Rally Revival 2021
Author: Tom Magnay / Images: BlendLine
As dusk turned to night, and spot lamps and light bars were fastened to the bonnets of the competition cars around me, it struck me that there is not enough night time rallying that goes in here in Britain. There is something quite special about watching the arcs of bright light carving their way around a rally stage in front of a car, with rays of light catching on trees and walls, not to mention the occasional pop of flame from an exhaust or even a glowing brake disc if you're lucky.
Stood back for a moment, watching these scenes, it took me back to some world rallies I have been lucky enough to watch in darkness some years ago, hot flask of tea in hand and the crackle of exhaust and anti-lag to add to the aural satisfaction of being stageside at a rally.
Tonight is a bit different though, as this time I'm in one of the cars competing in the darkness.
We're on the first stage of Rally Revival, an event based in Wrexham which covers a large amount of road mileage and some select stage mileage around some English parks, Welsh woodland and even some abandoned airstrips. The connection (and Revival aspect) is that the routes covered in this automotive tour (yes, tours are more straightforward to organise, without requirements for certain permits from Motorsport UK) are those roads used by RAC Rallies or indeed Network Q rallies in years gone by.
Our night time quest is 2 stages of a two lap run of Rednal Kart Circuit in Shropshire, and although some floodlighting gently illuminates some of the paddock, the stage itself is in total darkness so our spotlamps were highly necessary.
Helmet and HANS on, and we are sat at the startline and waiting for the green light to go, in front of me I have a very basic map and route layout, with a maplight glowing onto the paper soo I can feed some info to my pilot for the weekend.
I should explain the car are in - it's a 2 door 1998 Subaru Impreza, a Prodrive built car and while originally built to Group N regulations for customers, it is now in full B13 specification meaning built engine, rapid turbocharger and some other upgrades and weight saving along the way.
Many of you will have read and enjoyed our exploits on Lombard Rally back in the summer, also in an Impreza, but that was a different car, a 4 door 1995 Group N car. One thing we have in common from that rally though is my driver for the evening, my friend and yours the inimitable Sion Ellis.
GO! We fire off the start line, anti lag popping on every upshift, and we slice our way through the circuit, and running in gravel spec, with gravel tyres, on the tarmac stage, unsurprisingly we're very sideways straight away.
We took two runs of this circuit, which comprised some chicanes and other trickery to keep us sharp.
We exit the Rednal stages and are encouraged through by throngs of keen spectators who have come to watch. We pass some other competitors cars and there's a real array of classic machinery to make the average bobble-hatter self destruct.
Other notable drivers we share the entry list with are 1989 & 1990 British Rally Champion David "Dai" Llewellin in a Celica ST165, 2003 WRC champion co-driver Phil Mills in an Escort, and fellow journalist and bobble hat supremo Henry Catchpole, in an ex-Richard Burns 309 GTI.
A route discrepancy (which you can hear Sion and I talk ALL about on episode 7 of the Gobble De-Clutch podcast) did take us a little astray, and this slight route deviation was not helped by the fact that the fuel gauge...lied...and our route discrepancy also became a fuel discrepancy! That's right, a mile or two our of Llangollen, we spluttered to a halt in total darkness and awaited recovery by our service crew!
Not the start we wanted, and it did mean we missed a chunk of the route for the Friday night. However a few hours later, with the car tucked up safely in parc ferme for the evening, and a pizza and rum in hand, this was all forgotten about and we looked forward to the Saturday action which we hoped would provide us with a bit more to get stuck into.
Sure enough, Saturday dawned and we were met with our cheery chase car crew (who, incedentally had a car that perfectly matched our rally car - an ex-Prodrive left hand drive Subaru Legacy management car). With BlendLine co-founder Tal at the wheel, and Automax technician Finn on board, we knew we were in safe hands.
The first stage of the day, after a 40 or so mile road section, was Weston Park near Telford, a grand English country estate with woodland areas and some water splashes. This very stage had been used in the 80's and 90's and to be fair it is always cool to run on stages where you have watched your heroes compete in years gone by. A big crowd had been drawn in to this stage and we had two runs in the morning through the estate in which we were certainly at a competitive pace, our car being of course 4WD on gravel setup it lapped up the loose surface element of the stage really well. This certainly made up for our misdemeanours the night before!
After Weston Park it was north east, and after a refuel (yes I had to keep the pressure on there!) we then had a motorway section on the M6 to an airfield just outside Stafford which offered some short sprint stages on tarmac.
After Stafford and Seighford stages it was back to Weston Park for lunch, and a catch up with fellow crews and our own service team, before heading back out on the road.
Following this we had a reversed stage in Weston Park, (by my calculations the RAC last ran this stage in this orientation in 1991 - the stage won by Stig Blomqvist in a Sunny GTI-R!) and back through the iconic watersplash the other way.
The final stage of the day was just north west of Wrexham, a short gravel stage in another park in Flintshire. Unfortunately a bridge collapse in the weeks before the event had meant a re route was necessary, and after some lengthy delays on the road section and stage-in, we had a quick run through the final stage of the rally which was all gravel, and by this point our tyres were worn right down so we were very, very sideways!
Back to Wrexham for the ceremonial finish where we were greeted by the event organiser Bryn Pierce and presented with our cups. We were also later awarded a prize for Concours/Period Clothing/Entertainment value. I know Sion put on a good show for the spectators at the public venues in the Subaru and I certainly attribute our award for "entertainment" to that!
Now looking back on Rally Revival it was fantastic to take part in a rally with such a diverse selection of drivers and cars which wouldn't otherwise get to see a rally stage, and also to drive some of the iconic routes from the original RAC/Network Q rallies I watched as a youngster was certainly a tick in the box for me, and I know I speak for Sion too.
You can catch up on our latest exploits on the Gobble De-Clutch Podcast, available on all major podcast platforms to download now.
On a side note, my personal favourite car taking part in Rally Revival 2021 was this immaculate Porsche 911 SC driven by Adrian Kermode and Simon Maurice. Rothmans livery looks good on just about anything, but on the SC it really sealed the deal for me!
Tom Magnay: @tommagnay01
Tal England: @talengland
Sion Ellis: @sionellisautomax
BlendLine Apparel: @blend_line
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