Forty six rally cars left Logrono and climbed back into the foothills of the La Rioja vineyards where officials had already set up controls early this morning in zero degrees. By the time of the second regularity, temperatures were up to 25 degrees, until they reached the top! The remnants of snow and some chilly conditions made for an exciting regularity over the Quinatanar de la Sierra. The two highest peaks in the provinces of La Roja and Burgos are located in this range, both are local ski resorts.
Crews faced 343 kilometres including six regularities and two tests. The route out of Logrono was stunning as the classic rally cars passed the Embalse de Mansilla lake, the mountains and hills reflected clearly on the glass like surface of the water.
The main contenders for victory in the London Lisbon all made it through the packed day. By the afternoon’s two tests at the Circuito Kotarr, Alexander and his father Stephen were still hanging in there out front, despite breaking both rear spring hangers yesterday which the HERO mechanical assistance team shored up with wood and chains; “It’s holding together” exclaimed Alexander who navigates on the tests as father Stephen drives then they swap places for regularities.
The Chick team had taken it a bit easier yesterday afternoon following the breakage, nursing the big Healey back to the rest halt but had still managed somehow to increase their lead! How so, Alexander was asked? “ I really don’t know, we can only guess that the others had more issues than us!”
By the time they arrived in La Granja the ‘fix’ was still holding up as was their lead in the London Lisbon. Said Stephen; “It’s still holding together, touch wood, listen!” He pushed the side of the 1959 Austin Healey to make it sway a little and all you could hear was the clear creaking of wood. “It sounds like an old sailing ship” added Alexander, the pair reasonably confident at the moment that it may go the distance.
Sadly after a herculean effort by Peter Myles and Jonathan Shepherd to repair their Saab 96 V4 by returning to the UK and back to France after fitting a new water pump, the car has failed and has had to retire for the second time. After a mammoth effort to find a new pump and someone to refit it on a Saturday night, then catch back up with the event within three days, it is a sad end to a valiant effort.
Another sad ending came today for Max Stephenson from Australia and his British navigator Mark Bramall. The car already had an oil leak and some over heating problems caused by the altitude and steep climbs of the Pyrenees yesterday, but today Max was forced to retire the 1957 Austin Healey 100/6 for good; “ We split the sump today but it’s not worth trying to put a temporary fix on that as the main bearing and oil seal in the rear of the engine have gone. We are just going to leave the car here, were out I’m sad to say.”
Still pushing on in the big 1927 Bentley Le Mans are Simon Arscott and Andy Wilson. After heroic and sometimes scary moments trying to get the car round acute hairpins with nothing but fresh air and a long distance below them in the Pyrenees, Simon reflected on the difficult work; “ Trying to hold such a big heavy car on the handbrake whilst trying to find reverse with those big drops below us was very scary! Every hairpin was a three point turn, but somehow we got up and down.”
Today at the Circuito Kotarr track the 4.5 litre engined Bentley made its mark again, this time by entertaining a large group of Spanish motorcycle racers who were testing at the circuit. The bikers took to the roof of the pits to watch the London Lisbon teams turn on the track before their bike session started again when the cars had finished.
Simon and Andy got the big green Bentley with the union flag on its flanks really sideways at the last corner before the pit straight, much to the delight of the bike racers on the roof. They clapped and shouted the traditional ‘Ole, Ole!!’
Andy Wilson is on his first classic car rally having attended the HERO rally navigation classes presented by Seren and Elise Whyte at the Race Retro show in February when they were assisted by the current HERO Cup rally champion 2018 Paul Bloxidge. “They were a good introduction to the sport and navigation, I would recommend them, they have given me great insight.
Andy Wilson is also a pilot, so he also has an interest in navigation and flying as he shares ownership of a historic Harvard T6 aircraft. “ The Bentley is almost as thirsty as the Havard though, the car is returning 8.7 miles to the gallon and the plane consumes two litres of fuel a minute!”
Another who was pushing hard at the test around the track was Agnete Segalstad with her husband and doctor, Ole Rasmus Robak navigating in their 1983 Mercedes 500SL. The Norweigan couple are great to watch at the circuit as Agnete really hangs it out. “ I received a Christmas present from my children to go on a track day and since then I have really enjoyed driving on circuits, I learn a little bit each time. The only thing worrying me is the tyres. They are the same as I used before but they lose grip whereas they didn’t before. I’m going to check the best tyre pressures to use.”
Mark Shipman and navigator Mike Tarr arrived back at the night halt in Le Granja happy enough as they are enjoying themselves, but not too happy about their 1964 Aston Martin DB4. Mark;” The car is spluttering a bit but the road surfaces are a bit too harsh for the car. Of course we are pushing her we’re not cruising, we are bouncing around all over the place!” They were throwing the Aston Martin around at the kart track where the throaty unmistakable sound of the big 4.2 litre straight six also caught the attention of the bikers on the roof of the pits, cause for more;’ Ole, Ole!’
Tom Hayes with navigator American Frank McDonagh navigating in the 1970 BMW 2002 tii managed to get the directions around the track wrong, coming in one lap early ahead of Max Behrndt and Elise Whyte’s Datsun 240Z who are fighting for the lead of the London Lisbon. They blocked the stop astride finish line but fortunately, the marshals at the finish clicked their clock as Max pulled up sharply so the Anglo-Swiss crew still got their correct time.
“It was totally my fault”, said Tom Hayes, “I wrong slotted as I saw the finish and just dived in, I actually made the wrong exit twice so I did an extra lap, I really did enjoy myself but I should have paid attention to Frank and listened.” The striking orange BMW is an original car which has proved reliable and quick so far with it’s original Alpina engine.
Michael Kershaw and Liz Comstock-Smith both agreed they are enjoying the London Lisbon event in their 1975 Aston Martin V8. “It’s really good, great driving, great scenery and the right sort of roads,” said Michael. “The only issue is we appear to have used up Spain’s entire stock of petrol trying to run the V8. The brakes can fade a bit on the long downhill runs but she just won’t really take steep uphill hairpins! You can’t get the speed up properly, then with the bonnet the length of an aircraft carrier it’s difficult to see anything but metal, you can’t see the road! But Aston Martins were not built for that were they?”
The Swiss crew of Christiane Leupold and Veronika Karrer are loving their first ever rally in their 1967 Ford Mustang Cabrio, despite the odd problem.
Christiane; “ Yes we are loving it. People are helping us and we are learning together, we seem to arrive at each night stop one way or another! We did have a little transmission problem and some trouble with the hood coming up when we didn’t want it to, but generally, the car has been great, especially the engine, it’s really strong!”
Max Berhrndt and Seren Whyte arrived at the night halt in a strong fourth place in their Datsun 240Z, just 18 seconds behind Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in the third place Sunbeam Tiger despite the odd mistake. Said Seren;” Max got a bit over excited on the tests and got us a stop astride penalty of ten seconds. I didn’t have a great morning and was wondering why I was doing this navigators job, then we only dropped two seconds over seven controls so I was happy again, but it can be a real roller coaster of emotions.”
The big mover of the day was Paul Wignall and Annabel Jones in the 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint up five places to 8th!
Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte reported no problems at the end of the day in their Porsche 911. They are still second but Stephen and Alexander Chick have extended their lead to 49 seconds, despite their creaking wooden car! A great effort but can they keep it up and will the car ‘fix’ last?
There are four more days of competition left to find out.
Words by Tony Jardine
Photos by Will Broadhead