The Icelandic Saga Rally 2015 was staged 18-25 April in Iceland, organized by the Historic Enduro Rallying Organisation (HERO). Thirty-one starters made the grand departure in front of the Harpa Concert Hall in downtown Reykjavik on Sunday the 19th of April.
A wide range and age of vehicles competed, car one was held by Wouter Panis and Menno de Haan in their 1933 Talbot 105 Vanden Plas Tourer. This vehicle suited the open road and regularity sections, but found some of the more intricate tests a little difficult to traverse. Last car to set off was the well-known 1981 Ford Escort XR3 of Hebrides based Andy Twort and his partner, Claudine Bloom. They are prolific competitors and were making their second trip on this adventure, with their first being in 2008. Often seen on the UK’s HRCR Clubman’s Championship, they were always in contention for awards. Possibly the most unusual vehicle on the event was the 1980 Mini Pick-Up of Maurice Slap and Sofie Setterfield from Belgium. They competed recently in desert based event and their beautifully turned out vehicle still had sand from a recent Saharan soirée.
The first day of the Icelandic Saga Rally 2015 headed out from Reykjavik and included a loop close to Borgarnes. The western side of Iceland differs greatly in weather and in topography, as there are many fjords and flat-topped Tuya Mountains that are predominant on this part of the Island. They frame the lowland waterways and are there from volcanic activity past, close to where the tectonic plates of America and Europe meet. Paul Crosby and Andy Ballantyne were pre-event favourites in their 1970 Porsche 911. They started strongly but a cone struck on a driving test forced them into second behind Joel Wykeham and David Brown in their BMW 2002 Tii. Daniel Gresly was partnered by Christian Prunte in the HERO Arrive and Drive Porsche 911. Their confidence was high after a recent run of consistent results, including a shakedown for the vehicle on the Poppy Rally. They held third overall despite having a difficult first test and being the first crew to score a wrong approach — to the start line!
Leaving Borgarnes and heading to the most northerly point of the event in Akureyri, the mixture of local gravel roads and driving tests took its toll on Stephen and Collette Owens’ Porsche 911. A small pivot snapped on the clutch actuator of their vehicle leaving them to drive back to Reykjavik from Hvammstangi, changing gear without assistance. After a rapid engine and gearbox removal aided and made possible by Porsche Club Iceland, their vehicle was repaired and they made the almost 400 Km drive back to Akureyri to the cheers of fellow competitors. They arrived on the stroke of last orders at the bar for a well-deserved drink. The day had been tempestuous also for Crosby and Ballantyne, as their usually faultless 911 cried no more on the regularity section before Hvammstangi. After much head scratching, the fault traced down to volcanic dust stopping the points from closing. The Porsche pair hot-footed it to Akureyri just in time to avoid slipping out of the event.
Day three started with Wykeham and Brown’s 1973 BMW 2002 in the lead with Gresly and Prunte’s 1965 Porsche 911 now snapping at their heels. From Akureyri the 2015 Icelandic Saga headed south-east to end the day in Egilsstadir. The scenery now was one of mountain ranges that were threatening snow. A storm blew up and was whipping snow across the roads, melting at first and then freezing to make the driving conditions treacherous. It was the worst weather the event experienced throughout.
Fortunately all competitors made it into the service town of Egilsstadir. Gresly and Prunte took the lead from Wykeham and Brown who were being challenged by Julian Pitts and Graham Briggs in their Lotus Cortina. In fourth, keeping an eye on the proceedings in front of them were Steve and Julia Robertson in their MGB GT V8. The husband and wife team are always keen competitors and now were beginning to push for an overall placing. Nick Mezger had a lapse of concentration and failed to check in at the Main Control in Akureyri with his Alfa Romeo Giulietta. A total of 600 penalty points were levied on Nick and driver Tomas de Vargas Machuca for the oversight, causing them to drop in the ranks significantly.
After leaving Egilsstadir the route became very coastal. Competitors were constantly keeping abreast of the local weather due to a forecast for snow. Fortunately, it did not prevail and the route was bathed in glorious sunshine. It would be like this for the rest of the journey with the snow staying to the north of Iceland. This road is called Route 96, known as Suðurfjarðavegur in Icelandic. It rivals California’s Highway 1 for its sheer beauty as it clings to the side of the mountains and skirts the eastern seaboard.
Afternoon coffee was taken in Dúpivogur, a small fishing and service village on the east coast of the country. This brief respite allowed competitors to catch their breath before an overnight in Hofn, in the shadow of Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland that covers more than 8% of the country. The Gresly and Prunte team were now stretching their lead over Wykeham and Brown. The Robertsons had taken a well-deserved third in their MG B, a place they would keep for the rest of the event. Behind the top runners in 5th and 6th respectively, Francis Galashan and Graeme Dobbie were still tussling with the similar 1966 Triumph TR4A of Urs and Denise Mezger in a battle that would go down to the final day. The final driving test of day four brought the one and only retirement on the Icelandic Saga, as Stephen and Cherian Roberts’ Triumph TR6 engine expired. A death rattle, with the bottom end of the engine letting and ending their competitive involvement.
Although still remarkable, the plains and salt-marshes of day five’s scenery were a little subdued to day’s past. Before crews ventured onto the only flat areas in Iceland, a stop at the Iceberg Lagoon gave a chance to witness the beauty and scale of these huge chunks of ice floating by on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. There was little change to the competition on the penultimate day. Some fine performances on the driving tests would see Clive and Anji Martin’s 1974 Ford Escort secure the Test Pilot’s Trophy for the best performance in this section. Crosby and Ballantyne had drawn on their experience to rise above newcomers Chris Kemp and Sid Sadique. The latter had great fun in the HERO Arrive and Drive Ford Lotus Cortina Mk I and set some exemplary times. The final day would see some mistakes from Crosby and Ballantyne that would see the first-timers finish a fine 11th overall.
Heavy snow caused the cancellation of the final sections of day six as the Icelandic Saga 2015 headed back into Reykjavik. It soon became apparent that Daniel Gresly and Christian Prunte’s 1965 Porsche 911 had taken a well-deserved win after such a consistent drive. In second were Joel Wykeham and David Brown in their BMW 2002 Tii followed by the Robertson’s MGB GT V8 as mentioned earlier. Throughout the event the weather had been unbelievably kind to the event, with bright blue skies for at least 50% of the journey around the Island.
An emotional Gresly received the overall winners award from His Excellency Stuart Gill, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Iceland that brought the Icelandic Saga to a close. All who took part on this adventure left Iceland with lasting memories. It’s an ever-changing landscape of outstanding beauty, with each road or track offering something to marvel at and the people are amongst the friendliest and most welcoming ever encountered. If you get the chance to visit this country, seize it with both hands, as you won’t be disappointed.