Nerves are jangling, bodies ache and rally cars are being feverishly fettled as the LeJog showdown of the final two legs in Scotland are being played out.
At the two hour rest halt at the Clansman Hotel at Corryfayness at the edge of a very dark Loch Ness, crews were snatching a couple of hours before going into the final fray, either sleeping on couches or the floors, whilst others were frantically working with the HERO-ERA Technical Assistance crews to fix their cars.
Some just want to make it and cross the finish line at John O’Groats, their absolute goal, whilst others are fighting to retain their medal positions in either gold, silver or bronze. Stephen Owens cannot contemplate failure of any kind over this crucial period of competition as he leads the HERO Cup points championship and wants to crowned rally king after so many times as runner up. He and navigator Nick Bloxham cannot make a slip otherwise the driver closest to threatening that position, Noel Kelly will dive in.
Alongside Noel in their Volvo is Pete Johnson who is leading the Golden Roamer Award for the top navigator of the year, but equally Pete has to keep it clean and hit all the controls as Henry Carr is breathing down his neck in the VW Golf GTi navigating American Paul O Kane.
Multi medal winners Andy Lane and Iain Tullie have already dropped from gold to silver medal status after hitting a cone on a test whilst Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane are desperately hoping to retain their hard earned gold so far after losing out dramatically in the final recking of LeJog last year. Angus was outside the Clansman hotel refusing to rest but trying to fit a different fan belt as theirs was screeching and stretched. He was also worried about keeping gold after a rival German BMW was taking time out of them in the tests; “At least there are no more tests now, just lots of hard regularities!”
For the unwary, this last 36 hours could catch them out. Not just the general toughness, but difficult navigation as well with some possible hidden controls or complex roads to navigate. Tired crews and cars have to be ready for anything as the current gold medal status Mini team of Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering are alert to, due to their previous winning experience. Ryan; “This is the real showdown, cars and crews are tired but one mistake could mean everything is gone, it is time to really concentrate and focus for the final phase of LeJog.”
As of Time Control 4/3 at Alexandria, the 1925 Bentley of Bill Cleyndert and Emily Anderson were in gold, Bill has never won a gold on LeJog before but Emily has. Simon Mellings and navigator Karl Ellis were also in gold in their 1985 Rover 216. Karl was looking decidedly nervous as he talked about the next 36 hours!
The cars and crews have already taken an incredible route from Gretna Green to start Leg Four with amazing scenery and challenges, the first was through a farmyard then later the Rest and Be Thankful Hillclimb, then over long winding and slippy regularities leading to a route past the Faslane Nuclear Submarine base to skirt past Inverary. There was even a test laid on at Oban Airport after the runways were closed for the day but still lit up for the LeJog crews and manned by airport staff.
Past Loch Long, Loch Awe with a superb sunset and the moon peeking through, it was on via Fort William and the West Coast route to the Isles.
The final fling takes the LeJog Reliability Trial up north and then turning eastwards as they take a path via a multitude of regularities heading to their final destination at John O Groats. Tired eyes will need to pick the right road and quick decisions from navigators are going to make the difference.
With medals, class wins and championships at stake, it is going to be a long hard and tense night and next day on the road to success or failure. For the first timers such as Catherine Exelby with her Dad in their MGB, all she wants to do is conquer the route and make it across that finish line in John O’ Groats, the bagpipes will never sound so sweet.