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Winter Challenge to Monte-Carlo

HERO HQ – Wed 12th Feb 2014

The 19th running of The Winter Challenge sees the event once again start from Race Retro at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, and also from Troyes, amedieval town to the south east of Paris. Attracting many international entries from as far afield as Japan and the United States, the class and depth of experience amongst the competitors is sure to provide us with some spectacular tussles as the event winds its way to the finish on the world famous Col de Turini near Sospel, France.

On the UK leg however, this year sees the added bonus of a mini event attached to The Winter Challenge named “Retro Challenge”. This allows crews to join in the atmosphere and excitement surrounding Race Retro and Winter Challenge, yet not compete the full distance into and beyond the Alps.

Amongst the competitors, several names pop out for their successes and more recent achievements. Starting with Howard Warren/Guy Woodcock, a formidable pairing, Warren, last years winner of the Throckmorton Challenge has Rally of the Tests Clerk of Course and 2013 Pirelli Classic Marathon winner Woodcock sat alongside him. They have to be one of the crews in the running. Another crew in top form, their stunning Escort RS1600 one of the sights of the event on this year’s “Rally of the Tests” are Peter Naaktgeboren/Bart den Hartog, the flamboyant Nederland crew always spectacular and a force to be reckoned with.

On the same event that Peter/Bart were so entertaining on, the Porsche 356 of Jan Ebus was always in contention for top honours. The final day proving just too tricky and Ebus/Iain Tullie slipped to second. The Winter Challenge sees Ebus paired with Jan Berkhof, with the disappointment of the Rally of the Tests behind him, could this be the year Ebus/Berkhof take home the coveted top spot?

As stated previously, a truly international field graces this years event, two crews who represent the Tokyo University Historic Rally Team have brought us some Japanese Exotica to admire, firstly in their Toyota TE27 Sprinter Trueno are Yoshinori Yamaguchi and Kohe Kosaka. Secondly, Nobura Matsunami and Susumu Nagai compete in their Nissan PA11 Violet, we are sure many spectators along the route will want to see these superb vehicles in action.

A last look at the competitors reveals a name that is becoming familiar to regular historic rally competitors. United States of America’s Owain Lloyd is partnered by the vastly experienced Brit, Peter Scott, this crew has competed together regularly over the last couple of years, with Owain now getting the historic rallying bug and after a recent foray across Africa in a Mercedes 280CE, the pair have a taste for colder climes, this could be a crew to watch out for!

On Sunday 23rd February, The GB and French starts take place at Race Retro, Stoneleigh Park and Troyes, France and make their way to overnight halts. In the GB leg, overnight this year is a ferry crossing, whilst the continental counterparts are staying on terra firm in Chartres. Monday 24th sees both groups join up for a driving test at “Ouest Karting” in Aunay les Bois. Lunch is taken at a restaurant on the famous Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. From here, running roughly south east, day two ends in Bourges where the event will halt overnight, ready for an early start on Tuesday 25th. At 07.30 the first crews will depart Bourges; this will be the longest day of the event as competitors start to notice the word “Col” more often.  Valence is the overnight halt, first crews due in around 22.00hrs. Wednesday morning and we head off into the Vercors, this region still being used on WRC Monte-Carlo, heading into the overnight rest halt at Saint Raphael, the event will have passed iconic Masif Central and the famous Mont Ventoux, some of the most beautiful scenery France has to offer..

The final day sets of from Saint Raphael and pushes north east past Cannes and on into the final Cols.. The Col de Bleine our second highest at 1439m, and then finally onto the finish on Col de Turini, at 1604m high.

After the finish, the event makes its way into Monte-Carlo for the gala dinner and award presentation. The stories will be flowing, as will the wine and jokes as crews recount their adventures to one another. Results will be posted nightly, as will leg updates, this is of course subject to network availability. We will also be “tweeting” pictures from the event and these will link up to our Facebook site also, please follow us!

Botley Park, Southampton – Sun 23rd Feb 2014, 19.41

An over cast day has seen the 19th running of The Winter Challenge get underway from Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry. The venue was also home to this year’s Race Retro, and saw many visitors to the HERO Village in anticipation of the coming event.

As an added bonus to this years rally, a second event, Retro Challenge ran alongside The Winter Challenge, providing further spectacle and interest for the many spectators and patrons at Stoneleigh. The Retro Challenge cars and crews were the first to be scrutineered and have documentation completed. An added bonus for these crews were complimentary two day passes for Race Retro, many of the crews were newcomers or novices to the sport of historic rallying, and were relishing in the atmosphere provided by Race Retro and the HERO Village.

