MINI SPORT’S Steve Entwistle and the iconic Paddy Hopkirk Mini 6 EMO proved to be an unbeatable combination on the 2016 RAC Rally of the Tests.
For the pairing won their class by 1 min 35 seconds after the gruelling four-day event which took crews on a 700-mile route from Bournemouth to Chester.
And the 2015 HRCR Clubmans champion was in sensational form on the special tests, finishing second overall and beaten only by the two-litre BDG-engined Ford Escort of Dutch crew Peter Naakgeboren and Bart den Hartog.
Despite having only 1275cc under the bonnet, Entwistle and navigator Henry Carr also posted three outright fastest times and were in the top ten on 75% of the tests, which ranged from airfields and kart circuits to the perimeter roads of Chepstow race course.
“We set out with the aim of winning our class, and we were delighted to achieve that after a very, very tough four days,” said Entwistle, who lives in Blackburn.
“The chance to drive 6 EMO was a dream come true for me, thanks to the generosity of Paddy and Mini Sport.
“I was very conscious of the car’s heritage and the previous occupants of the driving seat. It is Paddy’s personal car and it has been rallied by him, Roger Clark and Rauno Aaltonen, so there was no way I could come back without a trophy!
“The car was absolutely fantastic throughout the event, and didn’t miss a beat. They only thing we had to do was put petrol in, which was a tribute to Mini Sport’s meticulous preparation standards.”
6 EMO was built by Paddy’s co-driver Alec Poole as the first of a special run of works replica BMC Minis and was used by the legendary Irishman to win the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon.
Since then, it has been entrusted to the care of Mini Sport, the leading Mini specialists based in Padiham, Lancashire.
The idea of contesting the 2016 RAC Rally of the Tests was formulated after a meeting with Hopkirk and Chris Harper, managing director of Mini Sport, earlier this year.
“Steve’s connections with Mini Sport go back many years, and we were very happy to support him on the 2013 Rally of the Tests in his own ‘Orangebox’ Mini, and more recently in the last year’s HRCR Clubmans Championship which he won outright,” explained Chris.
“It seemed a natural progression to use 6 EMO this year, and I’m delighted with the class win, the attention the car attracted throughout the event, and the way the car performed. Some of the times he set on the special tests were amazing considering he was up against a host of Porsche 911s and a two-litre Ford Escort.”
A recreation of the classic RAC Rallies of the 1950’s and organised by the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation (HERO), the Rally of the Tests is no scenic tour- and this year’s was acknowledged by the 99 crews from 13 countries as being the best and the toughest.
Starting in Bournemouth with a special test around the Winter Gardens and then an hour-long regularity on Thursday evening, Friday’s leg comprised ten special tests and seven regularities, with crews competing virtually non-stop for ten hours before the overnight halt in Bristol.
A special ceremony at the RAC headquarters in Bristol at 8am on Saturday saw the crews flagged off by Hopkirk, who had flown in from Sicily to watch 6 EMO in action.
With a total of 12 tests and eight regularities packed into 12 hours, it was a very tired set of competitors who made it to the overnight halt in Stoke.
The final leg saw another seven tests and five regularities before the survivors took the chequered flag in a ceremonial finish in Chester centre on Sunday afternoon.
One of the unique features of the Rally of the Tests is the final regularity of each day, as Entwistle explained:
“They are a real ‘sting in the tail’ test of exhausted crews, and designed to be navigated without a map or trip meter. The route card is descriptive with distances, which means you are driving on tracks that aren’t on Ordnance Survey maps.
“So farmyards, footpaths and fields are all fair game, which certainly makes things interesting when timed to the second!
“The high point of this year was tackling the MOD base at Swynnerton on Saturday night. It’s on mixed surfaces, and navigation is all by tulip diagram.
There are 75 junctions, with a control every two miles, most with a passage check in between. There are several cars on the course on different laps, and we got 6 EMO up to 85mph on the fastest section, which was impressive to say the least.
“It’s easy to see why the RAC Rally of the Tests has the reputation as being one of the best regularity rallies in the world, and why it attracts the cream of European crews. For me, if I only ever did one rally a year, it would be this one.”
Blog written by Neil Johnson.