The Poppy Regularity Rally 2015 attracted an entry of 58 starters to Poperinge, Belgium over the weekend of 20-22 March. A round of the 2015 HERO Cup for drivers in association with EFG International as well as a the Golden Roamer Trophy for navigators in association with the Basic Roamer Company, the quality and depth of experience in the field meant the winner could come from anywhere within.
The route consisted of regularity sections where competitors had to maintain a set average speed over a specified distance. The Belgian lanes were difficult to read and this proved a challenge for many of the crews, as hidden turns and not as map tracks caught many out. Another feature of the Poppy Regularity Rally was the closed road driving tests. Steep ditches and a mixture of surfaces meant that sometimes caution was better than flamboyance, yet most of the crews it would appear preferred the latter and were truly committed on these tests.
Starting out from Poepringe, the first action took place in an old kart circuit that is now used for paintball adventures. Grip was excellent and from the start a lower seeded crew set the results alight. Jean-Christophe Hendrickx was partnered by local lad Aswin Pyck. Their intention was clear and through the first day the heaped the pressure on the front-runners, their seeding of 56 proving wide of the mark on this event. First to fall out of the event were John Abel / John Dennet, fresh from the recent Tour of Cheshire in England. Their Sunbeam Tiger parted company with its crankshaft pulley, terminally holing the radiator on the re-run of ‘paintball’. Another fancied crew were Dutch masters Jan Ebus / Jan Berkhof, a rare slip on a driving test from this massively experienced pair dropping them down the order early in the event. Delighting the crowds of spectators along the route were Peter Naaktgeboren / Bart den Hartog who were embroiled in a real tussle with Irish rally cross legend Dermot Carnegie who was partnered as ever by Paul Bosdet. Both crews were in Ford Escorts, with Carnegie being the underdog in terms of power, but not in skill.
Heading into lunch it was clear that the fourth running of the Poppy Regularity Rally was going to be as close as ever. Paul Bloxidge, partnered for the first time by Jess Dickson, were having a fantastic run holding sixth overall. The diminutive Lotus of Hendrickx / Pyck was out in front but receiving strong challenges from John Bateson / Iain Tullie and previous winners Peter Horsburgh / Anthony Preston.
The compact nature of the event means that crews sometimes use roads and tests more than once at varying points in the day. The nature of the event however means it does get progressively difficult, especially as the light falls and the already tricky-to-read lanes require pinpoint accuracy from both driver and navigator to be in with a chance. After lunch on the Belgian/French border, it seemed that the food had weighed down Sybert van Groot / Jaap Jongman in their Datsun 240Z, as a mistake in the ever-popular Watou driving test cost them dearly, marring an otherwise excellent performance. As the event neared supper at Proven, a secret check on a not as map junction caught no less than nine crews napping after not reading the instructions to the letter. Their indiscretion cost them 2 1/2 minutes for not reporting to a control.
Leaving Proven and heading into the night for a regularity exercise before a Time Control section the wheels came off the super run from Hendrickx/Pyck. An excursion into a field demoting them down to 44th and handing the lead to fellow Belgian’s Dominique Holvoet and Bjorn Vanoverschelde, Bjorn returning after his triumph on the 2013 running of The Poppy. The Time Control sections allowed the night event specialists to shine, Kevin Haselden / Ryan Pickering amongst the best here. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for Noel Kelly / Leigh Powley, a missed control costing them one minute, relegating them to 6th. Gerry Simpson / Martin Phaff had real problems – electrical failure – meaning the last 85 Km were covered under torchlight, their brave efforts keeping them in the running and allowing them to re-start on Sunday.
The final day dawned and the relentless nature of the Poppy Regularity Rally 2015 meant most competitors only managed between 5-6 hours’ sleep before the traditional pre-breakfast regularities. Kelly / Powley had a minor discretion, as did Carnegie / Bosdet. The final sections were incredibly close, the day starting with the top three separated by just 25 seconds, the top two engaged in a battle royale with just a second between them. Bateson / Tullie were the first to crack dropping a further two seconds on the first regularity and then losing 12 seconds on the following tests. The coup de grace came on the second-to-last regularity where Vanoverschelde booked in 18 seconds early and Tullie 25 seconds late. This regularity had one timing point that caught all but two crews out, Carnegie / Bosdet and Dutch Crew Karel Kolman / Roland Heuff who had battled on despite having a fuel pump fail early in the event.
It had gone down to the wire, the Poppy Regularity Rally could still be won and lost on the final section, Bateson / Tullie posted a six with Holvoet / Vanoverschelde a seven handing the Overall win to the Belgian crew. Amongst the classes, Patrick Burke / Elise Whyte had an excellent event taking third in class and 10th overall in their little BMW 1602. Haselden / Pickering had a superb final day, taking them into the top five. Paul Crosby was partnered by HRCR Champion navigator Andy Pullan, this was the young Yorkshireman’s first excursion to Belgium and from a shaky start he steadily improved throughout the event. At the lower end, a mention has to go to Lesley and Johan Denekamp in a beautiful BMW 2002 Tii Alpina. Despite struggling with the navigation and viewing the Belgian countryside a little more closely than expected, they finished a very well received event.
We hear that Holvoet / Vanoverschelde may well return in 2017 for Bjorn to try to make it a hat trick. However, there will be stiff opposition from all the other crews and if Hendrickx / Pyck have their way, there may well be a new name on the Hall of Fame.
[Source: HERO; photos: © Francesco and Roberta Rastrelli and HERO]