BOOM TIME ON THE MUDDY HILLS
The historic sporting trial movement is one of the fastest growing branches of the sport. By Paul Lawrence
Sporting trials have been around for over 60 years, offering lowspeed, high-skill competition in purpose-built two-seaters against steep and often muddy hillsides.
It is a quintessentially British sport where skill and finesse are the key factors and it has a dedicated competitor following. Yet until five years ago, it was purely a modern sport for the remarkably agile cars of the current era.
Sitting in garages and sheds were all sorts of cars dating from the 1950s through to the 1970s and there was little or no use for them. But that all changed after a chance conversation and it was former trials driver Martyn Halliday who took up the idea and ran with it.
At the time, Halliday was racing a Lotus 23 in the Guards Trophy and a conversation with fellow racer Michael Schryver was the catalyst.
“Michael bought a Cannon and I arranged for him and his friends Marcus Pye and Simon Hadfield to visit Ian Wright to see what a trial was all about,” said Halliday. A day sampling trials cars at Wright’s Kent base led to the suggestion of competition for period cars.
“I thought it was a good idea,” said Halliday. “I’d been trialling since the early 1970s, including modern sporting trials and I then went racing with the HSCC. I got talking to Grahame White, boss of the HSCC, and he said he’d still got his original trials car from the early 1960s and it all gelled from there.”
The journey into the unknown really kicked off in May 2012 when the newly-formed Historic Sporting Trials Association held its first trial at the excellent Long Compton site in Warwickshire. There 22 starters from 25 entries made the idea an instant hit. “I was amazed at the number of spectators that came along,” said Halliday. “It was lovely to see many old trials friends meeting up for the first time in years, which helped generate a very relaxed atmosphere. For our first event we had 13 Ford 1172-engined cars entered.”
Halliday and Wright were the driving force behind getting the idea off the ground and continue to work tirelessly to promote and develop historic sporting trials. Wright is particularly skilled at setting out hills that can challenge and reward experienced competitors and newcomers alike.
The regulations mirror those used in the National Trials Formula in period and there are two classes. The historic division is for the cars from 1953 to 1970 and the post-historic division is home to cars from 1971 to 1974. In the historic cars, Ford 1172 and BMC A Series engines are the most common, while the posthistoric class features Ford crossflow, Hillman Imp and bigger BMC power units.
That first trial was followed by more over the winter of 2012/2013 as support grew rapidly. Significantly, many of the new converts came from historic racing and close links with the Historic Sports Car Club proved invaluable as a gaggle of racers saw an opportunity to have some low-cost winter motor sport in the company of like-minded mates.
Four years on from the inaugural trial, the HSTA returned to Long Compton back in May for the fifth anniversary trial and Halliday was bowled over with an entry of 57 drivers, many of them sharing cars.
“It is amazing and the support is unbelievable,” said Halliday. “It has grown faster than anyone expected and it wouldn’t have happened without the support of the HSCC and the racers.”
Those regularly sampling muddy hills include HSCC Chairman Frank Lyons, board members and racers Peter Hore, Andrew Mansell and Stuart Tizzard, Formula Ford racers Westie Mitchell and his sons Ben and Sam and father-and-daughter Roger and Rachel Arnold, Formula 5000 pilot Chris Atkinson, Tim Kary from Historic Formula 3 and Historic F2 racer Mike Bletsoe-brown. Others have tested the water by sharing cars and young GT and sports-prototype racer Michael Lyons borrows one of his father’s cars on free weekends.
Former TVR Tuscan racer and now prolific historic competitor Grant Tromans reckons it’s some of the best fun he’s ever had in a car and tempted preparation ace Paul Lanzante to have a go. Even Masters Historic Racing boss Ron Maydon spent a January Sunday getting cold, wet and muddy as passenger in the Cannon of Frank Lyons.
Halliday believes that a calendar of six trials run from the autumn to the spring is just about right and he avoids all historic race dates when planning a calendar. Back on the schedule for the spring of 2017 is a return visit to the Isle of Wight for a two-day event.
“People are still looking for cars and cars still being found,” said Halliday. “There are at least another eight cars to come out. The priority is to have fun and we have lots of double drive cars. But we’re almost at a point where we are getting pressure on entry capacity.”
These days it is rare for a sporting trial to run with over 50 entries, but that is fast becoming the norm in the historic arena. The HSTA has gone from zero to 57 in less than five years.
In cost terms, few branches of motor sport offer a more affordable day out. A tidy, ready to run Cannon for the historic class can cost around £15,000 while post-historic cars can be bought for between £5000 and £8000. Car depreciation is not a factor right now, with any available cars being snapped up in very short order. A recent Cannon restoration project sold in 24 hours. Running costs are negligible; mainly petrol to and from events and a typical £45 entry fee. One set of tyres will last a season and it all adds up to a day’s motor sport for not much more than £100. No wonder it is proving so popular. ■