An Event Designed For Experts
Congratulations to all of the crews that took part and completed LEJOG 2023
RESULTS ARE NOW FINAL
THERE ARE NO OVERALL WINNERS FOR THIS EVENT – EVERYONE WHO CROSSES THE LINE IS A WINNER
Land’s End to John O’ Groats Reliability Trial 2023 is toughest for 7 years
44 Crews Start, only 27 Crews Finish
*Just Four Gold Medals Awarded in a Classic ‘to the script’ Edition of the Event
*30 Years Since Original John Brown Designed Endurance Rally
*Record-breaking 7 gold medals for Andy Lane and Iain Tullie
*Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini are provisional HERO Cup and Golden Roamer winners
After 1500 miles over 5 legs, in 75 hours, the Land’s End to John O’ Groats Reliability Trial 2023 reached its end at a fine and sunny John O’ Groats, somewhat ironic after the dire conditions experienced during the event. Along the way the competitors have passed through 3 countries and experienced some of the most extreme weather to beset the rally in a very long time, helping to decimate the field. It has been seven years since the last snow and ice-affected event, making it as treacherous then and as now in 2023.
This edition marked 30 years since the first-ever LeJog in 1993, and if there was ever an event to stick to the principles of endurance laid down by John Brown and those first pioneers, then this was it, as it went according to John’s original script.
44 crews started the rally, with almost half of the entrants hailing from across Europe. Of those starters, just 27 finished the rally, as a combination of mechanical woes, driving incidents and fatigue led to retirements along the route, making the achievement of those crews that did reach the end all the more remarkable. One pair that exited the event due to mechanical woes were John and Robert Kiff, who are some of the most successful competitors to ever compete in this event and have been involved since the very first event in one capacity or another. The wheels quite literally came off their challenge this year, when they lost a wheel on the chaotic second leg of the event, ruining any chance of adding another medal to those achieved in their perennially successful VW Beetle over 30 years.
Experience and medal-winning history count for nothing in blizzards and black ice. Ask Greek driver Nicholas Maris and Yorkshireman Henry Carr who slid off twice, once down a steep bank to be winched out by a media team and the 1975 Toyota FJ-40 LV-KCW of Swiss pair Manual Dubs and Fabrizio Arrigucci who showed great spirit with the rescue. With that slide, Henry’s chance of challenging for the Navigator’s Golden Roamer title also slipped away.
Motorcycle racer Mike Farrell and navigator Zak Burns also went off the road bruising their Ford Escort Mexico twice, the second time so far down a steep bank, thankfully without injury, that the car’s rescue was a thought to be a lost cause. Somehow against the odds, they miraculously reappeared in time to see the Maris Carr 240Z winched up another slippery slope further along the route.
Six-time gold medal winners were not immune either as Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage were forced to retire their Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint after three punctures left them stranded with no spares.
Of those that finished, only four managed to achieve the standard required to win a coveted gold medal, the very highest award for the driver and navigator’s endeavours on route. This isn’t a competition in the traditional sense. There are no outright winners, you either achieve a medal or a blue riband, or you don’t. However, even for those that made it to the finish without troubling the medals table, the very fact that they have driven under the arch to the Pipers salute is something very special.
Of special mention have to be Andy Lane and Iain Tullie who have become the most decorated of Joggers with no less than seven gold medals each after a skilful performance on both sides of their BMW 2002 Tii. Andy Lane; “This has been absolutely the toughest LeJog yet, I have never known anything like this!”
In the end the gold standard was met in glorious fashion by the German crew of Klaus Mueller and Eric Schwab in their Lancia Fulvia Coupe, as Klaus not only grabbed gold with Eric, he provisionally clinched the HERO Cup to become Drivers Champion in 2023 after a brilliant year.
Thomas Koerner achieved gold with Klaus Mueller’s regular navigator Rolf Pellini alongside him in his BMW 320/4. However, Rolf’s brilliant year as a navigator, mainly with Klaus, is to be rewarded as he is the provisional Champion Navigator set to be confirmed as the winner of the coveted Golden Roamer.
Stewart Christie and Andy Ballantyne were mighty in their MG B GT throughout as they overcame the severe conditions and stayed in the gold medal position for the longest as others either dropped out or climbed the ranks. Even Mr LeJog himself, Horst Pokroppa and Henrick Verspohl from Germany in their MG A Coupe, who spent most of the event in the gold medal position, agonisingly dropped to silver after mistakes on the final leg.
