different.

Competitors were given a map and a speed table to follow, the regularity included three fords to cross, but as Nick Reeves noted, this section was over classic Devonian roads from night rallying in Devon in the 80s.

Nick Reeves, Clerk of the Course for HERO Challenge One summed up the rally; Nick

“It was great. The weather was a bit changeable but it was great to see the sun out on Dartmoor this morning but with really contrasting skies with its stormy clouds in the background. I love that part of the world, I know others do but everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, even though I think we had hailstones at one point! It was a good challenge with something for everybody.

“We had a 150-mile route, sometimes over very narrow little exacting lanes and it was slippy with no room for error in those things, the gutters are washed away with some nasty potholes so one false move and you've got a tyre off the rim or a puncture. So, fair pay to everybody who got round unscathed.

Thank you to all the marshals and officials and of course the Technical Assistance crews, I want to thank my colleagues in the HERO-ERA Competition Department for their tireless work, I think we can all be happy with the result.”

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