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Per Ardua Ad Infinitum


10th-11th February 2024

Per Ardua Ad Infinitum 2024
Winners: Dan Willan/Niall Frost (Volvo PV544)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Organiser: HERO-ERA

Date: 10th-11th February 2024

Clerk of the Course: Guy Woodcock

Deputy Clerk of the Course: James Phillips

Route: 450 Miles - 18 tests, 14 regularities and 4 TC sections

Base: Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells

Starters: 42

For the third running of their Per Ardua rally, HERO-ERA moved to Mid-Wales, having run at Bicester and Taunton previously. The Metropole Hotel at Llandrindod Wells, which is steeped in rally history, was the event's base.

The Per Ardua is a Red/Advanced category rally, aimed at experienced crews, who are looking for a challenge. The 2024 edition fulfilled this requirement; it had 18 tests, 14 regularities and 4 TC sections packed into 30 hours.

There were 42 starters, the number having been reduced by a few late withdrawals, these included the MG B GT of Le Jog Gold Medal Winners, Stewart Christie/Andy Ballantyne, their MG's engine expiring as they drove to the Start.

Two tests at the Royal Welsh Showground at Llanelwedd opened proceedings. Mick Valentine/John Thornley (Ford Escort), newcomers to HERO-ERA Red events, were fastest on both, sharing best time with Jon Dunning/Henry Carr (Ford Escort RS2000) on Test 2.

The tests were scored on a class improvement system, with the fastest in each class receiving zero penalties. This meant that, after the visit to the Showground, three crews remained clean, these were Valentine/Thornley, Dan Willan/Niall Frost (Volvo PV544) and Thomas Koerner/Maximillian Matt (BMW 320/4).

The first regularity started at Cilmery and ran northwards, crossing the B4358, before heading back south to finish near Garth. There were four timing points. Three crews put in the equal best performance, dropping four seconds over the 16 miles. These were Paul Crosby/Pete Johnson (Porsche 911), Dunning/Carr and Paul Dyas/Martyn Taylor (Volvo PV544). The latter pair were debuting their newly acquired ex-Ian Beveridge stage Volvo.

Willan/Frost were only a second behind this threesome over the section and therefore moved into a lead that they weren't to lose.

The route then moved on the Epynt Ranges for their first visit of the weekend to the military training area. There were three tests, all in the area of the Concrete Road, which was followed by a regularity which started on the New Road and ran across Epynt to finish at the Rifle Range.

After these challenges Willan/Frost led by seven seconds from the Lotus Cortina of Kurt Vanderspinnen/Iain Tulle, who had been fastest in their class on four of the five morning tests. The best performance on the Epynt regularity pushed Thomas Bricknell/Roger Bricknell (VW Golf GTi) into third place, a second behind the Cortina. Dyas/Taylor had fallen back to tenth place after fuel feed problems affected their PV544.

Having sampled the classic roads of the Epynt Ranges, competitors embarked on a run over the classic Abergwesyn Pass. Willan/Frost extended their lead, taking the best time of four seconds over the 37 mile section. Bricknell/Bricknell were a second behind the Volvo and moved into second place as Vanderspinnen/Tullie lost 38 seconds.

Two tests at Dolebolion Farm near Pontrhydfendigaid were tackled before a lunch halt at Tregaron. Willan/Frost, in their usual exuberant driving style, were fastest on both, sharing the honours with Dunning/Carr on the first of the tests.

After the break the fourth regularity of the event ran over the Ffarmers mountain road before crossing over to the Cothi Valley, finishing at Nant-y-Bai. Dyas/Taylor put aside their car problems and dropped least time, just a second, over the reg.

At this point Willan/Frost were 18 seconds ahead of Bricknell/Bricknell, with John King/Oli Waldock having moved their Toyota MR2 into third place. Paul Bloxidge/Ian Canavan (VW Golf GTi) were in fourth and the only other crew within a minute of the lead. These three latter cars were hampered in the fight to cut their deficit to the leaders as they were all in Class 6 and fighting each other for zero penalties on the tests; Bloxidge/Canavan had achieved zero on the two tests at Dolebolion.

