HRCR 2014 Historic Road Rally Championship Review
Here is Steven Entwisttles review of his season with Bob Hargreaves in his ‘Orange Box’ Mini, powered by a Mini Sport 1293cc Engine.
At the beginning of this year a decision was made to compete on the full eleven rounds of the Historic rally car registers Clubman’s rally championship the country’s premier historic road based series with events stretching from the wilds of north Yorkshire to deepest Wales and the far south coast of England. With over 75 registered contenders, many who do the championship year in year out it was going to be a steep learning curve. My car the ‘infamous’ Orangebox Mini with rally history back to 1962 had been run successfully with just 1000cc under the bonnet all its life but a decision was made to re-engine it to help get on terms with the Porsche 911s and RS2000 Escorts that dominate the events these days.
A chat with Daniel Harper at Mini Sport came up with a suitable spec for the 1293cc engine. A compromise is required between getting the best power/performance yet to keep the car tractable; an engine was built and fitted initially with the twin 1.25” SU carburettors off the old 997 engine. Along with going through the car to make sure it was fully fit myself and regular navigator, Bob Hargreaves from Ulverston were looking forward to round 1!.
The format of the events follow a similar pattern, comprising normally six regularities along with special tests of which there could be anything from 8 to 20 of them, in a route of around 150 miles. The regularities are usually held on public rural roads whereby you leave the start control and have to average a set speed throughout the section, sounds easy until you arrive in a control where you then lose 20/30 seconds while stationary, complicated by the fact the required average speed could change three or four times!. These sections can last up to an hour with several controls, and in some areas, namely Wales and Yorkshire where the route will go off on private land and you have to really push to stay on time, usually on unsurfaced roads. These regularities are timed to the second.
Some regularities are held solely on private/forestry commission land and are like ‘old style’ night road rallies, i.e. Very quick, with lots of controls close together, tricky junctions etc. The special tests are driven as fast as possible on every type of surface from farm tracks to kart circuits and everything in-between, with the odd Autotest type test.
Friday 28th February saw us set off to Beeston in Cheshire with crew and car looking resplendent in their new Mini Sport decals/clothing. Knutsford DMC had attracted a 76 car entry for their very popular event with us seeded at car 19. We had fitted ‘knobbly’ type tyres in readiness for the muddy lanes and loose surfaced tests. We had a trouble free day and were pleased to finish the event 8th overall. Winners were Mallagh in a Porsche with another 911 of Howard Warren second then John Ruddock’s 2-litre Escort. The power of the new 1293 engine came in very useful and we raised a few eyebrows with our performance on the tests!
A few weeks later we set off to the York area for round 2 the North York Historic, the Orangebox now running on twin 1.5” SU carbs and fitted with a new set of A008 Yokohama tyres on. A 60 car entry was received by the organizers who had seeded us at car 8. The morning went well though I thought we could do better on the tests, our times were good, but I felt we would have been quicker on the ‘knobblies’, at lunch we very happy to see we were leading!! The afternoon went really well on the regularities, Bob doing a sterling job, but the tests in Duncombe park were very rough, and along with heavy rain I eased back with us finishing the event 3rd overall, behind winners Matt Warren in his Burton powered Escort and Mallagh in the very quick blue 911, we also won our class, an excellent days work!
The 13th April (my wedding annivarsy!) we were back in Yorkshire for round 3 the Ilkley Jubilee, the organizers had received 72 entries and had seeded us at car 5. We were looking forward to this event, we had been 5th the year before with the 997 engine. Our day started well but then on regularity the trip meter ‘froze’ which picked us up penalties. I had a mess with the sensor for the trip and it behaved itself for a while before going off and back on again another three times, absolutely disastrous!! This was a big disappointment to us and we ended the day in a disappointing 12th overall with John Ruddock in the Escort winning.
Less than a month later saw us on the first of a summer of events all based a long way from home and we set off to compete on Ecurie Cymraegs Leukaemia rally based at Chepstow racecourse. They had a 48 car entry with a few of the regulars not entering but made up for with some quick local crews, we started at car 7 this time. The day got off to a good start with us getting FTD on the first of 21 tests, all of which were extremely fast! We had a good day marred by a ‘wrong slot’, we corrected it and went back but followed two other competitors into the long dusty sequence of dusty ‘white’ roads, the first moved other at the first opportunity, as you should when caught, but the other, a local, wouldn’t move. The result of 6th overall was pleasing, though that wrong slot/baulk cost us a secure 3rd!
Less than three weeks later saw us trekking all the way down to Ashford in Kent for Blackpalfrey Motor clubs Hughes Rally. They had 48 cars on their event with us seeded at car 7 again. We had a good day on the tests, second fastest overall with me winning an award for the performance, unfortunately Bob had a poor day by his standards and we were very down with our 12th overall, Ruddock winning in his Escort, Warren second in his 911 followed by John Abel in his fearsome GT40 spec (!) Sunbeam Tiger.