Once again the event has been organised by Classic Rally Association’s Jeremy Dickson, a true stalwart in historic rallying, Jeremy has a meticulous and exacting eye for detail to test all the crews on the event. The longevity and span of this event proving that the arduous and tricky driving conditions this challenge provides is endearing to competitors. This year saw the event set off from not just Race Retro, but also Troyes in France, both sets of competitors having to tackle a similar format,

The UK starters first completed a test at the “Rallying with Group B” stage at Race Retro, the mud that had been previously deposited by the fire breathing monsters making the mixed sealed surface slippy and causing many sideways moments for the more exuberant competitors. Howard Warren/Guy Woodcock and Charles Colton/Ryan Pickering were on the mark from the word go, followed rapidly by Tomas de Vargas Machuca/Brian Whyte.  Crews exited the test and made their way south past Oxford, towards the village of Newbridge and the Rose Revived public house. It was here that some of the crews had passed on news of dropping time already, but also an act of true generosity from first time crew Sam Dawson

and Rory Game in the BMW 1602 Arrive and Drive car. During a regularity section, they came across a stricken Audi that had slid off into a ditch. Quick thinking and some real effort saw the two novices  from Classic Cars magazine manhandle the stricken car, with baby in a child seat in the rear, out of the ditch and out of trouble. Another car with problems was car 6, the Volvo 122s of David Hughes, Richard Dix and Martin Neal who succumbed to a flooded road on Lambourn Downs, their car crying no more and leaving them with damp feet. However, we are happy to report that all is well and they have re-joined the event.

The Winter Challenge crews arrived at Botley Park, Southampton, with faces reflecting the difficulties they had encountered, but often the first day is the worst with crews taking a little while to settle in. It was pretty much the same for the Retro Challenge event, however one crew proved dominant. A stunning display at the first tests at Race Retro saw John Rondeau and Steve Gipson forge out a lead, however, a fine response from Duncan Wild/Jez Boakes saw the Jaguar pair caught and demoted to second, third place went to John and Pauline Dignan. the husband and wife team taking a measured approach to the event. These results are provisional.

The Winter Challenge heads on now to France, where we will update this post as we receive it from the Continental starters, and also, of course with the results when they are updated.

St. Aignan, France 15.35 local time.

Update at Monday Lunch halt, Rest L’Arbor, Mulsanne.

The Winter Challenge is well and truly underway! Starters from Race Retro and Troyes met up today at Ouest Karting near Aunay Les Bois. It was apparent that the rally was starting to sort out the crews, as many competitors were finding the navigation tricky on French maps. Jan Ebus/Jan Berkhof in their Porsche 356 were in fine form on the first joint test, an unofficial time of 1.39.05 setting a benchmark for the other crews to follow. Many tried, but ex Irish Rally Cross Champion Dermot Carnegie stormed the test with navigator Paul Bosdet, the Volvo PV544 dancing around the circuit, tail sliding and tyres protesting as they went 1.36.0 exactly. The flamboyance continued, Dermot found his time was smashed as Tomas de Vargas Machuca/Brian Whyte set a staggering 1.28.85, their 911 spending as much time sideways as it did forward facing on this unbelievably twisty and technical circuit. The sting in the tail came though, the crew enjoying the experience so much that a code board was missed, all the hard work was in vain. This handed the baton to Charles Colton/Ryan Pickering, the affable publican Pickering showing his skill and guile as he spotted the code board across the circuit and noting it so as not to slow the Porsche 911 down. They set an unofficial time of 1.34.09 to take fastest correct test of the day.

A series of regularities saw the event heading towards Le Mans, more specifically a lunch halt at the Rest L’Arbors on the Mulsanne straight. Whilst
competitors enjoyed a fine lunch, the event was re-joined by Mark and Matthew Humphries in their Porsche 911, brake caliper problems had forced them to miss a day, but the allure of the event was too much and help from local garages saw them back with us. There was also drama in the lanes coming into lunch, Tim Lawrence and Tony Davies had a very close call with a local, only the quick thinking of Lawrence in seeking refuge in a soft ditch avoided what could have been a nasty incident. A local farmer was very kind in stopping to help, returning to his farm to fetch a tractor and extract the stricken MGB GT without much damage and getting the pair back in the event with minimal damage. The navigation was becoming more difficult, as seasoned campaigners Howard Warren/Guy Woodcock fell foul to the route, a wrong approach costing the pair heavily and forcing them down the order of crews.

