WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOS: HERO-ERA
The 1962 Volvo PV544 of Dan Willan and Niall Frost won HERO-ERA‘s 2023 RAC Rally of the Tests on November 5, 2023 as rivals succumbed to mechanical maladies, slippery conditions and a road block. By taking first place, Willan and Frost have become back-to-back winners, having also claimed victory in 2022.
“Incredible! It has not sunk in yet; we just had a great time in the car,” said Frost of his crew’s victory. “The result has come from great teamwork and great driving from Dan – he knows how to handle a car.”
It just proves the old rally saying, 'never give up, keep it going'
Finishing in the runner-up spot was the Volvo Amazon of Paul Dyas and Martin Taylor, who also finished in second place in 2022. The duo were initially running in third place, before gaining a position when the Belgian crew of Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde unfortunately slid into a ditch in the final Catterick Military Training Forest Complex.
“It’s the game, we know it can happen, but now this is unfinished business – we will be back,” promised Vanoverschelde in the aftermath of the rally. Having been freed from the ditch by the Mechanical Assistance Team, Vanoverschelde and Vanderspinnen went on to win their class and place eighth overall.
In another repeat of last year, it was Paul Crosby and Ali Proctor who rounded out the podium in their 1966 Mini Cooper S – despite having to reroute after a local farmer blocked the route with his truck. Adding to their misfortune were a sticking rear brake and a loose timing chain, in addition to a time penalty imposed for a missed turn in the Acaster Maze.
“It just proves the old rally saying, ‘never give up, keep it going’,” Crosby opined. “What we were very grateful for was Darell and Nicky Staniforth, who stopped to help us with repairs – otherwise we might not have got onto the podium.”
For their part, the Staniforths finished just short of the podium in their 1967 Mini Cooper S, ahead of the fast and reliable 1985 Toyota MR2 of John King and Mike Cochrane that finished fifth.
Coming in sixth position, meanwhile, was the oversteer-prone Ford Escort RS2000 driven by debutant Steve Head, who received the Newcomer Driver Award and Test Pilot Award for the fastest driver overall on the tests. Head credited his young 17-year-old navigator, Oli Waldock, for his successful outing.
Eight German crews made their way to the UK for the Rally of the Tests, including Udo Schauss, who was presented with the Newcomer Navigator Award for successfully guiding team-mate Thomas Koerner home into 14th place.
Also hailing from Germany were Barbara Richter and Britta-Christin Rehberg, who took the Special Award for the first all-female crew to reach the finish line. Ecstatic with the result, the pair were already planning their entry into the 2024 event at the finish line.
“Lots of crews come over from Germany because we have more things to do here,” Richter explained. “Sometimes on the test we can go fast. In Germany we have no tests and we drive slowly – there are too many controls… We will come back next year.”
German competitor Klaus Mueller and Italian navigator Rolf Pellini now lie second in the HERO Cup for Drivers and the Golden Roamer Championship for Navigators after placing 11th in the Rally of the Tests.
2023 represented the addition of the Rally of the Tests Lite, which follows the regular rally with a high number of flowing tests while reducing the number of sections run in the dark and the amount of plotting required by the crews.
The overall winner of the Rally of the Tests Lite was the 1974 MGB GT V8 of Steve and Julia Robertson, ahead of David and Melanie Roberts’ 1983 Volkswagen Golf GTI and the 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190 of Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickens.
The next event in the HERO-ERA calendar is the gruelling LeJog rally, which gets underway on December 2, 2023. For more information, click here.