Rally Rules At Race Retro

The UK’s Race Retro show – home to the pre-season gathering of the country’s historic race and rallying communities – delivers a complete fix of classic competition cars. From the displays in the halls to the vintage rallycars blasting around the roadways of Stoneleigh park, it’s yet another reminder that the racing season can’t start soon enough. Though it would be nicer if the weather was a bit warmer.

Perhaps even more so than with circuit racers, seeing a rally car on static display doesn’t come anywhere near conveying what the car gets up to when it hits a stage. Especially a stage with mud. And even more so, a stage that didn’t have mud when the cars started out. Rally drivers just have a way of finding that dirt, even on what’s supposed to be a tarmac demonstration stage…

Not that seeing iconic rally cars standing still is anything but impressive: far from it. Compared to the increasingly homologous shapes of the modern era, rally cars of the ’80s have so much more character and panache. Perhaps it’s because they seem that much closer to the original car, making it even more of a feeling that when you drove your road-going Sierra, you could imagine that you were actually in an Cosworth tearing up the rally stages. Ah. Just me?!

Quattros are the cars that started the four-wheel revolution; three variants were at Race Retro, including pairs of Audi 200s from 1986 and A2s from ’83…

…and a replica of the short-wheelbase S1 that was used on Pikes Peak in 1985.

The sense of anticipation built up exponentially as the cars began to nose out of the Parc Fermé warehouse and be directed towards the formation area for the Live Rally Stage.

The hangar echoed with the glorious sound of revving engines as the cars were let loose one by one. There may have been just a hint of wheelspin from some of the more enthusiastic drivers, spurred on by the spectators.

The only small problem initially, ironically for a rally demonstration, was that of navigation! The Live Rally Stage was set up using the grid formation of roads running through the park, but it didn’t look like all the cars had been told about the hard left required just a hundred yards up the road to get to the paddock. A longer route around the perimeter awaited the unwary…

The majority of cars followed the correct path with, again, varying degrees of ‘warming up the tyres’. Cue fist pumping in the air! Ah, we do love a driver who performs for the camera.

The final cars to rumble out of the hangar were the Quattros. At low speed they sound quite pedestrian: it’s when that turbo kicks in that the true spirit of Quattro is unleashed.

One car I was particularly looking forward to was this Chevrolete Firenza CanAm 302 replica. I’d come across it sitting in the parking area the previous evening, and thought from a distance it was a jacked-up Vauxhall. The ear-splitting roar from the V8 quickly put the lie to that! Again, full marks to driver Mick Stafford for maximum attack at all times. Both of throttle and opposite lock. All power, no grip. Just how we like it.

The paddock quickly filled with cars, and provided a visual history of 30 years of rallying. From Minis and Cortinas of the ’60s…

…through late ’70s and early ’80s Group 4 machines…

…and on to Group B and the early ’90s era of WRC.

The Renault 5 Turbo is such a perfect example of the ‘temperature: on fire’ hot hatch. The engine is mounted so low it virtually scrapes the ground.

The vintage rally weapon of choice, the Ford Escort, was well represented, with a couple of Mark Is and a trio of MkIIs.

But it wasn’t all rallying poster children: how about this Thunderbirds-style Lotus Esprit, which confused a lot of people at first glance.

Spectators and teams mingled as engines began to fire up and warm through in the chilly air.

Minor work continued on some cars, with final preparations and spannering ahead of lining up.

The range of Group B thoroughbreds might have been the main draw…

…but that didn’t mean that the more humble – or theoretically circuit – cars couldn’t put on a show. This ex-Jim McRae ’66 car was demonstrating just how versatile the Lotus Cortina could be, in appropriate three-wheeling style.

It wasn’t just the ’60s cars that were popping wheels once the stage opened. This ex-works 911ST was being pushed hard into, through…

…and out of corners!

As the first wave of cars began to pile out onto the stage, one noise blasting around through the trees was always drowning out all others. That Firenza! It was like a Starship Troopers alien, tail out everywhere, V8 thumping away and nose pointing to the sky as it scrabbled for traction. Perfection.

Escorts look so at home on a rally stage: it really does seem to be their natural habitat. MkIs maintain a more neutral poise…

…whereas the RS MkIIs clearly demonstrate their extra power.

It’s accentuated from the tail view, with the big mud-flaps sweeping the ground as the nose rears up under acceleration and the 1800 BDG engine howls away. This is Hannu Mikkola’s winning car from the ’78 Lombard RAC Rally.

The stage might have been short and relatively simple (90 right, 90 right, 90 left, and so on), but that didn’t mean that drivers weren’t taking it seriously and navigators weren’t utilised. Approaches varied from the full-on professional (intercom headsets, navigator down low and eyes glued to the notes, not the road)…

…to the head-up, called notes…

…to a combination of mics and hand gestures pointing to the following corner…

…and then even hand gestures mid-corner! Left. LEFT! (Ah, although after their three allocated laps the cars fired straight on to the chequered flag and finish line after this corner, rather than hanging a tight right).

