Helmsley & Carlisle, UK
Ultimately, Gwyndaf Evans and John Millington scored a resounding victory on the 2011 Roger Albert Clark Rally, but that does not tell the full story of the eighth running of this challenging event.
Created to re-live the RAC Rallies of the 1970s and ’80s, the Roger Albert Clark was once again a fierce test of man and machine as the four-day event tackled the forests of Yorkshire, southern Scotland and Kielder. With the main focus on historic cars, the event drew thousands of spectators and a very competitive entry, topped by 2009 winner Evans in the Ford Escort Mk2 built and run by former WRC-winning co-driver Phil Mills and his Viking Motorsport team.
Although their winning margin was nudging eight minutes by the time they sprayed the champagne in Carlisle, Evans and Millington had to work hard to earn victory. This is an event that is run on maps and not the route or pace notes which dominate modern events, and Evans was quick to admit that driving without route notes took him well outside his comfort zone.
Then, over the opening two days, a concerted challenge from the Escort Mk2 of Paul Griffiths/Sam Collis kept Evans on his toes. But the biggest threat to the Welsh ace came late on Sunday when he lost all but fifth gear in the Twiglees stage. They got out of the stage and the Viking team changed the ’box in less than 15 minutes on the side of the road to get them going again. “This is a proper rally and the Viking team was magnificent,” said Evans after his first competitive outing since the snow-bound 2010 event.
Griffiths kept to within two minutes of the leader until Sunday morning when he elected for a major attack in Ae, his favourite forest stage. But on the second run through a snowy and slippery Ae his rally came to an end in a ditch. The 14-mile stage also claimed three other top 10 runners.
However, it was the final Monday morning leg that offered some of the toughest conditions as deep snow hit the 18-mile test in Kershope forest. Evans had enough in hand to set a measured pace. “That was certainly the sting in the tail,” he said.
David Stokes and Guy Weaver had taken second place when Griffiths went out, but went into Kershope on gravel tyres, and a 1min 17sec advantage over Tim Pearcey and Neil Shanks turned into a 34sec deficit as Pearcey capitalised on second-hand snow tyres. On his first attempt at the rally, Pearcey was jubilant to finish second, but it nearly went wrong in Kershope. “We had the most enormous moment halfway through and I really thought we were going off,” he admitted.
Charlie Taylor/Steve Bielby had another fine run to take fourth place for the third time, while best of the older category one cars was the Lotus Cortina of the evergreen Bob Bean, partnered by Malcolm Smithson. Even a trip into a ditch in Ae after the throttle stuck open failed to deter the 73-year-old veteran of 37 RAC Rallies.