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Fifty Seven crews started from Land’s End under a clear and blue sky on what turned out to be the toughest Le Jog for many years. Navigation and plotting  work was no harder than in previous years and in some ways could be considered as less demanding. The General Route Instructions issued to crews in text form two weeks before the event in previous years had been replaced for 2012 with a  detailed map book based on the OS 1:50,000 supplemented with tulips when necessary. This made the transport (link) sections easier to deal with particularly for non UK crews. Peter’s aim is to avoid crews on future Le Jog’s from having to purchase the “non-essential” maps which have been needed in the past. Feed-back from crews indicated that this approach was certainly welcome.  What really made Le Jog 2012 tough was the constant pressure of having to deal with a total of 28 tests and 25 regularities (two of them long enough to warrant specific penalties for those sections alone) over three and a half days. There was no navigation trickery and everyone was able to cope, including young Lucy Gastall who won the Practical Classic completion and was navigating for her father in their little Austin A35. Two weeks before the event Lucy had no idea how to plot grid references. However, some advice from the Clerk of the Course and some expert tuition from CLO Tony Davies soon had her working on maps like an expert.

Leg one to Cardiff Gate took crews through parts of Cornwall and Devon which had been affected by the recent bad weather, but the flooding had subsided and all routes were clear. This could not be said for all the tests – problems were experienced on the test prior to Eden and the Bury Ford test had to be cancelled due to the river level being too high.

Amongst the more notable retirements on leg one where Tony Brooks/Simon Harris and Eva Lemke/Willi Potjans forced to retire for similar but unrelated car problems. Interim results at Cardiff had Kevin Haselden and Mathew Fowle in the Morris Mini Cooper (Car 11) leading the field with Andrew Lane and Ian Tullie (Car 32) in second place, closely followed by  Robert and Susan McClean (Car 6) in third.

Following a driving test and a two hour break at Cardiff for crews to refuel themselves and their cars, and to start plotting the long anticipated Welsh night leg, the field travelled to HERO’s offices at Kenfig for two tests and a visit to the main control. The transport section along the M4 towards Cross Hands was to take the crews to the start of four night regularities plus a lengthy time control section leading to a few hours’ sleep at Llangollen. The section through Wales tests everyone and this year was to be no exception. The temperature dropped and snow started to fall on the higher ground leading to a number of crews becoming stuck or sliding off the road. Chris Edwards/Julian Riley in the SAAB had a similar excursion into a ditch, suffering no damage but leaving the car well and truly stranded. Passing cars were unable to pull the car out. However a posse of Welsh marshals soon had them out – a point that Julian wanted everyone to know. Christian Reuter/Stephan Huber (Car 28) thought their event was over when a punctured radiator appeared to indicate retirement was on the cards. It took some time to recover the vehicle, but the HERO Assist mechanics managed to repair the radiator during the overnight break at Llangollen and the Peugeot was able to restart on Sunday morning. The first three places remained unchanged at the end of Leg Two.

Leg three was to take the crews from Llangollen via a series of tests and two regularities, to Longridge for lunch where the first of the afternoon regularities was to start at the end of the car park. The weather had started to deteriorate and the forecasted drop in temperature following the recent wet conditions caused black ice to appear on sections of the route. The temperatures dropped even further at sunset and the road conditions deteriorated. Eastgate was to have been the location of three tests, the first being a hill-climb test at the old cement works. Unfortunately ice on the hill meant that not even the course cars could get grip and so this test was reluctantly cancelled. The remaining two tests at Eastgate were followed by the long awaited return of the Stanhope Ford Test. Clerk of the Course Peter Nedin had worked with the Durham County Council to have the road closure order on the ford lifted for four hours to allow the test to be run. The passage of Le Jog across the ford had raised a great deal of interest and there were a number of spectators and newspaper photographers on site. Articles appeared in the Durham papers before and immediately after the event. Stanhope was followed by a short regularity which took crews to Derwent Reservoir where the traditional test was to be replaced by a Jogularitest. By now weather conditions had deteriorated to the point where the Derwent safety officer considered that the site roads where too treacherous and closed the site to all traffic (classic or modern). Once again the marshals on the event where real stalwarts and positioned themselves at the access road to ensure that all competitors where fully advised on the situation. A short drive to Slaley and the final test of the day meant the crews were able to enjoy a hot meal and a well-deserved rest at the overnight halt in Hexham. There had been a few mechanical issues during the day and both female crews (Car 8 Seren & Elise Whyte and Car 9 Clare Nedin & Rachel Wakefield) had encountered mechanical problems which were to cause them to have to cut certain tests and regularities in order to stay on schedule. The first two positions remained unchanged at Hexham with Haselden & Fowle in first place, and Lane & Tullie in second. However, The McCleans had dropped to fourth behind Roger Bricknell & Ryan Pickering.

