THE PAST MARK 2016 SEASON
ASPHALT STAGE RALLYING
This was not a good year for historics in the forests. The running order changes implemented by the MSA have dealt this branch of the sport a crushing blow, from which it shows no sign of recovering.
If there was any positive, it was that a steady migration to sealed surfaces put more historics than ever before on to asphalt rallies. A growing number of cars are being converted to asphalt spec.
The fledgling Fuchs R.A.C. Historic Asphalt Championship got off to a fair start and the HRCR Old Stager series drew record numbers of Minis onto the stages.
The move to asphalt was never better demonstrated than on the Isle of Man in September, which drew more historic entries (73) than any gravel event in 2016.
Jock Armstrong Garry Pearson Mike Faulkner Mark Mcculloch Bruce Mccombie Barry Groundwater Scott Mccombie Alasdair S. Graham Donnie Macdonald Iain Wilson
This is not a joke. A Vauxhall Zafira won a rally.
Rallying is a sport full of variety. Some of the most weird and wonderful machinery adorns our service parks, but earlier this year even fans of the strangest creations were left pondering over the car that won the Colman Tyres road rally. It was a Vauxhall Zafira.
Playing the part of ‘daddy cool’ from the TV adverts of the Zafira’s heyday was Graham Hepworth, a long time road rally man, with incredibly experienced and able navigator Iain Tullie on the notes.
The question is, why? On average a top road rally car can cost between £500 and £30,000. Indeed, a trick Ford Escort Mk2 with all the bells and whistles was advertised online just over that top number last month.
But the Zafira saw off allcomers. Why was the MPV chosen? Hepworth explains: “It was my 50th birthday and Iain [Tullie] said ‘do you fancy doing it [the Colman Tyres]’.
“We didn’t have a car, I thought ‘a Zafira will do’. I bought it from ebay for £180. I thought, ‘it’s only £180. It’s only a big estate car, it will be alright for it’.
“I put a harness in for Iain, I put some new brake pads on and some knobblys on the front and that was it. No spotlights even.”
The spotlights weren’t needed. The weather was so bad that the official event photographer – Chris Ellison – got the first couple of cars on camera and then had to retreat as he couldn’t see anything for an abundance of dense fog.
The pouring rain didn’t help Ellison, but it did help Hepworth and Tullie. The neutralised conditions meant the Zafira wasn’t as disadvantaged against proper road rallying machines as if it would have been in dry.
The meat of the event was around Catterick RAF base. Neither Tullie or Hepworth had realised the roughness of the gravel involved.
“I think we’d both missed the fact that they were using so much gravel in Catterick,” said M-sport worker Tullie. “That’s the point at which he had to look around and choose a car. His reasoning behind it was sound and it was quite possibly the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had.”
You don’t need many more ingrediants than ‘Zafira winning a rally’ to make this one of the oddest events of the year. But there was still more to come.
“In Caterick we played a bit of a blinder really,” explains Hepworth. “They’d warned us that there were shell casings from the guns in there. I put the knobblys on the front and run-flats on the back. We had a bullet go straight through the rear tyre and it lasted for the rest of the event without going down. A few had punctures and were out of the event. We were lucky with that.
“My friend is a tyre fitter and he took it away after the event to take it [the bullet] out and he couldn’t even tell the tyre was punctured!”
The duo were certainly pedaling. By the last stage they’d caught all the cars in front of them, on route to victory by 3m49s. Not only did they win, but by an enormous gap in road rallying terms.
Tullie believes the ride was quite serene from inside the car as the duo caught car after car and negotiated the tricky Catterick perfectly.
“Because of the car you don’t necessarily realise the speed you’re getting up to,” adds Tullie. “You’re not strapped into a bucket seat and it feels more comfortable and you aren’t bouncing off the sump guard. You don’t quite have the sense of speed. Maybe that allows you to enjoy it a bit more and there were plenty of times where we were catching other cars in Catterick and elsewhere, clearly we were going fast enough on the event.”
And so the Vauxhall and crew were glorious victors. So what of the magnificent mule? The zany Zafira? Was it retired to a hero’s welcome back in Hepworth’s estate?
“My brother has a trials car, so we use it to tow that,” says Hepworth. “The week after the event, it was a tow car.”
There are no plans to wheel out the Zafira once more as it serves its purpose as a tow car. But as winners go, perhaps the Zafira – retiring with a 100 per cent record – is one of the strangest and most outrageous of all. ■
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