The best in Blackpool

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Bibby’s of Ingleton entered two coaches, with drivers taking first and second places in the driving test. JONATHAN WELCH

Jonathan Welch reports from the 2023 UK Coach Rally in Blackpool

Over the weekend of 1-2 April, operators from across the UK gathered in Blackpool to show some of the best of the UK coach industry, vying to take home silverware in categories recognising the best drivers, vehicles and more. For their part, suppliers showed off the latest new coaches and technology, and enjoyed the opportunity to meet existing customers and make new connections; for many, deals were finalised at the event, a sign of the confidence that operators have in the market as it once again finds its feet.

Manufacturers and suppliers represented were Alexander Dennis, BASE, EVM UK, Evobus, Ilesbus, Irizar UK, Jones Coach & Bus Sales, MAN, Park Safe Group, Pelican, Scania, RHA, Temsa and Volvo. Speaking to representatives of the suppliers present, the consensus was that the event had proved a good opportunity to meet clients, along with a sense of relief that the notoriously fickle British seaside weather had held out over the two days.

A first-time attendee at the event was Park Safe Group, which specialises in camera telematics and video recording and is looking to grow its profile in the coach and bus sector. Explaining the products on display, Park Safe’s Business Development Manager Nick Junor-Fitzpatrick commented: “We’ve had a good turnout so far, and it’s nice to see the sunshine here in Blackpool. It’s met our expectations, and the good weather has helped. It’s been good to meet an array of potential new customers and get the Park Safe brand out there for people to look at.”


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Reflecting the general mood of exhibitors, MAN’s Senior Bus and Coach Sales Executive Matt Jacob said: “Saturday was a fantastic day, we had lots of footfall. Today started a bit slower but now the sun’s come out! We’re glad to be here showcasing the industry and the Neoplan product,” he said, adding that the event had been good for networking and would lead to further business.

Ilesbus UK Sales Manager Leon Fear noted that of the three years the company has attended, 2023 had proved the busiest so far. “We’ve had six confirmed orders and launched a few new products,” he explained. Of note on display was an I-City Max, the first vehicle in its class in the UK to have a camera mirror system in place of traditional mirrors.

With spectators looking on, the bright yellow livery of Coopers’ Plaxton Panther attracts attention as Russell Cooper tackles the driving test. JONATHAN WELCH

Alexander Dennis displayed a smart pair of customer coaches, with the kind co-operation of purchasers Aziz Coach Service and York Pullman, whilst Volvo had both the first tri-axle B13 9700 shown in the UK, and unusual Sunsudegui SB3 in 3+2 configuration available for viewing. Temsa meanwhile displayed its latest 13-metre HD13, and Scania proudly showed its latest Irizar i6S Treinta limited edition.

Pelican’s Simon Collins said the company was glad to be back. “We’ve seen lots of customers, and the weather’s held off, which we’re grateful for. It’s nice to see everybody in a buying mood.” RHA’s Andy Warrender concurred, praising the weather and the attendance by operators, adding that although many operators are already RHA Coach members, more had joined over the weekend.

Jones Coach & Bus Sales displayed a Noone Turas, based on a 12-tonne DAF LF platform, which it has been selling for a number of years from its base in Wales. Sales Manager Christina Saunders explained that the event had been very positive, and presented a good opportunity not just to show the product, but also introduce Jones to a wider audience.

Nick Dodgson, General Manager at BASE, explained: “We’re exhibiting our MobiPeople Explorer 330 with MAN RR8 chassis and 74 seats in PSVAR form. We’re pleased to report that having sold another new vehicle at the show, we’ve sold all of our new vehicles until late November and taken our first orders for 2024, so we’re very happy.”

Speaking about used sales, he added that demand for late-model Euro VI coaches remains strong. He was equally positive about the 2023 Rally: “This has probably been the best show in the last eight years for us. It’s been fantastic. And whilst the numbers of competitors is down, it’s great to hear that the reason for it is that operators are busy again.”

Prestige and pride

Despite a number of regular attendees being absent, and a lower number of entries than last year, a strong turn-out still presented a challenge for judges in the concours d’elegance competition, whilst drivers did themselves proud in the driving skills challenge. Topping the list of winners were A&P Travel, which took home to Lincolnshire awards including Coach of the Year, and Bibby’s of Ingleton whose Daryl Dixon took the Driver of the Year trophy, alongside colleague Chris Bibby who came in second. Heathside Travel’s David Hamilton carried off the trophy for Mini Driver of the Year and Go Goodwins’ Wesley Goodwin took home the Midi Driver of the Year accolade.

