Despite my previous life in motorsport running a manufacturer team in the BTCC before becoming a full time professional automotive and motorsport photographer I hadn't heard of Race Retro – perhaps I should have....
...Race Retro takes place at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, which is probably better known as home to a cluster of over 60 businesses with their emphasis on food production, equine and livestock husbandry, sustainability, renewable energy, and the wider rural economy.
However, from the 24th to 26th February this year Race Retro took over Stoneleigh Park to celebrate the very best of international motorsport, showcasing vintage and classic cars and legendary drivers and riders of both four wheeled and two wheeled machines.
Race Retro is a pre-season event that celebrates the very best of international historic motorsport - and this year the event celebrated it's 15th anniversary. The spread of associated ‘automobilia’ is quite amazing whatever your particular interest. There’s also a ‘classic and competition’ auction held by renowned auctioneers Silverstone Auctions (they recorded total sales of £5.7m and a 76% sales rate). You have the opportunity to see most types, makes and shapes of ‘sport’ vehicles - whether 2 or 4 wheels - 1 wheel drive or 4 - in action and under cover on display along with just about everything related to motor sport. The exhibition halls really are worth spending time in exploring the exhibitors representing motoring clubs and associations, race series organisers, race and classic car dealers, art and books and a host of automotive suppliers.
I decided to concentrate on the rally cars and the live rally stage. So accreditation sorted and armed with my yellow hi-vis vest I headed out onto the rally stage for the first time on the Saturday morning...
(Click on an image for a larger view. All images © Scott Dennis)
There's a special place for Group B cars in the history of rallying and arguably the biggest impact came out of Ingolstadt in the form of the Audi quattro which confounded perceived wisdom by letting loose a four-wheel drive turbocharged Group B winner.
Hannu Mikkola would go on to prove the sheer brilliance of the engineering wedding that was known simply as – ‘quattro’ – the number of winning outings and margins was staggering.
Audi didn’t have it all its own way as the likes of Lancia and Peugeot sought to stop the dominance of the quattro – illustrated best by the 31 stages it won in its first competitive outing in 1981 - as was demonstrated by Ari Vatenen and the awesome power of his Peugeot 205 in ’84 and ’85.
The driver of what looks like a Peugeot 205 T16 put on a great display and although the car itself is a replica - on the outside the Peugeot looks like the real deal but underneath lies the workings of a Mitsubishi EVO VI - it was great to see it being thrown around the stage.
Ford joined in with the RS200 while MG came to the party with the 6R4. Group B was initially a very successful group, with many manufacturers joining the premier WRC, benefitting from increased spectator numbers and media coverage. But the cost of competing quickly rose and the performance of the cars proved too much resulting in a series of fatal crashes. As a result Group B was cancelled at the end of 1986.
Whilst a number of the Group B cars that ran over the weekend were 'replicas' of the originals, I believe the RS200 above was built in the late 90's, the 6R4 above was one of the 200 clubman cars built at Longbridge on the specialist production line for the build of the 6R4. This particular car was used as a test car for Ted Toleman as they built a modified car to compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally - luckily this car today reatains it's status as a 'proper' 6R4.
'Replica', or not, It doesn't really matter - you still get a flavour of what it must have been like watching these rallying 'monsters' tearing through forests on rally stages around the world.
The Group B cars were joined by a host or WRC cars including N555BAT - 1 of 9 Subaru Impreza Group A 555's built to compete in the 1996 WRC season. This car was first used in the WRC by 1994 World Rally Champion Didier Auriol. The car is now owned and driven by international rally winner Ryan Champion.
Another Subaru with a bit of history sliding around the stage was this ex-Colin McRae 1998 Subaru S4 Imprezza WRC car.
The FIA introduced Group A to the world of rallying in 1982 and this Mitsubishi Evo 9 was very comfortable with the term 'the only way is sideways'!
Volkswagen entered the WRC for the second time in 2013 with the Polo R WRC rally car which went on to enjoy a very successful time winning 43 of the 53 rallies that it entered. This Polo Proto built by Pennington Motorsport added some colour in it's vibrant livery.
The 1981 World Rally Champion and four-time Paris-Dakar winner Ari Vatanen showed that he's lost none of his 'mainly sideways' approach to driving a rally car.
It was a pleasure to see him reunited with a Subaru Legacy and Escort RS1800 that he seemed to ‘put on’ like an old glove and go out to entertain the crowds with with the same skill and passion as when he was competing.
