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RAC Rally of the Tests

Prologue – Mold and the Clwydian Hills

“Workin’ on our night moves” Tonight’s Prologue starts about half an hour away from Hoole Hall at the Plas Hafod Country House Hotel near the catchily named village of Gwernymynydd (try saying that after a few pints…). This is a pleasant spot with plenty of parking, so we recommend that you make your way up there in good time and you can partake of the hospitality offered by the Buckley Family. Navigator’s Note – you will be able to collect the additional route information from the Pavilion Room inside the Plas Hafod Hotel, 30 minutes before your due start time at MTC P/1. The MTC itself will now be at the Ceremonial Start Arch outside the hotel.

As most of you probably know, this is Guy’s local patch and so where better to take you for this evening’s mildly challenging Prologue consisting of three regularities plus a farmyard test. Some of the roads may be familiar to those who have competed in Guy’s other rally – The Vale of Clwyd Classic but there are others that are new to everyone and you should remember that “familiar” roads look very different in the dark (and with it being Halloween night, who knows what spooky surprises might be lurking out there in the darkness…).

Rather than running one long regularity, we have split this Prologue run up into three short regularities. This is to avoid the issue of cars “bunching up” as we experienced last year on the evening legs. The first of these sections wends its way along the Alyn Valley; the second follows the Clwydian Way and the third takes you up into the Flintshire Hills, where you might be able to glimpse the lights of Chester far below you (assuming that conditions are bright and clear, of course).

Returning to the Cheshire Plains, the evening’s activities culminate with a nice open and flowing test around the barns of Chapelhouse Farm, manned by members of Knutsford Motor Club. We then head back to Hoole Hall just in time for the traditional Welcome Dinner. Another Rally of the Tests has begun…

We await the return of the crews from the Prologue and no doubt there will be many more tales of woe and if only stories. Peter Banham, probably the most experienced classic rally assistance mechanic is waiting to help anybody who has had problems and there are two other crews following the route to ensure nobody is left on the roadside….

As the crews return the expected tales are already starting to emerge – Guy Symons and David Watson managed to visit the finish of the Chapelhouse Farm test mid way through and then again at the end in their Riley 1.5, Ted and Karen Gaffney lost all their electrics but thankfully they returned but of course they are now anxious to trace the fault in their Mini.

Keith Leckie and Jens Stahlschmidt in a Porsche 912 had some fun at the start and having narrowly missed demolishing the start arch promptly took a wrong slot back into the car park. But I am sure things will improve in the daylight tomorrow.

Roy Gillingham and David Taylor had a troubled run leading up to the event with numerous problems with their Ford Zephyr but tonight’s run has been trouble free so hopefully all the pre event work has paid off.

Even some of the experienced competitors said it was tough but was it actually tough or are they just covering up for some unforced errors, the results will tell the full story later.

Robert and Susan McClean in the only Ford Anglia on the event took a wrong turning and ended up stuck so had to wait for the assistance crew to pull them out, Susan said at least the pressure is off now so they can go and enjoy the rest of the event.

HERO Results Office Tony Newman is out on the event with Andrew Duerden in a Mini Cooper S, the seating position looks more akin to a Touring Car which Andrew says makes life interesting when he wants to get out of the car but that’s probably as much to do with him getting older!

Sue Shoosmith and Trina Harley had an eventful run on the way up to the start and had to use local assistance to have their Triumph TR3A repaired, but they had further problems tonight and having come back in very late will be one of the early cars out tomorrow with the reverse seeding that the event runs.

Once all crews were in it was time for a welcome dinner where Guy presented some special awards and the novice crosses to the newcomers. In the meantime Chris Bruce had been busy on the results computer and the positions for the night were soon on display.

Fully detailed results are available via the Results page but it is also worth highlighting at this stage the performance of the top crews, leading with a total penalty of 28 seconds are Neil Wilson and Matthew Vokes in the Porsche 356 with Keith Davis and Richard Bestwick in an MG BGT just eight seconds further back. Proving that you don’t need to live within 10 miles of the start to do well was the new Dutch / Anglo pairing of Tests regulars Jan Ebus and Iain Tullie in another Porsche 356 – they are only four seconds further back. It’s another local crew – Roger and Leigh Powley in fourth – I first met Roger in 1988 when he competed on the first Pirelli Classic Marathon and it’s great to see him out again, now with his son Leigh. In fifth we have another crew doing their first event together – Jonathan Amery and Pete Johnson in the Reliant Scimitar GTE – possibly the only GTE in rally use unless of course you can tell me otherwise?