Collecting a total of five awards was the team from A&P Travel, including overall Coach of the Year. JONATHAN WELCH

2023 trophies and awards
Coach of the Year – A&P Travel Van Hool TX16 Acron
Alan Goodwin Trophy (Highest placed operator in all classes) – Metcalfe Coaches
Top team on the road – Howard Snaith
Coach Driver of the Year – Daryl Dixon, Bibby’s of Ingleton
Mini Driver of the Year – David Hamilton, Heathside Travel
Midi Driver of the Year – Wesley Goodwin, Go Goodwins
West Middlesex Coach Operators Association Trophy (runner up to Coach Driver of the Year) – Chris Bibby, Bibby’s of Ingleton
Peter Bostock Trophy (Highest placed driver in Saturday tests) – Christopher Shaw, Dews Coaches
Directors’ Challenge – Paul Winson Jr, Paul S Winson Coaches.

The presentation, standard and quality of all the vehicles on show was extremely high; the same of course can be said for those who brought them, with the well-deserved wins in the Smartest Driver category just the tip of the iceberg in reflecting the appearance, not to mention enthusiasm, of all the participants. The smaller number of entrants meant that some winners in specific categories had little, if any competition, though the vehicles were nonetheless of a deserving standard; the Lincolnshire-themed livery of PC Coaches’ Yutong, the only example of the marque entered this year, attracted particular attention from enthusiasts and the general public alike. The Jonckheere Deauville of Go Goodwins and Jonckheere Mistral belonging to Robinsons Holidays both also attracted attention as immaculate examples of older vehicles, the former having only just seen the completion of a six-figure restoration.

Concours d’elegance
Top Executive Coach – Coachpoint, Setra S415HD
Top Touring/Express Luxury Coach – A&P Travel, Van Hool TX16 Acron
Top Standard Coach – South Staffs Coach Hire, Temsa HD12
Top Mini/Midi – Heathside Travel, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter EVM Grand Tourer
Top Coach aged five years or older – Stanley Travel, Neoplan Starliner
Rita Dalziel Trophy (Top coach aged 25 years or older) – Go Goodwins, Volvo B10M Jonckheere Deauville
John Fielder Memorial Trophy (Top coach from a small fleet of up to five vehicles) – A&P Travel, Van Hool TX16 Acron.

Concours d’elegance (manufacturers’ awards)
Irizar Trophy – Blakes Coaches, Irizar i6S integral
Kassbohrer Trophy – Coachpoint, Setra S415HD
Mercedes-Benz Trophy – Dews Coaches, Mercedes-Benz Tourismo
Neoplan Trophy – Stanley Travel, Neoplan Starliner
Plaxton Trophy – Coopers Tours, Volvo B11R Plaxton Panther
Temsa Trophy – South Staffs Coach Hire, Temsa HD12
Top Jonckheere – Robinsons Holidays, Volvo B12B Jonckheere Mistral
Top MOBIpeople – Holmeswood Coaches, MAN TGL MOBIpeople Midi Explorer
Top Yutong – PC Coaches, Yutong GT12
VDL Trophy – Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent, VDL Futura FHD2
Volvo Trophy – Brethertons Gold Line Tours, Volvo 9900.

Special awards
Smartest uniformed driver and/or courier – Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent
Boon’s Award (Best co-ordinated décor) – Dews Coaches, Mercedes-Benz Tourismo
Peter Rogers Shield (Top CPT member) – A&P Travel, Van Hool TX16 Acron
Cymru Trophy (Top coach from Wales) – Williams Coaches, Neoplan Tourliner P22
Tony Roose Trophy (Top coach from Scotland) Prentice Westwood, Mercedes-Benz Tourismo
Fred Bibby Award (Best loved coach) – Robinsons Holidays, Volvo B12B Jonckheere Mistral
UKCOA Martin Cornell Trophy (Highest placed UKCOA member) – A&P Travel
Maurice Wrightson Memorial Shield (Oldest employed participant) –David Hamilton, Heathside Travel
Bernie Porton Memorial Trophy (Coach of the year as voted for by coach drivers) – Brethertons Gold Line Tours Volvo 9900
Gwynn Williams Trophy (Highest placed in all classes from Wales) – DJ Thomas Coaches, Volvo 9700
Cyril Kenzie Memorial Trophy (Highest placed first-time coach entrant) – South Staffs Coach Hire Temsa HD12.

Speaking after his win, co-owner of of A&P Travel Paul Cartwright was still a little speechless. “We’ve gone through a really tough time with Covid-19,” he said, explaining that the coach had been ordered before the Covid-19 lockdowns, and that the company had finally taken delivery in April 2022. “It’s a working motor. It got back from Paris on Wednesday, had a new windscreen fitted on Thursday, and we came up here on Friday for the Rally. We’re away to Northumbria on Monday with a full load, and they’ll be travelling on the UK Coach of the Year. It finally puts a bit of closure on the whole Covid-19 drama that we’ve been through. We can draw the line under it and move on now. We won three trophies in 2018, but to win five is unbelievable.”

For more images from the weekend, see the coverage in our print or digital magazine, issue 1570, or visit our YouTube channel for video content

This Iveco-based minicoach for Pats Coaches is the first such vehicle in the UK to feature a camera mirror system. JONATHAN WELCH
The latest new full-size coach bought by Go Goodwins sits alongside the first new coach the company bought, and which it recently re-acquired and had restored. JONATHAN WELCH