Rally of the Tests: Day three the final car-killing Test

Competition is one of the great human traditions. As soon as our ancient ancestors sharpened sticks for hunting with, you can bet there would have been friendly – or not so friendly – competition between men, women, tribes and elders.

Ours, here and now, has sharpened to a point on this Sunday afternoon. The clock is fast ticking down to the evening ceremony; the coveted winner’s trophy is waiting for one duo while everyone else has to do their best not to act disappointed. The contest is tough and colourful enough to make every person here feel like they’ve achieved something, but no one aims to leave without the trophy, do they?

Before we reach the end, let’s start from the beginning. There’s a whiff of deja vu as dawn creeps over the horizon at Redworth Hall Hotel. Yesterday’s start point hosts the crowd of mud-caked classics again; the mix of Porsches, Alfa Romeos, Minis and many more heading south, this time.

The final day starts with a few reliability issues. The 1972 Volvo 144 of Keith Jenkins and Martin Phaff is soon caught at the roadside with its bonnet up. Others follow as the sky brightens and the air warms just a little.

The on-road testing gets off to a flyer with a route out to a set of lanes near Jervaulx Abbey. The place must be noteworthy, judging by the coach-load of eager tourists clutching pamphlets and stomping around in sturdy boots. They look disappointed that the tea room isn’t open yet; we’re still in the crisp stillness of autumn mid-morning.

A telephoto lens gives an insight into who’s enjoying it and who isn’t. The female competitors, in particular, are clearly having a ball. It’s great to see. For those who aren’t having the time of their lives, though, things are not about to perk up. The mini theme park at Lightwater Valley is closed for the winter and a Regularity test runs right through it, but it’s not exactly like anyone can stop for a quick turn on the dodgems.

They say bad news comes in threes, but today it’s Tests. The cars roll up to Tockwith Motor Sports Centre, where there’s a range of safe spaces in which to do silly things with cars. You can even learn to drive at the age of 12, apparently.

A wind-hammered go-kart track and former airfield runway are the targets for the seasoned rally teams. The former makes a perfect time-attack course, each car launching away at one-minute intervals and howling around the tyre-lined circuit at full pelt. Well, all except for the #73 Citroen DS21, which meanders slowly around the course with barely a whisper.

The latter, the old, disintegrating runway, has been dotted with cones to form short slaloms. There’s also a circle at one end for dizzying 360-degree circles that could easily scupper the weak-stomached navigator’s efforts to concentrate. A final sprint and hard brake to a halt rewards each team with a time.

Time is running out for all of them. Those striving to catch up have got very little of it left. The mystery leader has just got to hang on. But there’s one more extreme challenge the cars and drivers have to negotiate first: a hill climb. The fiercely difficult Harewood Speed Hill Climb is the final challenge.

The astonishing commitment from many of the drivers is a joy. Engines rev to their redlines, suspension compresses to the bump stops through dips, tyres screech at their limits of grip and headlights begin to ping on as the light falls away. A mixture of asphalt and mud challenges the teams to their absolute limits as they try everything to eke out that last, precious second from the course. A line of spectators has braved the cold and stands on the hill overlooking the course. They aren’t left disappointed.

The final car-killing Test is done and dusted. The cars just have to make it back to the finish line at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Who are the winners? Well, we’ll just have to wait a bit longer to find out.