‘McRae Land’ read the sign, backed by a giant Saltire, daubed on the house size rock overlooking the otherwise innocuous road. This tremendous rock is one of many that dominate the landscape around Fafe, standing sentry over the road that comes alive to the sound of WRC cars when the world championship visits Portugal. Rallying is everything to these people, and the bright blue tribute shows their regard for a man that captured the imaginations with his rumbustious approach to piloting a rally car. Today though, these roads were tackled at a humbler pace by our own regularity rally stars, although mistakes meant that there would be some change in the celestial order of things.
Controlled as the pace may have been, the day began with a much higher energy assault with a test to kick things off. The sun was still low in the sky as the first cars took to the tarmac of the Baltar kart circuit and finished up on its famous rally cross loop. We’ve said before this one isn’t really about the tests, but who can resist an empty circuit and a pass to go fast? Indeed, not even the lesser spotted number 3 Cadillac could withstand the lure of the track, and trucked round with the noise and the presence of a Panzer Tank. Post circuit antics and Regularity One was followed by Two and Three in quick succession, with barely time for the competitors to grab their breath between them. The roads in this part of Portugal were extremely quiet in comparison to others that had been experienced, with only the wind farms that dominate the hills here as company, standing on the shoulders of giants and keeping watch over the cars as they made progress, and, for some, made mistakes.
By lunchtime the green 911 of Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan had made more ground on the E-Type that has sat atop the leader board since day one. Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham, and Graham Walker and Sean Toohey had also made progress, gaining two positions each in the topsy turvy battle for the top ten. Whilst the morning had been enjoyable, but reasonably sedate, the afternoon would cause one or two headaches.
Perhaps thoughts were drifting the England match this evening, or maybe people were distracted by the impending PCR test and a scrub-clad man unceremoniously stuffing a swab where it wasn’t wanted, or maybe it is just that we are now four days into the marathon, with many miles under the boots, whatever the distraction was mistakes were beginning to happen.
At the afternoon coffee stop Kevin Savage commented that he thought that he and Jayne Wignall had been having a tough day, but that actually “compared to some we’ve done quite well.” It shows how tough a day has been when operator such as Kevin and Jayne are losing time, but still gaining. He was right as well, by close of play the raucous Sunbeam Tiger had clawed its way back to sixth, after dropping two spots during the morning. Level pegging with them was the white 911 of Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham, after they had posted the second-best time of the day, both driver and navigator clearly having no thoughts for the evening’s activities.
The big news though was at the summit of the leader board, with a change of first position. The eagle eyed would have spotted that into the afternoon the Jaguar E-Type of Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose that has done so well this week, was out of position in the running order and was tabbing about in the middle of proceedings after leading the day off this morning. It seems a navigational error had cost them and had caused them to pick up a day total penalty of 1:59, dropping them not just one place, but two and into third behind the blue MGB of Mark and Sue Godfrey.
This of course could only leave one pair at the top of the order come the end of the day, the green Porsche of Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan, a car so close to needing to retire just two days previously. Best on the day with 57 seconds of penalties, they now have a lead of 26 seconds, and look to be in ominously good form, slotting into their groove just at the right time. But this is motorsport and who knows what could occur as the competition heads into its fifth and penultimate day tomorrow, back across the border in sunny Spain. With eight regularities to contest across tomorrow, as the route skirts the Iberian coast, it is all still to play for.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases