UK Coach Rally returns to Alton Towers

The UK Coach Rally’s move to Alton Towers in 2013 followed three moribund years at the East of England Showground in Peterborough, and was welcomed by operator and trade exhibitors alike, with a new optimism around the event.

That looks set to continue into 2014, when the Rally comes to Staffordshire for a second time. Alton Towers needs little introduction, and will be a familiar destination for coach operators large and small across the country. It regularly attracts in excess of 2.5m visitors per year and is the UK’s busiest theme park, generating much business for those running coaches.

The theme park itself is open on Rally weekend, complemented by Alton Towers’ other attractions: its water park and hotels and spa facilities, among many others, providing attractions for all the family.

Even those without an interest in coaches will find plenty to do, and those entering will enjoy a weekend full of coach-related activities – some serious, others not so.

This year’s support

The UK Coach Rally has always attracted strong support from the industry, and this year’s promises to be little different. Among dealers and manufacturers booked to display are Base Coach Sales, Bus and Coach Glazing, Dawsonrentals, Distinctive Systems, EVM, EvoBus UK, Irizar UK, MAN Truck and Bus, Minis to Midis, Moseley in the South, Plaxton, Scania and Volvo Bus.

Between them, the dealers and manufacturers listed will have more than 20 new vehicles on display, according to the Rally’s organiser, Coach Displays Limited. Also supporting the event is industry body the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).

Coach entries for 2014’s rally have already exceeded last year’s total of 38 coaches, with 42 having been entered at the time of writing, although this could still rise as a maximum of 50 can be accommodated.

Those confirmed so far come from across the industry and include well-known names such as Bakers, Bibby’s of Ingelton, Clarkes, Go Goodwins, Holmeswood, Lucketts Coaches, Parrys, Prentice Westwood, Redwing and Stanley Travel. Many others are also taking part – some new entrants, some long-established supporters.

The Rally will follow the established format, with the traditional Saturday morning road run – this year over a distance of 45 miles – beginning at 0800hrs, with a coach departing every two minutes to cover an as-yet unannounced route through the Staffordshire countryside.

Upon the cavalcade’s return to Alton Towers, the driving heats will begin. Depending on the individual, these will take between five and eight minutes each, but such is the volume of entrants that they are expected to occupy the remainder of the day. Visitors – who can benefit from free entry – will be able to view the assembled coaches at this point, but they won’t be able to enter the driving area.

Saturday evening will be occupied by the Diamond Jubilee Dinner Dance, to which all coach entrants will receive two complimentary tickets. It will begin with drinks in Alton Towers’ Sir Algenon Lounge, followed by dinner in the Stateroom. Confirmed for the Dinner Dance are a live band and fun casino.

Judging and Awards

Bright and early on the Sunday morning will see concours d’elegance judging take place by a panel of experienced industry figures, followed by the hotly-anticipated finals of the driving heats.

At around 1000hrs the mini and midicoach finalists will be put to the test, followed by 12 competitors in the full-size category.

The afternoon will then see the Directors’ Challenge. In this event, six normally desk-bound coach company directors who hold PCV licences will see their skills behind the wheel tested against the winner of 2013’s Directors’ Challenge – Peter Bibby, of Bibby’s of Ingleton.

Driving challenges will be followed by the hotly anticipated presentation of trophies. The Coach Driver of the Year award – won in 2013 by Mark Spoors of Stanley Travel – is this year sponsored by Wrightsure Insurance, with a variety of other prestigious honours up for grabs.

2013’s winner of Coach of the Year, Cheslyn Hay-based Parrys, is already confirmed as entering two vehicles this year, so competition will be tough. Many other trophies will be awarded, and as last year they will be presented by TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy from 1500hrs onwards.

Among these are a number of new trophies. Sponsored by Go Goodwins will be awards for first, second and third placed heritage vehicles, of which seven are already confirmed as entering.

Another new category is Oldest Employed Driver, sponsored by the drivers of County Durham-based Stanley Travel.

The rally is scheduled to end at approximately 1600hrs, giving most participants ample time to head home and prepare to return to the reality of everyday coaching on the Monday morning.

Worth visiting

As ever, 2014’s UK Coach Rally will be a weekend full of enjoyment coupled with some more serious competition in the bid to crown the winners.

Entrants – both coaches and drivers – will need to be at their sharpest in a bid to carry off one of the prestigious trophies, and for those visiting but not taking part in the action there is copious parking. The site is also accessible via First Potteries’ bus services, running from Stoke-on-Trent railway station, Hanley and Newcastle-under-Lyme – and finally, there is no entry fee.