MOST people of a certain age will remember when the circus used to come to town. Or in the case of the Lombard RAC Rally, pass through it.

First held in 1932, the annual tour the length and breadth of the UK to host Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship, synonymous with those halcyon days in the 1970s and 1980s, where the route changed every year.

One of the attractions of the 1,800-mile, five day extravaganza was the proximity of the off-road Special Stages where the crews (who had to comply with all other road regulations as normal) would try to traverse a route as fast as possible, whether stately home, race circuit or for the most part, forestry tracks.

Here in the North-East and North Yorkshire, there are plenty of such locations where fans flocked at all times of day – and night. Back then, competitors, support teams, officials and spectators rarely slept for a week, it was as much a test of endurance as speed on the stages, especially being held in November and the worst of the British weather.

1982 was no different but this year, the event was based in York and as always, formed the final round of the championship, which this particular season had more of a twist than normal.

Walter Rohrl, world champion in 1980, had been embroiled in an epic fight with French driver Michele Mouton for the title. The German, in his two-wheel drive Opel Ascona had his work cut out to keep ahead of her revolutionary four-wheel drive Audi Quattro all season but a crash on the penultimate round in the Ivory Coast cost Mouton the driver’s crown. Rohrl won the event to take the title, leaving Audi to try to secure the all-important manufacturer’s title on the RAC.

Audi’s cause was aided immeasurably when an argument between Rohrl, who wasn’t a fan of the British round due to the ‘blind’ nature of the rally on maps (rather than pacenotes), and Opel team boss Tony Fall resulted in him being sacked on the eve of the event.

With pre-event formalities concluded on the Saturday, Sports Minister Neil MacFarlane MP waved the 149 competitors away from Clifford’s Tower on a filthy wet Sunday morning for the traditional Spectator Stages, the first of which was at Bramham Park near Wetherby. Hannu Mikkola (Audi) was fastest as the cars headed through the Parks of Clumber, Donington, Sutton and Bewdley before a brief rest halt in Cheltenham. Estimates for the attendances at the stately homes on Sunday was around half a million spectators.

The Forest of Dean, with further crowds put at around 200,000, saw crews in action into the night before tackling stages in South Wales around midnight. Into the early hours of Monday morning through West Wales before a couple of hours rest at breakfast time in Dolgellau. Mikkola still held the lead but Markku Alen (Lancia) and Ari Vatanen (Opel) were hot on his heels.

From there it was through the tough stages of Penmachno and Clocaenog in North Wales, a visit to Oulton Park and then a long trip back over the M62 for a second time at Bramham Park, this time in the dark, and a welcome halt at 7pm for a night in bed with Mikkola still in command.

Tuesday’s 9am York restart took the remaining competitors north to Croft where a massive crowd had gathered for Special Stage 37 at 10.30am followed by a busy service area. German Harald Demuth was fastest in his Audi before Mikkola took the honours in the 19 miles of Hamsterley forest ahead of Mouton.

Two short stages at Witton Castle near Bishop Auckland and Lambton (Lion) Park near Chester-le-Street again saw tens of thousands in attendance before the cars headed towards Gosforth for a brief halt. Thereafter followed the toughest night in Kielder forest comprising a dozen stages before a short halt at Carlisle. Mouton had blazed her way into contention as the remaining and weary crews tackled the classic Lake District stages at an icy daybreak. Arriving back at York on Wednesday afternoon, Mikkola still led but the battle behind between Mouton and 1980 RAC winner Henri Toivonen (Open) was heating up. And so, for the sting in the tail. A midnight departure from York for the final loop around the Yorkshire forests in the wee hours of Thursday morning starting with the forests of Kilburn, Boltby, Ingleby and Guisborough, where Mouton was fastest in all four. More than 20,000 hardy fans had flocked for the 4.15am action in Dalby before the swansong on the Oliver’s Mount motorcycle racing track in Scarborough as dawn broke. Sixty nine stages over 450 miles completed and as the 63 finishers trudged back to York for the ceremonial finish, Mikkola claimed his fourth RAC victory.

Mouton edged out Toivonen for second place by just nine seconds after five days and over eight hours of competition and although she couldn’t improve on her runner-up spot in the driver’s world championship, her result did give audi the important manufacturers title. As ever there was plenty of local representation in the ranks including Terry Cree from Thirsk who won the Group A 1300cc class in his Ford Escort. Bishop Auckland’s Nicky Porter was also in the silverware, claiming second in the Group 2 1300cc class in his Colt Lancer.

Date: November 21/25 1982

Event: Lombard RAC Rally

Location: York