Much of tomorrow is spent in Wales but in the early afternoon we cross to England before ending the day at a military venue near Stoke on Trent, a favourite venue for many Tests competitors.

Spectator points can be seen on the website and we hope that some of you will be at these points to give encouragement to the competitors.


The Story So Far – Chester 23:35 31st October 2013

The 12th Rally of the Tests is now underway, Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock has donned his Halloween mask and is now out trying to terrorise the brave marshals manning the controls this evening. Guy and his assistant Anthony Preston have masterminded this year’s event, Guy having successfully passed his probation event last year.

A very high quality field of 82 cars had been attracted to the event but unfortunately as is often the case not all were able to make the Chester start. Regular competitors Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Peter Scott pulled out on their way to the start with axle problems.

For the remainder of the field Scrutineering was relatively trouble free though the mechanical assistance crews were kept busy for most of the day with minor problems had made themselves known on the drive from home.

Furthest travelled competitor is Branko Brkovitch from Canada who is a newcomer to the Tests long with navigator Nick Bloxham so they’ll be receiving their novice crosses at tonight’s welcome dinner. Furthest competitors who actually drove to the event are Michael and Sebastian Haberl from Austria in a Porsche 911, they’ve competed on the Tests before and their aim this weekend will be to Joe Reynolds in a bid to win the FIA Trophy for Regularity Rallies, Joe is reigning champion and has newcomer Andy Pullan on the maps in his BMW Alpina.

In all we have 24 competitors who are new to the event, in some cases both members of the crew are new and others just the driver or co-driver. The nature of the event is such that it’s quite feasible for a new comer to compete on the event and although some take it very seriously and every second counts for others it’s more likely to be hours that are a concern but the sense of camaraderie that exists at all levels of the event makes the event the “must do” event of their annual rally calendar.

To give you a flavour of the event the italicised text below is extracted from the excellent route narrative written by Anthony Preston when he wasn’t busy devising a new test!

Leg One – Chester to Stoke

“Hen Wlad fy Nhadau”

Today we will be exploring the “Land of My Fathers” – Wales and more specifically, the roads that twist and turn their way through the Cambrian Mountains. Since the earliest days of rallying, Wales has been an integral part of every RAC Rally. And so it is with the 2013 Rally of the Tests, as we drive in the wheel tracks of our predecessors (well most of us, anyway…).

Hopefully the Prologue will have settled the nerves and ironed out any teething troubles ready for the main action that lies ahead. We start the first day proper from Hoole Hall (with the first car leaving at 08:00). Navigator’s Note – Route handouts will be issued at the rally desk at Hoole Hall, 30 minutes before your due start time and remember that from now on the event will be reverse  seeded.

Heading north, we use the motorway to bypass Chester and its morning rush hour traffic as we make for Ellesmere Port – home of Vauxhall Motors – for two early morning kart circuit tests that should get cars and crews into the swing of things. Please note that Tests 1/1 and 1/2 are essentially the same tests but with different starts and finish lines – the local CSMA marshalling team will be on hand to observe that you go the right way!

We continue our circumnavigation of Chester before heading west into Wales for the start of the first regularity exploring the lanes that criss-cross Halkyn Mountain, where natives of North America may be seen on part of the route (we’ll keep you guessing on that one…). From the End of regularity, a scenic drive takes us over Moel Arthur, giving extensive views across North Wales and the Vale of Clwyd. This road is narrow and can be busy with local traffic at this time of day so please drive accordingly.

Emerging from the lanes, we pass through the busy market town of Ruthin (where fuel is available). We had hoped to repeat last year’s popular thrash around the local Cattle Market but as today is Market Day then the site will be echoing to the sound of animal noises rather than straight-sixes and twin Webers…

Therefore we head straight to the next regularity and test in the iconic forest of Cloceanog that has been synonymous with rallying (especially the RAC) for nearly 50 years. Due to progress (notably the building of wind farms) and now the presence of the Phytophera Rhamorum infection in the larch trees here (more of this below), we have only been able to secure a limited number of forest tracks but hopefully we have come up with an interesting and challenging regularity to keep you all busy.

