Report written by Dave Taylor and Keith Evans for Countdown magazine.
In the three years that Countdown has been in existence, we have never before carried any report of any kind of a ROAD RALLY.
There are a number of reasons for this ... Firstly, this is a Stage Rally Magazine! Secondly, there isn't enough space to expand into coverage of other branches of the sport. Thirdly, this Editorial Staff just doesn't have the time to 90 scurrying round the countryside chasing after additional material. Fourthly, I certainly had the Impression that anyone with any SERIOUS interest in rallying MUST have made the transition into stages by now.
The latter comment is only partly true. Although Road Rallies are very much less popular than they used to be, following a period of Police attention and the restriction imposed by Auntie RAC, and fewer Motor Clubs can justify the expenditure of both time, effort and funds to promote events which do not attract sufficient entries.
Chelmsford Motor Club are an exception and their PRESTON RALLY is also an exception. Unfortunately, even though the event was a cracker, it still failed to attract the kind of entry that I used to be a part of in the late '70s. The Entry List for the 1990 Preston showed 34 potential starters with just 31 actual.
The whole point, though, is that the Preston was a lovely event, which would have appealed to very many stage rally drivers and, maybe, after scouring through this lot, some more local crews may be tempted out on a night of REAL road rallying - despite the current restrictions.
For the moment, though, let's look back at the history of the event ...
From the early '60s. Chelmsford had promoted the famous Britvic Rally, starting from the sponsor's factory in Chelmsford on a Saturday afternoon and heading off towards Norfolk via a series of STAGES. Regrouping in Norfolk, crews were then faced with a 200-mile ROAD rally, using as many 'white' roads as possible and only straying onto 'yellows' so as to connect all the whites together. Following the night's element of the event. crews returned to Chelmsford by way of another series of stages, finishing at about lunchtime on the Sunday. The event was a qualifying round of the 'Mexico Challenge' and Russell Brookes appears on the list of Britvic winners.
This format was a classic of it's time but it all came to an end in 1977, when the organising Club felt that the rule changes didn't permit a serious event of this type to take place. So, the rally was split into two separate parts. The stages element remained the Britvic, while the road rally became known as the Preston and they took place at different times of the year.
So, with continuing support from Preston Garages of Writtle, the Preston continued in 1978, 79 and 80; still concentrated on a route composed of as many Norfolk whites as could be realistically joined together in one night. The event suffered a set-back in 1981, when it was run over a route in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk - with just FOUR miles of whites - and it was not the challenge it used to be!
1982 was the Year of the Radar-Guns. Norfolk Constabulary hit events in a big way, clamping down on competitors so hard that they effectively killed off road rallying in that area. In the following year, the Starlight Rally was held again and, with the anticipation of police activity, the entry was just 33 cars. Police activity certainly made its presence felt, with 30 of the 33 crews being nicked for speeding; some of them more than once!
At this point, the AEMC cancelled any ideas of road rallying in East Anglia, with Sporting Car Club of Norfolk even going as far as writing to all other member Clubs of the Association and advising that their members did not wish to even be invited to such events. It would appear that the days of the classic road rallies in East Anglia were well and truly over.
One Dave Taylor had just started road rallying ... just as it stopped. Having won the 1983 Starlight, he had really got the taste for it. Disappointed and frustrated, Dave still felt that a decent road rally wsa still possible under the rather restrict ice circumstances and listed the ideal situation for such 'beano' ...
As many 'whites' as possible, as these are quite difficult to get nicked for speeding on! Also, the unsurfaced tracks offer a specific challenge to both crew members. Additionally, they are sparsely populated and there is rarely any other "normal" traffic, whether on-coming or otherwise
Perhaps Norfolk ought to be initially avoided?
Straightforward navigational instructions, ensuring that cars did not stray far from the PR'd route and had a 'good run for their money' (aka a good thrash!)
The event to be tough and challenging, to re-establish the reputation of the old Britvics?
Thus, from 1983 to the present date, the event format evolved from those basic ideas. The start was in the Cambridge area, usually at Roger Harding's Parkside Service Station at Stow cum Quy, and finished at the Breckland Lodge at Attleborough. In between,195 miles - with 135 of them being competitive! 80 of them were on unsurfaced roads and included some classics in the region ...
Newmarket White: running alongside the A45, a fast and rough affair which stays in everyone's memory! Six Mile Bottom: always a very slippery complex of whites, with one straight not-as-map. Chippenham Park: the Perimeter Road is known as 'the one around the walls' Kings Forest: four miles through the trees, with a few very rough bits.
Mildenhall Fen: fast, broken concrete roads. with a severe yump; now known as the 'X19-bender' after a Fiat X19 folded in the middle after a heavy landing. Methwold Forest: a complex of tracks through more trees, where the 'roads' are more akin to footpaths. Euston Estate: Classic stuff; four miles of bumpy whites, used in a two-lap format this year and fully- arrowed! Knettishall Airfield: Very few have escaped getting lost on this maze!