This Milner LRM-1 was used as a kind of 'course-car' before each group of cars took to the stage and the first time I saw it on the Saturday it was being driven with a little caution. But by Sunday morning it was roaring around the stage with its body rolling quite spectacularly - a proper machine capable of tackling a lot more than Stoneleigh could throw at it!
It's not often that you'll see a Ferrari tackling a rally stage of any kind, but this 308GTB built to the FIA's Group 4 regulations by the celebrated Ferrari competition specialists Michelotto of Padova in Italy was being 'pedalled' around the make-shift rally stage with considerable skill. Seeing a Ferrari sliding around in the mud, as it was, qualified as an unexpected pleasure.
It was great to see so many MK1 and MK2 Escorts strutting their stuff around the stage as these are the cars that I really associated with rallying in my youth...
...in fact a mate of mine took a Mark 1 back to it's shell, had a complete respray and built it back up to a specification that it could almost have competed in the Lombard Rally! I remember our journeys around the green lanes of Northamptonshire thinking we were the 'mutts-nuts'.
It was great to see so many MK1 and MK2 Escorts strutting their stuff around the stage as these are the cars that I really associated with rallying in my youth. In fact a mate of mine took a Mark 1 back to it's shell, had a conplete respray and built it back up to a specification that it could almost have competed in the Lombard Rally! I remember our journeys around the green lanes of Northamptonshire thinking we were the mutt-nuts fondly. The guys driving these cars clearly knew how to get the best out of them sliding these affordable and exciting cars around, often sideways, but always demonstrating their experience and skill.
I'm guessing that given what Stoneleigh Park is best known for the large 'shed' that becomes 'Parc-ferme' for the weekend is more used to housing beasts with four legs rather than beasts with four wheels. This was my first port of call early on Sunday morning...
...it's a great place to see these cars at rest and up-close before they're fired-up to await their turn on the rally stage.
The smells and sounds that fill the building when the cars are running is proper motorsport and trying to guess the car by the differing engine sounds grabbed my attention...
...with so many classes and eras of rallying represented almost every type of competition engine was represented - I guess you could say it was like listening to a 'rally orchestra' when they were all going through their warming up procedures at the same time!
Being able to get up close and personal with these cars really allows you to appreciate that the 'cockpits' are not luxurious spaces, but spaces where simplicity, functionality and ease of use take precedent...
...if you think about the abuse these cars take, even on a tame stage like the one at Race Retro everything has to be mechanically strong but easy to replace if it did fail.
As an automotive photographer who likes 'details' on cars Parc-ferme was a place I could have spent more time in on Sunday morning. But with the cars starting to head out to the holding area before the start of their two and a half hour 'show' on the live rally stage each morning it was time to squeeze back into my yellow hi-vis vest and head back out onto the stage.
The ex-works Opel Manta 400 driven in the 80's by Russell Brookes got faster and faster as the weekend progressed.
Another reminder of the impact the Audi quattro had on world rallying in the shape of this authentic Group 4 Audi Coupe quattro Turbo.
An ex-works Ford Sierra Cosworth Group A rally car bearing the also familiar, of the time, Andrews Heat for Hire livery.
1987 Group A Peugeot 205 GTi 1.6 that was bought back by it's current owner after they had been separated for 25 years!
This super little Rover Mini Group N that originally competed in the 1997 Rally of Australia didn't run on the Saturday as it had some technical issues. Issues fixed it ran on the Sunday and it's always great to see these iconic little cars sliding around on a rally stage.
Clearly there were some very accomplished rally drivers demonstrating their car control skills over the weekend but my award for the 'most entertaining' driver has to go to Shaun Clorley in his Talbot Lotus Sunbeam - he was king of 'the only way is sideways'!
Race Retro along with a handful of other events provides a superb opportunity for all of these cars, and more, to come to life for a couple of days and allow the public to witness them 'doing their thing' - and it's clear that the very approachable and friendly drivers are having fun doing it!
The live rally stage isn't timed and it isn't a competitive event, it's a demonstration of these historic rally cars and I can only imagine that witnessing a competitive historic rally would be great fun - an experience I'll be looking for at some point this year and I'll be looking at a return to Race Retro next year.
A full gallery of images from the live rally stage can be viewed here.
Race Retro 2017 Images - Race Retro 2017 Pictures