After a quick blast around one of the nearby small plantations (manned by North Wales Car Club), we arrive at Glan y Gors kart circuit for another test and the morning meal halt. You may have spotted that we are doing something a bit different with regards the on-event meals this year.

Following your requests for shorter driving days and earlier finish times, we have removed the remote supper halts in the evenings and for this Friday leg we will be having two short daytime meal halts rather than one longer lunch halt (maybe this will be the start of low calorie rallying…).

The British championship circuit at Glan y Gors is purported to be the longest in the North West and our “two lapper” test here – overseen by the 116 Car Club – should prove most enjoyable. After completing the test, please follow the marshals’ instructions and directions to complete a compulsory car wash required by Natural Resources Wales as part of the efforts to stop the spread of the Larch Disease before making your way to the circuit Club House for a well earned Bacon Buttie (ok, maybe not really low calorie rallying after all then…).

Suitably fed and watered (Navigator’s Note – Don’t forget to pick up the Deeliarity handout and Cumulative Average Speed Tables for Regularity 1/4 at TC 1/3), the route heads west “across the tops” on some fine driving roads to a short regularity at Ffestiniog, which affords some fine views, only slightly marred by the brooding bulk of Trawsfynydd Power Station.

After a quick run down the A494 main road (fuel available just off-route), our next challenge is a brace of tests on the Trawsfynydd Ranges, courtesy of Bala Motor Club. Well actually, the next challenge is traversing the ford on the approach road to the Ranges (note to drivers – you better pack a big can of WD40 this year). Hopefully it is not too deep after the recent weather but if it is, we may have to issue a last minute re-route (look out for the orange arrows!). The “Ranges” themselves were built by the army as a tank firing range. After decommissioning, they were purchased by Harris Brushes who used the place as an area for drying pig hair, used in their range of brushes. Then, in the late 1980s, the site became a rally school and stage rally venue which continues to this day.

Our next regularity starts at the Ranges exit and then wends its way south through Coed y Brenin Forest. These woods were once a regular feature on rallies of old but in more recent years, transport of a two-wheeled kind has taken over so please watch out for mountain bikers as they dive on and off the forest tracks and surrounding roads. This section uses Deeliarity route instructions (well we know you love ‘em…), so you will need to keep an eye out for the signposts and landmarks as well as enjoying the unfolding views and spotting the bikers, of course…

The regularity finishes just outside the market town of Dolgellau (where fuel is again available) and from there it is a short run to the next Time Control at Cross Foxes, which was a Control location on many a previous RAC Rally. Recently the pub was given an extensive makeover and is now a fine bar, grill and rooms. Here you can purchase a quick cuppa as you wait for “your minute”.

We recommence the action with a regularity that takes us through the village of Dinas Mawddwy (Synonymous with rally star – Gwyndaf Evans) and over Bwlch y Groes – one of the highest roads in Wales. This area is also home to two of our regular competitors and with the help of their friends and neighbours, we have put together an interesting section. We just hope that the current inclement weather does not thwart their efforts.

After a pleasant drive along the shores of Lake Vyrnwy (whose stone-built dam, constructed in the 1880s, was the first of its kind in the world – you better remember that one for the next pub quiz…) and a quick forest test, we head into the heart of current Welsh road rallying territory and the home of Welsh Border Car Club. The club marked its 50th Anniversary last year and club members – old and new – will be out once again to help marshal and watch the action on the next two “farm” tests, which sees a return of the section “through the barn” complete with its woolly spectators.

The afternoon meal halt (soup and sandwiches we think…) quickly follows, just up the road at the Green Inn in Llangedwyn on the English/Welsh border. This proved a popular stop among competitors and locals alike in 2012 so we are returning again this year. Leaving Llangedwyn (Navigator’s Note – Don’t forget to pick up the Jogularity handout for Regularity 1/6 at TC 1/6), our next test is at the Oswestry Treatment Works. It has taken us a good bit of negotiation to get use of this site, so please try to stay on the roads, otherwise the whole of Liverpool might be without water for the weekend (no comments, now) and it might not be too pleasant for you either!

