From Motoring News of 25th September 1969
MN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 13 -
EXPRESS AND STAR
JOHN BLOXHAM returned to the winning trail when, with Richard Harper in their Escort Twin-Cam, he carried away first place on the Motoring News Championship National Castrol Express and Star Rally last weekend. After a night of swift and gruelling motoring the pair had a clear seven-minute lead over last week's winners, Rod and lan Cooper, who in turn had almost six minutes to spare on third place men, Jock Russell/Peter Valentine.
Over the years the Express and Star, as everyone knows it, has built up a tremendous reputation under the direction of Richard Harper and Norman Salt, but this year the pair stepped down from the organising team and the Wolverhampton and South Staffs C.C. imported Colin Francis and David Stephenson to take over the reins. The pattern of previous years had to be altered when it became known that forest stages would be unavailable, and so from a night and day event the rally finally took the form of a normal Saturday night thrash.
This perhaps dulled the glitter of the Express and Star and what the organisers produced was just an above average event well up to the standard of championship qualifiers without ever reaching the heights of quality which won the Ecurie Cod Fillet top rally award for 1968.
The organisers took the unprecedented step, in Motoring News Championship events at least, of forwarding almost complete route details to crews before the rally and so when the almost full entry arrived at the start at the cattle market, Shrewsbury, there was little to be done apart from the usual formalities.
The appearance of Ford competition manager Stuart Turner with his newest team driver, the Spurs and England soccer player Jimmy Greaves, who as everyone knows will be driving in the World Cup Rally next year, created a good deal of interest amongst the many spectators. Greaves was having his first taste of the rally world and was also commissioned to start the cars and present the awards at the finish.
Going through the entry list it was obvious that the regulars were out in force and as is usual on the "named" events several of the not so regulars turned out to do battle.
First car away should have been the Jolly Club Lancia of Colin Malkin, but this car is now being prepared for the Tap Rally, so late entry from the Cooper brothers gave them number one spot in their Super Sport Escort Twin-Cam followed by similar cars for John Bloxham/Richard Harper and Jim Bullough/Don Barrow. Bob Bean was due to start next but the preparation of his new Escort Twin-Cam is not yet complete so he took his trusty Cortina GT on a Northern event instead. Taking over his spot was fellow Yorkshireman Phil Cooper whose appearances on Motoring News events are few and far between but John Brown had persuaded him to do this one in his ex-works Cooper S. They were followed by the Midget of John Sprinzel and Gerry Ryan and again, just as on the Bolton, the car was on racing tyres although the lighting had been improved by the addition of two spot lamps.
The Cooper S of George Hill/Keith Wood had recovered from its maladies of last week and they had for company the trusty Lotus Cortina of Frank Pierson/Martin Holmes and Will Sparrow/Nigel Raeburn's Cooper S. Nigel Rockey/Clive Plummer came next with Jock Russell/Peter Valentine making up the first ten. The Imps of Rod Badham/Derek Tucker and Jenny Nadin/Rob Lyall were together and running behind them was Richard Hill who was using Phil Muddiman's Lotus Cortina and also Phil's navigator, Rob Lawrence. Auto-Extra Services boss Tony Hennin decided to have a go himself in the BMW and had Barry Hughes to show him the way. Another making a rare appearance was John Heppenstall and because his Escort Twin Cam developed last minute jitters he brought a Cooper S, which had only just been acquired in part exchange on the morning of the rally for himself and Hywel Thomas.
The two 1300 Lancia Fulvias from the Jolly Club were in the hands of Chris Sclater/John Morgan and Express and Star motoring correspondent Tom Leake.
From the 9 pm start an easy run into Welshpool took in a special stage around the airfield at Forton where crews had to complete five laps. Timing was in the hands of Lou Jamieson, all the way down from the North East, and it is indeed a compliment to be able to report that there were noT queries on the timing and several navigators who kept a check agreed to the second with the official timing. Arrowing is always a problem on airfield stages but there were no complaints except for one spot where the arrow was repeatedly knocked down by the cars. Bloxham set a blistering pace almost half a minute clear of Cooper with Sparrow also well up.
At the restart garage to the south of Welshpool several crews were already in trouble for flying stones on the special stage had broken four of Bullough's lamps and one of Bloxham's, too. Rockey had generator failure and had to fit a spare which gave him a five minute penalty at TC1. John Sprinzel/Gerry Ryan retired when it was found that due to a crew mix-up they had not completed the required number of laps on the stage.
The road section started with a series of tight ones on the southern edge of 117 with a couple of brief excursions on to 128. The first section was the white loop up to Stingwern Hill and at the very first junction with the yellow Tony Hennin gently inverted the BMW when he mounted the banking and and though the car was not too badly damaged he retired. Jim Bullough was also in trouble with an oil leak which required regular re-fills of the sump and a broken dynamo mounting was causing charging problems.
