Often, the first thing that one notices when awaking in a new place is the bird song. The vernacular of the local fowl is full of idiosyncrasies that point to the fact that you have arrived in a new location, and whilst most of us couldn’t tell our Tits from our Carduelis, the colloquialisms of the resident warblers is plain as day to all but the most tunnel visioned of us. Bird song is also intrinsically linked to a new dawn and new beginnings, an experience all too rare in the past 18 months, when most of us have gotten used to the repeated impact of false dawns. But not today, as this fourth of July for a lucky few of us the the daybreak was greeted with the song of foreign birds for the first time in many months and, shortly thereafter, the morning chorus was split by the sound of rally cars competing in HERO-ERA’s first international event for nearly 500 days, The Classic Marathon.
Paul Crosby led the field away, in his trademark green Porsche 911, with Andy Pullan sat in the map seat. As winners of the previous Classic Marathon, they had the honour of passing the starters flag first, although the Spanish sun would not smile on them quite so favourably as the God’s had last time out in Greece. Before any sorting out could be done though, four regularities and two tests had to be navigated on a 335 km route that would see the train of 29 cars head south, away from Las Caldas, and finish in Ponferrada.
Trouble would hit the crew of car 3, the majestic Cadillac 314 Racer of Christian Mueller and Roger Vogel almost before the first regularity, with the Peking to Paris destined machine becoming lost in the Mountains south of Oviedo and leaving them with almost 100 minutes of penalty points by the end of day one. Still, far better to iron out the creases now, before tackling the 8500-mile adventure from Beijing next year.
It was a shame that they missed out on the sections of route that they did, as the mountains that stood sentry over the roads that would take crews into the Trubia Valley were almost as spectacular as the driving itself. The early stages largely set a theme for the day, as ranges were climbed and valleys descended into, with the regularities gradually gaining in difficulty.
Regularity four would provide one of the first of ‘traps’ set for competitors, a cheeky little deviation that took crews off road and up a steep incline to the first timing point and would catch out a number of crews, including the Bentley of Reto Mebes and Mike Cowburn. The deviation must also have upset the rhythm of Klaus Schaffrath and Andrew Duerden, as they clean missed the next turn after the timing point completely, the Alfa Romeo Giullia finishing the day in 18th.
At the summit of the leader board on day one was the returning, not to mention resplendent, Jaguar E-Type occupied by Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymm Rose. The instantly recognisable big cat is celebrating a special anniversary this year, but the way in which Marcus threw the car around the days final tests showed that the old girl is still a very nimble performer. The substantial crowd of spectators gathered at the Cabanas Raras Kart Circuit roared with appreciation, as they did when Malcolm Dunderdale threw his much newer Mercedes 190 around the bends a few minutes later, largely with the DTM bruiser rotating around the bends on three wheels. Despite the flamboyance, he and navigator Anita Wickens finished the day in the midfield overall, whilst the remaining top three places were occupied by Mark and Sue Godfrey in their MGB and HERO Cup and Golden Roamer winners Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan, in Paul’s Golf GTi, all separated by a meagre ten seconds.
Of course, anything can happen in rallying and the real shape of the leader board will become apparent as the week draws on, with the chasing pack headed up by current HERO Cup champion Jayne Wignall, sat nicely in fourth place just a few seconds adrift of the top three. The real result today though, was the resumption of international competition amongst the HERO-ERA community, and the smiles and fist pumps on display at the final control of todays proceedings were evidence of the satisfaction, relief and sheer joy experienced by everyone involved today, competitors and event staff alike. Onward to tomorrow, and the rallies arrival in Portugal!