Also new to the 1990 event was the re-introduction of an old Britvic stage - Ingham. This one took crews through a quarry, across fields and through another forest - all arrowed again.
Thus we have arrived at the latest in the sequence, the 1990 Preston; designed to give the discerning rally crew exactly what they want. The established format brought out the regulars...
Car 1: Bryan Henderson/Mike Biss, Escort 2000. Last year's winning driver, partnered by the winning navigator of the 1986 event. They were destined for an early bath, with more punctures than they had spare wheels. Car 2: Pete Gregory/Pete Tilling. Sunbeam 1800. This crew have competed in the last seven Prestons and have become very close to winning in the past. Surely they were due for the win this year? No! they retired after getting stuck in some mud in Euston. Car 3: Paul Wright/Brian Otridge. Escort 1600. Mr Otridge won the Preston alongside Bryan Henderson in 1988 and 1989. Paul Wright is a regular Preston competitor but confesses that his car is a little slow compared to other front-runners.
Car 4: Malcolm Russell/Adrian Glad win. Along with many others, this crew actually go out before the event and recce the (assumed - but well-guessed) route! This crew were easily the quickest in 1989 and again in 1990 but became stuck in Euston alongside car 2. Car 5: Roger Harding/Ashley Johnson. Roger brought out his little Samba this year. Not the fastest car on the event but Roger made his name as a fast driver in the 70s and, despite being 50 years old this year, he still acts like a 35-year old - and looks it! After pedalling the Samba as fast as it would go, he thought he'd won ... but had missed a Passage Control board on a loop in Euston.
38 Time Controls and 46 Passage Controls ...84 controls, of which a satisfying 76 were manned. Route instructions were handed out at the start of each half, making it almost a 'pre-plot' event, yet there were only two crews to finish without any Fails.
On the first section, Frog End white, introduced to crews by an MTC1 roadside sign advising of "Bumps for 200 Miles!", two cars tied for the lead. Where Russell/Gladwin had been eight seconds quicker than Harding/Johnson, timing to the minute had them equal. A 2-mile grassy white in the Six Mile Bottom complex opened the second section and the Barry Eaton EMV video location at a very slippery 90R/90L was perfectly placed to capture many crews who made a faux pas here. Car 31, the Beetle of Bradley/Pittman, was fastest, dropping just six seconds compared to the early leaders, Russell/Gladwin, who had dropped 18. By being second fastest, Russell had established a clear, but slender, lead over Gregory/Tilling, who were 9 seconds up on Harding.
Section 3 was 7.5 miles of Waldlow Farm and the Bungalow Hill level crossing. All the leading crews cleaned this section but Henderson/Biss retired with multiple punctures.
Swaffham Prior Fen comprised long and fast yellows, finishing on a grassy white, where a tricky uphill Give Way junction off the white. Nevertheless, the top crews were penalty-free. The Newmarket White lead into the Gravel Pit white and Russell really got into his stride on this one, being 16 seconds clean. Nearest challenger was the Harding/Johnson Samba, dropping 10 seconds and moving to within a second of 2nd-placed Gregory/Tilling.
A quick blast 'round the wall' at Chippenham Park produced a fastest from Sporting CC Norfolk's Damian Conway/Simon Tebbutt. Their Nova SR tied with the Harding Samba and Gregory's Sunbeam. This performance from Roger Harding moved him into 2nd spot.
Kings Lynn's Bob Baker was running the next section - a bit of a first for Bob, as no-one can ever remember seeing him out marshalling ever before! He had refused to compete on the event as he considered it to be too rough. Wimp! The section contained a mixture of whites and yellows, including the narrow Worlington white and a new, not-as-map loop just south of Barton Mills. The Course Car stopped to remove a suspiciously placed fluorescent marker at the entrance of a difficult-to-find slot onto a white and the crew who just might have placed it there previously were thus foiled! Several crews were clean on this one and the order at the front remained unchanged.
A quite rough 2.5 mile section down the Herrings white caused the standard-spec Lada Riva Course Car of David Taylor/Nigel Booth to punch a front shocker through the inner wing after hitting the bumps rather hard and they also lost brake pressure for the rest of the night, Incidentally, the reason that this 'official' car was to standard-spec was that it had been purchased the night before and there just hadn't been the time to prepare it properly. Again, Russell was quickest, with Gregory and Harding both being 10 seconds behind.
