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Thomas Bricknell freshly crowned 4-time UK Trials Champion to change focus

*Bricknell defends his title to win fourth MSUK Championship

*Trials ace turns attention back to rallying and enters his favourite, LeJog

*Fireworks display expert set to reignite his regularity rally career

Thomas Bricknell freshly crowned 4-time UK Trials Champion to change focus

Ace Trials driver Thomas Bricknell is now four times Motorsport UK Trials Champion after taking six wins and five second places this season to clinch yet another title. He also added eight BTRDA Trials championship wins to his tally for good measure!

Thomas was relieved to win the closely fought trials championships after a major effort but is now equally happy to turn his attention back to his rally career as he has entered LeJog, his favourite rally!

Thomas; “I’m delighted to have managed it once again! It’s been tougher this year with lots of miles from Cornwall to Kent & Cumbria. There are 19 events on the calendar with best 10 to count so it’s a big commitment.

“One of the hardest weekends involved working late on the Saturday night in Southernmost Cornwall and having to get to a trial in Cumbria overnight, with swapping vans in Cheltenham. The maps were showing 480 miles to cover with 10 hours before signing on. Great!”

Born in Peterborough, the versatile driver is a 44-year-old top fireworks display professional.  However, his 44 years belie his youthful appearance, which is all the more remarkable given his full-on ‘edgy’ job and motor sport passions.

Thomas is currently living between the Cotswolds and Cornwall splitting his time 50/50 between the two locations, juggling his occupation as a Director of a Firework Display company called Celebration Pyrotechnics, and his passion for his hobby.

Thomas takes up the story; “It is called pyrotechnics but originally it was just fireworks and then we developed into other areas such as special effects as well as stunt performances, so pyrotechnics encompasses everything we do.”

“We cover a wide variety of work, some for TV. Probably the biggest pyro event was ‘The Aldershot Army Show’ when we provided lots of military simulation effects. We have worked on various TV productions from some quite big challenges to a job as small as putting black powder through the quill of a goose feather to show how the miners used to make delay fuses down the mines.”

“We also worked on some children's TV, we were involved in an Arts programme for the BBC, but displays are the biggest part of what we do, the pyro effects are great, but I would say 98% of what we do is displays!”

“Two of the biggest ones we've put together were on the Tamar Bridge. The first one was to commemorate 150 years of Brunel’s Royal Albert Railway Bridge, then three years later we went back to mark 50 years of the opening of the road bridge, but that also coincided with 50 years of the last ferry crossing.”

“So, we started with some effects on a boat mirroring the last line of the ferry, then we fired a big display from the road deck of the Tamar bridge, the structure is supported by suspension cables which proved quite a challenge.”

“We had 21 Candle Units at 27-metre gaps over the suspension cables on the handrail stanchions, we had to harness up and scale the cables up and over the tower tops three times to instal the fixings and the units, then wire them up. It was high, far higher than I'd like to have been, so pretty terrifying!”

Thomas casually mentions that he is in a harness, joking that there is no safety net, but adds that you've got a helmet on and you're wearing gloves so it’s OK! I am already starting to feel giddy!

“We went over the top with the bridge maintenance crew who do it day in, day out, but the worst bit was every time I had to let go to tie on the frames with both hands! I had to try to maintain my balance, just leaning back on the thin wire upright because I needed both hands to work with!”

“It was one of those things where you just think it's an opportunity I'll never have again, you just embrace it and get on with it, trying to forget the drop.”

“That was a big job, but I think the one we are most proud of was on St. Michael's Mount. We produced a big display over the whole Mount, we orchestrated strobes that set the scene flashing away, we progressed into fountains around the harbour, then hit a big effect projecting from the top of the castle. We created a big horseshoe of material all the way around the back of the island - then climaxed with an enormous display from the harbour. This was from both sides of the harbour entrance so we had to suspend a cable across the harbour mouth 30 minutes before kick-off.

