Autosport 19th March
The Wolverhampton & South Staffs C.C. Express & Star rally last weekend regained much of its lost prestige and reverted to an event of truly national status. Richard Harper, for the club, put on an event that is probably still keeping 130 crews guessing as to why it was necessary to go quite so fast to keep to time on the "easy" sections linking the selectives.
The start was at Colwyn Bay-a long trek for the southern crews but this did avoid the long run-in to the first main control. Scrutineering was at the Chester Engineering Co. garage and the crews assembled on the promenade. For once navigation round a strange town was simplified by the provision of a street plan with the garage and start superimposed this is just the sort of attention to detail which one expects from a national rally. Notable absentees at the start were Brian Melia/Geoff Davies and Keith Watkinson/ Alan Cooke.
A very short run-in led from Colwyn Bay via the A496 to the first control-the well-known control X-at Tygwyn, four passage controls taking the route via Pentre'r-Felin, through the third "n" of Pennant and back down the rough Bolton track through 107/823667 before rejoining the A496 at Bryn-rhudd. Now the timing was arranged so that competitors were penalized only on the selective sections (of which there were 15) and at the three main controls, the distances between these main controls being 68, 70 and 54 miles respectively. To assist navigators in checking how they were running a suggested "passing" time was given for each passage control, and because one was bound to drop time on the selectives, maintaining the schedule through the passage controls became a near-impossibility-not that this mattered initially because, as explained, crews were only penalized if late at a main control. It did present a very definite challenge, however, not to fall far enough behind schedule as to incur a fail. Thus it can be seen that this very straightforward and quite honest routing put the onus on the competitor to keep moving very quickly at all times and turned what could have been a succession of tight selective and easy link sections into a very enjoyable, highspeed thrash in which there was no let-up whatsoever from start to finish.
One further comment about the penalties-the selective sections were marked at the rate of 1 mark per 5 secs, late, while main control penalties were 1 mark per min., thus throwing the emphasis well and truly on performance on the selectives, which meant that luck and force majeure played a far larger part than is usual these days, as will be seen.
The first selective ran round the forest north of Bettws-y-Coed. On this Frank Grange/Tony Mason, Tony Reid-Gibbs/ Derek Tucker, Gerry Bloom/Alan Taylor and Doug Ray/Stuart Gray all met a local farmer busy shutting the gates after driving his Skoda against the rally route, these crews losing up to about 3 mins. more than anyone else. Sensibly the organizers scrubbed the stage before any protests were submitted but this does illustrate how large an effect force majeure can have when the total length of selectives was only 114 minutes and final penalties in the order of 14 minutes. This criticism has been levelled in the past against the Monte and the Tulip on similar grounds. Luckiest of all as a result of the section being scrubbed were Peter Warren/ Tony Straker-their Daf obviously not being likely to get round the route within fail time, they decided to miss one selective early on so as to get well ahead of schedule time and chose this one!
Selective 2 led round Penmachno through Gwydyr Forest-true R.A.C. Rally territory (at the same speeds)-slippery, twisty, tree- lined tracks, while selective 3 went from Carrog to the B4407-a 1,000 ft. third-gear climb. Already Roger Clark/Jim Porter (transmission), Roy Fidler/Graham Robson (head gasket) had retired, leaving the field rather wider open. Vic Elford/David Stone damaged their front suspension and lost a lot of time repairing it, but nevertheless carried on.
Selective 5 took in the magnificent but mist-shrouded set of unmarked hairpins at 116/619308 where Frank Grange overshot and damaged his exhaust regaining the normal route, and selective 6 included the diabolical hairpin at 590245 which can be handbraked in a Mini only. The trouble is caused not by the angle of the turn but by three very solid gateposts which make shuffling round quite impossible. As there was a blackspot immediately beyond the hairpin one had to turn round before the junction, reverse through the first gateway and then forward through the second, and woe betide those who tried otherwise. Brian Harper/Ron Crellin (and doubtless many others) stuck for a considerable time, putting paid to their chances and to those of the crews immediately behind who sat and waited. Actually at the finish a "normally reliable source" said that the track through 590249| is passable but the gates were shut. After the Bontddu main control there was a long section through Coed-y-Brenin Forest followed by some more tricky navigating round a set of passage controls in the maze south-east of Llanfachreth. The Bwlch-y-Groes selective, though very foggy, was cleaned by most crews and the route led on to map 17 for five excellent selectives, one of which was so fast that crews were reaching 85-90 m.p.h. down the bumpy track (through 855904). Selective II went through Ty-mawr (804993) and included a vicious, barely marked hairpin-barely marked on the map, that is, for the hordes of spectators gave the game away! The 14th selective went across from map 127 via the Elan valley on to map 128 where the last selective used the loop from Dolafallen round by Elan village to Llanwrthwl. Robin Turvey navigating Alex Griffith's Sabre ran into trouble at this late stage-using virgin maps he had difficulty locating the correct route and got to within sight of the control but from the wrong direction. Sydney Allard/Tom Fisk went off the road in a big way in their 1,500 c.c. supercharged Anglia on this section which they attributed mainly to having fitted a studded spare tyre when they had a puncture. Alan Allard/ Tony Yoward suffered the same trouhle.
A short run back to Llandrindod Wells concluded the event, where the Commodore Hotel made a pleasant change as a rally headquarters. The usual Express results system came a little unstuck in dealing with the printing clocks used on the selectives and, as on the Bolton, navigators were complaining of errors of one minute here and there. In fact, the prizes were presented around 10 a.m. to a satisfied, enthusiastic crowd. As an example of how to run a national rally with its associated standards of documentation, routing and presentation, the Express & Star takes some beating.
1, D. Friswell/R. Binns (Mini-Cooper S), 165 points: 2, G. Halliwell/M. Wood (Mini-Cooper S), 172: 3, M. Gibbs/R. Morgan (Cortina G.T.), 179: 4, R. Fall/D. Fawcett (Mini-Cooper S), 196: 5, G. Bloom/A. Taylor (Mini-Cooper S). 196: 6, T. Cox/K. Binns (Rover 2000), 217.