The 2018 Royal Automobile Club 1000 Mile Trial has again set the standard for all other pre-war motoring events. 1090 miles of the best roads in Britain, 27 regularities, 19 tests and 30 of the top crews battled it out over 6 days in 30+ degree heat.
Starting off from the Royal Automobile Club in Epsom, crews began with a test along the captain’s drive, where they had the opportunity to stretch their cars legs at the beginning of the event. The route then took competitors through the leafy lanes of Surrey via a straight forward ‘warm up’ regularity and onto the De Vere Wokefield estate for the night. The first day of the event did not count towards the overall result but offered crews a chance to check their cars and in-car equipment was working correctly. A few woes along the way for the crews of Sue Shoosmith and Trina Harley as their Bentley didn’t feel like taking part in the event and they were forced to rush home and swap cars ready to continue the following day. The Riley 15/6 of team Schneider seemed to be collecting a wide range of foliage along the way to the overnight halt and the all-American crew were quite surprised to see so many narrow lanes that we have here in the UK. The crew of Andrew Hall and Michael Squire were suffering from a lack of reverse and some ‘un-efficient’ brakes, an incredibly late night was in store for them as they battled to get their Bentley ready for the days ahead.
The second day of the event started off with beautiful weather that got progressively warmer as the day continued. The morning coffee stop at the newly refurbished Jack Russell Inn went down very well with competitors and a vast array of cookies and flapjacks were proving rather popular with the crews. It was at this point in the day that we started to lose the first of the many retirements we had this year. Reto Mebes and Hansjurgen Bernze were forced to retire with a broken axle in their Bentley Derby 3 ½ drophead. A hog roast lunch at the Royal Signals Museum gave crews an opportunity to recharge themselves and the cars a chance to cool down and mark their territory with drops of oil and coolant! A variety of regularities throughout the rest of the day and a test at the clay pigeon raceway kept crews in high spirits as they battled their way through the Somerset levels and onto the overnight stop at Cadbury House. A few of the cars took a bit of a beating over the Somerset levels, Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte lost a number plate and bent their rear lights when their MG TB hit the floor. Ian and Ewan Beattie whacked the underside of their Hotchkiss on the same piece of private track, giving Ian a good reason to buy a new exhaust as he was in the market for one already.
As morning broke on day 3 of the event, everybody could easily see that it was going to be another spectacular day. Starting in Bristol and heading towards the iconic Metropole hotel and spa, famous for its links with motorsport associations throughout the country, crews had the opportunity to tackle a selection of regularities and three separate tests at Castle Combe circuit. It was here that the Hotchkiss of Ian and Ewan Beattie lost their clutch and began to ponder over what they would do next. There’s just one Hotchkiss specialist in the UK and as luck would have it, located just 20 minutes down the road from Castle Combe! They had a clutch in stock that would fit and the turnaround time was just 4 hours. This meant the Beattie crew would be able to get back on the road, be back at the Metropole in time for dinner and later go on to win the ‘spirit of the rally’ award. The rest of the crews had the chance to enjoy the areas surrounding the heads of the valleys and they even had a well-deserved ice cream break at Penderyn distillery. The crews then headed towards the Epynt military ranges where they had the chance to blast out the cobwebs on two tests in the same area that many motorsport events are hosted.
The route for day 4 was in a different league! I may be somewhat biased here with my love for road rallying, but having the opportunity to use the same lanes used on night events, in the day time was very special. Battling their way around mid-Wales alongside some incredibly low levelled reservoirs, passing old slate mines, forgotten about villages, hearing and then seeing F15 fighter jets blasting through the Elan valley and experiencing ‘God’s country’ for all that it has to offer, went down very well with the crews and there were many stories to tell that evening in the bar.
The final two days of the event started to mix up the results and we were losing crews left, right and centre. We had already lost Bill Cleyndert and Robert Elis in the Ford Model A Special, Adrian and Charles Atkinson in the Alvis speed 25 and Robert Kieffer and Andreas Kopp in the Riley 12/4 Special, Dominic and Jack Manser in the Bentley 3/4 1/2 and we were just about to lose the leaders, Paul Crosby and Pete Johnson in the Supercharged MG TB. Dilwyn Rees and Andrew Deurden were forced to retire after their steering box failed and that left us down to just 23 cars, with 3 of those cars touring and no longer competing in the event. During the last regularity of day 5, Bertie and Pierre van Houtte lost a wheel after a bearing shattered on their Frazer Nash BMW 328 and they were forced to retire leaving just 19 crews left.
Heading into the last day there were just 25 seconds separating the top 3 crews and less than a minute separating the top 10! By morning coffee, the gap had been closed to 19 seconds and there had been multiple changes further down the field. We heard from the crews that they had enjoyed the morning’s regularity and a blast around Whilton Mill Kart Circuit. The competitors had to deal with a short reroute as the cars passed Silverstone race circuit, giving them a short break from the tulips before the final test at Bicester heritage. Here, crews had the chance for one last hurrah in their cars before the final coffee stop of the rally, in the blistering sun at Caydon House. It was just a short drive to the finish line at Latimer house in Chandlers Cross, where all the competitors were greeted with a glass of champagne as they passed under the legendry Hero archway.
Having dropped just 3 minutes and 15 seconds over the entire 1090 mile route it was Peter Lovett and Matt Fowle who took the win in their Frazer Nash BMW 328. Closely followed by Stephen Owens and Bart den Hartog in the Jaguar SS100 who dropped 3 minutes and 32 seconds and then Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte in the supercharged MG TB who dropped just 3 minutes and 49 seconds from the calculated ideal times.