24 April 2008

Brighton Coach Rally 2008

Last weekend saw the 54th UK Coach Rally based at Brighton. There had been some speculation following last year's event that support may not be sufficient to stage this year's, though happily a steady but ever-growing base of support saw it take place. Armed with the official programme by way of the CBW magazine an operator had kindly given to me (at an on-the-day saving of £2.50) I travelled south and braved the rain to attend my first ever coach rally.

Brighton is hard-core Best Impressions territory with the predominant operator, Go Ahead's Brighton & Hove subsidiary, having had a re-vamp in recent years and being immediately visible as having been "Best Impressioned". While I stood gathering my bearings my attention was immediately drawn to the age of the fleet operated by Brighton & Hove - not as young as its designed livery would suggest. Sure there were a few 56-reg deckers passing by but first generation Dennis Tridents were in a plentiful supply. It serves to show that whatever your thoughts on a livery, when applied correctly and in tandem with a willingness to keep vehicle exteriors tidy, it can invigorate a bus fleet and take years off decade-old SLFs.

There was no sign of any coaches though so after a brief look at one of the city centre maps I headed for Madeira Drive - the section of road used to house the display vehicles and corporate tents, plus the locality for the two different driving manoeuvres each entrant has to undergo. I was only able to stay until 1600hrs and with the rain becoming increasingly persistent and a brisk wind from the sea, was a little concerned the event would be a wash-out.

That was until I arrived. It became immediately clear that this was one outside event that didn't rely on members of the public attending. It could have snowed and still the 50+ vehicles that had been entered would have taken part. Madeira Drive has been closed for the weekend and the first section of the rally you came to was the line-up of new specification vehicles and the corporate tents. Volvo had their new B9R on display; MAN had their new EuroRider Cygnus (Coliseum Coaches); Flights & Rose Travel had a couple of Mercedes-Benz executive minibuses; Holmeswood brought their Marcopolo-bodied Cheshire Schoolbus-liveried coach as well as a tri-axled MAN/Aura; a couple of VDL Bovas were on display; and Redwing brought one of its new 08-reg Belarus EuroRider Cygnus coaches along.

Approximately the first 15 coaches had undergone the strict Driving Test and were being thoroughly cleaned inside and out after being parked-up facing the sea. There was an ever-growing number of coaches joining the queue at the end of Madeira Drive, each tagging on the end after arriving from their 70-mile driving test from Preston Park.

I decided to photograph thoroughly one coach undertaking the Driving Test and opted for TM Travel who had brought along a brand new Plaxton Paragon-bodied Volvo B12M equipped with 61 seats. Tim and Malcolm Watts - the firm's founders and directors were in attendance along with their Operations Manager. I really rate the TM Travel livery when applied to a coach and for me it provided the best livery for photographing the Driving Test in full.

The Driving Test is against the clock and sees each vehicle be driven forward from the start line, through a chicane of cones and to stop between two cones - the Garage - as far forward as each driver dares before hitting the cones. The vehicle is then reversed from this Garage into another Garage, which is far trickier as the driver is situated, in some cases, 15 meters at the other end and must stop without hitting the cones. The coach then needs to be driven out of the second Garage and a sharp right taken to the finish line. On every occasions measurements are taken to see how close the coach gets to the cones. The further away the more points deducted. Sunday's Driving Test seems even more complicated.

I'd not been there long when I witnessed the 2006 Coach Driver of the Year - crowned at this very rally - Chris Bibby - perform his Driving Test. He had obviously thought that a faster time would be more beneficial than taking a little longer to ensure he'd not hit anything as the entire crowd, assembled to the beach side of Madeira Drive, instinctively took two steps back. I've never seen a VDL/Van Hool go so fast in reverse before. From the comments made by my fellow spectators, neither had they! It must have worked as he regained his title as Coach Driver of the Year 2008 the day after.

I took photos of as many vehicles I could in the rain and some were continuing to arrive from their road test so some may have been missed, though the majority can be viewed by visiting my Fotopic site.

Those operators who took part have been listed below in alphabetical order:

Ashford Luxury Coaches, Banstead Coaches x2, Beestons, Bibby's of Ingleton, Blakes Coaches, Burtons Coaches, Cedar Coaches, Chalkwell Coaches, City Circle, Clarkes Coaches, Coliseum Coaches, Cozy Travel x2, Crawley Luxury, Crusader Holidays, Eavesway Travel, Edwards Coach Holidays, Flanagans Coaches, Flights Hallmark, Galloway European x2, Golden Boy Coaches, Greys of Ely, Homeward Bound, Kenzies Coaches x3, Langson VIP, Maynes Coaches, Motts Travel, Parrys International x2, Paul S Winston, Rambler Coaches, Reays Coaches, Regal Busways, Reptons Coaches, Roadliner, Royale European, Tellings Golden Miller, The Travellers Choice x2, York Pullman x2.

Below are a list of who won the most coveted awards over the weekend:

Coach Driver of the Year was awarded to Chris Bibby (Bibby's of Ingleton) Coach of the Year was awarded to Crusader Holidays (Seatra Comford Class) Best in all Classes was awarded to TM Travel (Volvo B12M/Plaxton Paragon) Top Team of the Year was awarded to Bibby's of Ingleton.

Below can be seen my snapshot of Tim Watts of TM Travel undergoing his Driving Test:

On Your Marks!

Malcolm Watts takes a shot of his vehicle at the start line. I probably feature accidentally in their publicity!

Get Set!

Drum-roll please.


After successfully driving into the first Garage, Tim Watts reverses his coach out and round into the second Garage.

Now in the second Garage and with no cones knocked over the coach needs to make a very sharp right-hand turn to head to the finish line where the clock will stop.

All photos will enlarge if clicked on.