It wasn’t just Warren and Woodcock that had problems, a tricky not as map junction on one of the regularities had competitors scratching their heads, many came into lunch with heads down only to realise they were not alone in struggling to find this tricky slot which was hidden behind a hedge. It seems that we have lost car 5, George Coelho and Margo O’Brien in their Volvo 122. The pair went OTL at lunch and then sections of the route to rejoin us at the overnight halt in Bourges – George’s first job when he arrived was to wash the car!

Even in this early part of the event, the tests provided by the French maps and countryside are proving problematic, another update will follow later at the evening halt, we will try to post some tweets and Facebook pictures from the days final test.

Bourges, France 23.25 local time.

After lunch at Mulsanne, Winter Challenge 2014 has moved south west on to Bourges, here the crews are taking a well earned rest before the rally starts heading into more undulating country. Today has seen beautiful weather, at times an indicated 17 Celsius and stunning blue skies.

Heading away from lunch, competitors took in three regularities skirting in and around the Loire Valley before heading into Bourges. Along the way a test was held at the unbelievably tight and twisty Kart circuit in Thenay. It was becoming obvious that Jan Ebus/Jan Berkhof had a tight hold on the event, the Dutch Masters only dropping eleven seconds up to Mulsanne. One of the other stories of the event was coming from Wrightington’s Bill Ainscough, partnered by Jason Dearden, the Lancia Aurelia’s dynamo proving problematic all the way into France. They have soldiered on and have been climbing steadily up the leader board. Dermot Carnegie and Paul Bosdet are currently the crew on the move, setting off tomorrow hot on the heels of Ebus/Berkhof, the Volvo pair could be ones to watch.

One crew that had a difficult morning, Howard Warren/ Guy Woodcock came into their own in the afternoon, Llanferres based Woodcock’s smile returned to his face after dropping just four seconds coming into Bourges. Another team who are really getting their teeth into the event are David Hughes, Richard Dix and Martin Neal, after drowning out in a flood on Sunday; they are having a superb run and holding well in the top three. Praise also has to go to Owain Lloyd/Peter Scott, in his first ever regularity event, Lloyd is showing excellent restraint and the smoothness required of a top regularity driver, being new to the car however, the tests are starting to come together, a steady drive all round.

We set off tomorrow at 07:30 with the event heading further south east and into areas where the word Col will start to appear, this event is turning out to be a real scrap amongst some top crews, more info from Lunch at Ebreuill.

Valence, France 23.20 Local time.

A 07:30 start saw The 2014 Winter Challenge competitors leave Bourges; the coming day was going to see the event head into the hills, more undulating countryside and hairpins were the order of the day, that and tricky to navigate slots that would see the overall order change several times. The cars had been reverse seeded last night, so first on the road this morning were Porsche pairing Mark and Matthew Humphries, having their calliper repaired en route to Le mans yesterday saw them back on the regularities. All tests were finished yesterday; the run now is purely about the skills of both the crew as they make their way into the Puy and Cols.

Also rejoining and second on the road were George Coelho and Margo O’Brien, the alternator had cried no more on Monday’s leg, luckily the crew had a spare and have managed to fit it. We have had a couple of retirements, Marcel & Alfons Geurts in the big Mercedes and Markus Hauri/Peter Lehmann in the BMW 2800 CS. Markus/Peter suffering head gasket problems. Another crew to leave the event has been Bill Ainscough/Jason Dearden. Unfortunately, the dynamo problems they have experienced have caused them to pull out as they were making fine progress.

Two crews that seem to be having the most fun are Cars 15 and 8, Sam Dawson and Rory Game are covering the event for Classic Cars magazine, and as well as being the heroes on Sunday, they have found just how fickle the emotions of  rallying can be. Tired after a long day on Monday, a wrong exit on an Autoroute saw them take an impromptu trip towards Paris, returning to the hotel later, they found out their mistake had been spotted and joined in the joke with other crews. The winners of last years HERO competition at Race Retro to win an Arrive and Drive experience on The Winter Challenge, Chris Easting and Guy Aldworth were having the time of their life judging by the smiles on their faces. This is their first ever rally, sometimes the route is tough, but a steep learning curve has seen them stay in the event, the Arrive and Drive Cortina GT giving faultless service.

