Just like old times. The traditions of the RAC Rally have been revived in a historic event that looks certain to grow in popularity. By Paul Lawrence.
“This is the way a rally is supposed to be,” said Stig Blomqvist during a quick service halt in a lay-by off the A68 in Northumberland. “It’s no different to 1983,” added the Swede on his way to winning the inaugural Roger Albert Clark Rally.
De Lacy Motor Club’s ambitious attempt to recreate the RAC Rally as it was in the 1960s and ’70s — no pace notes and tough Scottish border stages over three-and-a-half long days — proved to be the hit of the year. Uncertainty and ill-founded rumour dogged the build-up and was partly responsible for an entry of just 28 historic cars along with eight running in the Open rally for modern two-wheel-drive cars. But with Blomqvist, Malcolm Wilson and Hannu Mikkola in Mk 2 Escorts lined up against leading contenders from the MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the entry was at least packed with quality.
A short spectator stage at Rother Valley got the competition under way as Jeremy Easson set the initial pace. That stage also gave a first indication of just how the event had captured the imagination of the fans as thousands packed into the country park near Sheffield.
It was the same story the following day when five stages preceded the first foray into the forests in the dark and wet of Sunday evening. “Ice, snow, fog and rain. Just like the RAC Rally of old,” said Mikkola at service in Carlisle before heading for Harwood and Rooken forests. The sound of hard-revving BDA engines piercing the darkness had the spectators enthralled.
Before dawn broke on Monday thousands of fans were packed into Ae forest. The attacking Richard Tuthill’s rally fell apart on a downhill hairpin here when his Porsche 911’s throttle cable snapped. Five minutes ticked away before he could fit a spare. With Tuthill out of the running Wilson and Blomqvist battled for the lead and by the end of Monday Wilson was almost a minute clear. Mikkola had struggled through Kershope and Ash Park on Monday evening with electrical dramas and dropped a whopping 7min when the car stalled.
But it was Tuesday’s 5am start for a blast through Kielder that delivered the sting in the tail. Nursing a car with ailing suspension, Wilson plunged far up a firebreak and out of the rally, handing Blomqvist a comfortable lead. “An incredible adventure,” said Wilson. “My body is going to take weeks to recover!”
While Blomqvist won the Classic division, Easson stormed the Post-Historics after a mighty drive. “They’ve recreated the old-style event and I’ll definitely do it again next year,” he said.
Mikkola finished third overall on what may have been the Finn’s last major rally. “We were very lucky to keep going,” admitted Hannu of his car problems — and after signing yet another autograph.
“It was an absolutely wonderful event,” enthused Ray Bellm after taking fourth in his Mk 1 Escort with Dorian Evans on the maps. “I’m the best of the amateurs!”
The other notable performances among the 18 historics to complete the full event came from Chris and Hilary Green, who romped to the pre-1967 spoils aboard their Lotus Cortina, while Bryan Gill/Nigel Hutchinson took a class-winning ninth overall in their Opel Kadett, the only non-Escort in the top 10. The Opel is a veteran of half a dozen RAC Rallies 20 years ago in the hands of Gill’s father John.
As the weary survivors arrived back in Sheffield for the finish, members of Roger Clark’s family were there to greet them. “It is just so sad that Roger is not here to see all this, because it’s overwhelming,” said Judy Clark, summing up a rally that honoured her late husband’s memory in the best way possible.