The next regularity used the lanes north of Llandovery, starting at Cilycwm and finishing at Cynghordy. King/Waldock moved closer to second place by taking best time over the section, although Bricknell/Bricknell were only three seconds behind. Willan/Frost and Bloxidge/Canavan, two seconds further back, meaning that the top four pulled further away from the field.

Per Ardua Ad Infinitum 2024
Second Placed: Kurt Vanderspinnen/Iain Tulle (Ford Lotus Cortina)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

The action then moved back to Epynt for two further tests. Both tests started at Bamford's, but while Test 1/8 carried straight on at Copse Corner, to finish on the Quarry Road, Test 1/9 turned left at Copse and ran up the Steps to finish at Dixies. Willan/Frost were fastest on the first, while Duning/Carr were quickest on the second.

The final regularity of Leg One started at Llywel and went via Halfway, skirting the King's estate at Llwynymermod, before finishing just outside Llandovery. Peter Higton, with Bob Rutherford Finalist, Daisy Walker on the maps, topped the time sheet on this section, dropping just two seonds. The pair were competing in the Volvo Amazon previously campaigned by Paul Dyas. Their event was to come to a end on Sunday when the car suffered an engine fire.

All 42 starters made the end of Leg One, which finished at the Castle Hotel at Llandovery, another venue with great historical rally connections. Willan/Frost now held a lead of 31 seconds, with King/Waldock having moved into second place; they were now five seconds ahead of Bloxidge/Canavan, Bricknell/Bricknell having dropped to fifth place after being only fourth quickest in Class 6 on both the Epynt tests and picked up a 16 seconds penalty for being early at the final reg timing. They were now tied for fifth place with Koerner/Matt, while Dunning/Carr had moved up to fourth place.

Leg 2 consisted of four TC sections and a regularity all tackled in the dark. The TC sections were considered by many as the highlight of the Per Ardua. There were 18 Time Controls, plus 21 PCs, split over four sections, with the final TC of each section being timed to the second; the remaining TCs were timed to the minute, with a 30 second penalty per minute lost.

The opening section started on the Dual Carriageway and headed over Route 60; from Dixies it went over the leaps to end at Llandeilo'r Fan. Most crews, including all the leaders, got the timed to the minute controls on time, but all dropped time at TC 2/7, which closed the section. The fastest were Valentine/Thornley, who were three seconds ahead of Willan/Frost.

The second TC section started by the German Village and then followed the route of Test 1/9, through Bamfords, Copse and the Steps. Once again, it was just the final TC that saw the top crews drop time with Willan/Frost sharing the lowest score with Dunning/Carr.

Halfway Forest made up most of the third TC section; the sector started by Dixies Corner and finished at the Airstrip Hairpin. It was to have a significant affect on the leading positions as King/Waldock, who had been in second place, went off the road and had to wait for the sweep crew to tow them out. They completed the sections but were over their maximum lateness at all the remaining TCs, adding 2m30s to their total at each control. Then, to ensure that they reached the Leg End MTC within time, they cut the final regularity of the night.

The Toyota's demise left Dunning/Carr in second place, but they were now over a minute behind Willan/Frost. Koerner/Matt were in third, 15 seconds behind Dunning/Carr. While Valentine/Thornley had moved up from tenth at the end of Leg One to seventh. They were to improve further by the end of the night.

The final TC section was almost entirely within Crychan Forest. Willan/Frost and Valentine/Thornley dropped a single minute at the first TC, then cleaned the remaining ones; these were the best performances of the section.

A regularity section completed Leg Two. This started on the Concrete Road, before moving from the Ranges to the lanes around Erwood. The Volvo of Dyas/Taylor were best over this and ended the leg in sixth place.

