Review: the RAC's return to the Rally of the Tests 2016

Review: the RAC's return to the Rally of the Tests 2016
The 2016 RAC Rally of the Tests has been deemed a huge success by entrants and classic rally fans alike – some of whom braved the cold early on Saturday morning to witness the very first RAC supercentre ‘special stage’ test at our Bristol base.

The RAC car park run was one of numerous driving challenge tests encountered by crews as they drove from Bournemouth to Chester. The four-day RAC Rally of the Tests triumphantly marked the RAC’s official return to the event it founded back in the 1930s and which is the forerunner of today’s Wales Rally GB event for FIA World Rally Championship cars.

Competitors received their first ‘test’ as night fell on Thursday 3 November. It was then an early start for a day on the road, including a breakfast visit to the tight, twisty Clay Pigeon kart circuit in Dorset.

Crews then headed through Devon for an evening halt in Bristol ahead of the RAC special event.

And while crews were fettling cars from a near-100-strong entry list, RAC officials were facing another challenge – clearing the car park after a busy Friday in the office!

The event would literally be held outside the supercentre entrance doors and, as night fell, RAC Rally of the Tests officials began laying out the course and installing safety barriers to keep the expected crowds safe.

The buzz on Twitter and Facebook suggested interest would be high and, as Saturday 5 November dawned bright and crisp, we weren’t disappointed.

As the cars set off from their Bristol base for the short trip to Bradley Stoke, spectators warmed up on coffee and sausage sandwiches in preparation.

The first car to arrive was the red 1960s Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint of overnight leaders John Abel and Martyn Taylor. They had the honour of being the first car to be waved off by Paddy Hopkirk – the famous Mini rally driver and Monte Carlo Rally winner was to honour every single car by flagging them away from the start line with the Union Flag.

More than a few autographs and selfies were grabbed along the way.

The tight, twisting course weaved around the RAC Bristol car park and proved a fitting ‘test’ for competitors. The final times wouldn’t be known until afterwards but some were notably neater and faster than others.

The classic Minis proved particularly popular, while the Mk1 Ford Escorts and Porsche 911s were a dramatic sight.

With cars setting off every minute, action was non-stop and the crowds emerged thrilled and breathless as the final runs were completed around 10am.

From there, the RAC Rally of the Tests competitors headed to their next challenges, which would include a run on the world’s oldest racetrack, Shelsley Walsh, before the finish on Sunday 6 November in Chester.

As for the spectators, it was more tea and coffee to take off the early morning chill, and more time with Paddy Hopkirk who was on superb form all morning.

By Sunday evening, after hundreds more miles of driving and several trickier tests, the winners of the 2016 RAC Rally of the Tests were Andy Lane and Richard Crozier in their Volvo 122S.

But nobody was left disappointed by a successful, evocative event that fully recreated the spirit of the original RAC Rally of the Tests.

There was near-unanimous agreement that they’ll be back for more of the same next year. So too will we! In the meantime, enjoy some shots from the 2016 event – and check out our Facebook Live broadcast from our Bristol base on Saturday morning.

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