They were joined in achieving a silver medal by just two others, Richard White and Bernard Northmore in a Volvo Amazon and Derek Hunnisett with Alan Pettit navigating a Volvo 142.
This was an event that will be remembered for the extreme weather experienced throughout, as it traversed a line from the bottom of the kingdom to the top. The weather is of course one of the elements that makes LeJog the magnificent event that it is, it wouldn’t be quite the same if it happened in June. It adds an extra sparkle to the endurance element and that was certainly the case this time. It is not often that snow occurs as far down as the West Country, but from the start, the Joggers had to contend with slippery conditions, in a theme that would stay with the rally on every leg in one form or another. Several regularities were lost to the snow and ice, especially as the event went through the night during Legs 4 and 5, and quick thinking re-routes needed to be executed by Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock and his team as the event progressed. He had this to say, “It’s thirty years since the first one and this is the toughest that I’ve experienced in 15 years of doing these. We had bad weather throughout the trip and anybody who has made it has done extremely well. Those who have finished with a medal really deserve it, it will be the toughest medal they will ever win. Big thanks to the team, without them we couldn’t have done it.”
As Leg 5 progressed through the night, taking the cars from Aviemore to the finish, the monster ‘Loch Ness’ regularity that was scheduled to be more than two hours long had to have part of its route curtailed, although it was still one of the toughest competition sections of the rally. There was snow and ice, rain, slippery surfaces and tight and technical ascents and descents – all in the Scottish darkness – and this regularity is perhaps a microcosm of what LeJog is all about.
The sun rose again though for the finish and the tired crews celebrated their achievements in front of the famous John O’ Groats sign, as their forebears have done since 1993. Some cheered, some embraced and some even wept as they took the checkered flag, overcome with fatigue and emotion.
Experienced Joggers Andy Lane and Iain Tullie celebrated their 7th gold medal each, a magnificent 7 and 14 between them, saying of the experience, “It’s the hardest one we’ve done, the weather played such a part. We’ve seven golds each now, which is just brilliant.” Iain went on to say how much of a difference his experienced driver made in the snowy conditions. Andy Ballantyne is another very experienced navigator, who also concurred that it was “the toughest one I’ve done, the weather was relentless and how we kept the car on the road I will never know. It’s up there with the best I’ve done and after this year any future ones may feel a little easy!”
There was more at stake than just a gold medal for Klaus Muller, who trailed in the HERO Cup for the best driver of the year by just a smattering of points coming into this event, the final scores will need to be counted up but it looks like provisionally he will have won the trophy, he said “The driving was a real challenge, the conditions changed so quickly, this is the most difficult LeJog I have done. The cup was safe by Leg two and that feels great, but to win a gold as well is the icing on the cake.” Klaus’ navigator Eric Schwab added, “This is always a challenge, you must keep the concentration the whole way and the closer we got [to the finish] the more nervous we got, it really was a big challenge.”
Rolf Pellini, who achieved gold navigating for Thomas Koerner, was also in pole position to win the HERO Golden Roamer Award, presented to the best navigator over the season, as long as he achieved a good result on this event. Of this, he said “At certain stages, it might have been nicer to be at home in front of a warm stove! Extremely difficult and I am a little speechless now to have a gold medal and to hopefully have won the Golden Roamer. There is definitely a release of tension, and I don’t know whether to go to bed or got to the bar! I must congratulate the other navigators, especially Sally Woof and Henry Carr. Henry could have won the Roamer if we had slipped up, so there was definitely some pressure!”
So, another LeJog is concluded, perhaps one of the toughest ever but also, surely, one of the most magical. This event is unique in its endurance, in its hardship and in its test of competitor and machine, but there can be few that offer a sweeter reward or greater sense of achievement. It isn’t just about the medal winners, there are those for whom getting to the finish is a huge achievement, competitors such as first-timers Les and Dee Searle in their Peugeot 205 GTi. The hardest rally in Europe? Quite possibly. An incredible adventure? Most definitely, an adventure that will hopefully continue to captivate and enthral competitors and fans alike for another thirty years.