Events of the month

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Wales Rally GB

Not so much an event of the month, this, as one of the finest of 2013. Its success, though, was founded on the clamour surrounding the stages rather than anything that happened within. A move to rallying’s North and Mid-Welsh heartland generated a bumper crowd and a vibrant atmosphere, with numbers being such that spectators occasionally had to be turned away.

World champion Sebastien Ogier was in control from Friday morning, when a string of fastest times gave him a useful — but not insuperable — advantage over hat trick-chasing Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn then dropped 12sec on the first run through Hafren — “Too much,” he said, “when you are fighting for tenths” — and was never truly close again. He reduced his arrears to 17sec on Saturday afternoon, but Ogier pulled away slightly before the leg’s end. Latvala’s efforts to fight back subsequently triggered a couple of mistakes, including a spin (and stall) in Clocaenog on Sunday morning.

Such as Latvala and Dani Sordo are natural showmen — and exuberant to the core — but Ogier is essentially Alain Prost on mud, less visibly dramatic than his peers but devastatingly effective.

This was his first Rally GB success — and his ninth WRC win of the campaign. “I got off to a great start,” he said, “and after that wanted to control my lead. Jari-Matti was always close, though, and I know this is one of his strongest rallies. It wasn’t easy keeping him behind.”

More than a minute adrift of the VWs, Thierry Neuville took third in his final event before switching from Ford to Hyundai — and that was enough to secure second place in the final championship standings, ahead of Latvala. Mads Ostberg (Ford Fiesta), Andreas Mikkelsen (VW Polo) and Martin Prokop (Ford Fiesta) completed the top six. Mikkelsen briefly threatened to make it a VW 1-2-3 clean sweep, but dropped time on Sunday morning when he spun in Dyfnant and then clouted a bank in Clocaenog.

Penalised five minutes for using his ninth chassis of the season, Sordo took seventh in a tough event for Citroen, after Mikko Hirvonen and Robert Kubica both rolled on Friday. Kubica’s car was fit to restart on Saturday, but within two stages it was back on its roof— this time terminally.

Hirvonen’s co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen accepted blame for their accident: he missed part of a pace-note, so they were one gear up — sixth rather than fifth— and in the wrong place when the car began to tumble.

Local favourite Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta) finished eighth to secure his maiden WRC2 win, while Quentin Gilbert (Citroen D53) was best of the WRC3 runners in 14th overall. Six places adrift, Sebastien Chardonnet (D53) finished second in class to secure the inaugural WRC3 world title.

Olympic skeleton gold medallist Amy Williams made a class-winning World Rally Championship debut, navigating Tony Jardine’s ProSpeed-run Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX to 26th place. She also endeared herself to the crew by furnishing them with a handsome supply of home-baked chocolate brownies…Simon Arron

Shanghai Six Hours

Audi scored double gold in the penultimate round of the World Endurance Championship at the Shanghai Six Hours. Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval became world champions with a steady drive to third, while Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler claimed a last-gasp victory ahead of Toyota.

McNish and co, who needed only to finish fourth to seal the title, opted for a conservative run aboard their Audi R18 e-tron quattro after failing to overcome a handling imbalance in practice and qualifying.

They ran behind the two Toyota TS030 Hybrids and their team-mates throughout the event, moving up to third on the retirement of the Toyota shared by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Stephane Sarrazin.

Toyota had a clear edge over rivals Audi in the opening exchanges and looked to be heading for victory after Lotterer sustained a puncture shortly after his first stop. The Audi drivers struggled on the softer of two Michelin compounds and a switch to hards only began to pay dividends as the race progressed. Lotterer started the comeback after his unscheduled stop and then Treluyer drove an impressive triple stint, but the outgoing champions only came back into the frame during the penultimate hour. The Davidson car retired from the lead with suspension problems after the TS030 shared by Nicolas Lapierre and Alex Wurz had sustained a puncture of its own. This was a triple whammy for Toyota: it lost more time than the Audi had done earlier, the unscheduled stop meant pitting again and, worse still, it would have to complete its final stint on the softer Michelin.