This was the first of four sessions on the Live Rally Stage over the weekend, and within 20 minutes it was looking less like manicured parkland and more like a proper stage. What was I saying about rally drivers finding mud?

Maybe they bring it with them and dump it out of the bottom of the car…

Although there wasn’t the artificial jump of previous years, an un-natural obstacle was provided in the shape of this speed bump. As cars fought to get the power down after a tight left-right wiggle, they had to try and straighten up to hit the bump head-on.

Still cars kept flooding out: at the time that the stage officially went live they’d been an interminable pause as historic karts had buzzed around the top end of the track.

Along with the other snappers I’d be stamping my feet (both in frustration and because it was numbingly cold), but once the cars came out there was constant action everywhere you looked.

There were several spots where you could position yourself in the middle of four sections of track (protected by a bit of tree if you were lucky, your wits if not). Shoot one direction, turn 90 degrees…

Shoot, turn 90 degrees…

Shoot, turn 90 degrees…

Cars all around! Drivers were released at short intervals, so often cars would be either running together or criss-crossing each other in the background of the compact course.

With a ‘real’ rally you can sometimes be waiting between runs, but here some cars were going at it in rallycross style in their attempts to catch and pass slower cars ahead.

The wide and brutally boxy shape of the 1986 ex-works Nissan 240RS looked fabulous out on track: it was like a tank!

The get up and go of the four-wheel drive brigade is always impressive: the cars are bodily picked up and thrown forward by the force of acceleration.

But that didn’t mean four-wheel drive good, two-wheel bad – or even that you need a Group B car to put on a show. My personal prize for most entertaining performance went to Kevin Furber. He had his prized 205 T16 Group B car on static display in the halls, but had brought his old 205 GTI out to tackle the stage. The T16 wouldn’t have been any more impressive.

Kevin was sideways everywhere, throwing up gobs of mud and dust as he put in the most committed drive of the session. He deserved all the cheers he received from the crowd.

Vintage competition is about dedication. And, if possible, facial hair. Now, I’m not saying I’m fickle, but I now definitely want to drive vintage rallycars…

Jonathan Moore

Race Retro 2013 on Speedhunters



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That has to be the coolest use of parklands ever! I can't count the number of times I've been in a botanical gardens or similar and laid out a mini rally stage in my mind. That looks like so much fun! =D


I'm missing the Saab 96, it had its fair share of rally victories too!


The Compuer Vision Metro is RWD, it's a replica with a mid-mounted Honda engine :P


@Duffers917K Ah yes! So it is! I knew it wasn't the original Pond car, but hadn't seen that reference. Thanks for pointing that out. :)


That's a Sport Quattro, not an S1


Those 5 Maxi must be entertaining to drive...


Those 5 Maxi must be entertaining to drive...


Those 5 Maxi must be entertaining to drive...


@peterhelm Ah yes! I love those cars! I've only ever seen a rallycross version in action


@peterhelm Ah yes! I love those cars! I've only ever seen a rallycross version in action


@peterhelm Ah yes! I love those cars! I've only ever seen a rallycross version in action


@peterhelm Yep, I'm a big fan of Saabs – particularly the 900 in rallycross guise


@peterhelm Yep, I'm a big fan of Saabs – particularly the 900 in rallycross guise


@peterhelm Yep, I'm a big fan of Saabs – particularly the 900 in rallycross guise


Love retro rally machines! Champions!


Love retro rally machines! Champions!


Love retro rally machines! Champions!


 Oh dear God there is a picture of me looking cold and dreary next to a Renault 5!  What you might like to know is some the cars were driven by real champions, Jim McRae, David Llewellin, Russell Brookes etc


 Oh dear God there is a picture of me looking cold and dreary next to a Renault 5!  What you might like to know is some the cars were driven by real champions, Jim McRae, David Llewellin, Russell Brookes etc


 Oh dear God there is a picture of me looking cold and dreary next to a Renault 5!  What you might like to know is some the cars were driven by real champions, Jim McRae, David Llewellin, Russell Brookes etc


No Lancia Delta S4!?!? Still pretty awesome event though.


Excellent coverage of a fantastic event. Wish I could see something like that with all those excellent rally cars down here in Australia.
Please, please can we have a wallpaper of the white and blue mk2 Escort out on track? Picture "Race_Retro-105.jpg". Its a cracking shot.


@JDMAttire @alexgrantuk @SPEEDHUNTERS Thanks, great link, how I wish rallying was not as expensive as it is! @bhpplus would love this.