‘This is too much to take in’ remarked HERO cameraman Gary Williams as we threaded a course past the incredible Skarðsfjörður during this morning’s concentration run on day three of the Icelandic Saga. His words echoed those of rally front runner Owen Turner, who at the days beginning had articulated the exact same thoughts whilst describing the previous days running. The marathon run towards the first Regularity of today though almost eclipsed everything we had seen yesterday, if only because we were starting to leave behind the reams of tourists that had come in search of the same stunning scenery that we had. Of course, we are here as tourists of sorts as well, but with progress to be made to reach our destination on the east of the island, keeping a brisk but legal pace was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The blacktop swept and cascaded through the landscape, following the ever-changing topography of this place in a flowing and un-stuttered way that rewarded smooth driving with the most magical feeling of locomotion. You see you don’t need to drive quickly in Iceland to enjoy the roads, in-fact the opposite is true, especially with the inspiring panorama through which the tarmac rolls.
Inspiration waited around every corner with views that stirred and moved the soul, this was exactly what we had come here for. Then it was time for today’s pairing of Regularities. Whilst there may only have been two, they proved to be some of the finest I have ever had the pleasure of giving chase to rally cars on and as we departed the tarmac and began the almost alpine ascent on loose gravel of the first Reg, I had a feeling the next few hours would prove immensely enjoyable. The competitors seemed to agree, Alastair Caldwell declared them to be ‘lovely roads with great scenery’ and Rob Henchoz, described the steep inclines as ‘Fantastic but tough, you had to really be on the ball with the gears.’ He was right as well, the gradients were steep, as well as slippery but once ascended the run through to the other side was a rousing rollercoaster across a loose surface that bought gigantic grins to one’s face.
The theme of loose surfaces continued with a fabulous Test this afternoon on an old gravel airfield, it certainly beat the usual locations of carparks with an incredible backdrop that was only superseded by the action of the Test Pilots themselves. The band of gathered drivers and navigators who cheered each other on were clearly enjoying the spectacle, and if it was even half as much fun in the car as it was spectating out of it, then I’m sure all will have revelled in the opportunity to let loose. The third Test of the day followed immediately, with a Le Mans style start testing the navigators running skills and raising their heart rates. Special mention has to go to the crews that assisted the Henchoz in their Volvo, who without a starter motor needed a push start to get going, a wonderful display of teamwork that is always so prevalent on these rallies.
Of course, teamwork aside, this is a competition, and at the end of the day the yesterdays top two had switched places again, with Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey back in front of the Whyte sisters. “It’s Rachels first time as a navigator, so we aren’t thinking about the competition,” said Owen, “It is all going better than we thought it would, but for now we are trying not to think about it”. We will see if he is still saying that in the days to come…
Photos by Will Broadhead Photography
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases