RAC Rally of the Tests 2023 – the third and final Leg
Dan Willan and Niall Frost, Volvo PV544, win back to back Rally of the Tests 2022-23
*Paul Dyas, Martyn Taylor take double 2nd places 2022-23 in Volvo Amazon
*Paul Crosby, Ali Procter 3rd in Mini Cooper S, completing same podium position in 2 years
*Last day drama as Belgian crew of Vanderspinnen and Vanoverschelde lose 2nd with late slip off the road
*Teams give overwhelming praise for the latest RoTT designed and implemented by Joint Clerks of the Course, George Mullins and Andy Pullan
They said beware of the sting in the tail, they said it isn’t over until it's over, but all the warnings turned into reality as mechanical gremlins, a road block, a scrappy test and a slippery forest caught out some leading runners.
Yet sailing through all the obstacles were Dan Willan and Niall Frost in their 1962 Volvo PV544 as the pair tightened their grip on the event and even slipped through a road block to seal a double RAC Rally of the Tests win in imperious style. Since they took the lead from Darell and Nicky Staniforth’s Mini on the 1st Leg, they became uncatchable.
Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor hauled themselves up the ranks in their Volvo Amazon to take third, then jumped into second place when the popular Belgian crew of Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde slipped off the road, stuck in a ditch in the final Catterick Military Training forest complex. Kurt and Bjorn had been mighty throughout, holding second but not quite being able to match Willan and Frost. It was a sad end to their RoTT campaign but Bjorn was philosophical when he said afterwards; “It’s the game, we know it can happen, but now this is unfinished business – we will be back!” The crew were pulled out by the Mechanical Assistance Team so they were able to finish 8th and win their class.
Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor also did the double, this time for second place as they did last year.
Paul Crosby and Ali Procter completed the podium in third, as they also did in 2022. Therefore the 2023 RoTT podium was a repeat of last year! Of the three, Paul and Ali were the ones suffering the most from the final day ‘sting.’
Firstly they had a rear brake jam on, then a loose timing chain which sprayed oil everywhere in the engine bay, then they had to re-route, like others, as a farmer blocked a road with his truck! To compound matters he and Ali Procter missed a turn in a test as the Acaster Maze proved to be just that, as piles of rubble and manure obscured some turns, but a time penalty was given.
Despite this, the crew finished third and as Paul Crosby said;” It just proves, the old rally saying, ‘never give up, keep it going’. What we were very grateful for was Darell and Nicky Staniforth who stopped to help us with repairs otherwise we might not have got onto the podium.”
The Staniforths returned to the fray to fight back to fourth in their Mini Cooper S and win their class. John King and Mike Cochrane were an impressive fifth overall as the new combination enjoyed the reliability and speed of the Toyota MR2, though Mike wasn’t as happy about the cramped cockpit for his 6’ 2” frame!
Steve Head was justly rewarded for his spectacular yet controlled slides in his RS2000 and a 6th place overall on his RoTT debut – hence the Newcomer Driver Award. Understandably he also captured the Test Pilot Award for the fastest driver overall on the tests. But he was the first to apportion the credit to his young navigator Oil Waldock, the youngest crew member in the rally at just 17.
Although the 60 surviving rally cars were occupied with the 163 mile final day route, full on RoTT style with 5 regularities and 9 tests, even the busiest navigator couldn’t fail to notice Yorkshire at its best as the sun bathed the landscape. From Grewethorpe, to Harmby and Kirby Malzear, all amazing old villages of Yorkshire stone, then across Dallow Moor, it was a vista full of treats for the eye. The autumnal colours of the canopies of trees made the roads look pretty, but underneath they were very taxing but a dream to drive.
There were no less than 8 German crews who made the trip over for the RoTT and some of them picked up awards, they were certainly the loudest group at the ceremony on Sunday night! Thomas Koerner’s navigator Udo Schauss, on his first ever RoTT, received the ‘Newcomer Navigator Award.’
The first ‘All female’ crew to finish and so receive a Special Award were Barbara Richter and Britta-Christin Rehberg, they were so thrilled with the rally that they were already planning to enter the 2024 event at the finish line!
Barbara, “We had a lot of fun, it was really good, the first time for me as a driver and I had a great co-driver in Britta!
Britta; “It was very tough, it was difficult but I did my best, the rally was special we loved it and we also have other German crews here for camaraderie, there are 8 of them.”
Barbara “Lots of crews come over from Germany as well because we have more things to do here. I don’t know the words, but the tests, the roads, and on tests we can go fast, in Germany we have no tests. In Germany we drive slowly, there are too many controls, in fact lots of controls.
“Britta and I are already talking about coming back next year, we will come back next year!”
