THE Tour de Corse Historique is one of the hardest rallies in the world.
Held over four days, the 840 km route tackles Corsica's narrow, winding, twisting roads over precipitous mountain ranges at high speed in unpredictable and rapidly changing weather conditions.
The event is rarely tackled by British crews and this year Phil Harris of Harris & Co in Northampton and Richard Suter in the Harris & Co Mini Cooper were the sole British crew in the event.
"Not only were we the only British crew on the rally," explained Phil, "but we were also in the oldest car in the rally with the smallest engine, and it was our first time in Corsica. Talk about making it difficult for yourself!
"The rally was a massive challenge for us. The intensive preparation work carried by RSR Historic Engineering, Rob Smith, Alun Cook and Richard Suter put us in good shape to tackle the event. Even so, lots of experienced competitors at the start were sceptical of our chances of finishing the rally.
"The variable weather and elevation changes during the rally threw even more challenges at us - we could start a stage in the valley in a heatwave, drive up the mountain and experience rain and fog as we drove up to nearly 4000 feet above sea level and a heatwave as we came down the mountain the other side.
"My first aim was to get to the end of day one and still be in the event, as in 1967 the three BMC factory Mini's did not get that far.
"We managed to reach that milestone and for the first day and a half, the Mini ran well and we picked up the pace as we gained more experience of the roads. Then the engine developed a slight misfire, but the service crew fixed it.
"Then on the first stage of the final day of the rally, the misfire started again and the engine stopped three times. I thought that was our event over, but each time, we coaxed the engine back into life and somehow limped out to the stage finish, dropping some seven minutes.
"The service crew were waiting for us after the stage finish and they fixed it again and for the rest of the day, the Mini flew along.
"When we got to the finish and got a finishers' award I was absolutely delighted - it was a dream come true!
"However, when all the results were in, it got even better! We ended up 40th overall, having picked up some 69 places. And we were second in our category as well.
"The great news just kept coming - the rally has a set of performance indices that try to equalise the performance differences between the newer, more powerful cars and the older, less powerful ones. Once the performance indices had been taken account of, we won the rally! This is a truly astonishing result, and we think we are the only British crew to have won it.
"I am so proud of what we've achieved and immensely grateful to the team at RSR Historic Engineering, Alun Cook and Richard Suter - without them building the Mini and their support, we could never have even tackled the event, never mind win it."
Harris & Co are Northampton-based chartered accountants that offer tax and accounting advice to small and medium sized businesses as well as having a specialist motorsport division that advises a number of leading drivers, teams and suppliers to the motorsport industry.