As the 50 cars gathered at the historic Brooklands site for the start of London Lisbon 2019, crews were ushered to a briefing by HERO Competition Director Guy Woodcock and Clerk of the Course Bob Rutherford, delivered from the balcony of the old race control from where races were directed in the 1920's.
Helpful instructions were issued along with welcome news. Guy Woodcock; “Thanks to Mark Shipman, the driver of the Aston Martin DB5 (Car 11), as he has just given us the welcome news that the Portuguese fuel strike has been called off, so my main message is go and enjoy yourselves!”
Mark Simpson; “ We had been monitoring the situation, which was quite serious, with the help of my Portuguese wife Ana. Even my brother-in-law had his recent flight to the Azores cancelled as there was no fuel. We had organized a tanker to be on standby but it’s such a relief that it’s not needed now and the last leg of London Lisbon will remain unaffected.”
Bob Rutherford added some words of caution to the audience:;” Easy to miss junctions will be marked, but only for the next couple of days – after that it’s down to you. But enjoy the wonderful scenery and the travel.”
Just before the start, Elise Whyte who is navigating Swiss driver Daniel Gresly in his Porsche 911, described the intra family battle that has emerged which could rage on throughout the event; “Daniel Gresly’s son Max is also in the rally so it’s father versus son but then my sister Seren is navigating for Max so it’s also sister versus sister, then it’s family against family!
Elise who is one of the sport’s top navigators, having been runner up in the prestigious Golden Roamer Award for navigators, has sat alongside her driver sister Seren on many rallies, the two achieving great success together. Not on this rally, now it’s competition.
“ Seren normally drives but she has stepped in as the navigator to Max, so she better hadn’t beat me otherwise that’s it. I’ll have to give up!” Said Elise with a big smile.
Straight after the cars were flagged off by HERO Chairman Tomas de Vargas Machuca, they went into the first tricky test around Brooklands which ended with a hairpin and steep climb up the famous ‘Handbrake Hill’ where cars used to be tested for their holding power and agility.
First through the test was the 1927 Bentley 4.5 litre Le Mans of Simon Arscott and Andy Wilson who is navigating on his first ever rally. “That was hard work in there,” said Simon, “The car is so big and heavy, we could have done with a bit of gravel to help make her slide around a bit more.” Andy seemed quite relaxed despite being a complete novice; “ I’ve managed to look at the road books and had a little bit of tuition but not too much really.”
Flying through the Brooklands test on their way to a provisional first overall after the day’s three regularities were Stephen and Alexander Chick in their 1959 Austin Healey 3000 Mk 1. The big Healey looked particularly aggressive and sounded good whilst the DB5 of Mark Shipman and navigator Mike Tarr misfired a bit as it pushed hard up ‘Handbrake Hill’.
Stephen Owens and 2018 champion navigator Ian Canavan looked neat and tidy in Stephen’s 1965 Porsche 911 ending the day in provisional fourth place but Ian wasn’t happy to receive a 12 second penalty which he felt should have only been five; “ It’s a long rally, so it’s just a flesh wound, we’ll sneak up on them through the long grass!”
In far worse shape were the Melvin Andrews, Andrew Duerden Porsche 914/6. Melvin who has come all the way from Los Angeles to compete in the London Lisbon had a miserable time going backwards. Said Andrew; “Things had been going well, then on the second regularity we had to reverse nearly half a mile as a van in the high walled narrow lanes couldn’t really go backwards, so we had to. Naturally, we lost a lot of times so we played our Joker which reduces a minute penalty down to fifteen seconds, although you can only play it once on an event.
“I am despondent about the situation but at least the car is good. Really much better than I thought it would be, it’s very noisy though, should have brought my ear defenders!”
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage enjoyed a fine first day in their Sunbeam Tiger to end up provisionally second, just one second behind the leading Austin Healey. Whilst the 1955 Triumph TR3 of Steve and Julia Robertson was in third place before the crew drove their car onto the ferry in Portsmouth bound for France. Said Julia of their successful first day; “Generally it’s been quite good, we were both impressed with the way the organisers routed us around London and straight into the wonderful countryside of the Surrey Hills and then the West Sussex border.”
The Irish crew of Pat and Gerardine Neville didn’t have such a great day as they suffered alternator failure. But New Zealand came to Ireland’s rescue in the spirit of internationality by towing Pat’s Volvo 144S to a Time Control area where the mechanical rescue teams went to work on a fix. Mike and Paula Donald from New Zealand who have made the long trip over to drive a 1972 BMW 2002tii were happy to help out even though they lost some time.
HERO were delighted that William Medcalf Bentley Limited had kindly provided his specialist Bentley facilities to be used as a Time Control and coffee stop allowing the competitors a bit of time to ogle the wonderful old Bentleys on show.
Likewise, Lainston House in Hampshire which was first built in 1683 provided a wonderful setting for the crews to enjoy a quick lunch before the latter part of leg one. The tree-lined grounds contain the longest line of lime trees in England at near nine-tenths of a mile, some of them were planted in 1716!
From the gently sloping hills of Surrey and Sussex, the London Lisbon teams headed to Portsmouth to board a night ferry to St Malo, many fearing the growing storm in the Bay of Biscay might keep them more than just awake before the new day dawns in France and leg 3 to Nantes.
Words by Tony Jardine
Photos by Will Broadhead
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