Rally of the Tests 2013 Preview

ROTTThis year sees the twelfth running of The Classic Rally Association’s Rally of the Tests. This year the event moves north and sees the event start in the historic walled City of Chester, some three and a half days later and after winding its way through a maze of classic lanes, tests and regularity sections, it ends up in the beautiful Spa town of Harrogate in North Yorkshire. Over the years, the event has blossomed in status; it is now attracting an international entry on a regular basis. This year sees Entries from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Holland, Ireland and Italy as well as the Home Countries, truly international.

Take a look down the past winners, it reads like a who’s who from rallies of yesteryear, it also holds entries from competitors involved with modern road and stage rallying. There is an appeal to this event that is all encompassing. So what is it that makes this event special? Rallying Legend and rally supplies supremo Don Barrow was my first port of call, if ever a person was fit to comment on what makes a good event, Don was the one! I asked Don how the atmosphere and feel of Rally of the Tests compared to the RAC’s of old.

“My first taste of watching the 1959 RAC Rally, which had tests similar to the current ROTT, was at Oulton Park, I went to spectate but on arrival I was quickly signed up as a test marshal, just in case someone overturned their car on the hairpin right, I had no experience and I was signed up just to make up the numbers! However on the current ROTT marshals are very ‘switched on’ with full guidance and instructions given to operate the event very safely and smoothly.”

My curiosity was pricked and I asked Don why Historic Rallying has become so popular in recent years, and why it appealed to him.

Photo by Brynmor Pierce

“After having competed on a fair number of night rallies where dashing around the lanes was deemed to be quite safe, I eventually retired from top flight competition. Lots of folk had lovely old classic cars in their garages and were looking for events to compete in. I think the HRCR organisation were the leading lights in drawing up a set of rules for regularity events. It was a bit like running a slow bicycle race but in cars where speed was very limited and enabled crews to perfect their skills in keeping a car at a slow set speed with unannounced secret Time Controls. This form of motor sport appealed to a lot of people and soon blossomed into a national sport.”

Some people see the Rally as expensive; do you think it represents good value Don? I asked.

“If you want first class organisation with good quality venues, some of which are charged for the use of test etc, together with top class hotels, then unfortunately you have to pay. On the other hand the organisers totally rely on the goodwill and services of hundreds of marshals who turn out year after year at their own expense and apart from a souvenir lapel badge; there is no other reward but the pride of putting something back into rallying which we all enjoyed when we were competing.”

Next on my list were two noted competitors, Paul Bosdet and Steve Entwistle.

Paul, what appeals about classic rallying and particularly ROTT to you?

“I like the variety of the content of the events and particularly the craic with other competitors that you do not get on night events. You also get to see the classic night roads in daylight which can be useful! ROTT is top of the tree! The content, length of event along with the hotels and food make it superb.”

2012 Winners - Paul Wignall & Mark Appleton
Photo by KMJ Photos, www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003022630988

Can you see more people taking part in classic rallies?

“Yes, as long as the navigation doesn’t become too silly.”

Steve, same question to you, what appeals about classic rallies?

“Although I work in the motor trade, ‘modern’ cars just don’t do it for me. Also I have competed for many years on night events that had historic cars, and classes, something which has now almost disappeared, and much as I enjoyed night rallies, I get more enjoyment out of the ‘good’ historic daytime events, where my car can be competitive, as the night events have seemed to get so much quicker in the last five years or so.”

Can you see classic series and events, attracting new competitors to historic events?

“Yes, especially with the extension of the age of cars to enable newer cars to compete, alongside the massive costs involved these days with stage events, belts, seats etc that have to be changed, even though in most cases they are still fit for purpose, what a waste of money!!”

In terms of standards of events, how does ROTT compare to others?

“From what I have seen so far, it is up there with the very best of events, I would say the paperwork is to a better standard than when I was doing the Network Q/RAC historic events of the early nineties.”

I’d spoken frequently with Guy Woodcock, but had never had chance to speak to his assistant Anthony “Presto” Preston. I wanted to find out about the commitment and time put into an event such as this.

Photo by Brynmor Pierce

“It has been much the same as previous years (this is the 9th year I have done this work). It roughly takes a year to organise, but it would be hard to actually quantify the actual number of days work in total but I guess somewhere between 70 and 100 days. In terms of when we start, well we have already started planning for the 2014 event and we will finish with the 2013 event during the week after it actually takes place!

It must leave you bored a little though Anthony just after it finishes? Any other events planned?