Passing through Oswestry itself, we make for Rednal kart circuit and a slightly longer test than on our previous visits to this site. We then begin our journey east to Stoke through the lanes of Shropshire and Staffordshire. Please be aware that we have had to re-route the first part of this section so navigators should make sure they use the revised routebook pages issued at Documentation. The next regularity then uses roads we last visited in 2008 to pass the ancient hill fort of Bury Walls.

This sections ends at Hodnet, well-known for its much visited historic hall and walled gardens. The town is also home to the Bear Inn. Our Public Relations man for this region – Shon Gosling (more of him later) came back from his PR visits with many notes on its history. Distilling these down (geddit?) – the inn derives its name from the in-house Bear Pit where in days gone by, the owners kept bears below the bar. It is said that that regulars used to feed the bears food and drink but unfortunately some of the bears died from alcohol poisoning. Apparently bears are infamous for their love of beer but cannot process it to quite the same effect as the pub regulars! (we know a few navigators like that also…). In more recent times, one of the enterprising publicans in the 1970’s created a modern bear pit, which contained two young bears until common sense allowed their release.

Bearing with us (sorry, sorry…), the final test of the day is a simple “around the cones” affair at Market Drayton Cattle Market preceding another quick breather at the Loggerheads Inn Time Control. We actually pass through two villages called Loggerheads on this year’s route (and hopefully this term will not describe the driver-navigator relationship by this stage). Please note that event officials may be carrying out vehicle compliance checks at Loggerheads, ahead of the Swynnerton Army Camp section.

The short evening section that follows comprises a straightforward regularity through the Staffordshire Lanes combined with a Time Control section through Swynnerton Army Camp. The planned regularity route includes a ford, which proved too deep when we last came this way in 2010.

Our marshals and course cars will assess the condition during the afternoon and, if necessary, a reroute will be issued at the Loggerheads TC, so keep your eyes peeled… (or you may get wet feet!)

What can we say about Swynnerton!… Well, since we first visited this venue in 2004, it has been established as a “Testers” favourite venue and has a folklore all of its own. In fact, some regular competitors sign up for the event solely to get their “Swynnerton fix”. Although this is our umpteenth visit, we have managed to find a new way to link the roads together to give you a busy but hopefully enjoyable 20 minutes of action. Once again, Shon Gosling and his merry band of marshals from HRCR North West and local motor clubs will be overseeing that it all runs like a military operation (well, we are on army land after all!).

Having survived Swynnerton (or not…), all that remains is a short run-in to Stoke-on-Trent and our overnight halt at the Holiday Inn after what has hopefully been a testing but enjoyable first day. See you in the bar…

Information from the field has been limited during the day but there were plenty of smiling faces as crews checked into the control at Stoke. Thankfully Swynnerton has lost none of it’s magic and even those who have done it many times before still enjoy the challenge it presents.

Summing up at the end of the day we have unfortunately had a couple more retirements, in no particular order Charles Graves and Ron Palmer in the Jaguar XK150, Gareth Hockridge and Ian Vale, Volvo 122S, Frank Fennell and Kevin Savage, Alfa Romeo Giulia Super, James O’Mahony and Frank Hussey, Volvo 122S.

Many other cars were receiving attention from the event mechanics and as we approach midnight the mechanics have only just come in from attending to many cars but such is their ability at fixing the impossible we should see a good number of cars which would usually be on their way home by now back out in the morning.

The results have had a bit of a shake up and full details can be seen on the Results page but we have a new leader – Jan Ebus and Iain Tullie have taken the lead with a massive 1 minute 50 second lead over yesterday’s leaders Neil Wilson and Matthew Vokes. Paul Wignall and Mark Appleton are only 12 seconds back in third. Paul had been struggling with alternator problems but hopefully these are now resolved and as last year’s winners Paul and Mark will be keen to try and repeat that feat.  Ryan Pickering and Andy Ballantyne are just 11 seconds further back in the Triumph TR4. The top five is completed with Roger and Leigh Powley in the Porsche 911, 8 seconds back.

There is a long way to go before we reach the finish in Harrogate on Sunday afternoon so nobody is going to be able to make any predictions as to who the winning crew will be at this stage.