After a break in July and the beginning of August, the 21st saw us down in Diss in Norfolk for round 6 Chelmsford MC East Anglia Rally. A smallish entry of 43 started on a very warm morning that was to get blistering hot as the day went on with many cars struggling with the heat on the long fast airfield tests. Yet again we started at car 7. It was a very tough day, the tests very rough in places and very hot and dusty, many of them run twice with cars starting at 30 second intervals, on one test we caught and passed the Cooper ‘S’ that had set of 30 seconds ahead of us. At the lunch halt we were lying 3rd overall, but the car was running very hot, as were the other competitors, a line of cars all with bonnets up/removed while the crew refuelled!!
Disaster occurred in the afternoon on a regularity, which was on private land; 15 mile long with many controls consisting of three laps of tracks and ex WW2 runway, arriving at a junction in the dust at over 60mph Bob called left only to realise at the last minute we should have stayed right!! I was mortified, the penalty being 5 minutes, dropping us way outside the top ten, 15th overall, though we still managed a trophy for 2nd in the class! Winners were Ruddock/Pullan again in the very quickly driven white MK1 Escort followed by the Powley’s 2.4 911 and Roger Kilty 3rd in his immaculate and very quick yellow full GP1 droop snoot RS2000. The good news was due to competing and finishing every event so far we were leading the championship at this point.
The 19th July saw us down in Ross-on-Wye for the next round, the Ross Traders rally. They had attracted a 53 car entry for their event which has a reputation for being one of the toughest in the championship. We were both ‘fired up’ and determined to get a good result. The event turned out quite enjoyable with the first tests in Clipstone forest smooth and flowing and very enjoyable. The car was going as well as ever, a Kenlowe fan had been fitted the week before at Mini Sport plus a few other jobs, and myself and Bob held it all together to get a well-earned and much needed 4th overall, behind Griffiths in his very rapid 8-port crossflow Mini Clubman GT, winning our class into the bargain!
Only three weeks later we were back in the north of England for round 8 the ST.Wilfreds rally, the organizers attracting a quality 52 car entry. We were running on the knobbly type tyres again as most of the tests were on loose/broken surfaces with three of them on the access roads and circuit of York Autograss clubs home circuit. We had an excellent day with no real problems, a lot of the tests seemed to suit a quick Escort, though we had many top three times, with one using fast farm tracks ending with some very twisty stuff with two Minis at the top of the time sheet with Griffiths piping us by 1 second in the 8-port Clubman and us a full 10s seconds up on the third and fourth fastest cars, both Escorts! We finished the event 3rd behind Ruddock’s Escort and Warrens 911, with another three RS2000s behind us in 4th, 5th and 6th. I was very happy with this result, and proved that myself Bob and with the very competitive Mini Sport engine could split the all-conquering Escorts. We also gained another class win and improved our championship points, a grand day out!
Just over a month later we were in North Wales for Guy Woodcocks Vale of Clwyd rally, which has a fearsome reputation. This event normally attracts a boat load from Ireland getting in some practice for the Rally of The Tests in November which in 2014 was based mainly in Wales. Myself and Bob had done this event twice before, never getting a particularly good result, but both times setting fastest time on the first special test both times. The entry was oversubscribed with 70 cars plus a reserves list, we had been seeded at 3 which Bob wasn’t comfortable with so a chat with the organizers saw us start at 9 with Mallagh swopping places with us in his 911.
The day started well with us fastest on that first test again (!) beating multiple Irish rally/Rally cross champion Dermot Carnegie partnered by Paul Bosdet in an Escort that reputedly cost over £100k! Onto the first regularity it was going well, finding a tricky slot off left through a hole in the hedge(!) for the first control, this only five minutes in to the event proper. Later on we dropped time after a minor wrong slot with a confusing approach were two roads met alongside each other, we avoided a WD (coming in the control from the wrong direction), but dropped time retracing our steps with the correct approach up from a fast flowing ford being twisty and slippy with traction at a minimum.
Before lunch there was a batch of five special tests, the first two in a steep twisty wood/forest. The cars were set off at 30 second intervals, at the last junction first time through you kept right to the finish, then came back up the public road to do it again but on the second run you hairpinned left at the last junction to finish through some downhill twisty cambered corners. While waiting for our first run (we were running out of position at this point), the Powley’s came past for their second run they slowed as they passed and shouted ‘Steve, watch the stones!!’ me giving them the ‘thumbs up!’. We started the test which had indeed lots of loose stones, we sat on the sump guard on the start line were the Escorts and 911s had dug trenches with the rear tyres as they set off, the test was very rough in places with us riding on the sump guard for stretches on very narrow tracks . In hindsight if we had realised it was going to be as rough we could have raised the car before the event with the Mini Sport Adusta-Ride suspension we have.
