The Real RAC Rally – That’s Roger Albert Clark To You…

For those of us of a certain age, the phrase RAC Rally stirs emotions. Memories of misty cold November days spent walking into a forest, Ordnance Survey map folded to the correct Special Stage and stashed in a rucksack alongside a Thermos flask and some Mars Bars.

Then arriving at your chosen vantage point to find it wall to wall with people who all had the same idea, the crowd murmuring in anticipation, the occasional fart ringing out to be congratulated by colleagues. As dusk falls, the banter in the crowd increases until, as darkness completes we’re stood waiting in the blackness, torches spearing out as we all make fun of the two fools that decided to climb a fir tree earlier and then got stuck….

Guy Smith's Ford Escort before the Roger Albert Clark rally.
Guy Smith’s Ford Escort before the Roger Albert Clark rally.

Then you hear it in the distance, the sharp bark of a BDA or a V6 Stratos. Still a couple of miles off, but you can hear the engine note as the driver charges up the gears before a moment of silence as he brakes, the noise not carrying through the trees until he blips on the downchanges before getting back on the power, the engine note giving that slight tremor as it works against the limited slip diff out of the corner with a ghostly echo coming back through the trees.

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Then there’s the shout from the rally marshalls, “CAR……. !!”, whistles blowing like air raid wardens as just over the horizon the skyline is lit up by an armoury of Cibie Oscars blazing through the forest. The engine is very loud now and as it crests the rise, the lights burn into our retinas and the BDA’s revs soar as he charges, all four wheels off the ground, then landing, instantly on the brakes approaching our chosen corner, the lights dart left and right as he sets the car up for a Scandinavian Flick.

Dozens of flashguns lance out from the tree line momentarily illuminating the crew inside, showing the sponsorship, the door number and sometimes a deep gouge in a rear wing or on occasion, a flattened roof and star crazed windscreen, testament to an off-piste adventure elsewhere. Small stones pepper our feet and legs and then they’re gone, lights illuminating the forest track we’d walked along on the way in, red tail lights getting smaller by the second, the spots left on our eyeballs fade as the blackness returns, murmurs of approval from the assembled experts.

Sixty seconds later, the sequence repeats. “CAR!!!” We take a step back into the tree line. Thirty minutes later, we’ve decided that the quickest guys have now been seen and we walk briskly back to the car, every minute or so taking a few strides back into the tree line as the slower midfield runners pass us by. Back at the car, we’re dumping our gear in the boot alongside the Primus stove, packs of bacon and bread buns and then grabbing the Ordnance Survey Map and heading to our next pre-planned vantage point.

Blinding Rally Car Lights - PIAA have replaced the legendary Cibie
Blinding Rally Car Lifhts – PIAA have replaced the legendary Cibie

Today, the World Rally Championship is a totally different affair. Located around a central point that the FIA claim is to help the logistics of media coverage and to contain costs, the UK round is no longer the four day marathon for both competitors and spectators. Instead, you travel to Wales and pay quite a lot of money to watch the top ten cars compete at a truly incredible pace, before the speeds drop dramatically off. With luck, today’s WRC might let you se the cars twice in a day. Sadly, the RAC Rally with it’s UK wide route is no longer a WRC event. However, the RAC Rally is in fact still out there. And it’s still great fun.

These days, the RAC part stands for Roger Albert Clark, the man who made Ford Escorts and muddy forests as fashionable as Cossack hair products. Revived in 2004 by DeLacy Motor Club, the event has defied the doubters and now become a firm favourite with crews and spectators. No four wheel drive, no turbos, just hard driven, traditional rally cars and a route that pay direct homage to the iconic stages of years gone by. Names like Dalby Woodyard, Helmsley, Croft Circuit Kiedler and Hamsterley all feature each year with a route that takes in North Yorkshire, Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and southern Scotland, it’s a huge event.

For spectators, the whole road trip adventure is there to be re-created, or experienced for the first time. Beginning in Pickering, North Yorkshire on Friday 23rd November, the route takes in all of the aforementioned iconic stages, running deep into the night and with a quality entry list that a World Championship Rally would be proud of. Venturing across Durham and into Cumbria, before scything up to the Scottish Borders then back through Northumberland and finally finishing on Sunday at Brampton town centre in Cumbria.

Porsche 911 on the Roger Albert Clark Rally

Without ‘centralised servicing’ crews can often be seen in lay bys and cafe car parks grabbing a quick coffee and fresh tyres before continuing on, accompanied by chase car crew in a 4×4 with whip antenna waving on the roof, spares piled high in the rear window. With larger service halts and re-groups to keep the event on schedule, there will be something for even the most timid of rally spectator, with Croft Circuit hosting the sole tarmac stage and giving people ample opportunity to get up close to the action. This years entry includes the omnipresent Ford Escorts by the score, Perez’s beautiful Lancia Stratos, what is sure to be a great sounding Corolla AE86 entered by Midgley Motorsport plus a handful of Porsche 911’s.

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For the more adventurous, I strongly suggest you turn off your GPS, lock it into the glovebox and learn how to use a map once more. The scenery is stunning, the night time can be pitch black but you’ll see more of the remote UK countryside than on a bank holiday weekend. But forests don’t have post codes, so download the route maps from the rally website, grab a pencil and find that great hairpin that tightens up, stand back and let the oversteer commence.

Full details on the Roger Albert Clark Rally website

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

Leave a Reply

  • Brilliant article and correct in every way. The only thing that you missed was “the smell” of mud gradually cooking on a hot exhaust and the pungent odour of engines running a rich mixture.

    Brilliant and thank you

  • Indeed, I’d forgotten all about the hot mud smell and the high octane mixtures, well remembered! And thanks, glad you liked it.

    Neill

  • I was there, now and then, the 240Z in Cropton with discs glowing like beacons in the night The hill in Wykeham ( Bakers Warren) where no man could walk down without going on his arse But low and behold two 2 stroke Saabs, Stig B and Per E fly down the ice without caution. The hairs on my neck are tingling now. What a great article, we were when Rallying was at its best.

  • Thanks, Allan. I can recall trying to kip in the front seat of my mate’s Audi quattro in Cumbria, well below zero. Got out to find a suitable tree, fell on my backside. Only ever did it the once, but happy days.

  • Just had another thought from then, you always saw the top drivers, if they had retired, spectating on the stages. No Helicopters to whisk them away to warm hotels. We met the late great Tony Pond that way. OOps the bit I wrote above should read We were there when Rallying was at its best Cheers.

  • Great article couldnt agree more. Had the pleasure of witnessing (and smelling) rallys greats as a child on my doorstep in Dunoon with the great Burmah Rally….This is real rallying not the watered down nonsense that the WRC serves up now. Cant wait for this years event….to the undecided who may be reading this ,do yourself a favour, grab your sleeping bag and torch and head to the RAC you wont regret it.

  • Good write up. Are you heading there? A few of us are climbing in my truck at Malton on the Friday night after work if you want to join us? We’ve got my Biolite stove, some wood and I’ll bring some sausages and bacon.