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Full Results
Dave Cooks March Hare Pictures
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Dean & MikeDave Cook captured Dean Partington restarting on Water Tower & Mike Pearson clearing Coombe Hole in the snow before the weather got to his cameras

It was a memorable March Hare, both for the narrowness of Dean's victory and the weather, which couldn't have been worse. A couple of sections had to be cancelled but the rest held out and provided a real challenge. The real heroes of the day were the marshals, who went home wet and cold after providing the competitors with a fine days sport.

No sooner had competitors started to arrive at the start then down came the rain that was to persist throughout the day, when it wasn't snowing of course! With scrutineering in the sensible hands of John Blakeley and family competitors were soon on their way East, for a series of byway sections in North Hertfordshire. These were enjoyable and contained a fair amount of green laning, but apart from the restart on Cress Beds didn't affect the results.

John PlantJohn Plant testing his A.T-P diff as he eases his way off the restart at Cress Beds. John was second in Class 1 (Picture by Dave Cook)

Keith PettitNick Wilmhurst strives to balance the car as Keith Pettit gets out of the ruts on Beetle Drive (Picture by Don Stringer)

The first sections were at Copt Hall, on private land, in the shadow of Luton Airport. Had they looked down passengers in the big jets would have seen the first struggle was to get to the sections, nearly three quarters of a mile from the metalled road. Everyone made it in the end but this could have been a section in itself.

First came a Special Test, with past March Hare winners Dean Partington and Mike Pearson sharing the honours with Liam Rafferty. Mike and Dean were to have a day long battle for the lead, Mike pipping Dean here by 0.5 seconds, split by Liam who was second fastest.

The first observed section was quite tricky, starting in the mud before twisting and turning through the trees before climbing a disused railway embankment. Only a select group of Class Eights went clean, headed by the Derbyshire contingent of Dean Partington (DP Wasp), Charlie Knifton (VW Scorpion) and Liam Rafferty (DP Cannon), joined by local Mike Pearson (Dellow Mk2 Replica). A special mention here for Kevin (son of Brian) Alexander who manged to get his diminutive Fiat panda through the mud at the bottom, nearly making it up the railway embankment.

Strangely the second Copt Hall section wasn't that muddy and was cleaned by most of the entry.

With all the rain the organisers had wisely cut out the lower reaches of Beetle Drive, but that still left a heavily rutted section, where the Yellows and Reds had to restart before assaulting Verduns Bank. Only an exclusive group got to sample the exit track. John Plant was the only non-restarter in his ex Adrian Tucker-Peake Peugeot 205. Kevin Barnes joined him in his supercharged Liege, aided by local man Simon Robson in the passengers seat. In Class Eight only Dean Partington went clear, putting him in the lead of the trial.

Just up the track Webleys Wobble wasn't subdivided but in the conditions proved difficult, especially with a Class Eight restart. Nobody went clean, although Dean managed to come out the top, dropping back a few feet after the failing the restart and driving out!

Reg TaylorReg Taylor was responsible for building two of the cars in Class Eight. (Mike Pearsons Dellow Replica and Geoff Hodges RDT Special) Reg is seen here driving his Beetle (Picture by Dave Cole of The Herts VW Club)

Mark EnsolThe snow is coming down hard as Mark Ensol blasts his Marlin through the mud on the special test. The four Marlins were very closely matched and finished within two points of each other. (Picture by Dave Cole of The Herts VW Club)

As the route wound its way to the top of Dunstable Downs the rain turned to snow. It was very cold and windy as well and, with no respite on the horizon, some crews in open cars decided to call it a day.

Proceedings here started with a Special Test round the barn. With all the mud it was a struggle to complete the route but most manged it in the end. Dean Partington set the fastest time with Mike Pearson just behind. This was to give Dean a ST total of 25.1 to Mikes 25.3 which at the finish would decide The March Hare Trophy. Two Observed Sections were planned here but one had to be cancelled when it became to difficult to reach it.

The section that ran was a blast through the mud, followed by a stony track before turning off onto the grass for an adverse camber S bend. Mike Pearson was the only one clear here. Dean understeered off on the snow covered grass for two, putting him on eight, the same as Mike. Many of the other competitors failed to reach the grassy bit. Of those that did only Dave Oliver (Peugeot 205), Michael Leete (Beetle) and Kevin Barnes (Supercharged Liege) equalled Dean's score.

Peter ManningClass 5 winner Peter Manning about to assault the final gradient at Coombe Hole (Picture by Dave Cook)

Dean PartingtonTrial winner Dean Partington was one of only two cars to clear the section (Picture by Dave Cook)

Two sections were planned at this new location but this was cut back to one in view of the conditions. Called Coombe Hole it looked like a gentle drive through a copse. Rounding the final corner revealed the sting in the tail, a long dead straight track with a fair gradient. There were only two cleans and by now you won't be surprised that they were Dean Partington and Mike Pearson, albeit with very contrasting styles! Charlie Knifton came very close to joining them but couldn't quite coax his VW Scorpion to the section ends board.

There were some spirited attempts in the lower classes and three very different cars managed a four, Dave Oliver and Kevin Barnes were joined by Jade Bray in dad Neils Mk2 Escort with car builder Tony Underhill coming across from the Cotswolds as passenger.

Neither of these nice two byways had restarts this year which was a shame. Hill Farm in particular can be quite competitive if the line is put in the right place.

Kevin AlexanderKevin Alexander follows the family tradition by trialling a Fiat. (Picture by Don Stringer)

Nigel JonesNigel Jones is getting his MGF more reliable and won Class 6 (Picture by Don Stringer)

The snow had stopped by the time the field returned to Binghams for the final section. Falcons Folly has a nasty tree rooty restart for the Yellows and Reds. The lower classes didn't have to restart but even so only Dave Oliver, Michael Leete and Peter Manning (MG Midget) went clear. For those that had to restart it proved impossible for all but two drivers, and I don't think it takes much guessing to work out they were. Dean Partington and Mike Pearson both ended the trial with up 8 marks, the win just going to Dean as a result of being 0.2 seconds quicker on the Special Tests.

Charlie Knifton was third overall in his recently acquired VW Scorpion and Dean had better watch out when he gets the hang of this Subaru powered machine. Michael Leete was delighted to be 4th overall on 21, just pipping Liam Rafferty (22), Kevin Barnes (24) and Dave Oliver (25).

Nigel Jones overcome gear selection problems with his MGF to finish the trial and win class six. Kevin Barnes headed class 7, followed by Roger and Christina Dudley who was second after a close fought battle amongst a quartet of Marlins.

In the warmth of the Chequers Inn there was much talk on the relative merits of bad weather gear and common agreement that the marshals were the real heroes of the day. So concluded an event that will be remembered both for the weather and the closest finish the March Hare Trial has seen. Congratulations to Dean Partington on a well deserved win and to Mike Pearson for making it go down to the wire.

First published on Classical Gas 10 March 2012