Review Roger Albert Clark RAC Rally

Review Roger Albert Clark RAC RallyFrom Chris Biewer [ 14/12/2011 ].
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During the last week the RAC Rally ended. RAC as in Roger Albert Clark, as in proper rally, not Rally Around Cardiff. It is a slight shame that we did not report of the event live, due to lack of response from the organisers. But then the event just is too fantastic to let you miss out on it completely. Apart from this being a historic rally with cars permitted similar to the recent Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic, let’s just start on the action and you see yourself the difference to a modern version WRC qualifier of what was once known as the RAC Rally.

The Friday (2nd December) started off with scrutineering in Duncombe Park near Pickering, North Yorkshire. On the same day at 5:30pm the action kicked off with a stage in Duncombe Park. The 2nd stage was Dalby Forest, famous from good old RAC Rallies. Long stage, fast, long straights with tight corners. There still is a corner called “Hannu Mikkola Corner”, datinfg back from RAC Rallies 1973 & 1974, crashing Escorts in this same corner. The famous Dalby stage is on the outskirts of the York Moors National Park, near Pickering. Both stages were then repeated.

This means we actually had a very compact and clever first day. 4 stages, everything very compact, all run in the dark and a 50/50 mix between glorious stately homes park stages and a proper spooky forest. Gwyndaf Evans in his Escort Mk2 BDA won the first park stage by 4s, and then the first run in Dalby Forest by a whooping 27s! The 2nd run through the park stage was actually won by David Stokes in a Mk1 Escort, but another convincing stage win in Dalby, with 2nd and 3rd times going to different drivers all the time, had Evans in a lead of over 1min by the end of leg1. 2nd overall was now Paul Griffith in an Escort Mk2 and 3rd Stokes in his Mk1 example. There should be a mention for Tim Mason, who set 5th fastest time in SS1 in a Porsche 911. However on the first forest stage he had a combination of engine and transmission problems, forcing him to retire. Phil Collins and Nicky Grist (also names that you should remember) set 3rd fastest time in Duncombe Park2, but then the Opel Ascona 400 crew dropped 4 minutes with a problem in Dalby2, leaving the top10 look like a Ford Escort one-makes-series by the end of the day.

If you don’t know Phil Collins and Nicky Grist, come to discuss on our forum. The Lancia Stratos was never an easy car on the RAC and therefore Steve Perez, this time with Paul Spooner, was just outside the top10. You know Steve Perez for coming 5th in a Datsun 260Z in the East African Safari only a few days earlier, there with former WRC (Kenneth Eriksson) and recent Sandell navigator Staffan Parmander. Also just outside the top10 Belgian ex-works Escort BDA driver Christophe Jacob with Stéphane Prevot on his passenger’s seat. Prevot also just flew in from Kenya, where he finished 4th in Gerard Marcy’s Porsche. He further is of course known as a WRC navigator with a large selection of drivers, as Bruno Thiry, Francois Duval, Chris Atkinson, Henning Solberg, Evgeny Crashnikov.... Another Escort driver you may know is Marcus Dodd, formerly competing in Britain and WRC RAC Rallies with Ford Escort Cosworths and Hyundai Accent WRCs and his navigator Andrew Bargery, former Peugeot Cup winner and British Champion with Justin Dale. The promising pair however had an altogether slow start to be in 25th place after day1. Belgian Stefan Stouf was not mentioned earlier mainly for he is yet another part of the Escort one-makes-series. He was seeded N°1 for winning the Roger Albert Clark RAC in 2010. However, after 8th fastest time in the opening park stage, he hit major problems in SS2, falling way down the order into 37th place.

This all contributed to make Gwyndaf Evans look like the clear favourit already at the end of the short day1. So at this point comes the introduction of crew N°2: Gwyndaf Evans has a major history behind him. See: http://www.rallye-info.com/driverprofile.asp?driver=871 Beyond these results he was a major Ford WRC test driver in the Escort Cosworth days. He also won the BRC title in 1996 in a Ford Escort F2 Kit Car. And today at least I rate his son Elfyn Evans as hot property for the future, following a few international starts in a Fiesta R2. Gwyndaf’s navigator on the RAC 2011 is John Millington, manager at the current Ford WRC team, while the car is prepared by Viking Motorsport, the company of former Petter Solberg navigator Phil Mills.

Day2 kicked off with the Langdale Forest stage, located near Scarborough, near the East coast. This was followed by Gale Rigg, back in the moors near Dalby. These two forest stages then were followed by a service and two more park stages at Duncombe, then a 2nd loop through Langdale and Gale Rigg. However the second run through Gale Rigg was then followed by a longer road section heading north to Darlington for a service and two more park-like stages, this time on the Croft Circuit. As night fell, the day carried on through two long forest stages. The first one being Hamsterley. The rest old RAC fans can half guess. Depending where the starting town was, old type RACs often kicked off with Hamsterley as the first proper forest stage. Either way Hamsterley is kind of a stand alone stage, being to the East of Kielder Forest, heading back towards Yorkshire. That is what I meant with the guess. Day2 concluded with the long Shepherdshield stage, which is a proper Kielder Forest complex stage, leading across Kielder, making Shepherdshield an inviteable last stage before a Carlisle (now we are in Lake District/M-Sport county) night stop.