At this point in the events the top three positions were:
1: Malcolm Russell/Adrian Gladwin, Ascona .. 0m 21
2: Roger Harding/Ashley Johnson, Samba ..... 2m 00
3: Pete Gregory/Pete Tilling, Sunbeam .......... 2m 09
Nearly all cars cleaned the next section - two miles of tarmac - while several cleaned the following 5.5 miles, including the Bullock Lodge Farm white, but the event then arrived at Ingham! After 1 miles the route instructions had merely specified that crews should follow the arrows. For a quoted four-mile sections the fastest crew took some 18 mins 52 seconds. The water-filled quarry and the slippery tracks had certainly been something of a challenge and all crews who reached TC22 reported being delighted, if exhausted. by this section. It had also been too much of a challenge for some, as Russell had slid wide on a hairpin and went into a field to become temporarily stuck, handing the lead over to Harding. Spectator power had Russell back on the road but with an obvious time loss - four minutes.
The Kings Forest was run in the opposite direction to normal and most crews seemed to think that it was bumpier than usual. The bumps didn't stop Russell from being fastest, pulling back 36 seconds from Harding. As crews entered the Petrol Halt at Barton Mills, the leading crews were:
1: Harding/Johnson, Samba ................. 13m 52
2: Gregory/Tilling, Sunbeam ................ 15m 14
3: Russell/Gladwin, Ascona ................. 15m 27
4: Wright/Otridge~ Escort ................... 17m 45
5: Adlem/Aylward, Escort ................... 19m 46
Swaffham Prior Fen was fast but slippery and caught out Sarah Johnson/Dave Howe. They were in a Golf GTi borrowed from Jim Perkins and slid off the road to get well and truly stuck. The next car through was driven by ... Jim Perkins! He saw the lights of the stricken car but, thinking it was just a spectator's car, he drove on. The top three crews all dropped a minute on this section, leaving the positions unchanged, but Russell would have been fastest if the section had been timed to the second.
The whites of Hockwold Fen and Feltwell Anchor comprised the next sections which finished on a new and very muddy white at Feltwell Common. The leading crews were cleans except for Russell, whose Ascona had stalled and took a crippling seven minutes to restart.
Almost totally on whitest the seven miles through the Methwold Forest complex finished on the Cranwich Camp white and anybody who has ever driven over the section known as 'The Glebe' will testify to it appearing almost impassable. This track had been 'rediscovered' about two years ago and made this section one of the best of the rally. The Samba of Harding lost the lead here, when they stopped to fix a deranged exhaust and they deserve some credit for not carrying on with an excessively noisy car.
Gregory/Tilling had now moved into the lead and Paul Wright/Brian Otridge had pulled back some time to be within a minute of the leaders.
Despite their set-backs; Russell/Gladwin remained determined and had been quickest through the last section, still with hopes of regaining the lead, especially with the Euston White to come and all that that section could entail.
Prior to that, thought a run through Santon Warren Forest saw no changes to the leader board and crews entered the second Petrol Halt. Here, scrutineer Loyd Gerken was on hand to ensure that all cars received a wheel/arch wash as a precautionary measure against Rhizomania, a sugar beet disease.
So to Euston Estate and the Knettishall Airfield ... the section which eeryone was looking forward to! This year, it was all arrowed and contained a novel split junction double-lapper route; surely a 'first' on a road rally? This allowed crews two runs at the best roads on the Estate, including some tracks never previously used and the Video Crew were located at the 4-way Split Junction. The section was the most interesting and also the section which finally decided the winners. Before competitors arrived, Rob Roebuck (Timekeeper) was riding with Bob Close from Collyweston Garage in a 4x4 Toyota and, just past the Split, they became stuck in a particularly muddy section. The next car along was the suffering Lada and, seeing the bogged down Toyota crew, an alternative and drier section was instantly arrowed. Despite the arrows, both Gregory and Russell ended their event here, having taken the more logical and originally-intended track and getting firmly stuck. With much more success, Harding took SIX MINUTES off his nearest rival and figured that he MUST have won. Undoubtedly quick, they had missed a small loop by taking the wrong entrance into the Estate and had missed a Passage Check, scoring a Fail.
The event was not over quite yet, though, as there we two more sections to be completed. The penultimate section ran through the forest leading up to West Harling Common. Although several crews were clean, they did report being perplexed when the exit from TC36 appeared to be Stright through the middle of a large bush!
The event's 'finale' used an old classic under the railway line just off the A11, up Peddars Way and back down to the A11 on the Fire Tower white. With Harding suffering in Euston, It was a hat trick of wins for navigator Brian Otridge, and Paul Wright was delighted with his first Preston Rally victory.
The 1990 Preston had proved that a competitive but socially-acceptable road rally can be run and at an affordable price. In seven years, the Preston has only had three complaints from residents. The Entry Fee this year was just £29. The second-placed Sunbeam, of Aaron Playle/lan Orford, was to a very standard spec and was valued at £300.
Stage Rally crews eat your hearts out!