STEVE Entwistle is aiming to be in a class of his own – for the third year running – when he tackles this week’s RAC Rally of the Tests.
The Rishton-based driver has won his category for the last two years, and he’s determined to make it three-in-a-row.
And his navigator, Ali Proctor, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is on a hat-trick of his own, with outright victories on his last two events, the Devil’s Own Classic and the Colman Tyres Rally.
The pair enjoyed a titanic battle on last year’s ROTT, swapping times over the gruelling four-day event with Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan, and leading ‘on the road’ going on the last day.
A problem with the tripmeter cost them vital seconds almost within sight of the finish, allowing their arch-rivals to win by less than a minute, with Steve and Ali having to settle for a class win and second place.
“It was a fantastic battle, and despite the problem we were still very happy with our result,” said Steve.
Once again, the pair will be using 6 EMO, the famous Mini Cooper S owned by Sixties rally driver Paddy Hopkirk.
The legendary Irishman, who drove for the BMC works team, won the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon in it, and it was subsequently used by Roger Clark and Rauno Aaltonen.
“It’s a fantastic car, and I’m so grateful to Paddy for generously allowing me to use it, and to Chris Harper, managing director of Mini Sport of Padiham, who look after it for him, to provide all the support. Without their backing, I wouldn’t be on the startline on Thursday,” said Steve.
And they have an added incentive this year, thanks to changes to the event rulebook.
Previously, only cars built before 1963 were eligible for overall results and awards, but that has been relaxed to allow cars built before 1968, which puts 6 EMO firmly in the frame for a top five placing.
Widely acknowledged as the best historic rally on the British calendar, the ROTT attracts the top drivers from all over Europe and counts towards the FIA Historic Regularity Championship.
The event dates back to 1932 as a 1000-mile reliability test, and was revived in 2001 for classic cars and using the 1930’s template of regularity and driving tests.
Starting from Harrogate on Thursday night, competitors face a tough four-day schedule that comprises 33 timed-to-the-second special tests and 20 regularities in a 750-mile route.
Crews set off from North Yorkshire and head for the East Midlands and then Mid and South Wales before finishing with a loop round south-west England and the finish on Sunday in Bristol.
“There are some uncharted roads and test venues for me this year, which will add to the challenge,” explained Steve, who won the HRCR (Historic Rally Car Register) Championship in 2015 with his own Mini, the ex-Roy Mapple ‘Orangebox’.
“Lincolnshire and Mid-Wales I’m unfamiliar with, and some of the test venues, such as Castle Combe and Worthy Farm at Glastonbury, I’ve only ever seen on television.
“It promises to be a tough, tough event. We spend at least 12 hours a day in the car with only lunch and tea halts to break up the pressure, and the event timing means you can’t afford to make a mistake at all, or you’re out of contention.
“But it does mean that whoever gets to the finish will know they’ve been in a rally, and whoever wins will thoroughly deserve it.”
*Test venue spectator information:
8.10am Harewood Hillclimb, near Leeds.
2.25pm: Blyton Park, Lincolnshire.
4.20pm: Fulbeck Karting, near Stragglethorpe.
8am: Curborough Sprint Course, Staffordshire.
2.20pm: Builth Wells showground, Wales.
4.25: Brecon Cattle Market, Wales.
8am: Chepstow Racecourse, South Wales.
3.10pm: RAC Centre, Bristol and finish.
Blog & photos courtesy of Neil Johnson.