In terms of competition, Gwyndaf Evans started day2 where he left day1. Both forest stages in the morning where his. And never mind his lead, he meant business. On Duncombe Park4 he set a time of 2m54, which is a mindblowing 17s faster than his stage winning time on Duncombe Park1! If an Escort one-makes-championship bores you, Steve Perez in the Stratos stuck solid in 13th position as the best non-Escort. However Phil Collins/Nicky Grist in their Opel Ascona 400 were in the top6 on every stage so far this day, yet the overall competition seems so close that they could only improve from 23rd to 20th place. But, as the day progressed, a 3rd fastest time on Gale Rigg2 and then – note, 1st stage that was not won by an Escort – winning the Croft stage moved Phil Collins up to 13th after all. Now his big hopes to get back into the top10 were on the long Hamsterley and Kielder stages. 2010 winner Stefan Stouf didn’t even reach these classics as he blew his head gasket just before Croft and was forced to retire for good.

Hamsterley and Kielder (Shepherdshield) did justice to their names. Gwyndaf Evans won Hamsterley, but only 4s from Paul Griffith. Surprisingly Bob Bean managed 8th fastest time in Hamsterley in his 1966 Ford Lotus Cortina Mk1! Phil Collins stuck to his promise, his major attack for the top10 ended against a Hamsterley tree. Shepherdshield in deep night saw another close Evans-Griffith 1-2, with Perez in the Stratos now setting a fine 7th fastest time. However this was Perez’s only top10 time of the day and this, combined with Collins’ off, means the top10 was still an Escort one-makes-series with Evans leading Griffith by 2m24.

Day3, Sunday, is the Scottish day. Stages include Ae, Twiglees (Castle O’Er) and Heathhall (Heathhall is actually another park stage), all run twice. The service for the day is moved to Dumfries. You have to picture this: From Carlisle you hit the M6 motorway and within half an hour you are past Lockerbie and Dumfries. Despite this short distance the organisers move service to make the day more stages and less road sections for the rally cars, which to my mind is the way to do it! The famous Ae stage is just North of Dumfries, while Twiglees and Castle O’Er is just on the other side of the motorway, very close to Wauchope Forest – see loads of old RAC stages! The day concluded in two runs over a stage called Newcastleton, which is actually part of the Kielder-Kershope stage, but while most of Kershope is south of the Scottish border, the Newcastleton stage stays completely on the Scottish side, ending just at Kershope Bridge. All is so close together, that the service between the two Scottish Kershope (Newcastleton) stages is actually back in Carlisle!

Back to the competitive side of things, the day sadly started off with a 12min time loss for Bob Bean in his Lotus Cortina. At the front it seemed business as usual, with Paul Griffith actually taking a stage win from Gwyndaf Evans in Heathhall1. However hopes of a battle at the front were soon dashed, when Griffith damaged his suspension on the very next stage, Ae2, Griffith had to retire, leaving Evans now in a lead of over 5min from the Mk1 Escort of David Stokes. Despite all that, Gwyndaf Evans would still not back off at the front. Although we saw a welcome stage win in Twiglees2 by Charly Taylor in an Escort (of course), Evans replied in winning Newcastleton2 by a mindblowing 31s. At least by now we saw regular top10 times by Andrew Borthwick in a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus and Lionel Hansen in a Porsche 911. In stage times Perez in his Stratos was not quite as convincing as Borthwick and Hansen, but he now was in 10th place, such making the top10 time sheets look less off a one-makes-series. Sadly earlier mishaps had Borthwick’s Talbot way down the order, but Belgian Lionel Hansen was in 11th, chasing Perez hard by now. However it was another Belgian, Christophe Jacob in his ex-works Escort, making it from 12th to 8th during the day, so the top10 was not a private affair of British drivers any longer, either.

Day4, yes Monday the 5th, is comparatively quickly explained. The rally concentrated on the famous Kielder Forest complex for an exciting finale, as Kielder is famous for its dramas. The day included two Kershope stages, which with a driving time of nearly half an hour each where the two longest stages of the rally. The finish was then at Carlisle city centre at 2pm.

Indeed even for a short day, Kielder always guarantees drama! Already Kershope1 saw Porsche driver Hansen in big dramas, ending his hopes on passing the Stratos to become the best non-Escort driver. 2nd placed David Stokes was “only” 8th fastest on Kershope1, but the gaps on this stage were quite big and out of nowhere came a massive stage win by Tim Pearcey. This meant Pearcey overtook Stokes for 2nd place so close to the finish. A similar game we saw for 8th place: A combination of 3rd fastest time for Perez (where did that come from all the sudden?) and rather slow times from Christophe Jacob and Guy Smith had the Stratos gain another 2 places. Despite his Kershope1 dramas, Lionel Hansen’s Porsche 911 managed to hang on to 11th place. Colin Hope finishing 13th overall in a Saab 96 V4 must have been some drive. Bob Bean still managed 20th place in his Ford Lotus Cortina, one place ahead of Andrew Borthwick’s Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.

Roger Albert Clark Rally 2011 overall results:

1st= Gwyndaf Evans/John Millington, Ford Escort Mk2, 2h53m40s;
2nd= Tim Pearcey/Neil Shanks, Ford Escort Mk2, +7m52s;
3rd= David Stokes/Guy Weaver, Ford Escort Mk1, +8m26s;
4th= Charly Taylor/Steve Bielby, Ford Escort Mk2, +9m30s;
5th= Guy Woodcock/Graham Dance, Ford Escort Mk2 (g1 RS2000), +10m38s;
6th= Keith Robatan/Phil Clarke, Ford Escort Mk2, +12m41s;
7th= Phil Squires/Mick Squires, Ford Escort Mk2, +16m54s;
8th= Steve Perez/Paul Spooner, Lancia Stratos, +17m41s;
9th= Christophe Jacob/Stéphane Prevot, Ford Escort Mk2, +18m22s;
10th= Guy Smith/Patrick Walsh, Ford Escort Mk1, +23m44s

See also my rant here: http://www.rallye-info.com/article.asp?sid=4&stid=9844