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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Shoe laces help Wigton's John Millington master RAC Rally

Wigton co-driver John Millington crossed the finish line of the Roger Albert Clark Rally on Monday afternoon in the centre of Carlisle in first place – clinching his third outright victory on the iconic event by nearly eight minutes.

John Millington photo
John Millington

Millington took the win with Welsh driver and former British rally champion Gwyndaf Evans after four days of arduous gravel rallying in their 1973 Ford Escort RS1800.

But the event wasn’t all plain sailing – the pair had to operate their wipers using shoe laces at one point after they failed in heavy rain.

The rally is inspired by the RAC rallies of old and, from it's first running in 2004, is now well established in the historic rallying calendar. It featured nearly 50 classic rally cars with fantastically-sounding, high-revving engines with the action kicking off on Friday 2 December from Helmsley in North Yorkshire.

Run in memory of Roger Clark, the first British driver to win a round of the World Rally Championship in 1976, the rally represents one of the biggest challenges in British rallying.

With crews navigating their way through the 23 competitive stages using traditional maps and not pace-notes, Millington possibly had an advantage over most other co-drivers. As logistics manager for M-Sport and the Ford World Rally Team, he is more used to moving the full team and rally cars around the world each year.

But his logistical planning and map skills were evident as the pair dominated the 170-mile event, leading from start to finish and claiming 17 fastest times from the 23 stages.

“The rally was a lot easier than last year but it was still really tough,” said Millington. “Last year the event was dominated by heavy snowfall with some treacherous conditions but the stages over the weekend were fantastic and in superb order.

“We had a really good run on the first day and everything was going well on Saturday until late in the evening when we had to complete two stages with no wipers.”

But the experienced crew took it all in their stride and used the shoe laces from their racing boots to operate the wipers and get the car back to the security of the Service Park at Carlisle Racecourse.

“We tied shoe laces around the wiper blade and had to drag it across the screen when the water got too much for Gwyndaf to see through the screen. It was an added handicap that I didn’t need in addition to reading the maps and calling the corners ahead,” he added.

“Then on Sunday the gearbox broke in the Twiglees stage in the Scottish Borders and we had to ram it into fifth to get us through and across the line. But our mechanics did a fantastic job and changed the gearbox at the side of the road in 20 minutes in freezing conditions. Even more impressive was the fact they were all just back from a rally in Africa so the chilly Scottish conditions couldn’t have been further away from that.

“The car and our Pirelli tyres worked incredibly well over the four-day event and to win for a third time was the icing on the cake.”

The rally used Carlisle Racecourse for its overnight halt on Saturday and Sunday nights allowing spectators to get up close to the cars. Those keen to get on top of the action took to the forests around Newcastleton on Sunday evening but, because of safety concerns associated with heavy snowfall, some of the action through Kershope forest on Monday had to be cancelled.

Also tasting success were Spadeadam Motor Club members Jonathan and Caroline Lodge who finished first and second in their class. The husband and wife co-drivers from Brampton were navigating for different drivers but under the Saab Rally Team banner and in Saab 96 two-stroke rally cars. Jonathan was calling the corners for Jim Valentine and they mastered the tough conditions to take victory in the B1 class and finish 25th overall. Caroline and RAC rookie Stephen Higgins rounded off a fantastic family performance, picking up second in class and 27th overall.

The rally finished in Carlisle for the eighth time and had additional backing from Invest in Cumbria this year.

 

 

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