The day’s competition started at Domaine de Cogny, what appeared to be a relatively straight forward regularity proved to have a sting in the tail. Crews set off from a self start, the ensuing not as map section of road caught a few out. As crews approached what most navigators would call as square left, they were greeted with an unpaved road to their left, and a road straight on that turned left, giving the impression that this was the correct route, but was in fact a dead end. The unpaved was the right option, quickly giving way to tarmac and a sharp right into a well disguised timing point.

One of the next tricky junctions to catch many crews out was on the Vernusse regularity, a beautiful twisty section that started within a wood and took in narrow farm lanes with hidden junctions and a slot right over a bridge that caught many crews out at Viaduc de La Bouble. George Coelho/Margo O’Brien were first through, followed by the two crews from Tokyo University Historic Rally team, the Toyota of Yoshinori Yamaguchi and Kohei Kusaka and the Nissan PA11 Violet of Noboru Matsunami/Sosumu Nagasi , all three crews missing the slot, not realising their mistake and picking up hefty penalties.

Steve Blunt and Andy Alcomb are one of the crews who are slowly making their way up the leader board, the new pairing are now starting to gel and have had a fine performance today to see them lie eleventh overall. Dermot Carnegie and Paul Bosdet weren’t as lucky, some tricky navigation going in to lunch saw them lose time on the road, demoting them from second to tenth. In ninth, Herman Maas/James Ewing are having a steady drive, above them are Patrick Burke/Elise Whyte in eighth, Richard Prosser and Alan Pettit have slipped to seventh, demoted by Howard Warren/Guy Woodcock who, despite a wrong slot at Viaduc de La Bouble, have had a string of good performances after a poor start. Dave Maryon/ Neil Worsfold lie fifth, a great performance today without fuss keeping the MGB pair in contention. Paul MerryWeather/Lee Vincent in the big Mercedes have slipped to fourth, Charles Colton/Ryan Pickering, both responding to Clerk of Course Bob Rutherford’s teasing last night at lunch and now pressing on for second. However, the terrific trio of David Hughes, Richard Dix and Martin Neal lie second; a stunning performance today saw them take time from overnight leaders Jan Ebus/Jan Berkhof to push the Porsche pair.. Ebus and Berkhof still lead, but are being pressed by the Volvo crew who are now just 14 seconds behind.

Bourdeaux, France, 11.22 Local time

The Winter Challenge 2014 has now hit the first snow of the event. Currently, we have 8 inches of snow at morning coffee, this is making progress difficult.

Last night in Valence, crews returned after a difficult night within the mountain ranges, the fog and twisty roads adding to the tricky navigation and not as map roads. David Hughes, Richard Dix and Martin Neal had been challenging Jan Ebus and Jan Berkhof hard, the Dutch pairing responded with an epic show of skill and determination, they mastered the difficult conditions and have extended their lead from eleven seconds to three minutes thirty-one seconds.

Chas Colton/Ryan Pickering lie second and the Volvo crew of  Hughes, Dix and Neal have been demoted to third. Crews having difficulties last night were Warren/Woodcock, electrical problems saw them assisted by Graham Walker/Sean Toohey in their Range Rover, we are happy to report that the pro Kusaka discovered how tricky the French Alps can be last night and had some problems; again, we are delighted to see them back out this morning.

Most of the crews have reported difficulties with weather and this has hampered navigation greatly. As stated earlier in this passage, snow is now with us and we expect the Challenge to be even greater!

St.Raphael, Sud de France, 21:22 Local time.

We have been hit by snow! The forecast we had was correct, albeit one day late, The Winter Challenge has begun properly. As we left Valence this morning, expectation was very high for the leg to come; a grey miserable day greeted us as the rally departed.

Spirits were high after a good nights rest, amongst the crews, the stories of the previous night in the misty cols were still reverberating around as we ate breakfast. Advance warnings were received from marshals that weather was closing in, and as the event started to climb, the white blanket began to deepen, the snow flakes were huge. Into the Vercors Winter Challenge climbed, the Cols here giving navigators a respite, but ensuring that the drivers were kept on the ball at all times.

The snow ploughs were busy, keeping the routes as clear as possible, Patrick Burke/Elise Whyte had mechanical problems, which turned out to be a simple fix, this kept them in the running despite a spin as they made their way into Lunch.

Mike Howells/Alan Whitehead were having a steady run in their MGB with no real problems noted as were Gerhard Plasonig/Horst Nestaval in their PV544 Sport. Paul Crosby/David Groom were having fun in the snow, the 911 keeping the grins on their faces. Just before lunch however, were two regularities rolled into one, starting off near Espenel, an easy climb up to St-Benoit-en-Diois, where navigation was a little tricky due to the nature of the roads gave way to more hairpins over Col de Pennes and finishing up to the west of Aucelon.

