First published January 2015.
LeJog’s 20th Anniversary – by Nigel Raeburn
The Land’s End to John O’Groats Reliability Trial – better known as LeJog – ran for the 20th time in early December. This landmark is quite an achievement for the organising body at HERO so I thought I’d pen a few thoughts and reminiscences from those 20 years.
The first event was in 1993 and was the brainchild of legendary rally innovator John Brown and his HERO organising club. It was a historic road rally running the length of Britain but with a twisting route such that the actual mileage was closer to 1500 than the 900 or so direct miles from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats at the tip of Scotland. Just consider the organisational challenge of such a long-distance event – all the PR work, liaison with numerous RLOs, assembling all the marshals etc.. It was a real competitive road rally with special tests, regularity sections and time control sections. There was an emphasis on endurance and reliability, with a demanding road schedule on top of these competitive sections. It started early Saturday morning with the first proper stop on Sunday night, restarting early on Monday and running non-stop until Tuesday mid-morning – so firmly putting back the endurance and adventure into rallying which had largely disappeared from modern day rallying. Innovative as ever, John Brown introduced ‘Jogularity’ – a method of doing regularity sections using frequent landmarks and ideal times to each of these such that the use of speed tables was largely redundant and accurate tripmeters less essential. Any route devised by John Brown would keep navigators on their toes with loops into lay-bys, tricky approach directions, use of private and forestry roads and not-as-map junctions all included to add to the challenge. Running in December guaranteed there would be wintery weather at some point on the route and of course much of the event took place in darkness.
That first event attracted a modest entry but was judged a success, and John Brown went on to run the event 10 times up to 2004 with just a few gap years and it became very popular with over 100 entries becoming the norm. Pre-war cars were catered for with a slightly shorter route and slower set speeds and some years quite a few fine pre-war cars led the field away and some did remarkably well. Quite a number of foreign crews (eg from Germany, Holland and the USA) came over to see a lot of Britain and it was a big test for them, especially as they were not used to our Ordnance Survey maps.
Another John Brown innovation was the fact that there was no official overall winner, but a medal system akin to the Olympics and also the premier award was the Marque Team Award for a team of three cars of the same make and where possible model. To win a medal, especially Gold, was a hugely prized achievement and winners of the Marque Team Award were highly revered. The medal system very cleverly rewards consistency and precision rather than speed and sometimes the crew with the least penalties did not get a Gold medal while others with more penalties did. It’s rumoured there are only about 6 people in total who fully understand the intricacies of the LeJog medal system!
The less competitive were also catered for with a parallel Tour which took a more direct route visiting the Main Controls and omitting the competitive sections – but was still quite a challenge and adventure in an old car. In the main event, Blue and Red Ribands were awarded for those who completed most of the route but did not win Medals.
The route naturally had common sections each year although efforts were made to vary it with different locations for the mid-event overnight halt (Edinburgh, Newcastle, Carlisle for example) and running up the east or west sides of Scotland. Every year included a tough night section in Wales where the complexity of the road network and tight timing usually sorted out the results to a large degree. There were other sections which tended to be repeated most years such as the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ regularity lasting up to 2 hours – a real test of concentration – and special tests at venues like Forrestburn hill-climb and a consistency test at Knockhill race circuit. Another favourite was the long ford test at Stanhope in County Durham, crossing the River Wear. A lengthy and complex test at the Caerwent army base in south Wales was also another regular.
After 2004 John Brown retired and handed the HERO reins to Peter Nedin. Peter did not have John’s experience of setting challenging routes but took an approach of trying to widen the event’s appeal by making it somewhat easier with a less hectic schedule, simpler regularities and (continuing a trend John had started) with more rest halts – in particular a few hours proper rest in a hotel early Sunday morning after the Welsh section, typically near Chester or Telford. The non-stop nature of the early events had become less ‘PC’ as the years went by and a more responsible approach was taken with more rest time. For most crews it was necessary to share the driving on the easier sections to allow the number one driver to have a rest – indeed ‘driver change’ sections were mandatory.
