Icy forests catch out big names on Day 1 of the Roger Albert Clark Rally

The 2021 Roger Albert Clark Rally got underway from Carlisle with a series of dark, slippery stages claiming the first victims of the five-day historic event

Tuthill Porsche on Roger Albert Clark Rally

Ryan Champion & Craig Thorley's Porsche 911 ended the day fourth overall and first in class

Will Broadhead

The RAC initials, the cold November air, and the Kielder forest backdrop gave the beginning of the Roger Albert Clark Rally a nostalgic feel, even before the first of 140 historic cars left the gantry to begin five days of special stages across 350 miles of the best forest stages that England, Wales and Scotland can offer.

As twilight fell on Thursday, classic rally machines of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s rolled out to the first of four special stages that would bring mixed fortunes for the machines seeking to prosper on the forest tracks, well used to the stomp of rally cars at this time of year.

The itinerary was always going to be challenging and that proved to be true very quickly, with three cars being taken as casualties on the very first stage, including veteran Roger Chilman, reportedly making it less than 500 yards before his evening came to an abrupt halt.

Derek Belbin Ford Escort on Roger Albert Clark Rally

There are 93 Ford Escorts taking part, including Derek Belbin and James Burns’ distinctive striped car

Will Broadhead

The stages were slick under foot, the undergrowth at the edges of the forestry tracks still coated in a layer of frost that had remained largely unthawed under the weak sun, and as darkness fell and the temperature plummeted the surface became icy in spots. More calamities followed as the ice caught drivers out, including Top Gear’s Chris Harris. After running off the road in his MK2 Escort he did get going again but others weren’t so fortunate.

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Roger Albert Clark Rally set for 350 miles of classic forest stages

Topping the timesheets at the end of the first day of competition was the No2 Ford Escort RS1800 of Jason Tauber Pritchard and Phil Clarke, the first in a trio of Escorts that make up the top three. In second place, 33 seconds back, are Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan closely followed by Paul Barrett and Gordon Noble.

Sitting further back are Tony Jardine and Allan Harryman, who Motor Sport is following throughout the event. They made steady progress in their Hillman Avenger through the darkening conditions and, as the final times drifted in, the mindset of the tortoise had ensured that not only had the pair survived the evening, but they had also done so with some achievement. The No 131 car sits fourth in its class and 40th overall at the end of the first four stages.

Hillman Avenger of Tony Jardine on Roger Albert Clark Rally

Jardine's Avenger made it through the night, fourth in class at the end of Day 1

Will Broadhead

Tony Jardine and Allan Harryman on roger Albert Clark Rally

Jardine and Harryman maintain focus

Will Broadhead

Whilst the time sheets were positive for the car, running under the NET-HERO banner as the first fully carbon neutral entry to the rally, the evening’s running had highlighted some issues with the car, with Jardine complaining of brake problems among other gripes. Back at service cold hands clenched spanners and sockets as the team went to work to iron out the problems, and ready the Avenger for the next day’s running. With the car having gone together with little time to spare for an extended period of running in, it can only be expected that some problems will rise to the surface, but the camp seemed confident that all could and would be resolved before morning.

A late night on the tools will be time well spent, as leg two takes the rally to ‘killer Kielder’, the infamous roads of the forest often getting the upper hand on rally cars over the years. It is a test that Jardine is very much looking forward to though, but with the weather set to close in he and Harryman will need to have their wits about them to continue their good start.