FOR Alan Jardine, this coming weekend may prove to be a case of the first also being the last.
Fifty years ago this month, the Dungannon man first tackled a rally. That was as a 20-year-old in a Ford Anglia, but now the septuagenarian, who turned 70 on January 4, is set for his toughest challenge yet when he makes his debut at the daunting Roger Albert Clark Rally, which gets underway on Thursday.
The first time Jardine sat behind the wheel of a rally car was during Dungannon Motor Club’s ‘Officials Rally’ in November 1971 and he feels the RAC maybe the final fling in his rallying career.
“To qualify to do the ‘Officials Rally’ you had to be an official, do a checkpoint or something like that, at one of the other rallies during the year,” explained Alan, who intends to continue hill climbing and sprinting, though, possibly giving his Hillman Imp an outing in the latter, while relying on his stunning Mk I Ford Escort for the latter.
He continued, “Dungannon ran three good rallies every year – the Snowdrop, the Spring Fling and the Moonraker – and then in November they ran one for any officials, which I did in a wee Ford Anglia. Now, fifty years later, this will be my last official rally I would say. I can’t see me out again but you can never say never!”
If this weekend’s RAC is to be Jardine’s final rally, he’s certainly intent on emptying the tank in the process as the Carlisle-based event covers a whopping 560 stage kilometres and 1,824 total kilometres over five gruelling days, making it not only a test of machine, but also of man.
And while most 70-year-olds might prefer something less taxing for a weekend away, the challenges provided by the event have appealed to Jardine since 2019 when he was at a clubman rally that ran alongside it, which his son Bryan competed in.
“I was over at a clubman event last time with Bryan two years ago and the inspiration that I got for doing it was old Bob Bean at the age of 81 was doing it so I though ‘if he can do it when he’s 81 surely with me only turning 70 in January there, I should be able to do it’,” he laughed.
“I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for, I’m mad! I’ve been concentrating on the sprints and the hills and I sort of forgot about rallying until I went over and saw the Roger Albert when I was with Bryan and that sort of sparked the interest because that’s an event I would love to do.”
Having decided to give the RAC a tilt, Alan realised he’d need to get used to rallying again and in particular having someone beside him in the car, with Chris McSherry, the son of his former co-driver Jim, the man with the plan next weekend.
Over the past decade, Jardine has concentrated on hill climbs and sprints, which are solo pursuits, which is why he tackled the Omagh Motor Club Bushwhacker Rally in September.
“I haven’t done a rally since 2013 at the Ulster Rally and the last time I was on the loose in the forests was the Bushwhacker in 2009,” said Alan, who admits he won’t be attempting to match the pace of the leaders in his 1600 Mk II Ford Escort.
And it’s unlikely he’ll be trying to keep up with his fellow Tyrone men at the event either. Also making the trip to Cumbria are Donaghmore’s Adrian Hetherington and co-driver, Moy’s Ronan O’Neill, who retired after a handful of stages in the event’s last running in 2019; Cookstown’s Keith McIvor and navigator, Stewartstown’s David Burns, who finished a remarkable 31st overall out of 145 entrants two years ago in his Mk II Ford Escort and seventh in class, and Clanabogan’s Paul Barrett, who suffered an early exit in 2019 alongside experienced Omagh co-driver, Gordon Noble, who is back for another tilt in the passenger seat.
“The pace will be old Circuit of Ireland style pace.
“If you go in with the idea of a sprint, one day event, you’ll probably not get out of the first day!,” Jardine said with a wry laugh.
“That’s the appeal of the event, it harks back to the old days of rallying. At the front of the pack it will be dog eat dog and survival of the fittest but for me, it will be about reaching the finish.
“That would be winning the rally for me, that’s exactly what it is.
“For me to finish is the main thing and that will do it, just to get to the finish!”
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