Immerse yourself in off-road trials – and bring the kids
It’s cheap, accessible and, above all, very good fun. Ed Wiseman discovers grassroots motorsport at its finest during a delightfully muddy day of action
To many, motorsport means the champagne-soaked spectacle of Formula One, or the VIP enclosures of Goodwood’s Revival. Expensive, elitist events that are difficult to attend, let alone take part in. But for thousands every weekend, “motorsport” means something far more real.
It’s 8am on a Sunday in Hertfordshire. Crisp white sunlight cracks through the conifers, the forest floor a mess of golds and browns – it is as far removed from Silverstone as it’s possible to get. I’m here to join the Anglian Land Rover Club, and take part in what might be the most accessible and goodnatured motorsport in Britain.
A tyro trial is a simple test of off-road driving ability. The competition consists of several short sections, which each take about a minute to complete at speeds comparable to walking pace. The sections are laid out with numbered “gates” in the manner of a ski slalom course, pairs of numbered canes from 12 to one, which have to be driven through in reverse order. Colliding with, or getting stuck between, any of them will cost you the same number of points as indicated on each gate; flattening gate seven and then stopping before gate three will result in a score of 10. Obviously, the objective is to score as little as possible.
It’s a sport that rewards car control, planning and the ability to find traction on slippery surfaces. Most of these skills are learned, or at least enhanced, with experience, but this is one corner of motorsport that sees young drivers compete on relatively equal terms with people twice or three times their age – because tyro trials are open to drivers as young as 13, making it a perfect introduction to motorsport for car-mad teenagers.
That’s not to say that tyro is just for kids, of course. I’m a relatively experienced driver whose first car was a Land Rover, yet I’m absolutely reliant on the expert guidance of my host, club secretary Andrew Flanders, who has lent me (and a couple of other newcomers) the “club car”, a 20-year-old Land Rover Freelander. He gently chaperones me around an undulating course, suggesting lines across rutted ground. It’s slow, satisfying, and at times quite technical. I absolutely love it.
“It can be a really cheap and fun day,” says Flanders. “Less than a couple of gallons of fuel and £20 of entry fee. Club memberships vary around the £20 mark as well. That would give you an annual membership, so each event after that will only cost £20. All your family – all those aged 13 and above – can take part. Bring the dog, and a picnic.”
This is as much a wholesome family day out as it is a serious competition. Similarities between Land Rover owners and their spaniels are evident in this context; both love nothing more than an energetic trip through damp woodland, and both seem impervious to drizzle. Flanders tells me that summer is a more forgiving time for novices.
Tyro trials are designed to be challenging, but not brutal. Short courses with limits on entry and departure angles, as well as water depth, ensure a minimal chance of damage to vehicles, and the terrain chosen should correspond broadly with the sort of cars people have entered. You can be confident that you’ll leave the site with your vehicle intact, albeit much muddier.
“We’d like to encourage newer vehicles to do it,” says Flanders. “But to actually use a £40,000 car can sometimes be a bit daunting. We don’t insure people for damage to the vehicles if they run into trees and get mud where they shouldn’t. They might just have to have it cleaned professionally and make sure that the brakes are not filled with grit and gravel.”
On the other side of the wood I can hear bellowing diesel engines and the crunch of tree on aluminium; more challenging RTV (road-taxed vehicle) trials are taking place in what seems to be a bomb crater. An enthusiastic tyro driver might consider “progressing” to RTV or, beyond that, Cross Country Vehicle (CCV) trials, an extreme discipline involving specialist vehicles. All of these fall under the banner of “crosscountry” and are sanctioned by Motorsport UK (formerly MSA), motorsport’s governing body in the UK, including tyro.
Tyro is cheap. You can start from scratch for comfortably less than £2,000; that is, buy and tax an eligible car, join a club and enter an event. A Land Rover Freelander like the one I’m driving could cost as little as £650 (though everybody present thinks £1,500 is a more realistic price for a good example) and, unlike most other disciplines, you don’t need a trailer and towcar to transport it to events.
There are probably cheaper motorsports. Car trials use vehicles that are generally less expensive than a Land Rover, and there are several Tarmacbased rally types for which any road-legal car is eligible. There are also ways for even younger competitors to get involved – Bambino karting starts from age six, for example, and junior drag racing is open to eightyear-olds. But these can be expensive, and the relative lack of faff associated with tyro makes it appealing to families and young drivers alike.
“Sometimes there are more youngsters than adults,” says Flanders. “They just need an accompanying adult, and some places have a club car like we had today – not having a car shouldn’t prevent you from taking part. You can have a try to suit your taste and if you like it you might buy your own car.”
But beyond badgering mum and dad, what should an enthusiastic teenager do if they want to give tyro a try?
Flanders says: “Check whether your Land Rover club has a junior membership (most do) then talk to someone in the club who does tyro trials. Come and
YOUTH POLICY Sixteen-yearold Holly, main and below, won the off-road trial that we attended. Twins Harry and Heidi, 14, took part in their first event in their father’s Land Rover Discovery, left
EXPERT GUIDEEd Wiseman, left, and Anglian Land Rover club secretary Andrew Flanders