“No time to be bored! I am off to South America (Argentina and Chile) on 11th November to work on the Vintage Cape Horn event for 25 days! And yes, there are three or four events in 2014 that I am already working on or helping out with.”

So it’s safe to say you prefer Classics over Modern?

“Classics have always really been my thing as it was classic rallies I started navigating on back in 1991 and it is the type of event I enjoy the most. I have done some modern rallying in the past but nowadays it is mainly classics plus some modern endurance road rallies. Also the rally work I do is predominantly for classic and vintage cars.”

Last on the list was a meeting with Guy Woodcock, Clerk of the Course at his office, Guy is buzzing about the event and showed me some of the publications and handouts for officials and competitors, the quality is superb. Attention to detail and the precision shown give you an inkling that this event will run well. I asked Guy a few questions.

2012 - Class 7 2nd Place Finishers - Kevin Haselden & Tony Davies
Photo by Martin Leonard

I may be barking up the wrong tree, but I can see a pattern starting to form with the events.. Are you planning a complete loop of the Country in time? Start from last years finish venue?

“Not at all, we have already decided a start and finish venue for 2014, we will announce it during this years event all being well.”

How do you go on with the hotels Guy? Surely booking them up with so many guests ensures you a decent rate?

“Quite the reverse, think about it! Most hotels take bookings for a Friday/Saturday night, as a rule we only stay at a hotel one night, so we end up receiving no discount! Thursday’s are OK as are Sundays, but the main days we have to pay the full whack. I was of the same mind, that we should get discount, but if you think about it, it’s not just the room which has to be laundered etc.. It’s the food and bar takings that get hit also.”

What keeps you going? What motivates you?

“I love what I do; it’s just plain and simple love for the sport and to give something back.”

The quality and attention to detail is second to none Guy, how do you keep achieving this?

“It’s about looking at what you have and getting the best from it. I’d rather spend a little bit extra on a ream of paper as an example. The extra couple of pounds spent make the presentation so much better. As you say, attention to detail is the key. People are expecting the best from us now and we try and deliver. We run the whole event like this.”

I left Guy finishing up some paperwork and headed back home with an overall thought and perception of this event. The man hours and costs involved are astronomical, but at the end of it, the sport is what matters. To give each competitor the best experience possible. The passion with which the route is produced, the minuscule things that bring the result on the event, the hotels, paperwork, marshals and venues, all are prepared to a very high standard.

Photo by Brynmor Pierce

The Rally starts on Thursday 31st October with the now established prologue to whet the appetite, taking place in and around the stunning scenery of The Clwydian Range, it tantalises the crews with what Clerk of Course, Guy Woodcock and his Assistant, Anthony Preston have in store. Neither of the two is short on experience, or wins, when it comes to rallying. Recently Woodcock partnered Charles Colton to take overall honours on The Pirelli Classic Marathon. “Presto” sat alongside Ronnie Griffin and secured a fine win on Clwyd Vale Motor Club’s “Vale of Clwyd Classic”.

On Friday, 1st November, the nitty gritty begins. Heading from Chester, the route will head south west through Wales, taking in some forestry and sections held on private land. It heads east up to Lake Vyrnwy and through Tanat Valley. The route presentation is in various forms, from the descriptive type of instruction of the early RAC rallies to spot heights, plots and other devices to amuse the crews and keep them on their toes. The organisers have taken heed of comments from past events and limited the on event plotting to allow an even greater social side. The overnight halt on Friday is at Stoke, where an evening based timed section will finish the proceedings for this day

Photo by Brynmor Pierce

Saturday sees the event head north into rural Cheshire for some regularity, skirting round the Meres Cheshire is famous for before an interesting test at Oulton Park Race Circuit. Ever further north, the route takes in some classic moorland roads in Lancashire, with well thought out sections that will test all levels of crew. Crossing the border between Lancashire and Cumbria sees the Rally of the Tests utilise some of the more open roads Cumbria has, these then give way to a superb night section which takes the event back to Bowness on Windermere via two regularities.

The final leg takes in moorland and fells from Bowness and heads over into North Yorkshire via some of the most famous road rallying roads of the past, a final flurry of tests see the event wind its way into Harrogate where the finish and evenings Black Tie Dinner take place, not to mention the award presentation.

Rally of the Tests is fast becoming, if not already the premier historic “test” style event, for some spectator information, click the following link.


Kev Haworth

A HUGE thank you goes out to Kev, Don, Paul, Steve, Anthony, Guy, Brynmor and everyone else who helped with this article in any way!