Heading south to lunch, it became obvious that the weather was starting to cause crews problems, the buzz and hubbub in the café at La-Motte-Chalancon was amazing, several competitors had brushed with the scenery and the service crew were kept busy with temporary repairs.Forcalquier was the base for the supper, the amassed cars in the town square drawing a great deal of attention from the locals, many posing with the cars and asking about the nature of the event. A lengthy night lay in front of crews as we head to the St. Raphael area on the south coast of France, the snow behind us until tomorrow, crews will be arriving at the hotel around 21:40

As we arrive in St Raphael, the shifts in results today have been immense. Dave Maryon/Neil Worsfold in their MGB have been the dark horses of the event, they have been chipping away at the other crews, in Forcalquier they had risen to third, demoting the three wise men, Hughes, Dix and Neal to fourth. The Volvo crew were not taking this and have overcome Maryon/Worsfold once again to regain their status.The Flying Dutchmen, Jan Ebus/Jan Berkhof are dominant, taking more time away from Charles Colton/Ryan Pickering. In fifth are Howard Warren/Guy Woodcock, considering the start they endured to this event, to be where they are at the moment is spectacular, grit and determination.

Whoever wins this event can take pride in the knowledge that they have conquered some of the most demanding and challenging roads in Europe. We look forward to bringing you the results tomorrow from the legendary Col de Turini, and of course, Monte Carlo, the world capital of rallying.

.  “Update” Many crews have arrived at St.Raphael and are communicating the very difficult last regularity, many not as map roads have kept the crews entertained and will make interesting reading tomorrow.

Monte Carlo, Monaco 18:52 Local Time.

The Winter Challenge 2014 has been conquered by Jan Ebus/Jan Berkhof. A stunning display from the Dutch crew in their Porsche 356 has seen them lead from the very start. Speaking with Ebus, it was clear what this victory meant, the smile on his face as wide as the Cote d’Azur, he lept from the car at the finish line and exclaimed “No second this time!” referring to his narrow defeat on the Rally Of The Tests. In second were the dark horses of the event, David Hughes, Richard

Dix and Martin Neal, written off by many as a novelty entry, this spurred the trio into proving the doubters wrong, they narrowly held off Charles Colton and Ryan Pickering into third.

Ebus and Berkhof were in a determined frame of mind from the word go, even a broken accelerator pedal approaching a control in deep snow on leg four could not stop them. One of the drives and performances of the event has come from Patrick Burke who was partnered by Elise Whyte. Although already an experienced navigator, Elise has kept a level head when the pressure has mounted, this also applies to Patrick, who despite mechanical difficulties and some moments on the Cols has delivered a measured approach that has seen them finish in tenth.

Other performances of note go to Dave Maryon/Neil Worsfold, Owain Lloyd/Peter Scott and Chris Easting and Guy Aldworth. This was Easting and Aldworth’s first ever rally, they won this chance through a HERO competition at Race Retro in 2013.

Guy spoke to me during the event and expressed just how satisfying the pair felt this experience was to them, they are ecstatic with 19th overall.  Maryon and Worsfold were quietly climbing up through the order, an extremely accomplished performance that saw them take fourth overall and what Dave describes as his best ever rally result. Owain Lloyd has competed on several different types of rallies, this however was his first regularity style event, and even the massively experienced Scott passed praise onto Lloyd for his attitude and steady performance

We left St. Raphael this morning in glorious sunshine and headed to the Cols, the first test was just south of Peymeinade, pushing north, the rally wound its way over the Foret Domaniale and on to La Tour via Le Payet. The roads in this area are scarred by the snow and ice, and are difficult to traverse, even at lower levels. Snow was apparent as we climbed onto the Col de Turini, the snow and ice making life tricky for the last push. This was also the sting in the tail, the ascent up the Col was amazing, a series of technically difficult hairpins with four timing points to measure the crews’ progress. The smiles on crews faces as they reached the summit were a sight to behold, the satisfaction of competing and completing one of the most difficult events in Europe was plain to see.

We are now readying ourselves for the Gala Dinner at Le Café de Paris here in Monaco and to celebrate the successful running of this year’s Classic Rally Association Winter Challenge. Congratulations from us all at HERO-CRA to not just Jan Ebus and Jan Berkhof on a deserved win, but to every single competitor that took part and finished. See you on the next HERO-CRA event!

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