Some photos of our TR6 on this year’s LE JoG courtesy of Tony Large and Frances Corastrelli.

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The final results of the rally showed that of the 52 cars that started 16 retired due to mechanical failure or accident damage. We came 32nd of the 36 finishers. Not very impressive but not too bad considering how many tests and regularities we missed due to problems with the car. At least finishing allowed us to claim a green ribband finisher’s medal and the the fact that the two other TR6s in our class proved even more unreliable than our own car allowed us to claim second in class behind a vast Bristol 411.

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According to the organisers this year’s rally was the toughest for many years. This was borne our by the fact the winning crew won the only gold medal awarded. In their victor’s speech they pointed out that when they last won the rally they accumulated less penalties for the whole rally than they accumulated in just one regularity in this year’s event.

What lessons have we learnt? Firstly do not hire a car. Better a car whose weaknesses you know. Secondly, if you are both 6 foot or taller, a sports car is too small in which to spend 56 hours in three days. A powerful reliable medium size saloon is probably best. This year’s winners were in a BMW 320. Thirdly, always press on. The only way to fit in all the regularities and tests is to attack the link sections. For a while we ran with some rally veterans – their speed on the link sections was impressive to behold. I will long remember the two TR4’s that overtook us at speed late at night in the Highlands, flame spitting from their exhausts as they changed up…

LE JoG now completed and what an experience!

We departed at dawn from Lands End, starting with a test in the grounds of the Lands End hotel that we thought went well.

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The first of the regularities was a shock. Despite it being a tulip section we managed to get horribly lost and delayed. Eventually we cut and ran to try and avoid the 900 penalties we would accrue if we were late at the next control. On our way to the next test we were held up and blocked in by one of our fellow competitor’s Tornado that hit another car on a small lane and blocked the road. There were no injuries but it meant we were late for our next two tests at the Eden Project. We finally checked in at the next control a minute outside our allocated maximum lateness and therefore incurred 900 penalties.

We found it very hard to keep to schedule and it soon became apparent that in order to do so and avoid significant penalties it was necessary either to keep moving and / or to cut and run when behind schedule on a regularity. Matters got worse that evening as we entered South Wales. The oil pressure light came on and the gauge showed pressure of less than 20 psi. We then spent five hours trying to stabilise the engine and get it running smoothly but that meant we missed a number of regularities on the Welsh mountain roads. We were effectively out of contention by the end of the first day.

Whilst the other competitors made their way up through South and Mid Wales to and through Snowdonia, we tried to catch them up by cutting across country through Brecon and Llandridno Wells. The roads were deserted and the thought of the engine failing in the middle of the Brecon Beacons, with no phone reception and temperatures of well below freezing was not pleasant. Running out of fuel was a more realistic concern. 24 hour garages are rare in rural Wales and we wasted much time trying to find petrol. By the time we eventually caught up with the other cars it was at Llangollen in North Wales, at 2am.

After a few hours sleep we woke to find that despite our misfortunes we were second in class. The two other TR6’s in our class had retired in South Wales at the same time that we broke down. One, driven by an Italian crew, succumbed to electrical issues and the other, driven by an Austrian crew, suffered a failed diff.

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Sunday proved to be our best day. We completed all the tests and regularities till nightfall accurately if slowly and made solid progress through Lancashire over the moors, through Westmorland to County Durham. By the time we reached the Pennines around Middleton in Teesdale the temperature had dropped to well below freezing and ice became a real problem. We narrowly missed sliding into a wall on a link section and made such slow progress on a regularity over the moors that we incurred maximum penalties. In other words we might as well have not done it! Following that disappointment we headed straight to the next overnight stop at Slayley Hall near Hexham for a comparatively early night ( 11 pm).

Overnight snow made Tynedale beautiful but the road conditions treacherous as we left Slayley the next day. The previous night’s ice was now hidden by a layer of snow that claimed some more cars before they even left the hotel grounds. Believing the regularities would (correctly as it turned out) prove very slow we decided to just head for the next check point at Kielder. The run up through the Cheviots was beautiful with the first bit of sunshine we had seen since setting out on Saturday morning giving the snowy landscape a magical quality.

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From Kielder we drove through the forest on snow roads over the border to Scotland. We were now focussing solely on getting to the check points on time and doing the tests. The car was drinking oil, sounded awful and smelt terrible. It was utterly gutless and the overdrive had long ago packed up which made for slow progress in even the best conditions. It was also showing a propensity to bog down and overheat at slow speeds, further reasons to steer clear of the regularities. We were now just desperate to get a finishers medal, all thoughts of other awards long since dropped.

The run up from the Borders took us past Glasgow and Loch Loman to Oban just as it got dark.

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There the snow gave way to torrential rain and fog. The rain froze and formed black ice – this claimed a few more competitors, a Volvo Amazon that span off the road in front of us, and a Mercedes that rolled four times whilst undertaking a somewhat ambitious overtaking move.. We decided (rather shamelessly) to cut and run direct to Wick rather than battle on through the night. As it was many of the night sections were cancelled due to the poor conditions but we still felt bad about not at least trying some of them. But the car was by now very poorly and we wanted to make sure we finished. As it was the car was on its last legs on the long run through the Great Glen, to Inverness then north to Wick.

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The following morning we eventually coaxed the car into life for the final 17 mile run into John O’Groats to be greeted by a piper and a coffee. It was fantastic to finish. However we were full of admiration for the many other competitors who streamed in later in the morning having driven through the night.

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Gavin arrived this morning from London following a 12 hour bus journey and was not overly pleased to find that tomorrow we start the rally at 8am and finish at Llangollen in North Wales at 4.30 am. It will be a long day – and night.

I spent most of the day plotting our first regularities. Relatively straightforward on the map – I expect more tricky on the road in the dark. We have never competed at night so the long night sections will be a challenge.

It took a very long time to get the TR6 through scrutineering this morning. And it’s fair to say we are not entirely happy with her. She feels sluggish, has poor oil pressure and makes the sound of a car that’s only firing on some of its cylinders. HERO assure us all is well so we shall see. She also steams up on the drivers side ( inefficient heater) and the fuel pump makes an appalling constant high pitched whine. HERO will change it on Sunday. Hope it lasts till then.

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Weather forecast is ok though very cold for the night sections through the Welsh mountains and into the North West on Sunday. Frost and black ice may be a real problem.

We have just returned from a black tie dinner with the other competitors and are comforted that there are others with even less experience than us! Lots of nervous but excited chatter!

The Lands End to John of Groats historic rally is one of the most gruelling in the UK and has long been on my list of must do events. It covers over a thousand miles in three days with long regularity sections and 20 or so competitive tests. Taking place at the beginning of December the competitors often face terrible weather as they slip and slide on narrow B roads through the West Country, Wales, The Lakes, and The Highlands.

I entered the rally last spring and since then my friend Gavin and I have practiced in a relatively leisurely fashion. Hopefully we will not embarrass ourselves when the rally starts next Saturday. One thing our rally day at Throckmorton (see below) taught us was the importance of getting the tests right. These often require competitors to navigate a tight and complicated course against the clock. Clear communication between the navigator and driver are essential and Throckmorton showed us that we needed a system to help us improve our accuracy and times. With that we have been practicing our new method on a table top with me shouting instructions whilst Gavin navigates a Porsche 917 around various paper cones. For a Le Mans racer the Porsche proved surprisingly nimble on the slalom , the huge brakes also helping us stop accurately across the line when required. Lets hope the TR6 we have hired for the actual event proves as good!

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