MINI man Steve Entwistle is celebrating this week after finishing a brilliant second overall on the RAC Rally of the Tests.
The Rishton driver had targeted a top five finish and a class win on the four-day event, acknowledged as one of the toughest historic rallies in Europe.
And he did just that, clinching his class by over 10 minutes and finishing just seven seconds behind winners Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan in a Porsche 911.
Entwistle and navigator Ali Procter had been leading going into the last day, driving Paddy Hopkirk’s famous Mini Cooper S, 6 EMO, but a frozen trip meter cost them vital seconds, handing the advantage to rivals Crosby and Pullan.
Despite finishing first and second ‘on the road’ Crosby and Entwistle weren’t competing for overall awards, as only cars built before 1962 were eligible, but they fought a real ‘David and Goliath’ Mini versus Porsche battle of on-the-limit driving and precise navigation for the honour of being first car across the line.
“I’m very,very happy with the result. It would have been nice to win but Paul and Andy are the best historic crew out there, so to be beaten only by them is nothing to be ashamed of ,” said Entwistle.
“We had a fantastic time and full marks to Guy Woodcock and the team from HERO (Historic Endurance Rally Organisation) for putting on the best-ever RAC Rally of the Tests.”
A recreation of the old-style RAC Rallies from the 1950’s, the format of driving tests and navigational exercises in historic cars attracts competitors from all over Europe and Scandinavia.
Starting out from Carden Park near Chester, 100 crews tackled 29 special tests, 21 regularities and two timed-to-the-second Time Control Sections on private land.
Spanning almost 750 miles over four days, the route took in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire Cumbria and Northumberland.
The event is designed to test the driver’s ability at outright speed on the special tests, which varied from racing circuits to military range roads, and the navigator’s map skills with a series of intricate navigational instructions.
“It was an extremely intense four days. On the first full day we got in the car in Chester at 7.45am and apart from a 30-minute lunch break, didn’t get out again until almost 10pm in Darlington. That’s a long time in any car –let alone a little Mini!”
And Entwistle was quick to pay tribute to the skill and determination of his Newcastle-based mapman Procter, who collected the coveted ‘Clock Watchers’ award for the best performance on regularities.
“Ali was on top form throughout the event. Calm and unflappable even under pressure, it was down his knowledge and quick-thinking that kept us in the rally when the trip meter froze,” said Entwistle.
“We were in the middle of Catterick army camp, navigating our way through a maze of roads and junctions when it went. Ordinarily, we would have quickly got lost, and with manned timing points almost every minute, picked up crippling time penalties.
“But Ali knows his way around Catterick, and luckily we only dropped 18 seconds, which kept us in the running. We could very easily have been out of the rally full stop.
“We knew that it would be almost impossible to claw back the lost time, but we were determined to give it 110% right to the end and hope that Paul and Andy might make a mistake.”
And their ‘never-say-die’ performance earned the pair a standing ovation at the gala prizegiving ceremony at the Majestic Hotel, Harrogate, instigated by the overall winners John Abel and Martyn Taylor.
“It was a nice touch by John and Martyn, and certainly appreciated by Ali and me,” he added.
One of the first people to congratulate Entwistle and Procter on their achievement was the owner of 6 EMO, the legendary Paddy Hopkirk.
“Paddy was very complimentary, which meant a lot. He was in Scotland on business so hadn’t been able to get out and watch, but had kept up with the results on the HERO website,” explained Steve.
“It was through Paddy’s generosity that I was able to use 6 EMO, which is a fantastic car, and with the backing of Chris Harper and the team at Mini Sport of Padiham. I can’t thank them enough.
“Now the dust has settled on what was a remarkable event, I feel there’s some unfinished business in 2018!”
1: Paul Crosby/Andy Pullan (Porsche 911) 0:08:25.
2: Steve Entwistle/Ali Procter (Morris Mini Cooper S) 0:08:32
3: Neil Wilson/Matthew Vokes (Porsche 924) 0:10:52
4: John Abel/Martyn Taylor (Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint) 0:10:57
5: Charles Colton/Ryan Pickering (Porsche 911) 0:12:17.
Blog & photos courtesy of Neil Johnson