The crews woke on Monday morning to a covering of snow and reports that road conditions in the north were particularly bad and expected to get worse. The course cars had gone barely three miles before they found problems with local cars sliding off the road. An unforeseen delay on one of the morning regularities caused by a tanker deciding to make a delivery along a narrow road just as Le Jog passed through meant that a number of crews were late arriving at the test at Cardrona. Fortunately the lunch break and relatively relaxed road timing meant that it was not necessary to introduce a delay and the event continued on time. A number of the competitors were stopped in their tracks when handing their timecards to the marshal on duty at the main control when they realised Lord Steel of Aikwood (HERO’s President) had kindly offered to marshal prior to travelling to London later that day to keep an appointment in his very full diary. The test at Cardrona was over the disused railway bridge at the back of the hotel. Cars parked in front of the village shop – once the station (one of the platforms still being identifiable) – prior to starting the test. The bridge forms part of the access tracks on the golf course and a valid vehicle access order still exists.

Monday morning saw a dramatic change in the leader board when an unfortunate incident involving cars 1 and 11 meant that Kevin and Matt were forced to cut a large section of route while the steering on the Mini was rebuilt. Both cars were able to continue but Kevin and Matt struggled to recover the accrued penalties. Robert and Susan McClean were also to see themselves drop down the leader board as they stopped to help Kevin and Matt repair the Mini.   From Cardrona the crews took a course which lead then to fort William and the evening supper halt via two regularities and tests at Rest & Be Thankful and Oban airport. The Rest and Be Thankful had to be cancelled at the very last minute due to conditions at the access road through the forestry. Hopefully this will be the last time that problems of this nature will prevent the test being held as work has started to upgrade not only the access road, but the “Rest” itself. Colin Waudby / Dave Leadbeter  hit black ice 2 miles north of Inverary on Monday night and spun off into the ditch. They were pulled out by a passing forester in a large 4 x 4 and managed to continue despite minor injury to Dave. The test site at Oban Airfield is a new one for HERO, and following the successful running (on the airstrip no less) we plan to go back on future events.

Crews were presented with Leg Five of the ARIs at Fort William and lots of frantic plotting was soon in evidence in the hotel. Several crews were encountering problems and being nursed to the finish. However, one notable retirement at Fort William was the Porsche of Tomas de Vargas Machuca & Cath Woodman – the Porsche had been suffering with an intermittent brake problem and it was decided that the risk of brake failure under such treacherous conditions was too high to continue.

The final leg from Fort William to John O’Groats via a short stop at Evanton was now to be a battle between the crews and the elements – supported by the course officials who worked hard to find alternative routes when closed rods were encountered. There were to be seven more Regularities and two additional tests before the crews could say they had completed Le Jog. The two all-female crews were determined to get to the finish and so careful planning of what sections to cut and which ones to complete was carried out over supper. Following the problems encountered by Haselden and Fowle, the lead had been taken by Andy Lane and Ian Tullie – a lead they were not to relinquish.

Snow and heavy sleet resulting in thick slush and fresh snow on top of sheet ice meant that some roads were impassable. Sections were cut and marshals asked to position themselves at the start of the affected section to ensure no competitor became stranded. Unfortunately one of the course officials became stuck in the snow when a steep uphill section became impassable and he was unable to turn around or reverse far enough to find a turning area. It was some hours before we could get the vehicle out of trouble.

The final control at John O’Groats saw a total of 40 cars cross the finishing line with most saying the event had been the best and toughest for many years.  The final count saw the lead being held by Lane and Tullie in the BMW with the crew also being the only ones to pick up a gold medal. Second place went to car 15 Tony Sheach & Richard Lambley, whilst third was taken by car 18, Roger Bricknell & Ryan Pickering. Kevin Haselden and Matt Wolfe had made a superb recovery to finish fourth, whilst fifth place went to the McCleans, who also collected the Spirit of the Rally award for incurring penalties (and no lunch) at the main control after stopping to help Kevin and Matt.

The two lady crews completed the event. Clare Nedin and Rachel Wakefield collected the award for highest placed lady crew, whist Seren and Elise Whyte took the well-deserved Charity Shield in recognition of the amount of money they had collected for their chosen charity. Young Lucy Gastell and her father finished the event in a very respectable 30thplace, just behind Seren and Elise, and was already talking about entering again in 2013.

The event was considered by all to be a great success and hopefully many will return next year.   The HERO cup was awarded after Le Jog as Simon and Michael Baker clinched the first place with their 10th overall placing.

Thanks to all officials, marshals, venue owners, sponsors, householders and competitors for making this a superb event.

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