All the elements had been thrown at the 65 crews from Land’s End to Chester as Leg 1 and 2 came to a close at 4.10 am on Sunday morning. It started with high winds that nearly blew sponsor Michelin’s Bibendum over as he tried to flag the cars way at 7.30 am under the famous Land’s End sign post, then hailstones hit so fiercely that they formed a half inch layer skating rink for rally cars in places.
The narrow and sometimes pot holed roads of the third regularity of Winkleigh were awash with the rain and subsequent floods in parts, which meant teams were either surfing or skating. Rally crews were not out of place with the surfers of Perranporth or Bude further up the North Cornish coast. In fact the cars could almost touch the surf boards in parts as the tough, second regularity Lesnewth climbed the cliff top roads with the long beaches and crashing waves below, then dropped along by the beach at Crackington Haven where it was almost impossible to stand up against the wind. The long and twisty, but incredibly scenic regularity, running along part of the Atlantic coast, started within spitting distance of Tintagel where many mythical brave Knights sat at a round table, and bravery is what the latter day Knights of the Road on LeJog shared with their historic cousins. Chris Townsend in the only Vintage car on the event dodged the bow waves and rain squalls that hit his 1949 Bentley Mk6 Special; Chris, “The biggest rain squall whipped across the passenger side with my new navigator Richard Lambley talking the full force, but it didn’t affect his job, we have found the right route so far, unlike two years ago!”
It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the toughest opening legs of LeJog for a long while as there was no easing in period. Yet at the same time the variety of the challenges were extraordinary. Apart from the many by now, deep fords the cars had float through, there was one regularity criss crossing canals and bridges via a fast and smooth piece of road with no margin for error. The many Dutch crews could have been forgiven for thinking they were back home already such was the low and flat lands through which the canals were cut.
Later, in the middle of the night, crews were lucky enough to test their skills across the legendary yet fearsome Epynt Military roads, even passing Dixies one of the most famous areas in UK rallying, a place where many have crashed out, including four famous WRC drivers on Wales Rally GB one year. The loose surfaces with huge bolders delineating the apex of the fast, flowing and plunging roads demanded real concentration in the dark. Climbing back onto a smooth tarmac section, the then gold medal sitters Rod Hanson and Clare Grove put their MG Maestro into a ditch. Luckily one of the media team’s vehicles was nearby filming and managed to pull them out.
The final section of the evening was nearly fifty miles of Time Control section in the mountain area of LLantysillo and Maesyrychen near LLangollen with some great hairpins to tackle.
The issue was, said Triumph 2000 driver Peter Barker, “that there was so much water on the roads it was getting in everywhere, we were misfiring and struggling at one point, 60’s cars cannot cope with this much water!”
Also misfiring to the point that they spluttered to a stop and had to pushed out of the way by fellow competitors on the regularity, were Tony and James Darwent in their 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. The mechanical assistance team of Tony Jones and Bob Harrod were soon on the scene trying to get a spark back into the electrical system. Tony Darwent referred to the attack of the hailstones as not being helpful either as he said; “At one point the hail lashed down so fast that it quickly became around half and inch deep, we were sliding all over the place!”
The mechanical assistance crews were worked very hard over the course of the two legs mostly with successful outcomes. The ever popular Bill Cleyndert, teamed up of the first time with LeJog gold medal winner Emily Anderson, had stopped and was forced to squeeze his Austin 1800 into a tiny field entrance so he didn’t block the road for the regularity and could only smile behind his OK Board as he declared “We have just stopped for a picnic!”
The reality was something had thumped the underside of the Landcrab and all Bill got for a gearlever was a stirring stick for porridge. “The boys found a small plastic washer that had been broken in the underside bang so they fashioned a new metal one which works like a dream, but unfortunately we are out of the medal chase now.”
Those that were still sitting pretty half way though the long night included Noel Kelly and Pete Johnson who confessed to having a great day. My own gold medal dark horses, Owen Turner and Andy Ballantyne in their unusual but effective 1973 Chrysler Galant were on the gold list along with Dick and Mark Appleton in their Mini Cooper S, although Mark did say tonight that their Mini is “making strange noises!”
Top of the silver list was Rob and John Kiff in their historic and venerable VW Beetle.
It has been a remarkable day and night!