“That job was probably around three weeks of planning and prep work, then we were there for three days setting up and building it. That was a big budget, but the cost of materials has jumped since then.”

In the last 18 months I have been on three trips working for an American company in Saudi Arabia as a technician, and the scale of things compared to here, well this is nothing! If a big display here would feature three 6” shells, they would have 3000!

“The budgets are off the scale, we were part of a fifty-strong multinational crew setting up one display for two weeks for Foundation Day in Riyadh.”

Thomas’ Stepfather, is HERO-ERA Golden Roamer winning navigator Roger who founded the business. Thomas: “He’s involved in all sorts of areas, and we still make him go out late at night in the dark on his bad knees! Of course, we try to minimise sending him out and about too much, but he often drives the vans around with the younger lads who aren’t old enough to drive, he gets them to do the donkey work then he can just supervise!

“The business was originally part of a partnership between him and his brother where they had toys, and nursery goods, whilst his brother sold books and stationery. Roger had always sold fireworks to the public but one day someone came along and said ‘we like these but can you set them off for us?’ Roger said no. Then the guy said ‘If you can set them off, we’ll have £3000 worth’ and that was 1990, 33 years ago!” Celebration Pyrotechnics was born, Thomas has been full-time since 2005.

Thomas continued; “Roger has been the biggest influence on my motorsport career, but my grandfather competed in a lot of different disciplines. Mum had always passengered on Trials and she used to drive in Autocross. She would help on rallies, in fact, she made ice notes with Gunnar Palm for the Ford team on one of the Monte Carlo Rallies. Gunnar was driving a Mark 1 Escort Estate and she recalls a trolley jack constantly rolling around in the back. He would say, left, right or whatever, and ask for the instruction to be underlined in various colours according to how slippery it was!”

“Mum was good friends with Gunnar for a long time. In 2000 when Roger competed in the London Sydney Marathon Rally, they had problems with the brakes so Gunnar got some callipers sent from Volvo in Scandinavia to Turkey, Roger then fitted them out in the desert!”

Thomas’ Mother, born Julia Pollard and his Father were both into their motor sport as Thomas related; “My dad used to compete in Trials as well, we've got a video of the 1984 Derbyshire Trial where there's Roger and his first wife, then mum and dad in consecutive cars. That's quite amusing.”

“My first real taste of participating in motorsport was passengering for him and mum in the back of a Mark 1 Escort on the long distance MCC Classic Reliability Trials. The Motor Cycling Club run the legendary Exeter Trial, the Land’s End and Edinburgh Trials.”

“The first one I would have been competing on was the 1987 Edinburgh Trial. You can win a gold medal by clearing all the sections on each Trial, if you manage it on all three events in the year you win a Triple Award which is pretty hard to get! In later years I acquired the same blue Mark 1 Escort and managed to get Triple Awards in 1998 and 2000!

Thomas downplays his fresh championship Trialling success, but by clinching his fourth British title, he has become the British Sporting Trialling Champion in 2012, 2013, 2022 and 2023!

He had a few precious years off after 2013 taking time with his partner and for the arrival of their daughter. Then Thomas went rallying after going back to the hills. The pandemic gave him the opportunity to work on the Trials car and get it back out there. Thomas elaborated; “We had no work so I got stuck in fixing the car up again. The Trials were happening before any other form of motorsport because it was all outdoors and spaced out, so I reignited my motor sport on the hills and fell in love with Sporting Trialling all over again. Then I won the championship last year and again this year after quite a fight.”

Thomas is the 2022 and 2023 Motorsport UK Champion, he also won the BTRDA Gold Star Trial, which you have to qualify for throughout the year. “That's a one trial shootout,” he added. “People forget, they think BTRDA is the Rally Championship, but Sporting Trialling came first for the BTRDA. We've got a note on an old cup here. I think it might have been BTDA, the British Trials Drivers Association then rallying was incorporated into it later. I managed to win 10 BTRDA championship events in 2022, 8 of which were also MSUK events, and then I won the Gold Star and the championship so I was very pleased!”

