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HERO Challenge Two Preview – June 15th Bicester

*The Championship chase hots up

*A 72-car entry contains championship challengers and ‘Young Pretenders’ to the crown

HERO Challenge Two Preview – June 15th Bicester

The competitive HERO Challenge Championship has reached round two of the three part HERO Challenge Championship, this time starting at Bicester Heritage for the one day 140 mile event around Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire back roads. With the championship battle hotting up, it is anybody’s to win from the top ten of both the navigator's and driver's contests at the moment.

Add the ‘Young Pretenders’ of Daisy Walker and Danielle Pool in the top ten Navigator’s leaderboard into the mix, and there is a competition to savour.

After scrutineering and documentation at HERO-ERA HQ on Friday 14th June, it will be back to Bicester Heritage early on Saturday morning to be fresh, ready to burst out of the blocks and straight into the first tests. Nerves quelled, regularity one is waiting in the inviting Oxfordshire lanes before navigators guide their drivers back to HQ at Bicester to steel themselves with a cup of caffeine before checking the diagrams and taking on more Bicester Heritage tests!

As with all HERO Championships, it will be full on as crews head back out to the lanes for the next group of regularities before the brief respite of lunch to fortify teams to be ready for more regularities and couple of tests. Crews will need to stay sharp until the end, as it is a given that Clerk of Course Andy Darlington will have found some of the best roads in the area, so whether they are championship contenders or running at the back of the field – all will be tested!

The team have worked hard on the route and have uncovered an exciting new venue on private land, where a regularity and two long tests will give the event a finish to remember. The finish ceremonies, buffet dinner and prize giving, will all be at the Bicester Hotel and Spa.

But who will be in contention to potentially take the plaudits by the time of the prize giving?

Simon Ayris, who so nearly won the driver's title last season is the current points leader in his MGB with double HC Championship title winner Matt Outhwaite alongside him, Matt sits third in the navigator’s championship behind Tim Sawyer. Tim shocked himself by finishing third on the first challenge in Exeter navigating Steve Farmer who was equally surprised by their result driving his Volvo!

The team have separated though, Steve will have Phil McNeelance navigating as he looks to consolidate his second place in the driver’s championship, whilst Tim Sawyer has teamed up with Les McGuffog in his Austin Healey 3000.

Patrick Walker is third in the driver’s title chase with his daughter and ‘Young Pretender’ to the navigator’s crown, Daisy Walker, navigating her father in their Alfa Romeo. Daisy was a finalist in the Bob Rutherford Historic Rally Scholarship for Young Navigators, and is joint fifth in the HERO Challenge Championship for Navigators.

Also in that strong position of fifth equal in the navigators chase is the winner of the Bob Rutherford Scholarship, Danielle Pool, who as the victor is on another prize winning rally outing, this time with John Lomas in the 1936 Riley Sprite where Daneille will also be tested for her open top survival skills. Danielle is another ‘Young Pretender’ to the navigator’s throne as was John’s daughter Natasha, but she is on exam duty.

A star performance was delivered from the hot seat by James Bloxidge keeping his father and former HERO Cup Champion Paul Bloxidge on time and on the right road to win the first HERO Challenge of 2024 in their VW Golf Gti. Although Paul is a Master and therefore not eligible for championship points, his son is. It was remarkable performance by James as normally he is lucky if he can manage one event a year! Maybe the fact that he leads the navigator’s table has been an incentive for him to find time to come back for round two with Paul.

The Minis are well represented and could be in the mix especially when you see who is navigating the 1275 GT of Andy Simpson, Hero Cup driver's and Golden Roamer navigator’s Champion Roger Bricknell. Also Mini mounted but in a 1965 Mini Cooper S, are former London to Lisbon winners and podium sitters again in 2024, Dick and Harry Baines.

Talking of London Lisbon, there was an incredible finish this year as Ken and Sarah Binstead overcame clutch problems in their Austin Healey with a dramatic late fix to score an equally dramatic second place just one second behind winners, Graham Platts and Neil Ripley in their Austin Healey battle. Ken and Sarah are entered on HERO Challenge Two and will be looking for a win.

There is an eclectic mix of champions, beginners and young future stars. James Holt, a podium finisher on previous challenges with his son Archie who is now at University, is sure Archie will be back and hitting the podium steps soon. But for now, James will make do with a double HERO Challenge Champion turned navigator, Alistair Leckie in the BMW 325i.

It is great to see the HERO-ERA Arrive + Drive Austin Healey ‘Frog Eye’ Sprite on the entry list as it will be in the hands of Classic Car Weekly journalist Jesse Billington, he will be navigated by Ellie-May Taylor in the quick little 1959 sportscar. It is also exciting to see Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickens back out in their Renault R8 Gordini which will be a contrast to their big Mercedes they used on the recent London to Lisbon Rally.

As ever, there is a great entry for the HERO challenge round that lies ahead, orchestrated by Andy Darlington. He is Clerk of the Course and has recently returned from a successful outing on Rally Barbados in the navigator’s seat of a Hillman Imp with Mick Smith, so he will switch from poacher to gamekeeper, ably assisted by Deputy Clerk of the Course Andy Pullan. Andy explained why the HERO Challenge Championship format works well for competitors;

“It's a good condensed day. You are kept moving and busy all the time, but it's also accessible. It's really not a ‘chuck everything in together with the kitchen sink’ type of event, it is compressed, yet fast paced and good natured at the same time. There's opportunities for people to do things right and do well, but equally, opportunities to get things a little bit wrong if they're not paying quite as much attention to detail as they should be. I think competitors like that challenge, also the fact that we're not overworking them.

“The last regularity is on private land to keep everyone on their toes at the end of the day, then there's two really good tests to finish.”

Andy went on to consider some of the competitive entries on the HERO Challenge Two list.

“I think our Bob Rutherford Scholarship winner Danielle Pool had a really good run on challenge one, and she just got better and better.

“This time she is going to be with John Lomas in his open top vintage Riley, that adds some more complexities and trickiness as a competitor. You've got a lot less space, you've got wind and rain to deal with, but she has shown real progress and is enjoying it.

“Looking further on the entry list it as very open, I'd say that there are ten or so names on there, given a day with minimal traffic problems, they can be there or there abouts. Tim Sawyer had a good run out last time and will be looking to continue that, whilst James Holt and Alistair Leckie are going to be a really good pairing.

“You wouldn’t bet against Simon Ayris and Matt Outhwaite either in the MGB, that’s another equally great pairing. Christopher and Claire Day are ones to watch after their win on the Novice Trial in the Cooper S, they are progressing with every event so it will be interesting to see how they get on. Then there’s the Binsteads in their TR6, they are bound to be in the mix.

“So we have a lot to look forward to on HERO Challenge Two.”

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