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Thomas Bricknell Spotlight Two – 2023 LeJog survivor describes toughest one yet and explains Sporting Trials

*The four-time UK Sporting Trials Champion, recently returned from LeJog, de-mystifies his ‘other’ sport

*The treacherous black ice of LeJog 2023 compared to the slippiest trials slope has similarities

Thomas Bricknell Spotlight Two – 2023 LeJog survivor describes toughest one yet and explains Sporting Trials

Thomas Bricknell has recently returned from the toughest LeJog in its 30-year history when he and his stepfather Roger Bricknell, both a former HERO Cup and Golden Roamer Champion, dropped out of the medal positions on the last night.

Thomas; “We survived and really enjoyed it. We were in the hunt for a medal for four out of the five legs, but very deep into leg four we missed a plot on a link section. That put us on the main road rather than the parallel yellow road with a couple of code boards, that was huge and dropped us out of the medals!”

“We were probably just in the running for a silver as we couldn't match Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini in the BMW this year. They were on top form and Rolf really deserved to win the Golden Roamer Championship.”

“I think it was probably the toughest driving conditions I've ever encountered. The very snowy year of 2017 was difficult, but it was consistent. You could see the road was white, you knew it was slippery. This had a lot of black ice and inconsistent grip where you really could hardly tell the difference. We stopped to clean the headlights before going into one of the regularities and I couldn't even get out, never mind stand up!”

“All the icy bits we managed to cope with fairly well, but if you had a late call or spot on a crossroads or junction, it was very hard to then make the turn; you’d just slithered by, gather it up and reverse back.”

“Our biggest moment was in Wales where we just started to toboggan on a snowy downhill, we came over a crest quite carefully and slightly touched the brakes, it kept wanting to lock and take off on the downslope, we slid into the verge and spun, reversed down the road for 100m to a find somewhere to turn then carried on, luckily no harm done!”

“It was very hard to recover any time because of the conditions. It would often take you three or four miles to get back on schedule after leaving a control. I've never been on a rally where it's taken so long to get time back.”

“The initial reaction is disappointment when you learn you’ve lost medal status. But there was still plenty up for grabs on the last day, an outside chance of a class win against Thomas and Rolf depending on how the following day went. The main thing was still getting to the finish. The overriding desire was not to make any more mistakes and get there as well as we could!”

“We relish slippery slopes in Sporting Trialling as opportunities to outscore other competitors whereas on LeJog they were feared as you could lose control so easily.”

“Sporting Trialling is the out and out off-road version of Classic Reliability Trials. It's very hard to describe, but it's like an uphill, steep, slippery, slalom course. The object is to get as far up as possible, there's no time limits, but you have to maintain forward movement constantly. If you get stuck and spin the wheels, you're allowed a count of three for perhaps your passenger to bounce the car so you can get over a slippery spot and hopefully maintain your climb – so long as you haven't slipped backwards.”

“That was the first form of Trialling and then in the 50s the sport diverged with more specialised off-road vehicles then competing exclusively in Sporting Trials. A specialist Trials car such as the Cannon had been road legal initially, but that would have been right on the cusp of the split in the sport with changing road legalities. The saloons and other vehicles would keep doing Classic Reliability Trials, the National Trials Formula specials would then do single venue events and would be allowed ‘fiddle brakes’ and so on.”

“The specialist Trials car I use was built by Crossle Cars of Northern Ireland. All the cars are built to a similar specification from Crossle, mine is an 8-valve Honda engine but you could have a 12 or 16 valve. I'm lower powered but slightly lighter. It was a 1340 Honda Acclaim engine but it's got a long stroke crank and over is bored to 1500cc. It runs on LPG which was something they added to most of the factory cars.”

“Mine has a four speed Hewland transaxle and independent rear suspension We have fiddle brakes which independently brake each rear wheel and a very good steering lock which allows the car to practically turn on the spot.”

“The differentials have to be free running with a 15-pounds of torque limit. They have to be very free acting, you effectively become a human limited slip diff with the fiddle brakes. Reading the ground, reading the angles and applying the right pressure to whichever fiddle brake to maintain traction.”

“To win you must achieve the lowest penalty points on the day. All the hills are subdivided from twelve to one in pairs of posts or ‘gates.’ You just have to get the centre of one front wheel hub through an imaginary line between a pair of marker posts. If you get one wheel through the five gate and you fail there then your score four penalties. Striking a pole incurs its value as penalty and you must not deviate four wheels out of the line between consecutive gates.”

Many people watching the sport for the first time comment on the role of the passengers who are often seen bouncing up and down vigorously, Thomas explained why they are so important. “They are vital to help stop you tipping over on a sharp side slope and they maintaining the balance in the car by putting their weight on the higher wheel that's about to lose traction.”

“Last year I ended up with lots of different passengers almost from week to week. They ranged from an 18-stone man one week to an eight-stone girl the next, so the car felt very different from week to week. That was an extra challenge.”

Thomas downplays the initial success, but he was British Sporting Trialling Champion in 2012 and 2013. He then had a few years off, had a little girl with his partner and went rallying, 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 into 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. It culminated in winning the MSUK championships in 2022 and 2023.”

With his love of all motor sport, but Sporting Trialling and rallying in particular, 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 was. I just think they were all tremendous.”

“I follow Formula One regularly but I am not cheering for anyone at the moment, I am just enjoying the sport, but I have got to say got to say I admired the job Nico Rosberg did in 2016, I was a fan of his, I liked how he handled himself and the pressure from Lewis Hamilton that year. No one ever thought he could beat Hamilton but he did, I was supporting the underdog in that sense.”

“A great insight into trials came from John Fack who also races vintage cars. He said from the outside racing looks quick, but inside the car generally, things are happening quite slowly, whereas Trials looks very slow, but the reality is that many things are happening ever so quickly. Constant adjustments of fiddle brake application, steering inputs, reacting to how the car rides the terrain and passenger balance.”

“In terms of rallies I'd love to do, I'd love to do the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo. I’d love to feel I've followed in my grandfather's footsteps as he competed in the Monte Carlo Rally three times in the early 60s. Then there is the Icelandic Saga which I would find tremendous as well.”

With a successful season of Sporting Trialling behind him but failure to make the medals in his favourite event, LeJog, both he and Roger Bricknell are now looking to make amends on the next HERO-ERA rally to kick off the 2024 season, The Per Ardua ad Infinitum. That’s a mini RAC Rally of the Tests, so Thomas has picked another tough one, just the platform to propel the duo back onto the podium.

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