The flag nearly dropped for car one the Bentley of Hans Kuipers at the top of the dark coastal path for the 0730 start of Le Jog but the car had no navigator. A two minute penalty later, Robert Doornbusch jumped in the 1924 Vintage Bentley and the Cornish flag was raised signaling the start of the adventure that is Le Jog.
Whilst Robert was late on parade, there was a very late replacement in car seven for an ill Richard Lambley. Stuart Anderson called his daughter Emily in as a substitute navigator, who dropped everything to charge down to Cornwall. Even though Emily has been rallying with Stuart this year, including on the Flying Scotsman, she said; I have been thrown into the deep end, this is a big event, but I will give it a go.”
The first test, a blast around the Land’s End headland path was exciting to watch as the sun rose on Saturday morning.
The ERA Peking to Paris experienced Swiss crew of Daniel Sauter and Severin Senn blasted off the line in their 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe whilst Paul Dyas was fired up as he powered navigator Martyn Taylor and their Volvo Amazon along the first downhill section. Equally, the 1959 Belgian Alfa Romeo Guilietta Sprint of Kurt Vanderspinnen and Bjorn Vanoverschelde’s raucous little 1300 cc engine was ringing out over the unusually calm Atlantic Ocean, a treat of for the many spectators who got up early to enjoy the spectacle.
The Vintage cars were running first on the road and having negotiated the Bodmin Moor tricky triangles of regularity two successfully, a little white road caught many of them out. A shooting party had inadvertently blocked the little white road when parking in Panters Bridge which became a major cause for consternation. At one point six Vintage class vehicles converged at the spot, all at different angles as many other routes were tried but lead nowhere. Elliott Dale and Charlotte Ryall were getting frustrated after the third pass of the same junction, just as Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham sailed through in their Porsche 911 having presumed correctly where the road would rejoin. Charlotte could be heard above the deep note of the big Bentley’s engine shouting to Elliott; “It has to be the right road!”
Further on, Klaus Mueller and Eric Schwab weren’t taking any chances as they felt tricky was afoot and took off down a boggy narrow path. Two members of the media communications team had to help push the German crew’s Lancia Fulvia out.
At Thorne, disappointed members of the village pointed out that the normally rough and slippy road had just been freshly and smoothly resurfaced the day before Le Jog arrived. They had all had their HERO PR letters saying the rally was coming through and they wanted to see the cars slipping away from their natural grandstand on a ninety left-hand bend. They still enjoyed seeing the cars, especially the Vintage Bentleys; “ they are either brave or mad or both” said John Barstons whose family were all watching.” We are here to support the crews on their way to John O’Groats. In summer my entire family cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats going for the family cycle record, then the Guiness Book of Records officials said my daughter was too young and didn’t qualify!”
At this point the provisional medal table provided a bit of a shock as Bill Cleyndert and Leigh Powley had slipped from gold to silver for a stop astride infringement on test three. “Somebody will make a mistake and we will get back in there” said Bill confidently.
Amongst the golds were Roger Bricknell navigating his son Thomas, Roger currently in second place in the Golden Roamer Award for navigators, stands a good chance of winning, if the crew can maintain their first leg form. Likewise, Stephen Owens who is chasing top points towards the Hero Cup whilst his main opponent Jayne Wignall was in the bronze category at the stop at Betty Cottles Inn.
To end Leg One, teams made their way to Caerwent military ground, one of classic rallying’s renowned venues that can strike fear into many, such is the speed, accuracy and the myriad number of controls all to be visited against the clock. Wilfried Schaefer described his and his navigator wife Sandra’s first encounter with the venue on Saturday; “It is so fast, perhaps a little bit too fast for us but it comes at you so quickly and there are so many controls, we just wanted to find the exit but we couldn’t!” David and Julia Little were caught out in their 1925 Bentley by the rapidity of the junctions in the maze of the military grounds, David shaking his head as he explained; “ If you miss just one then the whole lot go, we just waited for another car and then latched onto them, we made it through somehow.”
As former Le Jog gold medal winner Martyn Taylor summarized; “Caerwent could really shake up the results!” Teams now had a couple of hours to replot maps, eat some food whilst a few dozed dreaming of picking up a gold Le Jog medal on it’s 25th Anniversary.
Starting at 7.15pm Saturday evening, the first of four regularities began. In addition,two tests and two whopping ‘Time Control’ sections ending between 0430 and 0600 on Sunday morning, depending on where cars were running, were to indicate that the Le Jog ratchet had been wound up at least five more clicks. Add foul weather in the form of driving rain that turned into huge stair rods in the hills with high winds bending the trees, the real Le Jog was starting to bite.
The first regularity required massive concentration as the roads crossed and re crossed rivers and canals, the bridges over some so severe that rally car spotlights were lighting most of heaven but were nowhere near the road! There were switch backs, high hedges and now some very slippery surfaces.
On into the second regularity, Abergwesyn and cars were climbing into the inky darkness as the silver rods of rain stabbed at their windscreens and bashed on their roofs. Surface water waited to ‘float your boat’ whilst the severity of the climbs and tortuous hairpins cooked the clutch on the Swiss Lotus Cortina of Stephane Michael Luethi and navigator Eric Tschannen. As media comms members downed cameras to help push the Cortina up the steep hill, Eric uttered the word Shei*** as the clutch found some grip and stuttered off up the hill leaving Eric with a long climb. The 1950 Land over of Susan Holyoake and Claire Lawson mean while chugged serenely by…….
This was real Le Jog. Photographer Will Broadhead with Chris Beard and their driver Tim Sawyer pulled the German Mini Cooper S of Martin Burhenne and Axle von Blittersdorf out of a ditch getting pulverized by wind and rain the process, but weren’t sure if they had received a thank you! All this in the name of Ceregeridion, a place that has never taken prisoners it’s name is part of rally folklore.
After a stop at Machynlleth. the final TC sections were a major sting in the Sunday morning tail for those teetering on tiredness or cars that were not at their best. One section leading to TC2/8 required navigators to pick up a small acute hairpin left through a tight gate and onto a slippy track just wide enough for a big Bentley, just! Lined by fences and through a tunnel, the Vintage brigade lead by Bill Cleyndert’s 1928 Ford, found the gate and squeezed through. So did Paul Dyas and Martyn Talyor as they flew through this section in their Volvo. At least six of the other top runners missed the turn and the control on the side of the tunnel.
But the TC section was not done with inflicting yet more agony. Uwe Christian Peltzer and Horst Pokroppa, Le Jog regulars and medal winners got caught on the slime at the notorious ford section near the end of the TC, sliding into the rocks and damaging the MGA enough to strand them both. Spectators at the ford said two of the Bentleys did the same thing but they did more damage to the rocks than to their Vintage cars!
And just when you think it’s been a good day towards Golden Roamer navigator points, Thomas and Roger Bricknell had a puncture in their Golf GTi with just a couple of miles to go but managed to dive back into the gold medal status towards the end of the Leg.
Unfortunately, Bill Cleyendert and Leigh Powley have been forced to retire at the end of Leg Two after their Ford Model A developed a terminal engine problem.
Many teams arrived near Chester around 6:00am for a two or three hour break before setting of on Leg three at 10:00am. Le Jog has a reputation to uphold!
photos by Blue Passion and Will Broadhead
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