A dry and sunny Whitsun weekend saw 45 crews, mostly Inter-Club Historics accompanied by a smaller Clubman class contingent, converge on Ashford in Kent for the 2023 Hughes Historic devised and run by Blackpalfrey Motor Club.
Leigh Powley and Brian Goff in their Corolla turned up to defend last year’s win and Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham their previous second place. The Historics category was a fairly balanced field comprising eight Masters level crews, 12 Experts and a similar number of Novices.
On Friday evening mapping three of the four lengthy road regularities for the next day involved a very comprehensive compendium of plotting instruction types. This saved even the Masters navs from too much bar-propping that night and had many of the lesser mortals scratching heads and debating, for example, the sets theory of how hill gradient fractions might apply to OS conventional symbology. There was however general relief that the 2022 Hughes event’s code board breeding population had been humanely culled, although crews would find out once on the road that rumours of their extinction were quite wrong.
The Conningbrook Hotel MTC was also the start of Regularity A. Like all the other three public road regs, this was lengthy (about an hour), but initially fairly straightforward navigationally. It took the crews south-eastwards from Ashford into the charming landscapes of the southern Kentish Downs.
Leigh Powley and Brian Goff (Toyota Corolla) out to defend their 2022 first place. Photo by M&H Photography
But even by mid morning plenty of locals were up and about the lanes causing even the sharp end crews to clock in with sizeable time penalties especially at the second TP of Reg A. The reg eventually broke free of the hedges and tractors up onto the chalk escarpment above Folkestone, finishing high above the Eurotunnel terminal.
After coffee in a garden centre near Hawkinge the rally headed out on Reg B, straight into the rolling farmlands on both sides of the A2, along roads fringed with cow parsley. Actioning speed change points within the catch-up zones after timing points tested crews’ clock management skills. Sound pre-event PR work along the route had encouraged a growing turnout of roadside deckchair-bound flag wavers. Unfortunately a tiny minority of local people were less than one hundred per cent happy and the rally route was obstructed in at least two places, one scuppering access to a LWR triangle -and, of course, its inevitable code board. The regularity finished up not far from Deal and there was then a transport section onwards to Manston airfield near Ramsgate.
The huge Manston site was again this year the venue for the eight tests, which were all of the cone forest variety rewarding nimble and tidy driving, provided that navigators could give their drivers fast enough directional hints and also indicate the right entry points to three-cone clusters. At least one cone was ritually sacrificed to the gods of speed, head on, allegedly by Ken Binstead. (I only nudged it honest – Ed)
On the tests an HT lead sprung off Leigh Powley’s Toyota – twice – pushing them down into fifth place at lunchtime. By that point Mike and Matthew Vokes were occupying first place, with more than a minute’s cushion from Fildes/Tullie, then the Binsteads and Owens/Bloxham.
Manston was also the venue for a private land regularity (Regularity C). This employed a regularity route book with several pages of tulips but many crews soon discovered a better approach was just to follow the arrows and cones as they came into view, and floor it. That proved a successful tactic on the middle section up the huge Manston runway, but the perimeter sections were in parts something like a Serengeti grassland safari in which even the fastest crews couldn’t get close to the ideal times.
As last year, a decently long lunch break with brown-bag sarnies and tasty snacks gave crews a chance to reflect, commiserate and regroup.
After a redux of the morning’s airfield tests medley straight after lunch, the circus decamped to the River Stour marshlands to start Regularity D. Some road closures just before the event had necessitated route changes onto busier roads through some quite large villages. This meant inevitable delays on encountering all manner of traffic, on two and four legs as well as wheeled. Most unexpected perhaps, up on one of the gnarly wooded lanes, was an oncoming couple on mobility scooters – fortunately they were not attempting our regularity speeds.
The crews battled on gamely but despite the expenditure of jokers the order was still being shaken up continually by the exigencies of tractors and the rest. Not that traffic could only be blamed: more than a couple of crews had found that the off-route ford they gingerly went through was even deeper than the on-route one they were supposed to have taken.
Barry and William Moore (1275GT) finding the right ford? 16th overall and first HRCR novice crew. Photo by M&H Photography.
The final Reg E started straight out of the afternoon coffee stop and followed a complex route around a clutch of pretty wooded hilltops in the southern Downs. The pacey time schedule, aggravated by frequent traffic delays, proved unforgiving of even momentary navigational inattentions. If the temptation to follow other rally cars was ever thought a good one, this was positively disproved as strings of middle-order crews found themselves on what became something like convoyed shopping trips.
It was just before the final regularity that SO’s Porsche 911 decided to bend its knee, or in fact both knees due to a front suspension collapse. Stephen and Nick still tried to plough on, almost literally, raising clouds of dust.
At the finish back in Ashford this all left Roger Fildes / Iain Tullie to take first place in their Escort RS, bettering the Vokes in the final ranking by a single second, with Leigh Powley and Brian Goff still managing to chalk up third place despite their car issues mid-way round.
The Vokes had the consolation of having been top test pilots at Manston in their nimble Ginetta, with James Griffiths and James Howells in their Mini and Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane in the BMW claiming the second and third rows in the tests table.
Best Expert crew were Peter Higton and Charlotte Ryall with a strong performance in their MGB, taking sixth place overall. And Barry and William Moore were top Novices in their Morris Mini 1275GT.
For everyone, a fine day out in the Kentish sunshine, topped off with chilled beverages of choice on tap at the Conningbrook for the early evening debrief and thanks for all the hard work by David Hughes (no, no relation!) and the whole team at Blackpalfrey Motor Club.
All photos by kind courtesy of M&H Photography