Steve Rimmer didn’t see this one coming. None of us did. Conversation had shifted somewhat from Vauxhall’s glorious Chevette HSR. And on to Brussels sprouts.
The moment was, undoubtedly, slightly surreal. Standing in the parking lot of West Bradford’s village hall, at the northern end of England, the World Rally Championship’s most famous Lancastrian was adamant about the butter.
To my considerable good fortune, I’ve known Ian Grindrod for a long time. He’s always the best of company, offering the sharpest of insight into the state of rallying today, while blending it seamlessly with stories about Billy Coleman buying a Lancia Stratos. Or two.
But this was different.
“You definitely need the butter,” he reasoned. “Once you’ve blanched the sprouts, whip them out and put them to one side. Chop the bacon and fry it off, then add the sprouts and the butter. They don’t take long – but they’re bloody fantastic.”
Having cooked and consumed sprouts à la Grinny, rest assured… he’s right. Again.
Saturday wasn’t all about a particular member of the cabbage family. It was more about two people who enjoyed a common geography and a shared passion.
“I spent so many years watching Ian from the side of the stage when he was competing at the very top levels,” said DirtFish owner Rimmer. “It’s a privilege to be alongside him, to be invited to come and compete at this event and to drive this car.”
The car is an ex-works HSR, driven by Jimmy McRae. In a minor deviation from the script, Grindrod never shared FER687W with the five-time British Rally Champion Scot.
“I never competed in a HSR,” said Grindrod. “I did a couple of British national rounds in a HS [with Fred Henderson] and I did Hunsrück in Germany with Jim in one – we retired with a fuel-pump problem. But I was never in one of these…”
That’s something else Steve and Ian have in common.
“I’ve never even sat in it,” said Rimmer, quietly. “First time in it and second off the line. What can possibly go wrong?”
In fact, the Lotus Cortina which would take the start before them was a course car. They were, Grinny informed his driver, the first competing crew.
News Steve took well. Sort of.
“Like I said,” he smiled, “what can possibly go wrong…”
As for the competition itself, Grindrod is happy to explain what it’s all about.
“Since we handed over the running of the Tour of Mull to the Mull Car Club, this is really our only event now. We run the Andy Mort Tour to commemorate a fellow member of the 2300 Car Club.
“Andy was sadly killed on Tour of Mull some years ago now. It’s important to remember Andy and everybody who comes here enjoys the day.
“The format involves no timing, just a number of checkpoints we have to get to and get a signature from the marshals. It’s a 135-mile route and pretty much all of them are on famous road rally roads. In a way it’s a navigational event, but it’s also a fun drive around the countryside.”
That’s music to Steve’s ears.
“My only priority is to get away from the start without stalling,” he smiled.
He does that. And so does his close friend and fellow competitor Paul Tattersall, following closely behind in a stunning Lancia Stratos.
Rimmer has slotted this event in between business trips across the earth’s four corners. He’s a man who rarely – if ever – stands still, but when the call from Grindrod came to share a Saturday in October in their shared backyard, everything else stopped.
“I wasn’t going to miss this,” he said. “I mean, the chance to spend the day with Ian and to drive this car around this countryside where I grew up. What’s not to love?”
And away they go.
The day is played out beneath stunning fall blue skies – quite the contrast to 24 hours earlier when a furious storm Babet dumped ridiculous amounts of rain on the UK. Ian Gwynne and his team at BGMSport prepare the perfect car and there were no wet feet aboard the DTV-liveried Chevette.
The same couldn’t said for Tatts’ Stratos.
“It’s like driving a sieve,” laughed Tattersall. “We hit one mega flood and nearly drowned out!”
Co-driver in the Stratos is none other than Neil Molyneux, son of Brian – the man who turned a summer holiday off the West Coast of Scotland into an event that became one of the most sought-after island rallies in the world, the Tour of Mull.
“We had our windows down,” added Neil. “We got absolutely drenched.”
And when it rains, there’s not much incentive to put the Lancia’s wipers on – the water comes up off the screen and down through the air intake, landing in laps below.
“It’s an amazing car,” smiled Paul. “The bloody thing is wonderful.”
Standing watching on the moors with Lancashire and Yorkshire beneath us, the sound of six cylinders from Maranello is a pinch yourself moment. Yes, the Chevette was utterly gorgeous, but seeing that yellow-wheeled rosso corsa Stratos lighting up the lanes made the day even more unforgettable.
And in the blink of an eye, the day was done.
After 135 miles through some of Britain’s most stunning landscapes and across roads which played host to some of the country’s most fiercely contested road rallies (unlike today, all in the dead of night at eye-watering speeds) the Chevette’s back to West Bradford.
There’s a satisfying amount of mud on the doors, but it’s straight and still sounding like song.
“That’s absolutely everything I hoped for and more,” said Steve at the finish. “You know, you get to sit next to a rally icon, somebody I’ve watched in the forests for so long and to drive a car like this. It’s been a pretty darned awesome day.
“Like I told you, I was keen not to stall. I managed that and I did see some of the countryside, but for the most part I was just listening to some of the most wonderful stories. And not just about rallying.
“You know, Ian and I grew up in Lancashire, in this part of the world – so we’ve been through our life histories and just had the best day.”
Those same sentiments came from the car’s left-hand seat.
“It’s been great,” said Ian. “We’ve got to say a big thank you to all the guys who have organized the event – what a fantastic route. The driver? Fantastic. The car was no problem for Steve. We pressed on in a couple of places and we really enjoyed it.
“And the weather was great – after yesterday, the gods really shone down on us today. What a fantastic day.
“Now, about those sprouts…”