McRae Enduro - Desert storming

Adrian Foster catches up with Barry Reynolds, the driving force behind the McRae Enduro rally project that is putting Essex motorsport on the map

IT'S 7am on a wintry November morning in 1990 and I'm stumbling bleary eyed into the press room of the Lombard RAC Rally headquarters in Harrogate town centre. In the corner is a very irate Ford PR man lambasting Pentti Airikkala, a former British, Finnish and Scandinavian rally champion, for crashing one of his cars on the first day of the rally. Fast-forward 18 years and here I am again sitting face-to-face with now ex-Ford PR guru Barry Reynolds, discussing his latest project in the sitting room of his charming cottage in Hatfield Heath.It transpires that since retiring, Barry and a network of Essex individuals and specialist companies had been working together in secret developing a new kind of rally car - the McRae Enduro - a tough-as-old-boots conception designed to race in the most extreme type of motorsport, Cross-Country.

A car of dreamsThe most famous event in this category is the legendary Dakar Rally, which takes place in the inhospitable deserts of North Africa. Two years ago three Essex businessmen, all with motorsport backgrounds, agreed to build the rally car that they had so often talked about. Together with Christopher Bibb from Felsted and Colin Pharaoh from Braintree, Barry recognised a demand in the marketplace for an affordable off-road rally car that combined strength and reliability with excellent dynamics and exciting performance. They knew that Essex was the best place to gather all the engineers and specialists that they would need to design, develop and build the car of their dreams.The McRaes, from Scotland, are probably the most famous family in rallying. Father Jimmy is five times British Champion, oldest son Colin was a World Champion and youngest son Alister is a British and Asia-Pacific Rally Champion. They joined the project in 2006 and after testing the car Alister decided that it was worthy of carrying their name and christened the car the McRae Enduro. Alister is now a director of the company and the car's chief test driver.Identical cars will now compete in the 2008 Pirelli McRae Enduro Trofeo, which takes place on Mediterranean gravel tracks and in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. These lightweight but powerful four-wheel-drive cars are designed to cope with soft sand and big rocks and it will be driver skill that rewards this year's champion. Alister or Jimmy will be attending all the events to offer guidance and advice to all the competitors.

Tough testPeter Bennett and his sons, Adam and Sam, at MDV Specialist Engineering in Bradwell-on-Sea took on the role of engineering, building and testing the car and then manufacturing the vehicle for customers. Ford Motor Company at Brentwood supplied several components including the Dagenham-built 2.7 litre V6 turbo diesel engine, which went straight to Roush Technologies at Hutton where they developed the motor to produce 240 horsepower and make it desert-proof. Meanwhile, Nic Ward, a modeller from Chelmsford, helped with the body design while Basildon's Fibresport manufactured the lightweight Perspex side windows and front lamp covers. Brewster Motors of West Hanningfield were responsible for the striking colour scheme. The rally car was launched to the specialist motorsport press in Portugal last June and wasted no time in collecting its first award - the Idea of the Year - at the prestigious 2007 Autocar Awards in London. In 2008 we will see just how well a small group of Essex specialists do when they take on the might of the Mitsubishi, BMW and Volkswagen factory teams.

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