Porsches, Jags, Triumphs, Minis And More Meet Up For The Winter Challenge Rally
Photography by Will Broadhead
Adventure. It is a simple word that conjures up a whole bunch of complex emotions, the prospect of it awakens us and fables of the quests of others, both past and present, it inspires us. Whilst there are those of us that prefer the quiet life, and that is your want, for many of us, if we had the opportunity we would take this over the mundane. True adventure though, that which pushes us to our limits and borders on misadventure, is hard to find these days. But I believe it is all relative, and whether trekking to the north pole or spending time exploring the peaks and hills close to your home (unless you live in Norfolk or Kansas), adventure is what you make of it. Surely it is how you feel that is most important.
So, on a crisp and cold Saturday morning this past weekend, I caught the dawn train to London to embark upon an adventure of sorts myself; from Le Touquet at the top of France, down through the east of the country across five days and 1,000 miles to the romantic location of Monte Carlo. My hosts for the event were HERO, the Historic Endurance Rally Organization, coordinators of a number of rallies for classic cars throughout England and the rest of the globe, with this event being called the Winter Challenge. The route was set to take in the mettle-testing and stunning scenery of the French Alps, and with promises of us traversing through some of the higher passes of these grand old mountains. The prospect of deep snow was cause for concern and salivation both.
Of course, treacherous snow drifts would be hard enough to negotiate in a modern 4×4, but the entrants of this event would be tackling the mountains in vehicles much more rudimentary. Anything pre-1986 is eligible—that’s the rule—so I would be younger than almost all of the cars on the route. Thoughts of frozen precipitation were far from everyone’s minds though, as the competitors convened in the town that is known as the “Paris of the Coast.” Springlike conditions prevailed on the scrutineering day, and cars and pilots alike were treated to some beautiful sunshine. I’m sure none were happier than those conducting the checks though, not to mention everyone who was involved in the final preparations to make the cars ready for the start the following day.
The rally, I learnt, was navigated using traditional techniques. Marked up maps, and tulip and herringbone diagrams were the order of the day, and it was great to see the more experienced members of the rally taking the time to help the less experienced crews around some of the finer points of the navigational challenges to come. My head was filled with explanations of timing control points, individual tests and check points, all of which were easily articulated by the teams, but understood by me less so. It was daunting enough to consider these things from the comfort of the hire car I was traveling in, and one can only imagine being on the route in a classic machine proper.
The cars themselves were an appealing mix of marques, from Porsches to Triumphs, Volvos to Minis, and a particularly fabulous Sunbeam Alpine and a Fiat 2300s Coupe that both caught my eye. With only 22 cars braving the treacherous days ahead, I was looking forward to getting to know all of the cars intimately, as well as their crews, and it was quite a wonderful first afternoon spent immersing myself in the group. The badges of events from the past were worn by the cars with pride, either in the form of the crests of completed routes, or indeed the patina that hallmarked these particular motors as being well driven and well used. While there is a time and a place for concours machines, I get more pleasure from seeing sports cars in their intended environment, and it was clear that all of the owners here did as well.
As the sun began to descend upon Le Touquet, and with the cars now parked out at the front of the hotel, drawing crowds of those locals or weekenders enjoying the weather, bars, and restaurants of this coastal town, it all seemed quite serene. I imagined though that things would get much tougher in the days ahead, and I retired to my hotel room confident that regardless of what the roads could throw at us, this particular little adventure I was about to embark upon would be something quite special indeed. I for one, couldn’t wait to document the days as they unfolded. Stay tuned as we complete our report on the Winter Challenge in the days to come.