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John Bloxham Memorial Historic Rally

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Wolverhampton & South Staffs Car Club

18th November 2023

John Bloxham Memorial Rally 2023
Winners: Bev Blacker/Sam Spencer (Ford Escort)
Photograph: © Henry Kitching

Organiser: Wolverhampton & South Staffs Car Club

Date: 18th November 2023

Clerk of the Course: Nick Bloxham

Route: 175 Miles, 8 Tests, 1 TC Section & 8 Regularities

Base: Bridgnorth

Starters: 50

Wolverhampton & South Staff CC held the final round of the 2023 HRCR Clubman Championship and named the event in memory of John Bloxham, who in 1969 won the triple crown of RAC, Motoring News and BTRDA Gold Star Championships. The Clerk of the Course was John's son, Nick.

The start was at the Apley Farm Shop, near Bridgnorth, which was also due to be the lunch halt as well. Fifty cars took the flag at 10:00 on Saturday morning. It was going to be a long hard day for competitors as the first car wasn't scheduled to finish until 20:35.

Two tests at Apley Park opened proceedings; the two tests were near identical and were one and a half miles in length. Bev Blacker/Sam Spencer (Ford Escort) were fastest on both; taking eleven seconds out of the whole field on the first. They exited the Park with a lead of 21 seconds.

The first regularity was an hour long mammoth, with seven timing points. It started just outside Bridgnorth and used the spider's web of lanes around Claverley and Pattingham.

The best performance over the section was put in by Hughes Rally winners, Roger Fildes/Iain Tullie; they dropped 14 seconds less than Stephen Owens/Oli Waldock (Porsche 911 SWB), who were second best.

Blacker/Spencer were fourth best and maintained their lead, but Leigh Powley/Elise Whyte (Toyota Corolla) had closed the gap to them by four seconds. After their successful run, Fildes/Tullie had moved up to third. These three crews were to contest first place for the rest of the event.

John King/Mike Cochrane (Toyota MR2) missed a PC at Woundale, but still posted the twelfth best time on the section and were in seventh place overall. Meanwhile, Mick Valentine/Pete Johnson (Ford Escort) lost almost two minutes at the start of the section; they followed an incorrect route after making the wrong solution to a route instruction.

There then followed four tests. The first was at the RenNew Brickworks, near to the start venue. It was a short tight test and it was the Mini of Graeme Cornthwaite/Lynsey Procter that was fastest. Powley/Whyte took another four seconds out of Blacker/Spencer's lead here.

The top seeds, Duncan Williams/Niall Frost, had been going well, despite the drivers' lack of familiarity with regularity rallying, but the clutch on their Escort failed on the test and they were out.

The following three tests were all at Solari Farm, neat Beckbury. Blacker/Spencer were quickest on Test 4, while Mike Vokes/Matthew Vokes, who had been finding the going a little rough for their Ginetta G5, were fastest on both Test 5 and Test 6.

This series of tests saw the retirement of Simon Mellings/Dan Middle who had the sump guard break its retaining clamps; they decided to withdraw.

The second regularity was a half hour section, with five timing points. It started at Grindle, ran as far north as The Hem, then headed back down, snaking its way to Norton.

Cornthwaite/Procter continued their good run by being best over the section, dropping three fewer seconds than Fildes/Tullie.

Crews were now due to return to the start venue for the lunch halt. The place had been booked by the organisers over 12 months' previously, but since then the Farm Shop had decided to host a Christmas Fair, plus a baby shower on the day.

The result was chaos, even without the rally traffic, there were long queues into the farm and then, with the limited hard standing parking full, cars were parked on soggy fields. Less skilled drivers, spinning their wheels on full lock, churned up the ground.

It was therefore decided to avoid the return and cars were sent straight to the start of the afternoon sections.

Blacker's speed on the tests ensured that he and Spencer held a lead of 34 seconds at the 'break'; Powley/Whyte were in second, while Fildes/Tullie were five seconds further back in third. John Haygarth/Martyn Taylor (Opel Kadett Rallye) held fourth place, 1m 24s off the lead, but a minute ahead of Vokes/Vokes.

John Bloxham Memorial Historic Rally 2023

The third regularity started on the Apley Park tracks, the scene of Tests 1 and 2, and then moved into the lanes around Norton. The final part was a tight loop inside the larger loop that ended Reg 2. There were three timing points, plus a PC.

