THE RALLY OF THE TESTS – a classic motoring event evoking memories of the RAC Rally of the 1950s – swung into action late yesterday afternoon in Torbay's small country lanes. Driving humble Morris Minors and Ford Anglias to more exotic Porsches and Aston Martins from the 1950s and 60s, 73 teams begin the rally in earnest today (Friday 9 November) with a stage at Exeter Racecourse. This year's rally is the 11th time that the event has been held...
"The tests that we have are things that we did on the RAC Rally in the 1950s," explained event director Jeremy Dickson, as scrutineering of the cars got underway yesterday at Torquay's Grand Hotel.
Click for video action from the opening night's stage in the Quaywest overflow car park in Paignton
"We might have tests on a car park area, where we set out some cones and drivers go between them, so it's a matter of their skill of getting the course right as well as a quick time.
"We also have tests on farm tracks, where it's a question of following the road but with a poor surface, such as gravel. These tests are against the clock, there's also cones and code boards, so there's a skill element as well as the quickest wins.
"The type of map information that we give to people is based on old-style information. It's an evocation of the 1950s RAC Rally and the things you can see from outside the car. Everyone makes an effort to period-dress as well."
Who will be competing?
"These are very much amateur drivers. Some of them might do seven, eight or nine events a year. Others might only do an event every two years. Only a handful of people – perhaps the top ten – come expecting to win or to do well. The others come to take part and to compete against other similar cars. There are 73 teams in all, including crews from Sweden, Holland and Ireland."
Why was the rally starting at Torquay?
"It was the finish of the RAC Rally 80 years ago, so it's a good link back," said Jeremy. "We've used it before. Each year the event moves around the country."
And where will it finish?
"This year we're Torquay to Chester. Last year was Dublin to Blackpool and we've previously done Bournemouth to Chester."
Over at the adjacent Torquay Rugby Ground, drivers and navigators were awaiting scrutineering, as officials checked that their cars were safe and complied with event regulations.
"We've had no problems with our car," said Andrew Buzzard from Stafford, "but you wouldn't expect it with the amount of time we spend on these vehicles." Andrew was driving a 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTV, which he loves rallying. "This is the fourth time we've done the Rally of the Tests. It's a tough and a good rally."
Were there any stages he was apprehensive about?
"No, we look forward to them all."
"The harder the better!" said Robb Lyne, Andrew's navigator.
Elsewhere, others were hoping that it wouldn't rain.
"We're hoping to do the rally with the roof down, but having looked at the forecast, I'm not so sure!" said Bernard Northmore from Cheddar, Somerset. He was driving a 1959 Austin Healey 3000 Mk I. "The rally is great fun, but it's pretty full on. You have to keep going. My navigator is Chris Head from Chippenham. It's his first time on this sort of event. He's done lots of navigating on other events, so I'm quietly confident we'll get there!"
It was also the first time that Andy Ballantyne from Totnes had competed in the Rally of the Tests. What had drawn him to the event?
"The challenge, the comradeship, the enthusiasm… it's just the ultimate to tick off the list before my eyes start going and before I start getting too old!"
Andy was navigating for Cliff England, who was driving a 1965 Ford Anglia 1200.
"It should be a good little car, hopefully we'll be competitive," said Andy. "We're not going to be up there with the top boys, but the idea for us is to get round and to have fun. If we can do something, especially on the nice sections, then we'll be there… or thereabouts."
Where you can see The Rally of the Tests
Friday 9 November, 8am: Exeter Racecourse, EX6 7XS.
The rally then moves on to Bampton (near Tiverton), then Porlock in Somerset, followed by Glastonbury, Bristol and through Wales on Saturday, finishing in Chester on Sunday 11 November.
For more information, go to Rally of the Tests (http://www.classicrally.org.uk/rott2012/index.html)
For more pictures, go to: Rally of the Tests 2012 gets into gear at Torquay