Few modern events offer a challenge close to that lying ahead of crews on this year’s Roger Albert Clark Rally. Starting on Thursday, the infamous RAC runs right through to Monday, as teams battle it out on English, Scottish, and Welsh stages in a variety of historic cars.
The entry list features a healthy selection of experienced RAC regulars plus younger hopefuls switching from homologated to historic machinery.
One such driver is Sebastian Perez who is set to compete on his second Roger Albert Clark Rally, just days after 2021’s final British Rally Championship round on the Ulster Rally. The 22-year-old will drive a Ford Escort Mk2 alongside Donegal navigator Gary McElhinney.
“It is completely different to anything I have done in an R5,” explained Perez. “The car is obviously a lot slower, has less traction, and you are driving completely differently.
“It is really difficult to even compare the two to be fair. The speed is probably the main difference, you have got more time to react, and you are driving differently which takes up that spare time if you like.
“The RAC as an event is just fantastic – five days taking in the best English, Scottish, and Welsh gravel rally stages. It is a privilege to be a part of it.
“I think doing it for the second time gives me a bit more knowledge of what the event entails. When I did it in 2017, it ran the other way so it will be a little bit different for me this time.
“Having Kielder at the start will be difficult because you are always aiming to get a gap on people at the start. In Kielder you’ll have to push on the fast committed stuff rather than the more technical stuff in Wales.
“The rally will be very different, you might find that the Kielder specialists will be better than usual at the start of the rally. It will definitely mix it around a bit, it’s going to be good.”
This year’s Roger Albert Clark Rally starts in Carlisle on Thursday 25 November and goes straight into Kielder forest for the opening loop of stages. The event stays in Kielder for Friday with long and demanding stages like Pundershaw and Bewshaugh.
The event then heads into Scotland on Saturday for more classic tests such as Ae, Twiglees, and Craik before the route heads to Wales for the final two days of competition.
Sunday’s stages include Dyfnant, Gartheiniog, and Dyfi forests. Crews will then tackle Crychan and Walters Arena on Monday before finishing in Carmarthen town centre.
One of the most interesting entries comes from Tony Jardine and Northern Irish co-driver Allan Harryman. The crew will tackle the RAC in a 1973 Hillman Avenger and while they hope to secure a strong result, they are aiming to deliver a significant environmental message along the way.
Jardine and Harryman will offset their carbon footprint by purchasing fully certified credits for Net-Hero projects including afforestation, restoration of peatlands, and grass protection.
“I picked a bad year to do the RAC for the first time,” admitted Harryman. “I was asked in April, did some research into it, and asked Barney Mitchell about it… He said I’d be grand as long as I got all the information months in advance!
“Not this year though, they are still finalising the route.
“So I have my RAC stuff with me here in [Rally] Monza [last weekend]. I hope to have the final draft of our movement schedule done before I leave and get it printed up on Tuesday before I leave for the event on Wednesday.
“All very last minute, but we can get it done, and as they say – done is sometimes better than perfect.”
After Marty McCormack’s withdrawal, Jason Pritchard will be a pre-event favourite for many but the truth is any of the top 20 have the talent to steal the rally win.
Perez is joined by fellow BRC contenders Osian Pryce and Rhys Yates while Irish rally fans will recognise Paul Barrett and Gordon Noble’s names near the head of the 140-car field.
Another Ulsterman taking on the RAC is Adrian Hetherington. His honest assessment of the event somewhat captures the simple but complex task that lies ahead of the historic hopefuls over the rally’s five days.
“We started preparing for the RAC when our engine blew on the second stage two years ago,” Hetherington began.
“It’s probably the biggest historic rally in the world so to get a good result would be a great achievement.
“But our aim is to win, however impossible that may be.”
Many talk about a change of approach for such a long, hard, and demanding gravel rally. For Hetherington, it is simple:
“You can’t change your approach. If you give these boys a head start, you might as well be at home.”
2021 Roger Albert Clark Rally itinerary
Thursday 25 November
SS01 // Newcastleton 1
SS02 // Kershope 1
SS03 // Newcastleton 2
SS04 // Kershope 2
Friday 26 November
SS05 // Clintburn
SS06 // Chirdonhead 1
SS07 // Falstone 1
SS08 // Bewshaugh 1
SS09 // Pundershaw
SS10 // Chirdonhead 2
SS11 // Falstone 2
SS12 // Bewshaugh 2
Saturday 27 November
SS13 // Greskine 1
SS14 // Ae 1
SS15 // Greskine 2
SS16 // Ae 2
SS17 // Twigless 1
SS18 // Craik 1
SS19 // Twigless 2
SS20 // Craik 2
Sunday 28 November
SS21 // Dyfnant 1
SS22 // Gartheiniog 1
SS23 // Dovey 1
SS24 // Dyfnant 2
SS25 // Gartheiniog 2
SS26 // Dovey 2
Monday 29 November
SS27 // Walters 1
SS28 // Glasfynydd
SS29 // Crychan 1
SS30 // Walters 2
SS31 // Crychan 2
2021 Roger Albert Clark Rally Top 20
2 // Jason Pritchard – Phil Clarke (Ford Escort Mk2)
3 // Osian Pryce – Noel O’Sullivan (Ford Escort Mk2)
4 // Matthew Robinson – Sam Collis (Ford Escort Mk2)
5 // Roger Chilman Jr. – Patrick Walsh (Ford Escort Mk2)
6 // Paul Barrett – Gordon Noble (Ford Escort Mk2)
7 // Rhys Yates – James Morgan (Ford Escort Mk2)
8 // Sebastian Perez – Gary McElhinney (Ford Escort Mk2)
9 // Ben Friend – Cliff Simmons (Ford Escort Mk2)
10 // Steve Bannister – Callum Atkinson (Ford Escort Mk2)
11 // Simon Webster – Jaz Rogers (Ford Escort Mk2)
12 // Alan Walker – John Connor (Ford Escort Mk2)
14 // Steve Bennett – Osian Owen (Ford Escort Mk2)
15 // Josh Browne – Jane Edgington (Ford Escort Mk2)
16 // Harry Hunt – Steve McPhee (Ford Escort Mk2)
17 // Robert Gough – Jack Bowen (Ford Escort Mk2)
18 // Ryan Champion – Craig Thorley (Porsche 911)
20 // Adrian Hetherington – Ronan O’Neill (Ford Escort Mk2)
Photos courtesy of RAC Rally and Net-Hero
Story written with help from Kevin Glendinning