As the chequered flag is set to wave the passing of the 60th anniversary of the Mini, it was somewhat fitting for Mini specialists that a Cooper S won the 2019 HERO RAC Rally of the Tests – and not just any Cooper S, either.
We are thrilled to report that Mini Sport’s Steve Entwistle piloted Paddy Hopkirk’s 6EMO to victory over three days – plus a Thursday evening Prologue to determine the start order, from Torquay to Chester, through rain, mud and snow; with only Paddy’s kind words (“They better win!”) and the sharing of humbugs and cherry menthol sweets with co-driver Mark Appleton, to help!
Here’s how the event unfolded:
Mini Specialists Take on The 2019 Rally of Tests
Maintained and prepared by us here at Mini Sport, Paddy’s Morris Cooper S already had a vast amount of pedigree; it’s been 55 years since Paddy first competed in the Rally of the Tests with the same car. In 1990, Paddy and Alec Poole (who built the 6EMO) won the ERA Pirelli Marathon whilst piloting it and Paddy even lent it to rally greats Rauno Aaltonen and Roger Clark, who competed in the Rally of the Tests in it themselves – however, only Paddy Hopkirk & Steve Entwistle have won in 6EMO!
Speaking of pedigree, Steve already has it in bucketloads – in the 6EMO, he finished 2nd (overall) in 2017 with a 3rd-place finish last year. Hoping for that elusive top spot on the podium, navigator Mark Appleton (who has won the event five times previously) was recruited to assist Steve around the stages.
That winning experience was needed. With rain and recent high winds causing extra leaves to bury parts of the course on the Prologue, Steve and Mark made a great start, holding off a challenge of Dutch crew, Alexander Leurs and Bas de Rijk, in their Opel Ascona, to grab top billing.
“It was green, it didn’t help that we were the first car in, I had one big moment in there!”
- Steve, on the Prologue
Days One and Two
Seedings sorted, Day One of the Rally started from the slick surfaces of Porlock Hill through the rough grounds on the way to Bristol. Steve and Mark still led the pack by 20 seconds at the end of the stage – a tough one for all crews, Mark commented that although they were ‘pleased’ with the lead, they were aware that it could be gone within ‘a blink of an eye’ – the next day’s NEC showcase test would suit the Mini best.
He wasn’t wrong! Day Two saw the crews navigate from Bristol towards Swynnerton, Staffordshire. This stage was the first-ever live rallying competition to happen at The Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham, with crews taking on an indoor course, testing their speed and agility in front of a huge crowd.
With their car’s low-centre-of gravity being perfect for such tests, our Mini specialists ended up increasing their lead during this stage – now up to two minutes going into the final leg.
“Frantic in there, good fun though, I’ve worked up a thirst.”
- Steve, on the ‘live rallying’ tests
Like any great rallying event, the final stage should offer the toughest challenge – and boy, didn’t we get that during the final day as crews travelled from Stoke to Chester! Day Three caused navigational challenges, especially in North Wales, as the remnants of overnight snow slowed down the field – as did the uphill sections with its mix of mud and ice in parts.
When thinking about a Paddy Hopkirk car ploughing through snow and mud, the thoughts of Mini specialists won’t be too far from that famous Monte Carlo Rally win in 1964 (just substitute the ‘inclines in North Wales’ for the ‘Col de Turini’!) Just like that famous moment, the leading Mini crew held on to their lead, despite the weather conditions, to win the Rally of Tests 2019.
After his previous podium finishes left him just short of the top spot, Steve was understandably delighted with the finish, commenting:
“I’ve been rallying for 30 years and this is the best thing that has happened to me. It’s also a win on the Mini 60th Anniversary plus 54 years since a Mini won the RAC Rally!”.
On the win in Paddy’s 6EMO, the RAC Rally of Tests Winner 2019, continued:
“We called to interrupt him [Paddy Hopkirk] on his cruise to tell him, he seemed pretty pleased!”
Speaking to Mini Sport, two rallying legends were particularly pleased at the news too:
“Wonderful, wonderful news! Please pass on our congratulations to crew, preparation & service teams at Mini Sport and everyone else involved”
- Paddy Hopkirk, Rally Legend
“Massive well done to all involved! I bet Paddy is delighted with the result!”
- Bill Price, BMC Operations Legend
We think it’s safe to say that he was, Bill!
Be A Part of Our Classic Mini Community
So, a massive well done to Steve and Mark for their fantastic win! Throughout the year, our stable of drivers compete in many events up-and-down the country, as well as overseas – we even have our own Mini rallying competition ‘The Mini Sport Cup’, as part of the HRCR Old Stager Championship.
If you’d like to learn more about our events and/or join our ever-growing Mini community, why not be a part of it by liking our Facebook page?
(Photos by Robert Clayson Photographic, Tonylarge.net)
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