The times at ITC 3C caused a change in the lead. Blacker/Spencer struggled with the Deeliarity navigation and dropped a minute, while Powley/Whyte were only 20 seconds late, this put the latter crew into a lead of one second.

Blacker/Spencer fell another place as Fildes/Tullie put in the best performance on Regularity 4. This section started around Astley Abbotts and then moved south via Haughton to finish with a tricky sector at Harpswood.

After the reg, Powley/Whyte led Fildes/Tullie by 14 seconds, while Blacker/Spencer were ten seconds further back. Vokes/Vokes were amongst a number of crews who got delayed by a local on the run up to the first timing point, as a result they picked up the maximum three minute penalty there - penalties were capped at two minutes for timing points on the public road, but at three for those on private land; ITC 4A was on private land.

Regularity Five moved the route west and south, starting at The Downs, it threaded its way through Sidbury, Chorley and Loughton. However, it had to be cut short as a ford was flooding and, although passable in a 4x4, the small cars would struggle. This caused the loss of the final of the six timing points.

The top three crews put in the best three performances on the reg, with Fildes/Tullie being five seconds ahead of a tying Powley/Whyte and Blacker/Spencer. This meant that at the Cleobury North Village Hall tea halt, Powley/Whyte still led; they were nine seconds ahead of Fildes/Tullie, with Blacker/Spencer 24 seconds off first place.

It was now dark, but there were still several sections remaining. These started with two tests at the Ditton Priors ex-army base. This saw the demise of John King/Michael Cochrane's Toyota, a mechanical breakage under the car causing their retirement; they had been in seventh place at the break.

Blacker/Spencer were fastest on both tests and this moved them back into the lead; they were 12 seconds ahead of Powley/Whyte after the final test. The Escort pairing followed this success up by putting in the best performance on Reg 6.

This regularity contained five timing points and started a short distance from the test venue, then passed through Cockshutford, Abdon and Diddlebury, before running down the Wenlock Edge to finish at Church Stretton.

A horse box delayed Valentine/Johnson in the middle of the section and they lost two minutes to the other leading runners, however, the positions in the lower half on the top ten were now so strung out that, despite the delay, they maintained their seventh place.

The lead now held by Blacker/Spencer was 17 seconds, while Powley/Whyte had 26 seconds in hand over Fildes/Tullie.

This brought competitors to the TC Section; a series of six time controls, all timed to the minute, plus six PCs interspersed between the TCs. It started with a figure of eight centred on the hamlet of Womerton. It then ran back up to Cardington and Church Preen.

On roads very familiar to the driver, Fildes/Tullie cleaned all the TCs, this put them into a lead of 17 seconds, as both Powley/Whyte and Blacker/Spencer dropped a minute. No other crew was on less than two minutes.

There was no respite as the final TC was the start of the seventh regularity. The first part, up to the first timing point, was fairly straightforward, passing through Hughley, Presthorpe and Bourton. It caught out Dan Darkin/Nick Darkin (Mazda MX5), who were almost two minutes early there. The son and father team were still in fifth place, despite the error. However, they weren't to make the Finish; at the evening halt they found that the dip stick didn't show any oil. They withdrew.

A 45 minute halt for an evening meal was taken at the Punchbowl Inn, near Bridgnorth. At this point, with one long regularity remaining, Fildes/Tullie led Blacker/Spencer by 15 seconds, with Powley/Whyte 43 seconds off the lead. Haygarth/Taylor were in fourth place, but now almost three minutes behind the leaders.

The final regularity was over an hour in length and contained nine timing points. It started just to the south-east of Bridgnorth and twisty its way up the map to finish at Worfield.

Not far into the section the Ginetta of Vokes/Vokes broke a throttle cable and they cut to the Finish. They had recovered from their previous delay to be in ninth place before the mechanical caused their demise; they were finally classified in 30th place.

The section around the Tuckhill loop, which included three triangle controls, caught everyone for time. Of the three leading crews, Fildes/Tullie picked up the most penalties and then added to them at ITC8D, where their rivals were on a few seconds, they added 1m 32s to their total.

The outcome at the Finish was that Blacker/Spencer came home first, over a minute ahead of Powley/Whyte, while Fildes/Tullie were 26 seconds further back. This result was however sufficient for Tullie to secure the HRCR Navigators' title.

Not surprisingly, Bev Blacker finished the event with the fewest penalties over the eight tests, while Sam Spencer was narrowly best on the regularities, dropping three seconds less than Elis Whyte.