First Timers: The HERO Challenge Three regulatory rally

Friday 14 January 2022

Taking on a new motorsport challenge can be daunting, even if you’re learning a new skill in the discipline that you compete in. And that is what Junior World Rally contenders Jon Armstrong and co-driver Phil Hall did when they swapped their Ford Fiesta Rally4 car for a 90hp 1968 Morris Mini Cooper S to take part in the HERO Challenge Three regulatory rally.

Jon and Phil are our fifth and final ‘rookies’ who featured in the December edition of Revolution and completed their 2021 motorsport challenge.

Jon Armstrong (with co-driver Phil Hall)

I started competing in local rally sprints at the age of 13 and I am now competing in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) with my co-driver Phil Hall. Phil started competing at a similar age and was part of the Motorsport UK Academy for co-drivers. He has competed all over the world, including 30 WRC events.

It is important for any crew to keep learning new skills, and the regularity rally discipline is something I have always been interested in trying out. This year, we have been in three-way fight for the JWRC title, but the HERO Challenge Three event was a month before the finale in Spain, so we thought we would give it a go.

We competed in the Mini Cooper that HERO has in their ‘arrive-and-drive’ fleet. I always loved the classic Mini but had never had the pleasure of getting behind the wheel of one until now. It was absolutely amazing to drive. It felt very precise like a go-kart but had so much character too. Needless to say, I want one of my own now!

The event went pretty much as expected, getting to grips with the challenges throughout the day and improving as it went on. The regularity tests were a long way from what we know, and we made some small mistakes that lost us a lot of points – but on the tests we really excelled and got the ‘test pilot’ award. We also picked up the best new comers award, which shows we are fast learners!

The regularity sections were, without doubt, the most challenging part. They kept changing each time, so you could not just learn one way and do that all day. Instead, the format changed ever so slightly on each section, and it really was tough, but we did well and didn’t get too annoyed when things didn’t go to plan!

I did not know how hard the test sections would be, as this was all quite new for us, but we applied some of our normal rally pace notes to the layouts and it seemed to work a treat! It is true that practice makes perfect, as it was clear to see that the more regular competitors could really nail every section.

That is something we would love to aim for in the future and, for sure, we would both love to do more of these kinds of events. It would be nice to improve even more on our next attempt. There is unfinished business!

The main thing when you take on an event like this for the first time is to enjoy it, not take it too seriously and to have the mindset of learning. Try to find the areas you are good at, like we were on the tests, and aim for a good result there while focusing on improving overall and you will get better it goes along.