The inaugural Historic Rally Festival was originally due to launch in 2020, but following numerous postponements, the date was set for August 2021. With the success in Europe of events such as Rally Legend, Eifel Rallye Festival and Legend Boucles Bastogne, this, the first event of its kind in the UK, was eagerly anticipated by the British public, a rallying fanbase steeped in tradition and passion.
The setting of Weston Park harked back to the formidable days of the 1980s, where the World Rally Championship regularly visited Weston Park on the itinerary for the Lombard RAC Rally. It’s parkland setting, overlooked by a grand stately home, and a memorable water splash ensured it was a favourite with fans for many years. With Rally GB now predominantly set in the Welsh forests, this was a chance to revisit a stage steeped in history, and once again, let meticulously prepared rally cars attack a historic stage in UK rallying history.
Cars from the 1960’s through to the early 2000s were eligible for entry, a nod back to the ‘glory days’ of UK rallying where, from Roger Clark competing in the 60’s and 70’s through to the McRae and Burns years, a wide array of historic machinery had been gathered to represent the history of rallying through this period.
With spectators permitted under the relaxation of COVID restrictions in the UK, a sizable crowd turned out to witness the inception of this new event.
Heritage Cars and Drivers Head the Lineup
Notable Names in Attendance
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of her Ladies World Championship title, stalwart of the UK rallying scene, Louise Aitken-Walker was to pilot a French ex-works Peugeot 205, a car she drove in period. A notable British driver on many of the RAC Rallies that were staged at Weston Park, it was a fitting tribute that Aitken-Walker be one of the stars of the show.
From a family deeply rooted in rallying history, and with a strong racing pedigree himself, Harri Toivonen, brother of rally star Henri, and son to Pauli, ex-European rally champion, was behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Evo 9 N5, having driven for Mitsubishi in the RAC Rally in 1983. On the weekend of Le Mans, a race where Harri had enjoyed relative success in a Porsche 962, it was the tarmac stages of Weston Park that were to be the challenge for Harri on this weekend.
Cars to Captivate the Fans
In addition to notable drivers, there was a fine collection of remarkable cars on show, to captivate the crowds throughout the day. The ex-Roger Clark Ford Escort Mk 1, winner of the 1972 RAC rally, in addition to numerous other national and international events, was superbly driven all day in the capable hands of David Watkins.
Another ex-Roger Clark car on the stages was the Mk 1 Ford Fiesta XR2, which, in its gorgeous Equipe Esso livery, competed in rounds of the ERC in 1979. A number of other beautifully turned out Fords, included a very tail happy Sierra Cosworth, delighting the fans throughout the day with its attempts to get the power down under slippery conditions, other well turned out Escorts, including an ex-Boreham test car, and a splendid Mk 1 Capri.
The legendary days of Group B rallying were represented too, with a number of cars from this period turning out, much to the delight of fans. A long time crowd favourite, the unmistakable Austin Metro 6R4, in the stunning red and white Autoplas livery was an eye catching sight amidst the parkland.
The ex-Fabrizio Tabaton Lancia 037, in the subtle but captivating Olio Fiat livery was an incredible sight, beautifully presented and in possession of an incredible engine note, this chassis was rallied successfully in the Italian Championship in the 1980s, taking overall wins, before becoming a mainstay on the European Historic rallying scene more recently. Giants of this era, the Peugeot 205 T16 and Audi Quattro Sport A2 also starred.
Providing a soundtrack which could most likely be heard from Edinburgh to London, the ferocious V8 of the Chevrolet Firenza Can-Am, extensively driven by Jimmy McRae, delighted crowds all day with gripping performances on the stages. Similarly, newer entrants provided compelling sights throughout the day with stunning cars from Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Skoda, lending a more modern twist to proceedings.
Rekindling the Fire of British Rallying
Over the two days, fans were treated to an immersive experience which began on Saturday. The QE2 Arena at Telford Town Park saw the arrival of the full field of cars before scrutineering, where fans were able to see the field at close quarters to appreciate the immaculate preparation of these machines. After scrutineering of the full field, there was a ceremonial start, akin to the World Rally events that used Weston Park as a stage venue. Heavy rain throughout the day did little to dampen the spirits of those that turned out to see the field lined up.
Sunday was set to host eight stages over the course of the day. Weston Park, with reconfigured routes run in both directions, ensuring a variety of challenges for the drivers and crews. The tight and twisty sections that took in the famed Weston water splash, and slippery cattle grids were contrasted with open parkland sections that allowed the field to stretch their legs and conduct a symphony of engine notes which harked back to the golden eras of rallying.
For those that stayed to the end, the sunshine eventually made an appearance, highlighting the bold and beautiful liveries, now splattered with mud after a day of testing conditions in the Staffordshire countryside.
Speaking as a lifelong fan of rallying, it was a delight to see this venue host such a fascinating array of historic cars, and for the inaugural event to be so well supported, even in these strange times. I can only hope that this event goes on from strength to strength in future years, to keep the historic rallying flame alight in the UK.