After ten long day’s competition through the UK, France, Spain and Portugal, 54 regularities and eight tests, Stephen and Alex Chick took a remarkable win in their 1959 Austin Healey 3000 Mk1. Despite two technical scares, including broken rear suspension which had to shored up by wood and chains, this temporary fix amazingly held up from mid France for the rest of the rally!
Crews visited 196 Timing Points and 350 controls throughout the 3,224 km journey, and yet second place Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte in their Porsche 911 were just 66 seconds behind after the prolonged competition. With third place crew of Max Behrndt and navigator Seren Whyte just over a minute behind the Porsche in their Datsun 240Z, it shows how close the competition was despite it being an endurance event.
Alex Chick was on the money as he described the pressure of trying to maintain the lead for so long; “ten days is a long time to have a target on your back, we are so relieved but we had great help from the mechanics, the marshals, thank you to them for stopping the watch at the right time! There was so much camaraderie, not in any way competitive!
The Chick team had in fact achieved 120 zeros at timing points during the event for which they received a standing ovation at the Awards Ceremony in the elegant Palacio Estoril. This hotel was a favourite of Ayrton Senna who used to stay here when he was racing at the Portuguese G.P. in Estoril, the scene of his first F1 victory in 1985.
Stephen Chick was also incredulous that the two major mechanical issues hadn’t prevented them from winning; “after the second problem in Salamanca when she wouldn’t start and everyone had gone, the mechanics came to our rescue, they got us back in the event. People keep asking us how we managed to do so well on the mammoth regularity yesterday, but honestly, we don’t have a clue, it was an accident! We have been in that situation before but never had a result like that. We were also asked if we were worried that the ‘fix’ would stay together with its wood and chains holding the rear suspension in place. Honestly no, we trusted the great work the mechanics had done. In fact, it’s so good I think we’ll leave the car the way it is!”
Elise Whyte was equally delighted to finish second with Swiss Daniel Gresly in the Porsche 911 and to receive the top lady navigator award after continually trying to chase down the leaders; “we were on their tails the whole time, in what was a tough ten days which demanded so much concentration. We made a few mistakes but the Chicks were so consistent, just so good.
Daniel Gresly though was full of praise for his top navigator; “ Elise is just so good but together we are the dream team, and we will go on like this.” This was Daniel’s second runner up position on London Lisbon.
Daniel’s son Max Behrndt was very happy with third place and a podium. “ This is the first time we have been together and it worked so well. Seren is the brains in the car, she did a great job. Yes, I had a little spin on the second test but there was a bit of leeway so I decided to go for it.” Seren Whyte;” I am so elated, this our first podium and after a long ten days I can’t really put the words together. The stress of trying to stay in the top three has been enormous, its been quite hard but the result is great. I’ve learned a lot as a navigator, normally I am the driver, but I won’t give my sister such a hard time when she is sitting next to me as navigator next time!”
Jayne Wignall had to console herself with fourth position overall, but also winning the class in her Sunbeam Tiger with Kevin Savage navigating, having been consistently in the top three. Further recompense and indeed a deserved award was that of ‘Top Test Pilot’. Even on the last tests of the last day, Jayne was the one to beat which is how she started out ten days ago at Brooklands with the fastest time.
It was a case of what might have been for Jayne’s husband Paul Wignall in the 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint after major time loss early in the event in the UK with road traffic blockages. And yet he and navigator Annabel Jones fought back into the top ten. Competitive to the last, Paul was heard to shout across to his wife on the second of the last four tests at the Karto Dromo da Regiao West, ”can we start at the same time?” as Jayne lined up for her first lap with Paul on the adjacent track about to start his second.
Back at the finish, Annabel Jones was checking the results on the information board; “ We were three seconds behind our nearest rival at lunchtime so the final test results could be pivotal. Two years ago we didn’t finish at all, we had a wishbone come loose yesterday, so we were a little bit worried. But look, we’ve done it! Seventh place, we did it on the last test. Wishbone, inner donut problem or not, Paul doesn’t know how to hold back!”
The fight for major honours at the front was equaled by the quest for positions or just a finish through the rest of the field. The second regularity of the day Brejo, was a bit misty, the sun hadn’t had its chance of burning it off yet. Tom Hayes and Frank McDonagh were already out of the fray the day before, their BMW had sheared its alternator bracket but Christiane Leupold and Veronika Karrer flew through it in their open top Mustang.
In regularity three, Bernd and Christiane Dannenmaier went the wrong way in their Porsche 911, coming back down the same road a few times! New Zealanders Mike and Paula Donald also took a wrong turn in their BMW but they still ended up 22nd overall. “ Yes, inside the top twenty five, we will take that!” said Paula at the finish.