Peter Nedin remained at the helm until quite recently but brought in experienced route planners such as Peter Ward and John Kiff to start to toughen up the event again as the ‘easy’ (it’s only relative – it was still a tough challenge) versions did not attract a bigger entry and the event is now reverting to the big challenge it originally was.
Much more recently with the merger of HERO and CRA the marketing of the rally has improved enormously and with people like Guy Woodcock joining the planning and organising team (and Graham Dance next year) the event’s future looks set to continue successfully with good sized entries (there were about 74 in 2014) and a demanding route.
Through the 20 events there are a few people whose record of success stands out. John Kiff won Gold the first year navigating for Evan MacKenzie, and later John won Gold again as a driver with his brother Rob navigating in the infamous VW Beetle – thus becoming the only person to win Gold as both driver and navigator. He actually won Gold driving again later with his other brother Edward navigating. Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage won Gold on five occasions – more than anyone else. Bob and Sue McClean must have tackled and finished more LeJogs than anyone else – usually in their Rover 100 – not sure exactly how many times they have done it but it must be well into double figures.
My own involvement covers about 12 of the 20 events. From 1994 to 1996 I was John Brown’s pre-event paperwork checker – plotting all the route and trying to eliminate any errors. It was interesting to see while doing this some of the detailed planning John put in – for example spreadsheets planning how the pre-war classes at their lower regularity speeds would not, if they were on time, impede the faster cars in the later classes. In these three years I was also a sector coordinator responsible on the night for a stretch of route in Wales, making sure the marshals were in the correct places and ready. In 1996 I went on, with Evan MacKenzie, to marshal a timing point right up near Fort William.
In 1997 Mike Tomlin persuaded me to navigate for him in his 1932 Alvis. I was unsure how much I would like such a long and demanding rally especially in a pre-war car – but as it turned out I loved it. I thought it brought back some elements of rallying which attracted me to it in the first place – the sense of adventure, the teamwork between the two of you sharing the driving when needed and working on the car, conserving energy, the priority of accuracy and consistency over pure speed and the camaraderie with other crews. It reminded me of the early Internationals I did like the 1966 RAC where endurance and reliability were key. We had a good event and came away with a Silver medal and tantalisingly close to a Gold. I had to try again! I think the Alvis team won the Marque Team Award this year.
In 1999 and 2000 I entered with Phil Surtees in his awesome V8 Rover P5B. In 1999 we had a good run to Silver – failing Gold after my infamous mis-counting of the laps at Knockhill! I especially remember our drive over the World’s End road near Wrexham in the snow and ice – it was very exciting! Phil’s cadence braking was very effective and we overtook many other competitors. In 2000 we unfortunately retired with a broken back axle on top of the Long Mynd. However we then joined the travelling marshals and went right to John O’Groats so did not miss out on the atmosphere. The end of event black tie awards dinner in Wick is a great occasion complete with bagpipes, haggis and other touches to make it memorable.
For 2002 I was again with Mike Tomlin in the Alvis, but we met strong class competition from multiple Flying Scotsman winners Paul Carter/John Bayliss in a similar Alvis and our relative test times held us back to a Bronze medal.
For 2003, 2004 and 2005 I teamed up with Andy Nash in his Sunbeam Tiger and we managed Bronze, Gold and Silver respectively. Andy’s first ever rally was the 1999 LeJog – quite an initiation to celebrate the Millennium! His rally experience was quite limited before we teamed up, but we had some good results. The Bronze year we had been stuck in a Scottish forest ditch for some time and then got a time-consuming puncture. The Silver year we drowned out in deep floods on the Devon/Somerset borders and only kept in the event with considerable support from the course closing car (ask me sometime if you want the full story – I’d better not put it in print!). The Gold year everything went smoothly!
In more recent years I missed several events but have done a bit of marshalling, including this last event in 2014 when Mike Tomlin and I manned a timing point in the small hours in a very wet Welsh lane near Corwen. It was good to be able to support the 20th running and see that the event is getting back to the standards of its heydays with a strong entry, demanding route and good promotion and publicity. Well done HERO! It’s a great event which every historic rallyist should have on their CV.