The Rally of the Tests 2015 was staged 5-8 November in England, starting in Newcastle and ending in Blackpool. Organized by Classic Rally Association and the Historic Enduro Rallying Organisation (HERO), a total of sixty-eight crews took the start line at the 14th running of the Tests.
The inaugural modern running of the event took place in 2001, fifty years after the RAC Rally of the Tests returned to the calendar after the war and forty years after the event became ‘RAC Rally of the Forests’ an event that defined the modern era of stage rallying as we know it.
As is tradition with the RAC Rallies of old, Rally of the Tests moves locations every year — this year the event went north and based its start point just outside Newcastle in the beautiful surroundings of Slaley Hall, Hexham. Scrutineering took place on the Wednesday and Thursday of the event, with the prologue taking place on Thursday night to allow crews to get a feel for what was in store for them over the coming days.
Rally of the Tests 2015 was once again a round of the FIA World Historic Regularity Championship, the added gravitas further enhanced as the event would be the decider as to who took the championship between two drivers. Christian Crucifix from Luxembourg had entered his 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta to battle Italian Paolo Marcattilj in a similar machine. Whomever came out on top would take the championship, it was that close.
The event was also the penultimate round of the 2015 HERO Cup in association with EFG International and the 2015 Golden Roamer Trophy in association with The Basic Roamer Company. At the head of the HERO Cup, the incredibly consistent Paul Crosby was looking to further his lead over Yorkshire’s Stephen Owens, but, some twists and turns in the event meant that what seemed to be a pretty straightforward contest would add even more drama to this tense and exciting battle that had raged over six previous events. In the Golden Roamer Trophy, it was a two-horse race with Andy Pullan battling away with Julia Robertson with these two holding a distinct and clear advantage over the pack after the very recent Throckmorton Challenge. However, with Julia not competing as yet on Le Jog, Pullan appeared to have one hand on the prize.
At 17:30 exactly on Thursday 5th of November the fireworks started from Slaley Hall, with Bill Ainscough and Jason Dearden leading the crews away in the oldest vehicle of the event, a 1954 Lancia Aurelia B20. It was immediate action as with a short run out into the grounds of Slaley, the first test was upon the crews. The compact nature of the prologue continued with two regularity sections almost back to back. The first instructions were delivered jogularity style and didn’t hold any fears for the majority of crews. The second regularity proved a little more interesting, a handout with four map references would see crews venture into the woods for the first time with many of them overshooting or missing a hairpin left junction into Slaley Forest. A final driving test in the grounds of Slaley Hall ended the evening’s fun, a ford and several hairpin junctions had set the bar for what was going to be a truly enthralling event.
Friday dawned murky and misty, this was to be the longest day of the 2015 Rally of the Tests where crews would cover almost 280 miles in the day, visiting castles, country homes and some of the finest moorland roads in the UK.
First up were three driving tests in the infamous Kielder Forest. Using some of the lesser known routes in the woods, the surfaces were incredibly slippy, causing problems for Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Peter Scott in their immaculate Ford Escort RS2000. A visit to the scenery on test two was a temporary setback — the crew still managing to set a blisteringly quick time. Heading further north and across the border into Selkirk via Hawick, the weather and mother nature aided some clever use of topography to take time from the crews; leaves had blown across a white line that denoted a junction meaning that several crews missed a turn, some carrying on for longer than others before realising their error. The time control just after the junction taking seconds off the top crews.
Colin Forster and Henry Carr were in the wars, as a suspected clutch release bearing turned out to be crankshaft problems. The pair made a six-hour round trip with two engine swaps and delivery of a Riley differential enabling Guy Symons and David Watson to stay in the event. This plus perseverance through many mishaps and punctures saw them reach Blackpool to receive a well-deserved ‘Spirit of The Rally Trophy’.
New pairing Jan Ebus and Thijs Bender had a moment in their Porsche 356. A fuel line clip broke, swiftly depositing a considerable amount of fuel in the cabin. A hasty repair saw the car bailed out of fuel, the carpets retaining the smell of fuel for a while causing the crew to suffer with headaches.
Night fell and one of the turning points of the event occurred when Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan had an unusual error in the Dundrennan TC section, as an overshoot saw them dip their toes in a local stream and beach their Porsche 911. They were able to extract the car and return on the pace, only for the steering arm to fail late on day three, meaning they ended the event no longer classified.
John and Peter Dignan were going from strength to strength and producing the drive of the event. With John only in his tenth competitive foray, they led the field for most of day two as the event turned seriously wet on its return into England. The torrential rain caused Andy Lane and Matt Fowle alternator problems, handing the lead to the Dignan’s on least penalties. Although not as long as the previous day, the challenge of the weather and some night time TC sections in Catterick military complex proved daunting for many crews. Warren and Tullie stamped their authority and were the class of the field as the event overnighted in Darlington. Pressing hard were Neil Wilson and Matthew Vokes to lie in second in the overall awards, in turn they were being pressed by David Morgan and Martyn Taylor in their Volvo 123GT.
The final leg was a linear run down the Pennines via Catterick, Jervaulx Abbey, Skipton and the Trough of Bowland before the final regularity took place around Brock Mill near Garstang. The short hop via rural Wyre brought Rally of the Tests 2015 to Weeton military complex and some serious standing water.
Tullie and Warren held their nerve to complete Warren’s first ever win of the event, with Wilson and Vokes holding second and Morgan and Taylor came in third. As is tradition with the event, overall places were awarded to pre-1962 vehicles. Outside of these overall awards, Roger and Leigh Powley were outstanding as were the Dignans, while Paul Bloxidge was narrowly pipped by Peter Naaktgeboren to the ‘Best on Tests Trophy’ award. In the battle for the FIA Historic Regularity Championship, Paolo Marcattilj triumphed over Christian Crucifix to take the award, a bad night in Catterick snatching the victory away from Christian.
The event will return in 2016 as the RAC Rally of the Tests, starting in Bournemouth and finishing in Chester. For further information, visit HERO.
Photographers Francesco Rastrelli and Roberta Roccati documented the 2015 Rally of the Tests, offering a great selection of images that highlight the soggy but beautiful environment during this year’s event. We split up Francesco and Roberta’s pictures into two galleries. The first gallery starting below features our favorite images, all displayed in the full-width view of Sports Car Digest, while the second gallery can be found on the last page of the article and gives a comprehensive view of all photographs.
Rally of the Tests 2015 – Featured Photo Gallery
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