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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. ■


Citroen DS 3 Ford Fi­esta Ford Fi­esta Ford Fi­esta Ford Fi­esta Mit­subishi Lancer E10 Citroen DS3 Ford Fo­cus Citroen C4 Peu­geot 208

Hep­worth and Tul­lie were comfy and quick

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