Leg 1 – Chester to Stoke on Trent

Thankfully there were no retirements on the Prologue but it was not long before we had the first retirement of the event, Stephen Owens and Dale Errock had substituted their usual Austin Healey 3000 for a Mini Cooper S but unfortunately something in the drive train broke which the event mechanics were unable to fix.

It’s been a day of drama for many crews with the bad weather contributing to many electrical issues some of which were to prove very time consuming for the crews concerned. Once again though we were in the home patch of several competitors who were able to call on local assistance to help them out but such is the rallying spirit the same local resources also helped other competitors.

For some though the temptation to return home was a good alternative to the possibility of being stranded but keen to experience the remainder of the event Paul Bloxidge picked up his Land Rover and will be marshalling on Legs 2 and 3. His Porsche 911 having been unusually troublesome since the start of the event. Dilwyn Rees and Edwyn Evans had been stranded for a couple of hours with condenser failure in their Austin Healey 3000 but they were still in good spirits when they arrived at the Stoke overnight halt.

Anyway before more of the action I’ll once again give you the same insight into the event as the competitors had via the route narrative provided by Anthony Preston.

Leg Two – Stoke to Windermere

It’s been a long day today so at the moment I’m only giving you Anthony Preston’s route narrative which gives an excellent summary of the days route – as crews arrived at Bowness it was clear that although it had been a long day and the weather was abysmal the route had been excellent and after some food and a drink or two the smiles returned.

With the late arrival into Windermere results computations are still underway so please keep an eye on the Results page for an update but it does look as though we may have a new leader.

“(One Hundred and) Fifteen miles on the Cumberland Gap”

This is going to be a fairly long and tough day of rallying with 9 Special Tests, 9 Regularities (including 35 Timing Points) and the Evening Time Control Section (encompassing 18 controls) to be tackled before you get to the bar and your beds at the traditional Old England and Belsfield Hotels in Windermere. Because of this we thought we would give you a lie-in. Well no, we didn’t! (what, do you think we had gone soft or something….), however due to usage restrictions at Swynnerton, we are unable to start the tests here till around 08:45.

Navigator’s Note – The MTC this morning is at the Holiday Inn (with the first car starting at 08:30) and you will be able to collect the additional route information 30 minutes before your due start time.

No, it’s not déjà vu, we are going back to Swynnerton Army Camp for the opening action of the day -a brace of three special tests in quick succession. The last of these is the traditional Le Mans Start Acceleration and Braking Test, which returns by popular demand (well some of you said you wanted it back). There will be a slight twist this year in that you will have to negotiate a sharp left hand bend mid way through the test (please don’t get too carried away…).

Leaving Swynnerton, we head north through the lanes to the start of the day’s first regularity which traces the route of the M6 motorway north. In fact, this will be a theme for most of the day as we generally follow this key road artery up into Lancashire and Cumbria. From the end of this section, we bypass the railway town of Crewe to start a second regularity across the Cheshire Plains, which takes us to Oulton Park – one of the country’s finest race tracks.

Although the main circuit is busy with trackday enthusiasts, we have an equally challenging test on the neighbouring rally circuit. Please note that this features a low friction tarmac surface and is notoriously slippery, especially when it is wet – marshals from Liverpool Motor Club will be on hand to score your pirouettes for artistic impression and technical merit… But before you get chance to “go for a spin”, there is chance for a morning cuppa in the Chequers Restaurant.

The final competitive element of the morning is an interesting regularity section around Sink Moss, which brings us to the edge of the South Lancashire conurbations. Really, the only sensible way past these is to use the M6 Motorway to bypass the numerous town centres and associated traffic. We did try hard to find a test to break up the journey to lunch at Hoghton Tower but we were ultimately thwarted in our efforts despite having an excellent long autotest all but finally agreed. Therefore, you have a longish motorway run north to lunch, however this should allow you to get some time in hand for a slightly longer break (see, there is an “up” side).