The route was devised so that each group of sections was terminated by a timed-to-the-second control and the first of these was up by Llanfair Caereinion where after ten controls Sparrow and Raeburn held a slender few seconds lead over Bloxham/Harper followed by Rod and lan Cooper. The Sclater/Morgan Lancia retired with a reported slipping clutch. Continuing in a loop north and then westwards the route took in a little used muddy track near Dolanog and a little later the usual loop round the edge of Dyfant Forest and with no letup in the pace everyone was losing time; Barry Bayliss/John Litherland were delayed for nine minutes with a broken throttle cable.
The first sector of normal road sections finished near Llangadfan where after 21 controls Bloxham was just leading on 10m. 44s. from Sparrow on 11m. 27s. and Cooper on 11m. 39s. The nText sector consisted of selective sections with the first one starting at Foel and going up the Afon Gam valley. Jenny Nadin had a puncture on this one and lost several minutes due to difficulties with the ja250ck which was not improved by the conditions for it was now raining heavily.
A word of mention here for the stalwart marshals who stuck to their task in fine fashion considering the foul weather. At the finish more than one competitor admitted that they would not be prepared to stand out in all weathers but at the same time acknowledged with admiration and thanks the marshals' work.
Selective 2 used the unmarked white over to Talerddig which was made quite difficult by the low cloud but this did not deter Bloxham who had fastest times on both the first two selectives and Selective 3, which used the yellow road up from Llanbrynmair.
A main road run round to Dinas Mawddwy 250gave the crews a short breather and a chance to fill up with petrol before the next group of selectives over towards Vyrnwy.
Selective 4 was a short dash along the whites south of Afon Dyfi and again Bloxham was quickest. Will Sparrow/ Nigel Raeburn spoilt a good run when they struck a gate post and had to change a damaged wheel. Trouble with the jack cost even more time and so they fell way back out of the reckoning.
Selective 5 climbed up to Bwlch y Groes before dropping over the Eunant down to Lake Vyrnwy and next to go was the Cooper S of Phil Cooper/John Brown who had been well up with the leaders until a blown head gasket forced their retirement. Again low cloud was making things difficult and more than one crew reported 'moments' but Bloxham was again fastest and his lead was beginning to increase.
The Hirnant selective came next and despite the tight timing six crews were clean, so although Bloxham was easily quickest, his lead did not increase. This selective claimed another victim when the beautifully prepared Triumph 2.5PI of Geoff Sheppard/Stuart Gray broke a steering arm and took to the banking.
A run down by Bala lake to the second petrol halt at Llanuwchllyn concluded the middle sector of the rally and it was obvious that Bloxham/Harper were leading but the Coopers were hanging on and Russell was maintaining his recent good form.
To start the final sector was a selective over Pennant Lliw which is now a good tarmac road. Once more Bloxham seemed unaffected by the fog, although Harper's knowledge of this and several other roads from last year's Star must have been of great advantage.
The rally now returned to normal road sections with the white roads around Afon Gain being fully used. The ford in 7330 was used and even the leaders had trouble in finding the correct way as the route completed almost a full circle from a route check on the yellow to the north of the ford before leaving up the rutted white to the north. Rod Badham/Derek Tucker lost their exhaust on this road and spent several minutes securing it and only a little further on Nigel Rockey put his Escort in a ditch when faced with the oncoming Lotus-Cortina of Barry Bayliss who was returning to collect a route check. Rockey was well stuck but Bayliss stopped to give a hand and both crews lost much time.
Using the usual roads through Coed y Brenin and the white down by the river the route next moved to the well known maze of roads just off A494 for a group of excellent sections which finished, at Bont Newydd.
Jenny Nadin had yet another puncture and lost more time whilst the Escort Twin-Cam of Toney Cox/Norman Salt which had been motoring very quickly started to consume oil and a stop to refill was necessary.
A main road run round by Barmouth to Llanenddwyn was broken up by a selective round the white loop at Garth. This selective was cancelled when the Jolly Club Lancia of Tom LeakeT/M.Bright completely blocked the road to following cars. Jim Bullough/Don Barrow were battling on despite a lack of electrical power and an oil consumption of 10 miles to the pint but they were forced to cut a few controls when they were delayed on the Garth selective by the Cox/Salt Escort which had attempted to approach the finish instead of the start and became stuck in a ditch.
The final sections of the rally used the roads up behind Llanbedr and Harlech including the infamous white by Gerddibluog which has many unmarked bends.
Bloxham was not letting up but was being pressed by the Cooper brothers who were consolidating their position over Russell. Once again Bloxham and Harper, who motored just too quickly for the rest of the field took the premier award and maximum championship points which must surely put them in a secure position. Rod and lan Cooper have hit form too and a comfortable second place was their reward whilst Jock Russell/Peter Valentine have really got with it on the last few events and their third place was well earned.