Elfyn Evans should have been fighting Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Sébastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship on home territory this month in the depths of the Welsh forests. Instead, the sad demise of Wales Rally GB has cost the WRC one of its majors and robbed British motorsport of a beloved season highlight. Let’s hope that it’s merely a hiatus and the event formerly known as the RAC Rally returns with a new promoter very soon.

In the meantime, the burgeoning historic scene has burst out of the pandemic to fill the breach in style. The Roger Albert Clark Rally will start tomorrow (Thursday) in Carlisle, run over five days and take in 31 classic special stages around the north of England, Scotland and Wales, finishing in Carmarthen on Monday. 

Named after Britain’s first WRC rally winner, who conquered the RAC in 1972 and 1976 and whose initials created a happy coincidence for the title, the Roger Albert Clark Rally recreates all that’s gruelling and great about the UK’s premier stage rally. More than 150 crews will line up in a wonderful mix of historic machinery, naturally with Ford Escorts taking numerical superiority. 

Hillman Avenger proves a marvel

Among those leaving the start ramp in Carlisle will be a familiar motorsport face and committed amateur competitor. TV pundit and PR guru Tony Jardine is an experienced rally campaigner who has notched up an impressive 26 starts on Rally GB in its different guises over the years. Now he has chosen to return to his roots for his first assault on the Roger Albert Clark Rally.

“Coming out of Covid, I was looking for an event,” says Jardine. “There’s no Wales Rally GB, so it has got to be the Roger Albert Clark Rally. It has got the old traditional five days, taking in England, Scotland and Wales, and returns me to classic stages like those in Kielder Forest. Next I was looking for a car and ended up going to Tim Tugwell, who is a Hillman Avenger expert – and an Avenger just happened to be my first rally car. I’ve gone full circle.” Jardine will share his 1973 Avenger 1600 GT with navigator Allan Harryman, son of the legendary Terry, who sat beside the likes of Ari Vatanen, Paddy Hopkirk and Malcolm Wilson during his long career. 

“Allan and I have done a couple of rallies before; he’s a really good guy and very experienced,” says Jardine. “My big thing was I didn’t want to be another Escort runner. I love Escorts, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted something different, and the Avenger is tried and tested.”