Wurz rejoined after a final splash-and-dash with 33 minutes to go, just ahead of Treluyer. On the ‘wrong’ tyre, however, he was unable to defend his position. Gary Watkins

Roger Albert Clark Rally

Steve Bannister and Kevin Rae beat all challengers to score their second Roger Albert Clark Rally victory when the annual highlight of the historic rallying season ran across three tough days of competition through Yorkshire and the Scottish borders.

At 62 years old, Bannister is a legend of national rallying in his Ford Escort Mk2 and repeated his 2007 victory to become only the second driver, after Gwyndaf Evans, to win the event twice.

A year earlier, ‘Banner’ had lost the rally by just 17 seconds to Marty McCormack. “After the fight with Marty in 2012, and losing out on the last stage, this has made amends a little bit,” Bannister said. “This is the best event of the year for historic cars, so it is great to win it again’?

The 10th anniversary of the event, which recreates the forest-based RAC Rallies of the 1960s and 1970s, was a big hit with competitors and thousands of spectators. Friday evening featured six stages in the darkness of the Yorkshire forests, while Saturday’s route headed north into the daunting Kielder complex before an overnight halt in Carlisle.

Sunday provided the sting in the tail, with 70 competitive — and conspicuously icy — miles in the border forests.

Two drivers took the fight to Bannister, but Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis and Jason Pritchard/John Millington were caught out by the same deceptive right in the Pundershaw stage, Pritchard on the first run and Robinson on the second. Both crews’ Ford Escorts rolled and were badly damaged.

In their first rally together, Paul Griffiths and Richard Wardle moved up to claim second from Seamus O’Connell and Paul Wakely as Ford Escort Mk2s dominated the podium once more. Tim Pearcey and Neil Shanks drove a fine rally to fight back into fourth after losing time with a low-speed roll in Duncombe Park on Saturday morning.

The first non-Escort home was the ex-Russell Brookes Sunbeam Lotus of Owen Murphy/James O’Brien in fifth.

Other major winners included Belgians Stefaan Stouf/Joris Erard (Ford Escort Mk1), who won Category 2, and veterans Bob Bean/ Malcolm Smithson (Lotus Cortina), who again topped Category 1. Having rallied for more than 50 years, Bean drove brilliantly and moved clear as rivals Ian Beveridge/PeterJoy (Volvo PV544) retired with engine problems.

After early suspension failure, Martyn Hawkswell and Nick Welch recovered to win the concurrent Open Rally and complete a hat trick of wins in their non-historic-spec Ford Escort Mk2. Paul Lawrence

London to Brighton, Veteran Car Run

Park Lane, 5.45am on a Sunday morning. No, Motor Sport isn’t stumbling home after a night on the tiles. It’s the morning of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, and to take part in this wonderful tradition the early bird catches the worm – or in our case a 1904 Panhard et Levassor.

The sight of Edwardian horseless carriages chugging out of the darkness is ghostly, as if motoring’s founding fathers haunt the deserted roads of London as the city sleeps. Fresh off trailers, a steam car boiler is stoked into life and a Congestion Charge-friendly electric pioneer trundles past in complete silence, on a warm-up before joining the Serpentine start in Hyde Park.

In the best traditions of Bill Boddy, Motor Sport is cadging a lift to the south coast, joining recently retired historic racer Irvine Laidlaw in his pride and joy. Mechanic, car preparer and co-driver Phil Stainton offers much-needed coffee, before I climb on board beside Lord Laidlaw’s wife, Christine, in the back of an immaculate maroon four-seater.

The 15hp four-cylinder Panhard, known as The Old Lady, is relatively modern among this company. It was the 237th car to be sold by C?S?Rolls in the same year he met Henry Royce and co-founded what would become the most celebrated automobile manufacturer of them all. The car was a wedding present to Hugh Marsham-Townshend, cousin to Charles Rolls, whose family would found the Western Motor Works through Rolls employees H?C?Bennett and chief test driver Arthur Priest. The company, a Vauxhall/Bedford agent, would maintain the Panhard until 1954 when Marsham-Townshend, in an act of generosity, gifted the car to Bennett. It remained in the family until 2005, Lord Laidlaw purchasing it in 2008 with the intention of taking part in the LBVCR. He has completed each run held since, boosting our confidence of making it to Brighton this morning.

