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Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo


5th-9th February 2023

Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo 2023
Overall Winners: Kevin Haselden/Ryan Pickering (Mini Cooper S)
Photograph: HERO-ERA/Blue Passion
Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo 2023
Top of Leader Board: Paul Bloxidge/Ian Canavan (VW Golf GTi)
Photograph: HERO-ERA/Blue Passion

Organiser: HERO-ERA

Date: 5th-9th February 2023

Clerk of the Course: Will Rutherford

Route: 2,000 Kms, 29 Regularities, 3 Tests & 1 TC Section

Countries: France & Monaco

Starters: 31

The much-delayed 2023 edition of the Winter Challenge started near the city of Troyes in Central France. After a two-year Covid enforced hiatus, 31 crews finally left the Domain de la Foret Hotel on Sunday morning, aiming to reach Monte Carlo on Thursday.

The first leg consisted of just four regularities and one test, but took competitors south, via a magnificent lunch at Chateau-Chinon, to the day end finish at L'Adventure Michelin in Clermont Ferrand.

Former HERO Cup winners, Paul Bloxidge/Ian Canavan (VW Golf GTi), headed the leader board, but only by one second from Kevin Haselden/Ryan Pickering (Mini Cooper S). However, it was the latter crew that held the overall lead, as Category 4 and 5 cars were only eligible for class awards, not overall places.

Christopher Townsend/Richard Lambley (Peugeot 504) were two seconds behind Haselden/Pickering, while Car 1 Nigel Woof/Sally Woof (Volvo PV544), who had put in the best performance on the opening regularity, were in third place overall, eleven seconds further back.

The much rallied, but newly rebuilt, Lancia Fulvia Coupe of Klaus Mueller/Rolf Pellini, was fastest on the test, indeed they were to go on and put in the best time on all three of the event's tests, giving Mueller the Test Pilot Award at the Finish.

Tests have never been a major part of the Winter Challenge, in fact there were none included until a few years ago. The three on the 2023 event were scored by the fastest in each class getting zero penalties, while the remainder of the class were given the time that they were slower than the class best. This was seen to work well and may be used again.

Le Jog Gold Medal winners, Angus McQueen/Mike Cochrane, had a troubled day; a loose drive shaft and fuel leak were solved, but they also lost time after a wrong slot. They lay 15th on the leader board at the end of the day.

From the overnight halt at Saint Nectaire the route headed into the hills of the Puys and snowy conditions. Bloxidge/Canavan started the day well, putting in the best performance on both of the first two regs and then being second on the third. However, trip issues on the fourth saw them pick up 48 seconds, this dropped them behind Haselden/Pickering, who now led by 17 seconds.

The Mini pairing dropped under a minute during the morning, while most other crews added more than two minutes to their totals.

On the third regularity Dave Maryon/Andy Ballantyne put their MG B Roadster into a snow bank and had to be pulled out by the sweep crew who were following the field through. They were 20 minutes late at the next timing point, but, thanks to penalties at each control being capped at a minute, they were still in the top fifteen at the lunch halt.

Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo 2023
3rd Overall: Dave Maryon/Andy Ballantyne (MG B Roadster)
Photograph: HERO-ERA/Blue Passion

Three further regularities and a test took competitors to the overnight halt at Millau. It was now the turn of Haselden/Pickering to have problems, losing 31 seconds on the final reg. This meant that at the end of the day Bloxidge/Canavan were back at the top of the leader table, but by just one second. These two crews were well ahead of the rest of the field.

Ed Abbott/Paul Bosdet (Jaguar XJ-S) were third on the table, while Mueller/Pellini were fourth and second overall, but had Richard Prosser/Peter Blackett (Reliant Scimitar) were only 13 seconds behind them.

As marshalling crews took up their positions at the start of Day Three snow began to fall in the hills to the east of Millau. What had been expected to be a gentle start to a long day of competition turned into a snow-covered challenge. On the opening regularity a number of crews lost time as they missed a slot, these included Prosser/Blackett and Maryon/Ballantyne.

The marshal on the next two regularities reported severe road conditions, emphasised by the fact that there were four separate incidents where locals had gone off the road. The route was impassable in anything other four-wheel drive and the two tests had to be cancelled.

The afternoon regularities crossed the Ardeche and Bloxidge/Canavan put in the best performance through them, extending their lead over Haselden/Pickering to over a minute. The Mini crew still held a two and half minute lead over Mueller/Pellini in the Overall standings.

After an hour and a half break at what would be the overnight halt at Vogue, competitors embarked on a number of sections in the dark. Haselden/Pickering had a troubled time on the two regularities that opened the night leg, losing another 30 seconds to Bloxidge/Canavan.

There then followed the TC section, using some of the most twisty roads in the Ardeche. Abbott/Bosdet put in the best performance on this section, dropping 5m25s, to Haselden/Pickering's 6m09s and Bloxidge/Canavan, who dropped 6m35s. Despite some narrow brushes with walls, McQueen/Cochrane were the only crew to reach the final TC with fewer than 7 minutes in penalties.

The section saw the demise of Saab 96 v4 of Toby Strauss/Ken Comrie, which went into a ditch and holed its radiator. More dramatically, Christopher Townsend/Richard Lambley rolled their Peugeot 504 on an icy bend. Both these crews were forced to withdraw from the competition.

More fortunate were David Coxon/Pete Hawkins; they slid their Austin Healey BJB into a rock face, but emerged with just a ripped mud flap.

Despite these dramas, the top five positions remained unchanged. Bloxidge/Canavan led Haselden/Pickering by 2m05s. Mueller/Pellini were in third on the table, 3m15s behind the Mini, with whom they were battling for overall honours.

Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo 2023
2nd Overall: Klaus Mueller/Rolf Pellini (Lancia Fulvia Coupe)
Photograph: HERO-ERA/Blue Passion

Dave Maryon/Andy Ballantyne had been sixth best on the TC Section and this moved them up, passing Richard Prosser/Peter Blackett for third overall.

Day Four took the route to the east in cold, but non-snowy weather. Haselden/Pickering hit three timing points in succession exactly on time and this moved them 41 seconds closer to Bloxidge/Canavan. McQueen/Cochrane passed Mueller/Pellini to be in third on the leader board at the lunch halt, but only by three seconds.

Mueller/Pellini were back in front by the late afternoon coffee halt at Castellane, as McQueen/Cochrane struggled on the preceding regularity.

Two regularities in the dark before the overnight halt at Sophia Antipolis saw Bloxidge/Canavan extend their lead to exactly three minutes.

The final day was a half day of competition finishing with a run up the Col du Turini, before crews drove into Monte Carlo for the Awards Dinner.

Three regularities had been planned, but the second one, which had been altered due to roadworks prior to the event, was found to be closed, due to more roadworks. It had to be scrapped.

Thomas Koerner/Udo Schauss (BMW 320/4) had the honour of being fastest up to the Col Du Turini, ending the run five seconds ahead of Mueller/Pellini and were classified in sixth place at the Finish.

Bloxidge/Canavan were third fastest up the climb and finished the event at the head of the leader board, however it was Kevin Haselden/Ryan Pickering who took the overall award, finishing just over three minutes ahead of Mueller/Pellini.