Historic scene: December 2018

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Exploring the skillset needed for historic regularity rallies, before taking the plunge with a refresher driving test

At my age, when I can recall the late Bronze era better than what I wrote in last month’s Motor Sport, it felt odd to be going back to school. Yet I recently sat making notes in a lecture, though at least the subject was historic rallying and not bending strength in bridges like the ones I sat through at university. This was a training day run by HERO, the historic rally organiser behind LeJog, Rally of the Tests, Scottish Malts and further-flung tests.

I signed up because, despite many historic rallies under my belt, I have never yet done a regularity event, which I was convinced required advanced calculus and the timing precision of an atomic clock. After a full day of thorough but cheerful explanation I came away less anxious.

Lunchtime brought a handy chance to talk to Patrick Burke, MD of the organisation, about their take-over of ERA, the endurance rally outfit run by Philip Young until his untimely death in 2015.

“The three organisations’ events are complimentary,” he says. (In 2013 HERO also absorbed the Classic Rally Association.) ERA stands for long-distance adventure, CRA created core events like Classic Marathon, and HERO offers a range of rallies, colour-graded like ski runs, from simple to the rigours of LeJog.” That’s the Lands’ End to John O’Groats reliability trial that pits you against tough tests, long hours and December Scottish weather.

There’s an almost philosophical element to Patrick’s angle. “We’re on a mission,” he says. “We’re not innovators but custodians of these cars. We want to establish a classic state of mind. That’s why we have classic boats too.” It’s an unexpected diversification for a car outfit, but HERO also charters out eight classic wooden yachts, as well as a fleet of 35 historic rally cars for its Arrive & Drive programme. “So you can pick up one of our cars, drive to the south of France and holiday on a classic boat,” Patrick beams. Although ‘boat’ somewhat undersells the queen of the fleet – Puritan, a 126ft racing schooner built in 1930 with towering masts and a crew of seven.

With the boats, rallies, storage and transport, an assistance division (they have a squad of support vehicles which attend their events and perform recce trips), insurance, bespoke events and a TV angle – the HERO Cup series is televised in the US – it’s an ambitious organisation, as you’d expect from something built up by two venture capitalists, Patrick and chairman Tomas de Vargas Machuca, who took over HERO from rally organiser John Brown in 2009. I wasn’t cheeky enough to ask Patrick about the finances, but one assumes it works… Yet both principals are in it for the right reasons: they competed in rallies before heading HERO and still do, even on their own events. The time clock doesn’t allow favouritism.

Soon HERO will relocate to Bicester Heritage – “it’s a fantastic place, it gels with our passion,” says Patrick – which will bring all staff together plus the cars, which range from BMW 1602 to Porsche 911. And, says Patrick, they’re all fitted with telematics so they can tell where they are and how they’ve been treated.

In a TED talk Patrick gave a couple of years ago he says that after a career in finance promoting consumerism he’s now actually involved in recycling, not only the cars but the spirit. As I sharpened my pencils for the afternoon’s session he waved an arm across the 87 people doing the course. “There are several father-and-son pairs here. That’s the sort of continuity we like to see.”

Meanwhile I returned to lessons, given by experienced driver Paul Bloxidge and rallying sisters Elise and Seren Whyte, whom I first met at the 25th anniversary of the Classic Marathon back in 2013. Then they were novices, asking other crews for help; now here they were handing out wisdom on time cards, speed tables and all the brain-stretching sums that go into hitting your time control on the second. As they worked through a sample time card and route we had to shout out answers, while the sisters went round helping those whose maths failed them at Time Control 2. Like me.

Most people in the room were also doing the HERO rally the next day so there were some worried faces, but “don’t worry about the timing,” said the girls, “as long as you stick to the route and get to the finish. It’s supposed to be fun!”

I hadn’t entered the rally so had to make do with my fictional afternoon adventure round an OS map of the Gower peninsula. I think I hit the last page on time.

Now to enter a regularity event, feeling like a beginner all over again, especially as I used to navigate and now I’m on steering duties, which include repeatedly asking “what was the next turn again?”. It’s one of the laws of rallying that in the car all drivers have goldfish memories, and I adhere to it firmly.

THAT HERO DAY wasn’t my only back to school experience recently. Though it’s uncool in the motor racing world, I’m a believer in advanced driver training, even – especially – when you’ve been driving for years. It’s easy to let your guard drop over time, particularly on roads you know, and I think everyone would benefit from a sharpener, a quick check to see if you’re picking up all the clues that might point to danger ahead. Aside from an aircraft dropping through your sunroof, most crunches begin many seconds beforehand and the warnings are there if you’re attuned to them. And everyone can be.

While banging on about this my bluff was called: “How long since you checked your driving?” Hmm… At least 20 years ago I did a course called Drive & Survive about defensive driving, but since then… So I booked to retake my IAM test 32 years from my first one. This would be a better story if I failed but I didn’t, so I’ll just try to save it by telling you that my tester was a police Class 1 driver and two days before he had nicked the very racing team member I was due to interview the day after.

MOTOR RACING POSTERS employ eye-grabbing graphics but styles have changed with design shifts. Current opinion favours the height of the Art Deco era – strong, clear colours and exaggerated perspective. An intriguing item popped into my inbox recently, though, which is very different. It came from Collector Studio in Canada, whose proprietor Morry Bermak sources all things motor racing from helmets to clocks, gloves, art and models, focusing on original items. Currently he even has an original 1949 Ferrari 166 F2 brochure in stock.

Subject of the mail was an original linen-mounted 1923 poster for the very first Le Mans 24 Hour race and it fascinates me for a couple of reasons. Emphasising the night-time hours, artist H A Volodimer selects dark purples and greens – unlikely but striking. And it advertises ‘Grande Fête de Nuit’ and ‘Feu d’Artifice’, so the all-night fairground, fireworks and music have always been part of what would become a classic contest. Receiving second-line billing is the Rudge-Whitworth Cup, the three-year rollover competition which was a main feature of the opening years, but soon died away. Two heats in a BTCC race is fine, but who wanted to wait three years to find a winner? The champagne would go flat.

I haven’t asked Morry the price of this poster, though. Apparently fewer than eight are known to exist.

Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635

 

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