Maunsell’s Rapier thrust
Rally of the Tests I Noy 4-7
Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Peter Scott emerged atop a fierce contest for victory in the fourth Rally of the Tests. After more than three days of regularity sections and special tests, their Sunbeam Rapier headed the Mercedes 300SE of Frank Fennell and Kevin Savage by just 12sec.
The rally boasted a fresh look for 2004, with a start in Torquay and a finish in Chester. In between, a night section on Dartmoor early in the event proved one of the toughest sections, yet only four crews failed to reach the finish.
Former McLaren team manager Alastair Caldwell and his co-driver Catriona Rings were among those to relish the challenging night section. “Absolutely brilliant,” he enthused after a real charge in his AC Aceca. They would go on to finish the event for the first time, taking 11th overall in the 1955 car. Former works rally driver EyreMaunsell had taken the early advantage when all the crews stopped at Taunton on Friday night, but the Jaguar X1(150 of Charles Graves and Ron Palmer was in hot pursuit, while 2003 winners Fennell/Savage were well placed in third despite a
couple of dramas. “It wouldn’t start twice, including after leaving a ford,” explained Fennell of their first day.
On Saturday an early regularity between the rock walls of Cheddar Gorge rewarded entrants with the sight of a duffle-clad Tony Mason presiding. During a series of special tests Fennell threw the big Merc around to edge ahead by 40sec by the time the Saturday overnight halt at Chateau Impney in Droitwich was reached.
Adding to the challenge faced by Eyre-Maunsell and Scott was the Volvo 122S of James O’Mahoney and Pat Neville, which was hurting their scores on the special tests. “They keep taking points from us on the tests,” said Eyre-Maunsell.
Day three guided crews through the West Midlands and included a group of tests at the Swinnerton military base. It was here that it all went wrong for the Mercedes crew. The throttle linkage fell apart and the intrepid Savage completed the test sitting under the vast bonnet working the throttle with Fennell’s necktie! However, the time lost helped Eyre-Maunsell/Scott nip back in front to score a late victory. Still within half-a-minute of the leading pair, Graves/Palmer scored a fine result in third overall. “It’s
been an excellent event,” reckoned Graves after taking a class victory in the 1958 fixed-head XK.
Only lOsec down on the XK150 at the finish at Cranage Hall was the Alfa Romeo Giulia of Mickey Gabbett and Michael Jackson, while fifth place fell to the MGA of John Bateson and Mark I’Anson. Their drama took place on Friday night when they slid off the road and found themselves beached. “Frank Fennell towed us off — and he still cleaned the section,” said an appreciative Bateson.
Clearly best of the pre-war cars in a fine seventh overall were Ian Williamson and John Bayliss in the ex-works ‘Cream Cracker’ MG PB. “It has been a tremendously good rally,” said Williamson, who overcame choke problems during the opening day. “It’s held together with tie-wraps,” he explained.
Finally, the heavily fancied crew of Arthur Senior and Colin Francis encountered major engine dramas that would have put most people out of the rally. However, after a quick change of headgasket on their Riley 1.5 on the Saturday evening, they pressed on to finish 34th.