Anyway we got round to start our second run but after the hairpin near the finish we came round a corner and hit some bedrock with an almighty bang, as we left the finish marshal I looked at the gauges and saw that the temperature gauge was off the dial. We stopped and removed the bonnet, oh dear! It seems the massive bag had forced the radiator fan and cowl together which had jammed and bent all the blades on the steel four blade and ripped the fan belt off. We carry a spare fan belt with us so we set to with the tools I carry, firstly bending the fan blades so that the fan would rotate , one blade was bent through 180 degrees, if this had been a plastic fan we would have had no blades left. The old fan belt was jammed everywhere it could get locking up the water pump pulley etc., and it was all very hot. This had taken us twenty minutes and on this event there is only 15 minutes lateness allowed unlike the normal 30 minutes. With the car running again we made for the main control with five minutes spare before going over time lateness (OTL). The down side to this is we had to miss the next three tests before lunch and so picking up big penalties. We decided to carry on hoping everything was okay, we wanted to keep our 100% finish record intact and any points we score may come in useful at the end of the year.
First two tests after lunch was that forest/wood again!! Run in the opposite direction I erred on the side of caution and came away intact while still setting decent times. We had a decent run for the afternoon with some good tests and lovely smooth miles in Clocaenog forest on regularity, really enjoyed that from a drivers point on view. The next to last control was in a farmyard were you could see the finish from, all you had to do to get there is hairpin right travel down the edge of two fields, through a gate up a stream(!) and exit out of a bridleway way to the main road and the control ,phew, good fun. Our 14th overall and 3rd in class was quite amazing considering our day and was my best result on this event, those 1293ccs helped!!
The penultimate round of the championship was the Throckmorton Challenge run by the Historic Endurance Rally Organization. This runs to a different format than the other rounds, is shorter at just a 100 miles most of which is on the RAF Pershore site. They had a 104 car entry and with our Mini being registered in July 1960 as oldest car we started at car 1, not a good place to be! One of the scrutineers at the start was Bill Price ex BMC works team member who we had a good chat to. From the start it was straight into road regularity and it was raining very heavily, we turned left at one point to arrive at the second control, which was there but no marshal! I was about to set off and I saw the marshal running to us from his car 50 yards away, when he got to us he stopped the watch then!! We were now 42 seconds late by our reckoning, after taking our time he then gave us the time clock and held on to our time card, sounds amusing now but it wasn’t at the time, Only a few miles in and we had big penalties none of it being our fault.
From this we arrived at the first of 5 tests, it was still heavy with rain, but the tests were very fast with long flat out stretches. After these there was a time card collection and ten minute break, Bob had a chat with Ryan Pickering the navigator in Warrens 911 and we had taken between 3to 4seconds off them on the five tests, rain evens out the power, 100bhp Mini, 200bhp 911! The tests on this event are worked on the fastest in class gets zero penalty , second fastest two seconds and third fastest three seconds etc. If you were in a very competitive class like us it worked against you, we were consistently second fastest in class, beating Howard Warrens 911 and other Minis but John Abel in that fearsome Sunbeam Tiger was beating us, hence we picked up a two second penalty on every test whereas a car in a class with little competition was scoring zero penalties, though they might actually be slower than us! This wasn’t going to well!! Anyway after a wet day that dried out we finished in a lowly 21st overall, with slower cars in front of us yet still got a class award.
And so finally three weeks later came the last round the Regis rally all the way down south of England in Sussex, and interesting 50 years to the weekend since the Orange box Mini had finished second on Morecambe CC Illuminations rally, part of the famous and much talked about Motoring News rally championship. After a fraught 7 hour drive via a large car park called the M6 motorway we arrived for scrutineering and noise and passed as usual with no problems. We then set off for our accommodation were things took a turn as I felt very tired and unwell, retiring to bed by 10pm. I was awake and up all night being violently ill and come 6.30am and time to leave for the start of the rally I could barely see straight and just wanted to curl up in bed. I wasn’t going to let it beat me after such a long year and I dragged myself up and we set off to the start, the entry was only a small one for this round with many people on the Rally of the Tests the following week. We started at car 2 and despite me being ill it seemed to be going well, our tests times were right up there, it was much better when I was focused, though anything else was difficult, I spent the lunch halt sleeping in the car!! At the end the event, which had some good tests at Goodwood and the last at Tangmere airfield, Britain’s main airfield during the first world war and home to the famous pilot Douglass Bader we finished the day in 6th overall and 2nd in class, amazing after not being well.
Howard Warren in the 911 had won the rally and in turn won the championship from Ruddock/Pullan in the Escort. Third in the championship was Matt Warren in the Burton powered red Escort with us fourth in the Mini Sport backed and powered Mini. We have also won the pre-68 historic part of the c/ship as the cars in front are post historic. For a first time attempt at the championship we had an excellent run, the car has been excellent with a 100% start finish record helped by Mini Sport with their superb engine and tweaks and help, Mini Sport know more about rallying Minis then anyone in the business, and myself and Bob Hargreaves are very grateful to Mini Sport and their staff along with my employers BOWKER MINI Preston, Jon Wood, Neil Johnson and our VERY patient wife’s!!!