The RAC rally. A rally that makes 'rally-ists' of a certain age very rosy eyed and a tad emotional. The golden age of rallying, a bygone era when cars were tuned and fettled by special works departments. Made into fighting machines, then sent out into the harsh terrains of Britain to tackle the dirt tracks, forestry trails and more perilous roads Britain had to offer. This was a rally that tested Britain's place in motor-sport, both as a producer of rally cars and as a place were motor-sport itself could develop.
The Rally of the Tests aims to recapture some of the spirit of the classic RAC rally from the 50's and 60's, with even older and younger cars been thrown into the mix. (I shalln't mention the Nissan Sunny with the blown exhaust that brought a smile to everyone's face). I must say you can really tell that some serious organising goes into an event such as it really was a treat for spectators and the enthusiasts taking part. The rally was over three days and started in Bournemouth on the Friday morning and finished in Chester on Sunday evening. The event may not have been as well advertised and attended as the Wales Rally GB had been the week previous, but I'd be inclined to say this was my personal favourite of the two. Unlike the WRC crowd the classics used for this event looked so cool. The cars really aren't so distant from their road going standard. I think that is what I like most. An Hyundai i20 used in the WRC really doesn't look like my Mothers daily runabout. Whereas I can see how my Mini could look like a rally car with a few mudguards and extra light or two, I could soon be rallying with the rest of them. Probably.
Visiting the Rednal go-kart track on the Sunday morning everyone was treated to some testing of the motors on track. Even though it is a karting track, the classics really didn't look out of place there. The tight corners, short straights, tarmac sections with latter dirt track sections made for a great mornings sport. There was a few very good laps being put in, one being the 1925 Bentley Supersport which; complete with blue smoke (out of a canister). Needless to say the Bednobs and Broomsticks style special effect increased the top speed of the Bentley as it went round the track really rather quickly considering it was running around on pram wheels. There was a few 'oooooos' and 'arrrrrs' as it negotiated the tight S bend where it looked prone to tip. Everybody watching the Bentley at Rednall really were treated to a rare spectacle with the Supersport and I'd like to thank the driver and navigator for just going for it.
A Cooper going round part of Rednall
There was various other treats on track too. It was marvelous to see the Minis on track mostly together, with the drivers equally matched trying to get the best times in. It was also something for a Mini enthusiast to see 6 EMO, Paddy Hopkirk's Rally Mini Replica being used for a rally such as this. It's nice to see a car like this being used for their original purpose. The series of rarer Volvo's being used was nice to see. The Volvo Amazon being one of the most popular for rallying events seemed surprisingly at home on track rather than in it's usual stomping ground of forestry commission tracks. Moreover it was great to see one big Healey being used for rallying. Being such an expensive and coveted sports-car one wouldn't be surprised to see none at all but one wasn't going to be beaten. This was even more poignant having learnt that that particular Healey was a genuine ex-works car, used by Timo Makinen and Paul Easter and has a true rallying history having come 2nd in the Liege-Rome-Liege of '64. It was great to see true motoring heritage still being used for rallying. Other cars that featured included 10 911's, 8 Alpha's, 6 Escorts, 4 TR4's, 2 Datsun 240z's and a Reliant Scimitar in a pear tree.
Having watched the cars finish at Rednal and proceed onto their next checkpoint and final test we rejoined the convoy in Chester City centre. This Roman city was a great place to end the rally. The reception may have been a little underwhelming for drivers and navigators; they all seemed in high spirits nonetheless and it was great to see these old machines on the cobbled streets of my home city. They really did look like something from a by-gone era. It was really special to see a historic rally in Chester and a highlight of my motoring year. Even a Alfa Romeo GTV covered in duct tape had a certain charm. Congratulations are obviously in order for the winners: Andy Lane and Richard Crozier in their Volvo 123GT or an Amazon to you and me that was showered in champagne on the finishing line. I must say I really do hope that the Rally of the Tests returns to the North West next year as it was really great to see this muddy Goodwood Revival on my door-step. The enthusiasm of those involved was infectious and made for a great day's motoring adventure, even without my own car. Ace.