Thomas was influenced and inspired by his Stepfather and HERO-ERA Champion Roger Bricknell. Roger is the only competitor to have won both the HERO Cup for Drivers (2011) and the Golden Roamer for Navigators (2019). Thomas had the best teacher and navigated with success on 12 car rallies and scatters in Cornwall. Thomas explained; “I'd never been involved in proper rallying until the first time I went to the Isle of Man which I think was 2012, the second-ever running of the Three Legs of Mann.

“We went over to compete in the Volvo Amazon that Roger had at the time, I knew nothing about it, I had no idea what I was in for. But wow, what a wonderful experience, I loved it and wanted to do more, but I just didn't have the time. I was chasing my first trials championship so I think the next one might have been an HRCR round in 2016, then I started rallying a lot more.”

“We rallied across the board for a couple of years, maybe 10 events a year, then our first big multi-day HERO-ERA rally was LeJog 2017.”

Roger and Thomas Bricknell have achieved both gold and silver status medals in LeJog which is a tough task, but a gold on their debut was astonishing. Thomas; “Of course, we are really proud of both medals as it is such a demanding event, but the Rally of the Tests also produced a great result for us in 2019. However, I have a real soft spot for LeJog, I really enjoy that rally, so as soon as I had clinched the 2023 title, we immediately changed focus back onto rallying!”

“I think it's the total challenge with tests, every part of what makes up this motor sport division of regularity rallying. You've got to try to be quick on the tests, but don’t over step the mark like I did last year (!), then you have the endurance in terms of just keeping focused and sharp and looking out for roads. For the navigator, you've got extreme fatigue and map blindness but you've got great camaraderie on the event, everybody wants to help. If anyone's stricken and has a problem with a car, other crews will try to help and get them get to John O’Groats. Once you are there at the finish line it is very satisfying, really exceptional!”

“Looking back, I would say after the problems I created last year, (when Thomas hit a rock on the very first test around the rocky Land’s End track smashing the front suspension) we were so pleased we managed to get the car rebuilt and make it to John O’ Groats. That was very satisfying after the suspension damage, but I did wonder how I was going to show my embarrassed face the following morning in Telford!”

“My favourite LeJog was my first one in 2017, it was the snowy one, with lots of ice and absolutely an unforgettable experience. For me, some of the best rally moments ever were in Scotland in six inches of snow, it was mental in those freezing conditions so to survive and win gold medals on my debut was very special indeed.”

“So, my first LeJog and straight into gold, I thought it was easy, but I’ve found out ever since then that it's not!”

Thomas’ other passion outside of motorsport is snow skiing, probably another reason why he enjoyed the snow and ice of LeJog 2017!

Thomas enthused; “I think skiing is great, everyone enjoys it, but for my whole family, it's always been motor sport. Grandfather did the Monte Carlo Rally in 1963 – 65, the last one in an E-Type Jaguar. Back then only the top runners were allowed to compete on the last day in Monaco and he managed that on his third attempt in the Jag!”

Family aside, who are Thomas’ favourite rally drivers?  “I was lucky to meet Hannu Mikkola, who competed in the 2000 London Sydney Rally with Roger. We were invited to go to dinner with Hannu and his sons and he was just a lovely man. But looking back when you see rally videos just watching him in action and his results, he was amazing, but all of that generation were. I just think they were all terrific.”

“In terms of rallies I'd want to do, I'd love to do the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo. I’d really enjoy that as I’m sure I would feel I've followed in my grandfather's footsteps, then there is the Icelandic Saga which I would find tremendous as well.”

It remains to be seen where Thomas’ focus will be for 2024, maybe he will be back full-time rallying with HERO-ERA, but for now, he is concentrating on LeJog 2023 and a possible repeat of the ‘snowy golds’ from 2017. With his skill and versatility and Roger by his side, this is a distinct possibility.

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