Rally fans turned back the clock even before summer time ends this weekend, writes Ken Davies.
The second running of the Lombard RAC Rally retro 19/20 October proved more popular than the organizing team could ever have hoped, with resulting traffic jams caused by spectators queuing to enter the iconic stages rivalling those seen in period, 1976/80/83/86 and setting the perfect atmosphere on a sunny autumn morning.
After a ceremonial start at Bath Showground, competitors followed an imaginatively conceived route, first visiting Badminton House before joining the long queues of traffic trying to get into Cirencester Park for 2 stages, run in front of an estimated 3,000 rally fans. From there cars headed west via two passage controls, one near Horton in south Gloucestershire and the other at the original Severn Bridge Services, a favorite stop-off for rallies in the 70s and 80s.
Lunch was taken at the Celtic Manor Hotel near Magor before two afternoon stages in Parc Bryn Bach near Tredegar followed by two at Trefil, but these were somewhat rough, meaning just 12 cars attempted them. Two more stages followed at MoD Caerwent but the final two planned within the Celtic Manor’s labyrinth of internal roads and tracks had been inexplicably cancelled prior to the start of the rally.
A first very busy day of the rally concluded with a posh dinner which also celebrated 45 years since the Castrol Autosport Rally Championship and the 50th birthday of the International Rally Drivers Club, formed by Rodney Spokes in 1969. A comparatively easy Sunday saw competitors restarted at the Celtic Manor at 10.30 before two stages at Crick, returning then to the Celtic Manor for the finish and lunch.
Principal organizer Tim Nash – himself a veteran of the Bath based Lombard RAC – had attracted a glittering 132 car entry which was truly representative of the original events, both in terms of cars and drivers. Top attraction was 1984 World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist, who won the Lombard RAC in 1971 – Saab 96 V4, and again twelve years later in 1983 – Audi Quattro A2. Also signing autographs and giving interviews was South African based Stuart Pegg, the winning co-driver in 1972 with Roger Clark in an Escort RS 1800. Other ‘names’ included Gwyndaf Evans, Kalle Grundel, Nicky Grist and the evergreen Willy Cave.
It was obvious that the high number of spectators surprised even the organizers, who just weren’t geared up for the degree of crowd-control the event demanded, resulting in people causally wandering down the middle of the stages and coming face-to-face with competing cars. That said, the roadbook was said to be first-class and the excellent commemorative Lombard RAC program provided a factual chronicle of the original rally.
For sure, the popularity of this charismatic Lombard RAC re-run has captured the imagination of the Historic rally world and cemented a date into its calendar.
© Words & images Ken Davies