Let’s start with a confession: I’m not a petrolhead. I don’t have oil in my veins and gears in my soul. However, even I’ll be tempted by the opportunity to sit in something with enough power to push my eyeballs to the back of my skull. That opportunity came with an invitation to the inaugural edition of ‘the road rally with a difference’: La Chasse.
La Chasse was conceived by two men with the aforementioned oil/gear anatomy: Luc Garland and Richard Boon. They took 18 months to build the concept and ensure that it is legally water-tight, and this weekend took it to the roads of the Cotswolds as a test session. I am sitting to write this shortly after arriving back, wind-swept, sun-burned and, thanks to the G-force, possibly slightly thinner.
“We wanted to build something that was different from a convoy,” said Garland. “We’ve talked to all the old hands who do those races, and they’re bored of them. That’s how we came up with the idea for La Chasse.”
I could best describe La Chasse as ‘A scavenger hunt meets Top Gear’, or maybe ‘Supermarket Sweep in a V8’. Due to an NDA I can’t write too much about the format yet, but it suffices to say that this is not your traditional road race – actually, it’s more accurate to call it a rally, as speed won’t necessarily win the day. The car I was co-piloting, a Vauxhall Monaro, arrived last but settled in third place (out of six). The other competitors were driving a Toyota GT86; Mini Works GP; BMW M3; Ford Bullitt Mustang; and Porsche 911. Instead of speed and a track, drivers and co-pilots need to use social media and brain work to puzzle out the next location.
At the start of the day, outside Woodstock, we received our brief and were told that the final destination (could we avoid using that term?) would be revealed after all of the clues had been deciphered. The first clue was sent out, and the rally began – with a traditional Le Mans start. We visited (a.k.a passed in a picturesque blur) Cotswold villages in a small area across North Oxfordshire and East Gloucestershire. Future events will be bigger and possibly longer – the final format is still being decided. Multi-day challenges could be on the cards, and there are some really interesting ideas on how to make these work.
The test course, like any good road rally, didn’t have a set route; that would have meant going bumper-to-bumper with other drivers. That’s no good! It was up to each team to find its own way around. There were some real gambles to take here: the Cotswolds is full of single-track lanes, blind corners and slow-moving farm machinery, so the most direct route wasn’t always the fastest, no matter what Google Maps said. Despite that, local knowledge was not a necessity – the ability to read a map and think logically while travelling at speed was much more important.
All of that said, the day had some flaws, but finding them was the point of the event. The biggest complaint was mobile service, which was patchy in many areas. La Chasse relies on having mobile connectivity, but due to its nature is often going to be run in rural areas. It’s not something that the organisers can fix, so participants should take their own steps to minimise issues: downloading offline maps beforehand and having devices on at least two different networks is recommended. The scoring system is also being iterated upon with the feedback gathered from today.
I said at the top that I’m not a petrolhead. After a day of roaring around Oxfordshire, though, I saw why people love the scene in the way that they do. Maybe it’s the fumes talking, but I’ll definitely be trying to get myself to the next edition of La Chasse.
Disclaimer: I am friends with the organisers of La Chasse.