When England had a Christmas rallycross season

Who needs a holiday at Christmas when you could have rallycross.

by Rallycross World |

The Irish Rallycross Championship was scheduled to run its final event of the year on 28 December. That event has now been cancelled, the last casualty of COVID-19 in the 2020 season. It’s not unusual for Ireland to have a rallycross event over the Christmas and New Year holiday, but the particular specialists in this field are the English.

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Lydden, New Year’s day 1991, Rob Gibson leads Steve Palmer and Gary Baker.

A while ago it was quite normal for the Christmas and New Year holiday period to contain not one, but two rallycross events. At this distance that seems like madness, but times were different and going racing for no better reason than the fact that you could was all that mattered for most.

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Brian Betteridge leads a two-wheel drive group at Lydden in 1991.

The Lydden Wintereseries was hugely popular in the 1980s, the local series pulling in strong entries, predominantly from competitors based in the south of England. When circuit founder Bill Chesson ran his own events the Winterseries was an object lesson in getting the job done. With activities not permitted to start until after midday, and perhaps only four hours of daylight, it was not unknown for Chesson to hammer through 50 races and his ‘Lydden format’ was developed to facilitate this.

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Steve Palmer leads Dimi Mavropoulos at Lydden.

All classes raced together with enough finals to cater for the entire field; a G Final was not unknown. And on 1 January 1990 Richard Hutton fought off qualifying problems that left him in the F final (the lowest qualified) to win every race and then take the event victory in the A final; six races, each of four-and-a-half laps, completed back-to-back.

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Hutton won six finals back-to-back in 1990. Here he leads Vic Moyce and Michael Quaife.

The last time this festive frenzy happened was in 1992-’93 when the last event of the 1992 season took place at Croft on 27 December ’92 and was won by Terry Maynard at the wheel of his ex-Eamon Matheson Ford Sierra 4×4.

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Maynard (pictured in 1989) was a regular winner at Croft, including the ‘92 season closer.

On January 3 the 1993 season was opened at Lydden Hill, 500km south of Croft, where Hutton was again the winner, and again in record-worthy style.Homologation for the Ford Escort RS Cosworth became valid on 1 January 1993, so Hutton’s victory was the first for the new car. The day at Lydden is also notable for the fact that a combination of dust, ice and frozen water supply at the track meant the Pits Bend unsealed section of the track was out of action and the course was adjusted to use Pits Bend on the race circuit and the ‘short’ hairpin halfway up Hairy Hill.

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Hutton claimed the first win for the Escort Cosworth, just two days after homologation.

Those Christmas events often threw up something unusual. At the end of 1990 Vauxhall ran an ‘Autumn Cup’ for its one-make Nova Rallycross Championship. At Croft on 30 December Vauxhall ran two guest cars in the final of this mini-series, one for 1989 British Rallycross Champion and Croft favourite Michael Shield, the other for its BTCC superstar John Cleland. The pair battled it out all day, Shield taking the class win before Cleland turned the tables to win a ‘Superfinal’ for the class. Overall victory in an event run without four-wheel drive cars was taken by Ulsterman Clive Richardson and his Vauxhall Nova.

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BTCC legend John Cleland starred at Croft in 1990.
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Michael Shield duked it out with Cleland on his home track.

Two days later on 1 January 1991 (yes, really!) the win was taken by 1990 British Champion Steve Palmer. His Metro 6R4 freshly rebuilt after a big crash in December’s British Rallycross Grand Prix, Palmer edged out Rob Gibson to take victory.

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Steve Palmer bounced back from Grand Prix trouble to win at Lydden on New Year’s Day ’91.

In 1988 North and South managed select the same date for their holiday fun, both circuits running events on 27 December when Shield (Metro 6R4) won at Croft and Dimi Mavropoulos (Audi Sport Quattro) held off Will Gollop to win at Lydden.

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Dimi Mavropoulos (here in 1989 with Richard Hutton) was a regular winner at Lydden.

While the local championship at Croft was always popular, the northern venue was never able to boast the level of Supercars that Lydden could attract from southern-based drivers, so two-wheel drive success was more often achieved in the north. On 29 December 1991 Richardson was a last minute non-starter so Tony Bardy used Richardson’s car and promptly won the Croft event.

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Tony Bardy borrowed Clive Richardson’s Nova to win at Croft in 1991.

Two years later, on 28 December 1993, Bardy won again, this time at the wheel of his Group N Nissan Sunny GTiR. And then, on 26 December 1994 Shield returned to his home track and won the Christmas event in his Group N Sierra Cosworth 4×4.

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Bardy Used his own Group N “Datsun” to win in 1993.
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Michael Shield won the last Christmas even to run at Croft in 1994.

And Lydden? In all the fuss around safety standards at Lydden and then changing ownership the Winterseries unfortunately lost some of its lustre.  On 1 January 1992 the event was dominated  by Pat Doran and his Ford RS200, but he lost the win in the last half lap of the race when Palmer managed to edge ahead in his Metro 6R4.

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Pat Doran set the pace at Lydden in 1992, but at the end of the day it was…
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…Steve Palmer who slipped ahead to take the victory.

The following year it was Hutton in front again (above) and that historic first win for the Escort Cosworth was also the last in a Christmas/New Year event at Lydden.

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Hutton won at Lydden in 1993, Mike Mantel and Ray Morgan slug it out for the places.

Do we miss this festive racing? Yes, and no.T imes have changed and the appetite for winter racing seems to have diminished, if not disappeared altogether.

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Understeer versus oversteer, Kevin Pease leads Tony Proctor at Croft in 1990.

The cost of racing, not just for competitors but for event organisers too, makes this kind of event more difficult to manage than they were in their heyday. And even then the Christmas events rarely drew a capacity entry and fans were generally fewer than at other times of the year.

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1 january 1989, Rob Gibson leads Sean McAdden and Trevor Hopkins at Lydden.
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