Questars Winter Series Race 1 South Downs

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South Downs Delight at the first Questars Winter Race

Rob Howard / 13.11.2023See All Event Posts Follow Event
Riding on the South Downs Way
Riding on the South Downs Way / © Rob Howard

New winter race, new venue, new competition area, and the same great day out adventure racing!  That was the recipe for the first event in the new winter Questars series which took place in the South Downs from the Ditcham Park School last weekend.

Add in a stunning day, with sunshine all the way and the autumnal woodland colours at their best and it was a perfect start to the new winter racing series.  (There are 3 more races through the winter; in Berkshire, the Chilterns and the Cotswolds.)

The winter format has no kayak stage for the full course (5 hours) and there was also a 3 hour ‘Taster’ course, plus the option to run only or bike only, and as usual entry was open to solos, pairs and teams of 3 or 4.   In the spirit of new beginnings there was also a new start/finish banner. (Yes, the iconic yellow, inflatable Questars arch is no more!)

The new venue at Ditcham Park School wasn’t the easiest to drive in and out of, thanks to the single track roads, but it was worth it as the setting overlooking the surrounding downs and the distant coast is magnificent. The location was ideal for exploring the Downs too, with checkpoints north, south, east and west..

At the briefing Race Director Joe Selby reminded everyone how steep the terrain in the area is, and said some checkpoints had been put on benches, advising racers use them to rest if they needed to!  He also explained a new addition to the rules for the winter series.  There was now a 1 point bonus for each minute teams were back early at the finish (up to 15 minutes). 

At 9am no one seemed keen to be the first to set off under the new start arch, maybe because it wasn’t easy to figure out routes on the map and they were still puzzling over it.  For this race all the checkpoints were on a single map, which made planning easier, and there were 21 trail run checkpoints (380 points) and 22 mountain bike checkpoints (420 points).  

The checkpoint descriptions were given out when teams crossed the start line, so only then would they know the points values and locations of the dummy checkpoints.  The majority of the starters set off on foot for the run checkpoints. 

These were spread all around the race HQ, taking in West Harting Down, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the village of Chalton. To the North the checkpoints were mostly in woodland and forest and to the south in open farmland and pasture.  With the late autumn this year the woodland colours were at their glorious best, and the views from high ground were a patchwork of scenic green and gold.

Joe Selby is a Race Director who always looks for a few memorable or different checkpoints on each course and on the trail run CP26 was described as ‘mining cart’.  This was in the woods in the old Buriton Chalk Pits and Lime Works, now a nature reserve, and the dibber was attached to a historic mining cart in a dell beside the Shipwright’s Way footpath.

Another memorable spot was at St. Hubert’s Church, a very picturesque little white whitewashed church set on a rise in fields, which dates back to 1053. Both checkpoints had a gold star beside them on the description sheet as being recommended to visit (and they had high points values too!)

The bike checkpoints were also spread all around the venue, but with the majority to the East and taking in Harting Downs, where there was a ride with an exceptional view along the South Downs Way on the escarpment top. 

The starred/recommended bike checkpoints were on Beacon Hill and a bench with a view by Harting Downs car park.  CP16 on Beacon Hill was hard earned as there was a steep, bike-push climb to get there and a swift and sketchy descent for those who took it on! 

There may have been more total points available on the bike stage, but they were so spread out and difficult to combine that even the elite riders accepted there would be no clearing the course.  No one collected all the run checkpoints either, and the slippery and muddy underfoot conditions added to the challenge.

As a result the teams and racers crossing the finish line were all unsure if they’d taken a good route, done well, or could have done better, and those racing for the top positions were wondering how their rivals had done.  

Lisa Blair crossed the line and said, “That was steep. I’m from Kent and we have no hills like that to train on, so it was hard!”  Contour counting was a key skill in route planning for this Questars.

The ‘Tantric Tearaways’, John Cooper and Lucy Jarvis, were in their first Questars and said, “We loved it.  It’s been a goal of ours for a while to get fitter and be more active and this was the incentive, though maybe we should have trained a little more.  The muddy run was great, and maybe we should have got more points on the bike, we just need a bit more experience.”

Also in her first race was Nakita Rossouw, racing with her husband Hilgard, who has adventure racing experience from his home country of South Africa. (The pair had been enthralled by watching the recent AR World Championships in the area where his family are from, and in which Team Questars, including Joe Selby, finished in a magnificent 18th place ... in just under 174 hours!)

“I wanted to try racing with Hilgard for a long time,” said Nakita, “until today!”

“I found the 3 hours on foot quite tough and have not got the legs for too much riding uphill, so was pushing a lot, but it was a brilliant experience. It pushes you and is a real challenge, and if you don’t try you will always wonder if you could do it.”

There were quite a few father and son teams racing.  Lewis and Archie Robinson were racing as a pair and for 13 year old Archie this was already his 3rd Questars.  Lewis said, “He was powering up the hills and leaving me behind, and he was navigator on the run.”  He added, “These races are great as we can race together. In so many events juniors are not allowed or on a different course, but here they can race with parents.”

Archie added, “It went OK and we didn’t get lost. I don’t have a map board so couldn’t navigate on the bike. I’ll have to get one of those.”

They were waiting for some time at the finish line for their friends, another father and son team, Ian and George Cumming.  Ian is also 13. Their route planning and timing didn’t work out so well and they ended up over 33 minutes late with 170 penalty points, but were not worried at all. They made the most of the day and Ian said, “We’re chuffed with our podium place ... for most deductions!”

A few racers took the bonus points for an early return, and while they won’t play a part in the calculations of the elite racers, who can earn more points per minute getting checkpoints, they will encourage everyone to race back if they are going to be an early finisher.

One racer managed to earn no bonus or penalty points. James Brown finished in the impressive time of 4.59.58!   Now that is cutting it close and he was 4th in the Open Solo class with 595 points.  Ahead of him Daniel Thorby and Carl Silver were both on 620 points, but Thorby had 20 penalties and Silver 3 bonus points. 

The first male solo and highest scorer on the day was Campbell Walsh with 640 points, despite 35 penalties after a mechanical issue with his bike.  The top female solo was ‘Purple Girl’ Julie Banton with 440 points.  Open team winners with 531 points were Graham King & Simon Jennison, top female team were Maggies Salter & Liz Jones with 405 points and Sian Davies & Matthew Bowsley were top mixed team on 485 points.  (They were just 5 points ahead of Emma and Richard Gill.)

Overall winner Campbell Walsh said to Joe Selby, “It was one of your best courses so far and a real puzzle to find a route!”  As a competitive and enjoyable day out in the South Downs, the first ever Questars winter race was a great success.

The remaining races in the series are;

Dec 10th 2023 – Berkshire

Jan 13th 2024 – Chilterns

Feb 10th2024 – Cotswolds

For full details, results and to find out all about Questars visit

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