Regular German competitor Klaus Mueller and Italian navigator Rolf Pellini are already HERO-ERA podium sitters, such as in The Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo earlier this year. They are now both lying second in their respective HERO Cup for Drivers and the Golden Roamer Championship for Navigators, Klaus is just 3.5 points behind Paul Bloxidge going into LeJog next month whilst Rolf is .25 of a point behind Sally Woof!
The ‘Lite’ division of the RAC Rally of the Tests was an enormous success. One of the instigators, Malcolm Dunderdale fished third with Anita Wickens navigating, but the win for the Charge of the ‘Lite’ Brigade, went to Steve and Julia Robertson in their MGB GT V8. Julia; “It has proved to be an enormous success, I think even more will do it next year.”
And a quick note to follow up on Paul Crosby’s rally moto of ‘Never give up,’ David Hemstock and Colin Readwin’s 1982 Austin Allegro suffered collapsed suspension. Drooping to one side, they couldn’t continue on Saturday. But they went away to regroup, waited for B & Q to open early Sunday morning and bought wood, which they used to reinforce the suspension and got back in the rally to finish in their wooden Allegro!
Niall Frost, winner RAC Rally of the Tests 2023
Niall, “Incredible. It has still not sunk in yet, we just had a great fun time in the car. It’s been a really, really good event, we’ve just enjoyed it. The result came from great teamwork, but also from some great driving from Dan, he certainly knows how to handle the car.
“I absolutely agree with Dan that this is the big event to win. I’ve looked up to the winners of this event since I started rallying in 2015, and to follow them is just a dream come true.”
Dan Willan winner RAC Rally of the Tests 2023
Dan; “I mean, the car has been amazing. Full marks to Kevin Savage who looks after the Volvo, it didn’t miss a beat all weekend.
“There’s no greater event to win in this sport, it’s unreal, to manage the double is absolutely great.”
Julia and Steve Robertson, MGB GT V8, winners of the first ever RAC Rally of the Tests ’Lite’ version
Julia; “A great success from my perspective, I think it’s the first time I’ve come to the end of the Rally of the Tests and can actually say I enjoyed it! It takes the stress off all the plotting, I mean, there was enough stress in the rally, but not in excess”.
Steve, “Yes, I think with a few tweaks, you could have even greater success and maybe get more people on it next year. Congratulations!”
Paul Crosby and Ali Procter, Mini Cooper S, 3rd place RAC Rally of the Tests
Paul; “We have had a roller coaster three days, unbelievable highs and lows. And luckily today was a high. We were in the doldrums yesterday with our performances, but we had a clean run today. It just goes to prove you should never give up. I’m delighted, Ali has done a fantastic job as always and I’m absolutely chuffed with the podium.”
Ali; “Yeah, a really challenging day! We struggled this morning with some car issues then they threw some test puzzles at us and just general issues this morning, but this afternoon we got our heads together, then had a good afternoon with no mistakes.”
Kurt Vanderspinnen, Lotus Cortina, 8th place and class winner.
“Well, we overshot a junction at a right turn then we had to reverse for about five/six metres, and then a long corner which was very, very slippery, it was a long turn and at the end I couldn’t hold the car any longer and we ran off. So, we got stuck there, luckily, one of the mechanical crews arrived, around 20 minutes later to pull us out and we could continue to finish, but our result was gone. So that’s rally.”
Andy Pullan, Joint Clerk of the Course, RAC Rally of the Tests
“I am totally satisfied. Yeah, it’s always a massive undertaking with such a rich history of an event. And we’ve gone into new territories, come up with new venues and looked at how we can reuse existing venues in a new and interesting way. The feedback has been brilliant.
“We had some superb weather today in Yorkshire to make up for this slightly average day in Yorkshire on Saturday.
“It has been a great contest that kept people on their toes right until the last day. The top three changed with the afternoon drama right at the end.
“We’ve got a great team with HERO-ERA, so although we were stepping into Guy Woodcock’s shoes, I I didn’t feel like the pressure was too much. We’ve got a strong support network with lots of people to ask for the right advice.”
Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor, Volvo Amazon, 2nd overall
Paul; “It’s been a bit hard, it’s been challenging again, they threw a good TC section right at the end, which accounted for a few people. But if you’d asked me this on Thursday, if we can get up to second, I’d have said no way.
“The Joint Clerk of the Courses, Andy Pullan and George Mullins have done a fantastic job on the new look and feel event, so much so that I say, the king is dead, long live the new kings!”
George Mullins Joint Clerk of the Course, RAC Rally of the Tests
George;” I’m really thrilled. It’s been fantastic putting it on, it has been an exciting event for everybody and we have had many positive comments.
“Working with Andy has been interesting, we’ve been arguing like an old married couple, but you know, that’s really healthy because we’ve been in places and he wants to do something, I want to do something else, but we kind of have an argument then come up with the best solution. I think it’s worked very well due to teamwork. The results are very satisfying.”