Embracing the elements on Britain’s most extreme rally

Embracing the elements on Britain’s most extreme rally 01

ROGER, OVER AND OUT

For many years, the RAC Rally was well-known as Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship, before the naming rights passed from the Royal Automobile Club to various other commercial and government sponsors. But now it’s back – only with the ‘RAC’ name standing for Roger Albert Clark: the initials of one of Britain’s best-known rally drivers, who won his home round of the WRC in 1972 and 1976 at the wheel of a classic rear-wheel drive Ford Escort.

This latest incarnation of the RAC Rally aims to replicate everything that rallying stood for in Clark’s era: a route that crosses the length and breadth of Britain, featuring classic stages in Wales and Scotland as well as England, over five long days with the crews driving late into the night.

This year, the challenge was more authentic than ever, courtesy of Storm Arwen: described by Britain’s Meteorological Office as “one the most powerful and damaging winter storms of the latest decade”, with the highest wind speeds recorded since 1984.

The rally route was right in the eye of the storm, with one of the days in Scotland cancelled due to extreme weather and mechanics having to service the cars in the open air – as the usual service tents would blow away otherwise.

On one occasion, some cars were even blocked into a stage by snow. Top Gear TV presenter Chris Harris was among the group of drivers who had to take shelter in a local pub for the night, before the cars could be rescued. No doubt about it: this was one of the toughest rallies ever to be held. And two drivers and cars really stood out in these incredible conditions: both of them on Pirelli tyres.

Embracing the elements on Britain’s most extreme rally 02

TONY TUNES IN

Britain’s Tony Jardine also used to be a TV presenter, hosting coverage of Formula 1 throughout the 1990s. But he’s a keen rally driver too, having competed on Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship 27 times since 1991, as well on many other events as far afield as Sweden and Finland. Throughout his life he’s contested “hundreds” of rallies, often with some well-known journalists in the co-driver’s seat. Not this time though, as he took a real professional with him on the RAC Rally: Allan Harryman, the son of Terry Harryman, who used to navigate for former world champion Ari Vatanen.

That was lucky because Tony said that this was by far the most difficult rally he had ever attempted, with conditions that constantly ranged from sheet ice to thick mud. “You just never knew what you were going to find underneath your tyres,” he said – which were Pirelli’s Scorpion GM8 compound: the softest compound made for historic rallying.

Tony drove a Hillman Avenger on the rally: a refreshing change from the sea of Escorts that were out to honour Roger Clark. And there was a very good reason for this, as a Hillman Avenger was Tony’s very first rally car, which he bought in the early 1980s. So for him, there was this feeling of having come full circle, on what was always going to be a rally to remember.

The GM8 tyre isn’t really designed for ice and snow – nobody saw that coming – but instead it’s a tyre for soft and muddy gravel. It coped more than admirably with the very worst of British weather.

Embracing the elements on Britain’s most extreme rally 03

CARBON COPY

There was a serious mission behind Tony’s rally. The Avenger was backed by NET-HERO: a carbon offset company that has built an online platform for everyday motorists as well as motorsport competitors to offset their carbon emissions. It works very simply: you just go to the website, enter your vehicle and journey details, and it calculates a cost to offset your carbon emissions for that journey. The money you pay is then invested into transparent and accountable environmental projects that offset the carbon for that journey (or motorsport event). It’s surprising affordable, working out at about two pence per mile in Britain for most cars and journeys.

“It’s a project that I completely believe it, and we did it for our whole rally team on the RAC Rally – including service vehicles and everything – as well as carrying NET-HERO logos on the rally car,” said Tony. “It’s clear that we all need to be responsible motorists and competitors and do more to help the environment. This is a great and easy way to do it, which helps you to enjoy motorsport and feel good about it. The whole process is strictly internationally regulated, so you always know that your money is being spent as it should be.”

This environmental initiative – which has earned a top three-star certification – is closely aligned to Pirelli’s own dedication to safeguarding natural resources: the Italian firm’s motorsport division was also recently awarded a three-star rating for sustainability by the FIA, the governing body of world motorsport.

PORSCHE AND PIRELLI TRIUMPH

After several adventures – including a panel-bending excursion into a bog in Kielder Forest – Tony achieved his main objective, which was to finish the event: in 75th overall (out of more than 140 starters) and with an excellent fifth place in class. But at the front of the field was another Pirelli-equipped car that perhaps not everyone expected to see there: the Tuthill Porsche 911 of Ryan Champion and co-driver Craig Thorley. Ryan is another seasoned competitor who has been rallying for 30 years and was a Mitsubishi factory team driver in the past. But even he wasn’t anticipating winning this event in such treacherous conditions, with a Porsche rally car that was ironically originally built for the Safari Rally in Kenya.

“On one stage, the blizzard was coming down so hard that it was virtually impossible to see the road,” Ryan recalled. “But our plan was always to try and stay out of trouble and play to the car’s strengths. And that worked perfectly in the end. We didn’t have any punctures at all, just one small glitch with a fuse on the car, and no real heart-stopping moments either: only a spin on the last day.”

Experience, along with the traction of a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Porsche on Pirelli tyres, paid off. On one of the most extreme historic rallies in recent memory, which also proved that motorsport doesn’t need to have a negative impact on the environment.

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