This year was my fifth time on this event. The first time in 2013 was supposed to be a one off! For the last three years I have been very lucky to have the use of Paddy Hopkirk’s 1990 Pirelli Marathon winning Morris Cooper ‘S’, 6 EMO, and this year I was lucky to have the car again, which while owned by Paddy is maintained by the guys at Mini Sport of Padiham.
Previously we have good results in EMO on this event, a class win in 2016 partnered by Henry Carr, a feat repeated in 2017 with Ali Proctor, finishing second overall on the road, but unfortunately the car was too young to be eligible for an overall result. A change in the regulations for 2018 meant we were eligible for an outright win, and we did very well, partnered by Ali again, but we slipped back on the last day for a variety of reasons, but we were still very happy to be on the podium with a third overall and a hat trick of class wins.
Not long before the event we had a bit of a drama when Ali had to drop out, and I was very lucky to get five time winner of the event Mark Appleton to partner me. The last time myself and Mark did an event was 2015 so we agreed to do the Andy Mort Tour together in EMO which brought Paddy out as guest speaker and Tony Jardine and the Hero rally media team, Paddy piling on the pressure asking us to win the event, second or third not being good enough!
This year the event started in Torquay, to run through Exmoor and North Devon on Thursday night and Friday with overnight in Bristol. Saturday morning we would continue north up through the Cotswolds and the midlands and into Derbyshire with an overnight in Stone. Sunday saw us into north wales finishing in Chester.
Rally HQ was the Imperial hotel in Torquay were noise and scrutineering passed with no dramas and we were left with checking the trip was accurate and checking the route and tests. Thursday afternoon we drove out to Exeter racecourse were the rally proper started with a start from the rally arch straight onto the first test round the tarmac perimeter roads which were very slippy and ‘green’. This was followed by two regularities with plenty of forest roads, tougher than previous years. We also did another test using some farm roads. We had started car one in honour of Marks’ previous win and we returned to rally HQ leading the event.
Friday morning we left for two more tests at Exeter racecourse and a slippy farm test, the finish line was the start of the first of the day’s regularities. The day continued across north Devon with regularities and tests including two at the famous Porlock toll road and a brace of tests around a closed for the season holiday park were we had a couple of FTD’s. We then moved onto a time control section at RAF Chivenor, very fast and frantic, followed by a special test. The reminder of the day saw more regularities using what seemed like every white road possible, very muddy and slippy before a long run up the M5 to the overnight halt at the Holiday Inn in Bristol which saw us hanging onto our lead.
Saturday morning dawned freezing, literally. Straight out to Castle Combe race circuit for two very icy tests and onto Kemble airfield where it was minus 3.5 degrees and two fast flowing tests. Another three tough regularities and tests at a rally school before a first, a live indoor test at the NEC classic car show, with live commentary, which was good fun.
The afternoon started with another test at Curborough sprint circuit were I managed to spin the car through 360 degrees within sight of the finish line! We then moved into Derbyshire for some regularities which were really tough, virtually all on unsurfaced whites and farm roads with lots of controls, standing water, sleet, rain and mud, really tough. We struggled a little here with a slipping fan belt that Ken Davis adjusted for us in the dark and driving sleet. If that wasn’t enough before the night halt we had the famous Swynnerton time control section, 34 minutes long, with junction after junction on every sort of surface and a control or passage check every 90 seconds or so, frantic!
Sunday and the last day, we left for the first test of the day at Market Drayton, still leading, now by over two minutes. Heading into Wales we had snow and ice covered roads which made things very tricky. Two tests at Rednal karting showed there was no grip at all with cars sliding off all over. An afternoon of more tests and muddy slippy roads saw us arrive into the finish at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Chester, maintaining our lead, in a very muddy little Mini. I had spent the whole of Sunday wondering when it was going to go wrong after coming so close the previous year. It’s safe to say I was a bit in shock at the finish not quite believing we had done what I had always wanted to do, and of course followed through Mr Hopkirk’s wishes!
A brilliant tough event, well organised and marshalled. As always the marshals standing out in horrible weather for the competitors benefit. Mark Appleton was superb in and out of the car, I thoroughly enjoyed his company and it goes without saying he is brilliant at what he does, no matter what the situation always remaining supremely calm. My thanks also to Chris Harper and Mick Anderson of Mini Sport. As always they gave me a superbly reliable, quick little Mini. Big thanks to the legend who is Paddy Hopkirk for trusting me with his car yet again, a big honour from one of my hero’s. Blockley tyres provided us with their latest tyre which proved a good all round tyre, not a single puncture. They proved excellent when the going became loose and muddy. Only the second time a Mini has won the ‘RAC’, so it’s fair to say I’m proud of this one, and, of all the people that helped me to achieve it
– Steve Entwistle, Team Mini Sport
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