*Imperious Willan & Frost Take the Win
*Intriguing Battle for Second and Third Goes Down to Wire
*Test Pilot Surprise
After another sun-drenched day in mid-Wales the Per Ardua ad Infinitum has reached its conclusion, back at the Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells with the imperious Volvo PV544, driven by Dan Willan and navigated by Niall Frost taking a commanding victory. Whilst their triumph was seemingly never in doubt as the cars began the final day, there was a bit more sorting out for the final podium positions – as well as a surprise winner of the Test Pilot award.
The morning was glorious as the cars departed one by one, to tackle a plethora of regularities, in contrast to the relentless tests that began the previous day. The big news was that Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor would be taking no further part, with a split fuel tank forcing their retirement. Simon Arscott and Emily Anderson had also been forced into an early exit, with broken suspension on the Porsche 911. Everyone else though departed for a morning in the narrow lanes and hills north of Llandrindod, and their progress along the route was often shared with spectators enjoying the feast of cars travelling between the hedges.
By the mid-morning break, Kurt Vanderspinnen and Iain Tullie had made good progress and jumped from fifth to third, demoting John Dunning and Henry Carr off of the provisional podium. Best performance of the morning so far belonged to Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham, posting just 9 seconds of penalty in the always delightful Porsche 356B.
More regularities followed, and then, just in case anybody was falling asleep, a brace of tests back at the Royal Welsh Showground, that after overnight rain had become even more slippery than it was the previous day. Dan Willan was looking fast, but in the all-important battle for the Test Pilot award the Escorts of Mick Valentine and John Dunning were perhaps looking faster. When the midday results were published it was all changed again in the fight for second and third, with Kurt Vanderspinnen and Iain Tullie claiming second after being best on the morning and now third place had been wrestled back by Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan – but not by much. The two aforementioned Escorts were lurking close behind and with an afternoon that would largely be dominated by tests they were perhaps fancying their chances of a podium finish at the end of it all.
Onward to the final act then and the afternoon saw a return to Epynt for the last opportunity to enjoy the famous old roads, before two final tests back at the Royal Showground. The Escorts were flying, both drivers pushing hard to claw time back on the overall competition and perhaps snatch the test pilot award away from Dan Willan. There was a slight delay to proceedings when car 24, the Volvo Amazon of Peter Higton and Daisy Walker suffered an engine fire on the start line of test 3/3, but with it swiftly extinguished and everyone safe the action resumed as rain blew across the ranges, interspersed by more sunshine.
At the end of it all there was only ever going to be one champion, with Dan Willan and Niall Frost triumphing by 2 minutes 38 seconds over the competition in a relentless march to the top step of the podium, and all with big smiles on their faces for the entire competition. “We’re over the moon” stated navigator Niall Frost, who also won the Clock Watchers award for the best navigator’s performance. “The night section was the highlight, a great mix of being fast and technical and was everything we wanted it to be.” Driver Dan concurred, “The night section was amazing. The car was faultless again, it did brilliantly. To think that it is 62 years old and didn’t miss a beat.”
Theirs was the victory, but who would finally complete the podium places? Second would be secured by Kurt Vanderspinnen and Iain Tullie, a well-deserved ascent after they were best on the Leg with only one minute and 2 seconds of penalty for the day. Kurt declared that he had really enjoyed the weekend and that the event was fantastic, whilst Iain was effusive about what a privilege it was to have so much time ‘playing’ on the ranges. Third would eventually end up back in the hands of John Dunning and Henry Carr, after a superb performance on the last of the events tests, beating Bloxidge and Canavan in fourth by 18 seconds in the end.
Both driver and navigator were delighted with a result that for them was unexpected, with their sights set on winning their class, with John pronouncing that he was, ‘delirious’ with the final outcome of their weekend. Despite an excellent final drive from Dunning, it wasn’t enough to take the all-important Test Pilot award, which would go to his Escort sparring partner, Mick Valentine. The Green Escort may have won out overall, but it was a masterful and entertaining display from both drivers, whose progress was helped by a rare Willan spin on the final test of the rally.
An action-packed and exciting event to begin HERO-ERA’s season then, with well-deserved winners and an engaging fight for the podium. Everyone else only added to a dynamic and exciting rally that was at times breathless. This is only the third time the Per Ardua ad Infinitum banner has flown above an event, but if the standard of the competition and the enjoyment of the competitors is anything to go by, then this is an event we see many more times in the future as well.