The night leg had caused a shake up on the leader board. Willan/Frost had established a imperious lead; they were now 2m31s ahead of the field. Their excellent performance over the TC sections had pushed Valentine/Thornley to second place; they were now 16 seconds ahead of Dunning/Carr. However, only 30 seconds covered the Escort pair in third, from Koerner/Matt in seventh. In between were Bloxidge/Canavan, Vanderspinnen/Tullie and Dyas/Taylor. Unfortunately, the latter crew were to go no further, the following morning they found that there was split in the fuel tank and they withdrew.

Also unable to take the restart on Sunday was the Porsche 911 of Simon Arscott/Emily Anderson, which had suffered a broken shock absorber and damage to the steering. They had been in 16th place overall and third in Class 4 at the point of their retirement.

Per Ardua Ad Infinitum 2024
Third Placed: Jon Dunning/Henry Carr (Ford Escort RS2000)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Leg 3 started at 08:00, with the cars returning to the Metropole Hotel at 15:00. In between there were seven regularities and nine tests to tackle. The field had been reseeded for the day, with the crews leaving in position order.

The two regularities that opened the day's entertainment were to the west of Llandrindod and over Llanbister Common respectively. Stephen Owens/Nick Bloxham (Porsche 356B) were best over these sections, with King/Waldock a second behind. Both Willan/Frost and Valentine/Thornley were slightly delayed by a farmer moving sheep around on the opening reg.

In the tight battle for third place, Vanderspinnen/Tullie passed Bloxidge/Canavan to claim the position at this point, but the matter was far from settled.

Regularity 3/3 was a lengthy one, starting just off the A483 at Llananno, then wending its way through Bwlch-yr-Sarnau, Abbeycwmhir and St Harmon. The big losers here were Valentine/Thornley, who were over a minute off the best time after they missed a slot onto a track at Bwlch-yr-Sarnau; they fell from second to sixth as a result.

The next regularity started after a short non-comp section and went through Nantmel to end at Carmel. Dunning/Carr consolidated their third place by picking up the least penalties. Willan/Frost dropped time to their rivals here, but bounced back by being best on Regularity 5/5, which used the lanes, either side of the A470, between Newbridge and Builth Wells.

After a flurry of regularities, crews returned to the Royal Welsh Showground for two tests. Valentine/Thornley regained some of their lost time by being quickest on both tests.

A coffee halt at Builth Wells Golf Club followed. At this point Willan/Frost held a lead of almost three minutes, while Vanderspinnen/Tullie had consolidated their second place and were 30 seconds ahead of Bloxidge/Canavan, who were now third, eight seconds ahead of Dunning/Carr; Valentine/Thornley were just six seconds further back.

There was no relaxed conclusion to the Per Ardua; there were seven more tests and two regularities to tackle before crews returned to Llandrindod.

Regularity 3/6, the first piece of competition after the break, was in Crychan Forest. This section didn't alter any positions, but in the tight fight for third, a ten second penalty was enough to push Dunning/Carr back from Bloxidge/Canavan, who were best on the reg, and closer to Valentine/Thornley.

Five tests around Epynt followed; Dunning/Carr were fastest on all five. This pushed them back up to third place, a position that they held through the final regularity and last two tests, where they were fastest on the last one.

Rikki Proffitt/Charlotte Ryall (Porsche 911) finished with a flourish; they put in the best performance on both the last regularity and penultimate test. They finished in 12th place.

Willan/Frost completed the event with a victory margin of 2m38s, with Vanderspinnen/Tullie taking the runner up spot, 43 seconds ahead of Dunning/Carr. Bloxidge/Canavan were 18 seconds further back in fourth.

Valentine/Thornley finished in sixth place, ruing their mistake on Reg 3/3, but the driver had the consolation of winning the Test Pilot Award; he ended the event with a total test time eight seconds ahead of Dunning. Niall Frost won the Clockwatchers Award for the least time dropped on the regularities; Ian Canavan was second, eight seconds behind.