STEVE Entwistle scored a unique hat-trick when he won his class on the RAC Rally of The Tests for the third year running.
The highly-rated Mini man from Rishton, near Blackburn, also finished third overall on the gruelling four-day event, acknowledged as the toughest regularity rally in the UK.
Entwistle and navigator Ali Procter, from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, were piloting 6 EMO, the famous Mini Cooper S owned by rally legend Paddy Hopkirk, and used by him to win the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon.
The pair spent the entire event locked in a three-way battle for victory with Paul Wignall and Mark Appleton in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint and the Volvo PV544 of Dan Willan and Martyn Taylor.
So close was the result that less than a minute separated the top three crews after 33 tests, 20 regularities, including two timed-to-the-second control sections, spanning 750 miles across England and Wales.
And Entwistle and Procter were in brilliant form, leading after the first and second legs, only slipping to third place on the last day.
Despite the disappointment, Entwistle, who rallies his own Mini – the famous ex-Roy Mapple Orangebox – was still very happy with the result.
“Changes to the regulations this year meant that, for the first time, cars built before 1968 were eligible for overall results and I really wanted outright victory,” he said.
“ But once I’d realised that I wasn’t going to win, I consoled myself with the fact that I was beaten by two of the best historic crews out there – and we did get our class win.”
Entwistle and Procter signalled their intentions on the Thursday night Prologue section, which was based around Harrogate, finishing third overall after the two tests and two regularities.
“We knew we had to be fast from the off, because of the class penalty system. If you didn’t win, penalties were added to your overall time on a sliding scale, depending on where you finished,” explained Entwistle.
“The bigger and more competitive classes, such as ours, with seven quick Minis and three Lotus Cortinas,
faced a much bigger challenge than those crews in smaller classes.”
Day one, from Harrogate to the East Midlands saw the pair continue their fine opening form, starting with second quickest overall – to a Porsche 911 – at the Harewood hillclimb course near Leeds and fastest overall at Fulbeck kart circuit.
That stunning show of speed – couple with a string of top three times on regularities – left them leading the field by a slender nine seconds going into day two, which led crews from the East Midlands into Shropshire, the Welsh Borders and South Wales before the overnight halt at Newport.
Again, Entwistle and Procter were quickest out of the blocks, posting the fastest time at Curborough sprint course, beating a host of Porsche 911s and Alfa Romeos.
But then they had a slight setback at the next test, as Entwistle explained:
“6 EMO is usually extremely reliable, but we had a problem with a loose front wheel hub at the Ditton Priors, which is an ex-Naval armaments depot, and the roads around the base are notoriously muddy and slippery.
“It wasn’t helped by us having tarmac tyres on instead of gravel, we were going quite well until 6 EMO got into a real ‘tank slapper’ slide – on the straight! After that, I decided to back off a bit, or we’d be in the ditch.”
But they bounced back with a storming drive, finishing in the top three of five of the day’s seven regularities, including equal fastest through the German Village on Epynt with a Dutch Porsche 911.
The leg culminated in a timed-to-a-second section at Caerwent military camp, with ten time controls, ten passage checks and 65 junctions in ten miles, all held in complete darkness.
And the pair finished one minute quicker than the rest of the field – a performance described by rally organisers HERO in their daily bulletin as ‘simply stunning’.
That was enough for the Mini men to go into the final day with a four-second lead over Wignall and Appleton, ahead of them lay ten tests and six regularities crammed into 250 miles in South West England.
But it was at Worthy Farm, home to Galstonbury, that Entwistle and Procter saw their lead slip away – literally.
“It was very muddy, with grip at a premium, and we knew we were losing time to the others,” he said.
“We weren’t as competitive on the following regularities, and for several of the top crews it was ‘home territory’ which can gain you vital seconds.
“By lunchtime, we had dropped to third and we knew the game was up. All I could do was give 110% and hope the others would stumble.”
He did it in fine style too, clinching fastest time overall on the very last test of the rally at Castle Combe race circuit. Using part of the track and the access roads, Entwistle admitted to seeing 90mph on the gravel sections, which left navigator Procter tightening his seat belts!
“It was a superb event, superbly organised by HERO, the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation, Ali was simply brilliant on the maps, and 6 EMO was fantastic, drawing the crowds wherever we went.
“I’d like to thank Mini Sport of Padiham, who look after the car for Paddy Hopkirk, and Mini Sport’s MD Chris Harper for making it all happen, and, of course Paddy for his unbelievable generosity.
“A third class win and third overall is a really good result, but, I think we still have unfinished business!”
1: Paul Wignall/Mark Appleton (Alfa Romeo Giulietta) 0.09.18s
2: Dan Willan/Martyn Taylor (Volvo PV544) 0.09.40s
3: Steve Entwistle/Ali Procter (Mini Cooper S) 0.10.08s
Blog and photos courtesy of Neil Johnson.