The brass catches the light as dawn breaks and Irvine (no formalities required) selects first gear from the four-speed sequential transaxle chain drive. It’s not yet 7.30am, but large crowds have gathered as we cross the startline with a parp-parp of the horn. Down Constitution Hill, around Buckingham Palace (but no sign of Her Maj), along Birdcage Walk and into Parliament Square, smiling faces and cheers greet us as we make our way. It’s snug here in the back, the ride is firm but comfortable and we’re thankful for a crisp, dry morning instead of the heavy rain that dogged last year’s run.

Across Westminster Bridge, cars are already pulling up and bonnets are raised. By Brixton, we counted more than 30 early casualties. Here, bleary figures that have clearly spent some time on the tiles stare in confusion as we pass, motoring down the A23 and on to Streatham, Norbury and Thornton Heath. This grim trunk road has never been so pleasant… All the way, locals wave. Traffic is not usually popular around these parts, but it is today.

The route diverts through South Croydon rather than tackling the long drag up the Purley Way, thus missing the site of the old Croydon Airport from which so many of WB’s foreign adventures began. In Purley we rejoin the A23, motor through Coulsdon, cross the M25 and head through Merstham, Redhill and on to Horley. Flasks of hot chocolate laced with something stronger keep the chills at bay, as Irvine presses on to the checkpoint in Crawley High Street. We’ve made it to the George Hotel in just two hours.

A welcome bacon roll, a top-up of water (for the car, not us) and we’re back on the road, leaving the A23 at Pease Pottage to join picturesque B-roads and head into the beautiful Sussex countryside. At Handcross and Staplefield large crowds and local car clubs welcome us with cheers, and my face begins to ache from smiling… Through Cuckfield and on to Burgess Hill the Panhard is cracking on, but my colleagues warn that Clayton Hill and the South Downs await.

Momentum is key and, with so few revs available, downchanges on ascents are to be avoided. But we catch older cars, and thus earlier starters, just as we begin the ascent. The climb becomes a crawl, but as oil and water temperatures rise The Old Lady never stutters. We reach the top with a cheer from the volunteer marshals and swoop down to the A23 and the run into Brighton.

Joggers and dogs scatter as we trundle through Preston Park, make our checkpoint and then head through Brighton’s dingy streets. It’s not a race, but the competitive spirit is inevitable and there’s little quarter given as we cut past traffic queues of ‘moderns’. No one seems to mind, goodwill being on overflow for this special occasion.

On to Madeira Drive and the seafront. The sonorous tones of dear old Brian Jones welcome us, just three and a half hours after he’d seen us off from Hyde Park. Irvine is delighted; his best run yet from half a dozen attempts. It’s not quite 11am as we park up, with only about 10 cars ahead of us.

The 1902 Darracq of Allan White had been the first of a remarkable 341 of the 385 starters to complete the 60 miles before the 4.30pm deadline. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason was among the field as, too, was celebrated cinematic icon Genevieve, a 1904 Darracq.

For the first time in its 117-year history, commemorating the original Emancipation Run of November 1896, an official competitive element was included. A regularity test involving cars averaging a precise speed between two controls was a welcome addition, the 1902 Mors of Philip Oldman claiming the inaugural trophy.

But the star feature of the day was a trio of fabulous racing Napiers, lined up together on the event for the first time and recreating the team that contested the Gordon Bennett Cup races of the early 20th Century. The trio included the 6.5-litre Napier in which S?F?Edge won the 1902 race between Paris and Innsbruck, the first international victory for a British car – and painted in glorious British Racing Green to boot. It was one of many heart-warming sights on a glorious autumn morning. Damien Smith

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