As mentioned above, our lunch halt venue is at Hoghton Tower – a fine fortified manor house (and apparently the only true Baronial hall in Lancashire – who knew!), just east of Preston. On arrival, you

will be directed to the main car park where the Mechanical Assistance Crews (Sweeps in old money) will be on hand to fix any minor ailments and then you need to proceed on foot to lunch at the restaurant in the main courtyard. One of Hoghton’s reputed claims to fame (although this is questioned by some) is that it was here, in 1617, that King James I knighted a particularly tasty loin of beef (“Sir Loin”) and that is how the steak got its name. With that in mind we think you can all guess what will be on the menu for lunch today – yes, Lancashire Hotpot, of course!…

After lunch (Navigator’s Note – Don’t forget to pick up the Deeliarity route handout for Regularity  2/8 at TC 2/4), we begin the afternoon section with a quick autotest for the Mini men (run by Knowldale Car Club) in the car parks of the Red Rose Hub site followed by a regularity through the Lancashire Lanes and a longer test at Barnacre Reservoir (manned by marshals from various local motor clubs).

Then we take to the moors for the next regularity to the east of Lancaster that drops us down into the valley of the River Lune, which will be our travelling companion for the next few hours. Our afternoon tea stop is at the Whoop Hall Hotel, close to Kirkby Lonsdale. This historic coaching inn has been the start and finish venue for many a rally over the years and is the ideal place for a quick refreshments break before getting “back in the saddle”. Just up the road is the next test – a short slalom around the cones at the old bus depot – presided over by Dan Willan and his team from Kirkby Lonsdale Motor Club.

Darkness will be encroaching by the time you start the next regularity along the Lune Valley, which will add a new dimension to the challenges ahead (and there are a few). Please note that there is a very narrow listed bridge on this section – the set average speed at this point is low so there should be no reason for you to inspect the stonework at close quarters…

This section finishes at the Westmoreland Motorway Services, where fuel is available. If you are running low then you should fill up here but there is a further opportunity to take on fuel in Kirkby Stephen during the evening section (the garage there is staying open late especially for us, so we would encourage you to make it worth their while). We are now in the Eden Valley and members of the local motor club will be manning the next two “farm lane” tests, which will be familiar to many of you as we have used them on previous visits to this area.

You will then get chance for another breather – before the challenging evening section that lies ahead – with the second of the day’s meal halts (for “tea and scones”) at the fine Appleby Manor Hotel. We were last here in 2009 and the owners and staff were most keen to welcome us back for a return visit. The town of Appleby itself is probably best known for the annual Horse Fair, held every June and with a history dating back to at least the 12th Century.We are not going to say too much about the Evening Section that follows except that most of you will have already worked out that the Time Control section bit will be on the Warcop Army Ranges – another “Testers” favourite and a venue that seems to present a stern challenge to all competitors each time we visit (and we expect more of the same this year…). As you might expect, we have one or two controls on this section to check you go the correct way and maintain the time schedule (“yeah right!” – we hear you curse) and these will be manned by a team of local marshals lead by Mike Dunning.

Having escaped Warcop, the rest of the evening comprises three relatively short regularities exploring the Cumbrian fell roads (sounds easy…). If the conditions are anything like they were on our final route survey, when visibility was somewhat hampered by fog and mist then the results could prove to be just a bit interesting. We won’t even mention what conditions were like in 2009, when we last tackled these roads. Probably best to start eating those carrots now and have that can of WD40 within easy reach…

Emerging from the lanes, just north of Kendal, it is a short run to the overnight halt in Windermere. En route, you should pick up fuel at Ings Garage (which is again staying open late especially for the rally). Please note – there are very few fuel stations passed on rally route tomorrow morning before the lunch halt so it is best to fill up here.

Windermere is one of the best known towns in the Lake District, situated on the shores of the largest natural lake in England. Although it’s now one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, it was a sleepy backwater until the railway arrived in 1847. The town has its associations with the RAC Rally and featured as the mid-event rest halt (yup, there was only one!) in 1980.

If we are being strictly accurate, then our overnight halt is actually in Bowness-on-Windermere and you will be housed in two fine Victorian hotels close to the lake shore – the Old England Hotel and the Belsfield Hotel. With the development of buildings and roads over the years, things are a bit chaotic in the centre of town with parking being a “bit tight”. Therefore, please closely follow the routebook instructions and the Windermere Procedures map that you were issued in the pre-event mailing.

After a long day behind the wheel, we are sure that the dining room and the bar at the Old England will be buzzing this evening with tales of “derring-do” and “what ifs”, as crews look back on another day of classic ROTT action…

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