BOOM TIME ON THE MUDDY HILLS

The his­toric sport­ing trial move­ment is one of the fastest grow­ing branches of the sport. By Paul Lawrence

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Historic Trials - Pho­tos: 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. ■

For­mer TVR Tus­can Chal­lenge racer Grant Tro­mans takes part

Gra­hame White gets stuck in

Ca­ma­raderie is part of the fun

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