The five-day Roger Albert Clark Rally begins on Thursday and, while international stars Kris Meeke, Oliver Solberg and Osian Pryce are among the hordes competing in Ford Escort Mk2s, 2019 European Rally champion Chris Ingram will be driving something very different. Here's the story of how the Triumph TR7 V8 he'll be piloting has been recreated.
A week ago, dressed in a period correct British Leyland rally jacket and sporting the beginnings of a Tony Pond-style moustache, Chris Ingram – one of Britain’s best young rally drivers of a generation – stood quietly at a deserted Sweet Lamb test venue looking at the Triumph TR7 V8. Almost in awe of the machine, Ingram was about to step back 40 years to a different time and a different type of rally car. Minutes later, after barely five miles of gravel running, he returned with a big smile.
That first test was the initial step towards the five-day Roger Albert Clark Rally adventure through the forests of Wales, Scotland and England that is due to finish in Carlisle next Monday afternoon. Alongside the 156 other starters, Ingram more than anything wants to finish the longest and toughest special stage rally in Britain.
Like fellow international standard drivers Kris Meeke, Oliver Solberg and Osian Pryce, 2019 European Rally champion Ingram was keen to tackle the contest that revives the spirit and challenge of the RAC Rallies of the 1960s and 1970s. Long days, not much sleep, stages in the dark, brutal Kielder, and a massive sense of adventure all mean the event is far removed from the modern-day European and World Rally Championship events.
But unlike his famous rivals, Ingram is not in a Ford Escort Mk2. Instead, he’s driving the newly finished TR7 V8 from David Appleby Engineering and the car is truly a work of art. It’s one of a batch of six built at the team’s base in Somerset.
Long-time marque expert Appleby is painstakingly producing the cars to exacting period specification using an ex-Pond machine as a benchmark, with most parts remanufactured.
Appleby worked for Austin Rover Motorsport in the 1980s and competed extensively. He has a long history with British Leyland cars, from TR7 V8s through Rovers to Metro 6R4s, and later did his own updated version of the 6R4 in the DAM 4100.
“It’s something I’ve had a passion to do for a long time: a proper recreation of factory TR7 V8s,” explains Appleby. “We’ve had an ex-Roger Clark car, one of the last works cars, on loan to use as a datum and we’ve been able to take bits off, get them measured and scanned and remade. Everything is to original specification. We could have done a modern interpretation of the car, but what would be the point in that?”
The quality of engineering and attention to detail is outstanding on a project that has been several years in the making. New engine blocks were produced and most components had to be remade. By putting in an entry for the Roger Albert Clark, Appleby stuck a post in the ground: the car had to be ready by mid-November and it took a super-human effort to hit the date.
With the car nearing completion, Appleby needed a driver, and discussions with Ingram started in the spring. “We know we’ve got the talent in this country to compete at world level, but for some reason we don’t give the backing to these young drivers,” asserts Appleby. “I’ve been watching Chris and what he’s done and I think it’s fantastic. He reminds me of Tony Pond in a lot of ways. He is more than capable of doing very well.”
Finally, last Wednesday on a remote Welsh hillside, it all came together and Ingram got to try the car for his maiden outing. It was an anxious occasion all round as the car took to gravel for the very first time.
“It’s an absolute beast and so different to anything I’ve driven before, but it felt really good straight out of the box” Chris Ingram
The answer came quickly when Ingram toured back into the on-site workshop after a handful of miles. “I love it and it instantly put a big smile on my face!” recalls Ingram. “It’s an absolute beast and so different to anything I’ve driven before, but it felt really good straight out of the box. It’s incredible what David and the team have done. It just pulls and pulls in the gears and it’s got so much torque.”
For a driver more used to four-wheel drive, sequential gearboxes, multi-adjustable dampers and turbo engines in Rally2 machinery, it’s no wonder the TR7 felt somewhat alien. Yet Ingram’s initial speed was good and the car looked and sounded spot on. But they all realise the scale of the task they face.
“It’s going to be an amazing challenge,” predicts Ingram. “It’s my first historic rally and first time driving a proper historic car. It’s become such an iconic event and I’m really grateful for the opportunity. It’s a big deal for David to let me drive this beautiful beast and I think the fans will love it.
“The car’s absolutely brand new. We want to finish the event and just enjoy this amazing opportunity to do a five-day classic R.A.C. We’ve not got any performance targets as such. I’m under strict orders to get it to the finish.
“That would be a fantastic achievement.”
This year’s likely leading contenders
Until Ryan Champion blended speed and consistency to win the 2021 event in a Porsche 911 from the Tuthill stable, the Roger Albert Clark Rally had been dominated by Ford Escorts, mainly Mk2s, across its 20-year history. And although Chris Ingram in the Triumph TR7 V8 and Seb Perez in a glorious Lancia Stratos will wow the fans, there is every probability that overall victory will return to the firm grasp of the Escort Mk2 hordes this year.
With international stars Kris Meeke, Oliver Solberg and Osian Pryce all lining up in full-spec historic Mk2s alongside established Mk2 aces such as Martin McCormack, Jason Pritchard, Roger Chilman, Paul Barrett and Matthew Robinson, the Escort onslaught is ferocious. The ubiquitous BDG-engined Mk2 remains the weapon of choice in historic rallying, and it’s little wonder that Meeke, Solberg and Pryce all opted to take the Escort route with barely a glance towards other options.
Richard Tuthill will once again put up the Porsche challenge in the 911 used by Champion in 2021, and has the pace to mix it with the big boys, while Gregoire de Mevius brings his wonderful Nissan 240RS from Belgium. But the newer generation of historic cars has yet to make an impression on the event. Kevin Procter’s Ford Sapphire Cosworth has had a troubled time so far while, further down the order, Darren Martin switches to a Subaru Legacy.
Another notable non-Escort entry is the Chrysler Avenger of ex-Formula 1 TV pundit Tony Jardine, whose fortunes Motorsport.com will be following throughout the event. Like Solberg’s Escort, Jardine will be using sustainable fuel to tackle the marathon contest.
But, ultimately, it’s hard to see much that will truly mix it with the Escorts across five days, unless Ingram can pull off a monster result with the rumbling TR7 V8.