oldSTAGER No.102
February/March 2007

 

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West Essex Car Club


Return of the Cloverleaf?

As I write this on January 15, I know exactly what I was doing 30 years ago: I’d just begun planning the 1978 Cloverleaf Rally – West Essex Car Club’s premier Norfolk road rally.

A week earlier the 1977 version had taken place and I was feeling rather smug. The event had attracted a full entry of 90 crews for this opener to the BTRDA, AEMC and LCAMC championships and had run like clockwork. Looking at the names in the top ten brought back memories. Geoff Lobb – who coincidentally I partnered on last year’s Lombard – won the event with Dave Kirkham in a Kadett. The late great Charles Golding was 4th in his Dolomite with still prominent navigator Preston Ayres, and that sweep crew man of note – Pete Banham – was 9th in a Mini. Looking further down the entry list reveals other names that still compete today.

As I strove to come up with improvements for the 1978 Cloverleaf, I didn’t know it would be the last time I organized a road rally and the last time that the Cloverleaf would run. Eight months later I went to live and work in Germany for Ford of Europe, and although I returned to Norfolk for the rally weekend there were other matters that would guide the future.

Frustrated with not finding an equivalent road rally scene in Germany, I passed my time inventing the Rally Round board game. When I returned to England at the end of 1978, road rallying was struggling to stay alive and I started my own software business, which was to keep me away from active rallying (except on table-tops) for over 20 years.

Nostalgia over and back to 2007.

Having been on the competing end of some excellent HRCR historic road rallies during the last few years, I wondered over the Christmas break whether it was time to put effort into running a road rally again, and maybe revive the Cloverleaf name.

Many of the ’77 organizing team were still active and I floated the idea at an end-of-year rally gathering. The initial reaction ranged from sheer disbelief to summoning men in white coats. Beers later, they were warming to the idea; hours later, I had their alcohol-induced commitment; three weeks later, the plan is coming together.

I don’t underestimate the volume of work ahead of me. Already my desk is covered with maps and paperwork, and my email system is working overtime. Of course, the event won’t be like the Cloverleafs of old, I’ll be trying to entice the same age of cars, but flared-arch, multi-coloured, advertising-strewn, spotlighted road-race machines will be most unwelcome.

The event will be observed for inclusion in the 2008 HRCR Clubmans Championship; so how would it complement the diverse rounds that already make up this series?

First, I hope entries will be encouraged by the fact that Paul Hernaman and I will be steering the event. We think we know what pleases and displeases historic road rally crews.

Geographically we wanted maps local to the host club, so the event will be based in the Cambridge area – easy access to the rest of the UK and new territory for the Clubmans. Indeed, the county RLOs were quite unprepared for such an event being run in their territory.

The navigation will be easy, very easy and quite possibly marked maps. Too many other events inflict navigator penalties with tricky route cards; on this event the navigator’s main responsibility will be to handle speed changes correctly.

And there won’t be any PCs or codeboards! If a crew goes wrong and misses a loop they’ll penalise themselves with a wrong time at the next TC. If we have to check a crew’s route at any point this will be by noting the details of permanent roadside features such as signposts. Any spare marshals we have as a result will be used to observe driving behaviour.

The rally is planned to run in August, filling a gap in the 2007 calendar. Obviously we will be using the quietest roads, but we don’t want crews to unfairly drop time by baulking, so the two worst regularity scores for each crew will be discarded for the results.

Despite this computational complication, with a single location planned for the start, lunch and finish, the results team have promised me a service second to none.

Crews won’t have long queues at scrutineering and there are plenty of positive innovations for driving tests too, but I’ll reveal those another time.

The route and organisation will be a long and winding road; watch the news columns for a formal announcement.