Tomas and Marion Herold threw their VW around the track as usual, the German VW fans owning three versions of Beetles, one is a hill climb car, the crew were delighted to finish 25th in their rally version.
The final battleground of the four tests at the Karto Dromo run by Nuno Inacio was, he pointed out, ‘close to one of the battlegrounds of great British victories!’ The fort of Sao Vincente de Torres Vedras which teams visited on the way to the Estoril finish was part of Wellington’s plans for attack and supply lines which helped the Anglo Portuguese army defeat Napolean on the Iberian peninsula. They were famously known as the ‘The Lines of Torres Vedras.’
It was only when the crews arrived at the finish at the magnificent Palacio Hotel in Estoril that they were able to feel the sense of relief, and recall some of the highlights of London Lisbon. Stephen Owens and champion navigator Ian Canavan who finished fifth in their Porsche 911 had really enjoyed the competition and the journey.
“What an adventure” said Ian, “ the regularities later on in France, the incredible roads through the pine forests in Portugal, there were some real highlights. If it hadn’t been for the silage truck that held us up in France and cost us so much time we could have challenged higher up, our times were certainly up there. Stephen and I had good chats before each day and we have worked well from the off, for a first time partnership, I think we have gelled well. The event has been a real challenge, the average speeds, the roads, but the roadbook was spot on!”
Stephen Owens concurred; “ It was terrific. It was very close, the second day we were second then we had the issue if France. But the fight to get back has been incredible, a tremendous event and it has been a real pleasure working with Ian. The detail he goes into and the work he puts in is quite amazing.”
Golden Roamer Navigators Award winner 2108, Ian Canavan is also well qualified to be able to put the Chick’s win into perspective; “The pressure they must have felt inside the car for all that time must have been immense. I have enormous respect for what they achieved but the other great thing about their win is the fact that they have done it in a genuine old sports car.” As Stephen Owens added; “ They are not the easiest of cars to drive either, so it has been a great effort.”
Amazing efforts all round. Agnete Segalstad and Ole Rasmus Robak will drive their 1983 Mercedes 500SL back to Norway; “ Well almost all the way”, said Agnete, “we have to get a ferry from Denmark” The Norweigans were 27th overall and second in class.
Chris and Sue Green were delighted to receive the London Lisbon Concours Award for their immaculate 1959 MGA 1600 FHC, but even happier to receive a wonderful round of applause as they headed to the stage at the prize giving, they celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary on the final day of the rally.
The 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350H was a great sight on the event but must have been a handful at times and certainly not easy to thread down some of the narrow hill roads. Karl Eisleben from the USA said at the finish line; “ It’s a relief to finish, it’s been a tremendous adventure and a wonderful ten days.” Navigator Joan McCabe agreed, but; “now I think I may have to go to the spa to relax a bit!”
The other Mustang in the rally belonged to Christiane Leupold, navigated by Veronika Karrer both from Switzerland, both on their very first rally. Christiane said; “we have both learned so much, it was a big challenge, not just for the endurance but for the concentration. We are both very tired but are already making plans for future events!”
There was jubilation and congratulations all round as 42 of the original 47 starters finished the event:
Matthew Polk navigated by Amy Gould in the beautiful 1955 Porsche 356 Continental Coupe was really pleased that as one of the two oldest cars in the rally, they had a good finish in 33rd place.
Australians Tony Sutton and Aidan Mahwinney were really pleased to finish 32nd and fifth in class. Said Aidan; ”That was a huge amount of fun, we made it and the car is still running!”
Tony and Pauline Mather in the sublime Citroen drop head DS23 were happy to make it to the finish, Pauline said; “I’m relieved, I’m so tired, I’m surprised I’ve got a brain left after all that. Husband Tony was still up for more though; “ I could drive back to Northumberland now!”
Gary Johnson was quick to point out that the mechanics had said his and his wife’s 1985 Lotus Excel wouldn’t make it; “ but we proved them all wrong!” The red Lotus was 35th.
Drexel and Pat Gillespie’s Sunbeam Tiger proved the noisiest as it suffered manifold gasket failure and split exhausts on one bank of the vee, but they brought their Sunbeam Tiger home 24th. Said Pat; “we collected a lot of things along the way- mainly points, expensive ones at that!”
Top navigator Andrew Duerden remained quite frustrated by American Melvin Andrew’s ability to sometimes go the opposite way to his instructions, but the Anglo American partnership in the cramped Porsche 914/6 was 16th and won the class! “It was very noisy inside but handled very well. Yes, even today Melvin twice went the wrong way, but I think he learned a lot. I am very happy in the final analysis as this is my 17th consecutive trophy. I phoned my partner to tell her but she confirmed my suspicions that there is no room left to put it anywhere”!
Words by Tony Jardine
Photos by Will Broadhead