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

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - OPEN ROAD -

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

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