Stephen Chick and his son Alexander had their lead in the London Lisbon Rally cut from 49 to 35 seconds at the end of day seven after what Alex described as ‘human error’. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of second place Daniel Gresly and navigator Elise Whyte closed in after they enjoyed what Elise described as a ‘brilliant day’ in their Porsche 911. The Anglo-Swiss alliance continues to hunt down the Austin Healey with its rear suspension shored up by wood and chains.
The Chicks were not alone as others made mistakes, including HERO events RAC Rally of the Tests winner Paul Wignall who had climbed so brilliantly to eighth place navigated by Annabel Jones, only for timing errors to drop them back down to tenth in the striking red Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint.
Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in their Sunbeam Tiger are still holding that final podium position in third, just 16 seconds behind the Gresly/ Whyte Porsche with three days to go. Max Behrndt and Seren Whyte in the Datsun 240Z had a storming day as the other Anglo Swiss partnership in the intra family battle for honours. They are seeking to steal the podium place from the Sunbeam Tiger. Seren said; “we probably had the least penalties of all the crews today, we dropped just 12 seconds so I am particularly happy!” The Datsun is now just 12 seconds behind Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage’s Sunbeam.
Stephen Owens and Ian Canavan are holding steady in fifth place with their Porsche 911, both looking for more points in the HERO Cup and Golden Roamer championships for drivers and navigators. Stephen said; “ This morning was not so good we had a few issues but this afternoon was really good, I’ve never had so much fun!”
One of the great efforts in the rally has come from Steve and Julia Robertson in the 1955 TR3. Always seen working away together in the cockpit sporting their trade mark white ‘beany’ sun hats, the husband and wife team have been constant top ten finishers in the daily legs. After today’s performance they are lying sixth ahead of the Irvine Laidlaw and Tony Davies Porsche 911 2.7 RS lightweight.
45 cars left La Granja this morning, quite close to Madrid whose citizens were enjoying a one day festival holiday, many taking to the roads in the hills on their motorcycles or in cars, some pausing to watch the classic and vintage cars go past. The biggest waves and cheers were reserved for the 1927 Bentley Le Mans of Simon Arscott and Andy Wilson.
The route went past the Roman town of Avila and up the Sierra de Gredos, the London Lisbon Rally has visited these mountains before as they form part of classic rally territory. High passes, huge rocks formed as if part of Fred Flintstone’s village and sensational views for those brave enough to take their eyes off the road or their road books containing the vital tulip diagrams. Apart from the spectators, birds of prey were circling above, whilst the Spanish ibex goats at the side of the mountain roads were there for the thicker grass, not bothered one bit by the rally cars.
There were five regularities today, the second one, Burgohondo was a cracker but the final regularity of the day over the 1900m Pena Negra was like looking down on earth from space. You could feel the altitude once cars and crews were at the top to start their descent. The roads have been climbed by the Vuelta Espana bike race and recently the mountains used for the Paragliding World Championship, the London Lisbon teams were in good company and they didn’t disappoint.
Tony and Pauline Mather showed total commitment as they swooshed the 1970 Citroen DS23 drop top around a cambered constant radius hairpin with nothing but a crenellated low wall to prevent them from joining the paragliders. New Zealanders Mike and Paula Donald were equally committed in their 1972 BMW 2002 tii in their pursuit of a class win.
There was panic for Seren Whyte at the lunch halt as she locked herself in the loo and spent five minutes trying to release the tiny catch which hurt her fingers. A smile of relief as she escaped saying with a smile; “I panicked for a while worrying about our time out of the control, then my other thought was maybe one of our close competitors was playing a little prank!”
The rally arrived in the ancient city of Salamanca which surrendered to the Moors as long ago as 712 AD! Cars parked in a small square outside the Automobile History Museum under the watchful eye of the police who have been coordinating with rally officials. HERO Competition Director Guy Woodcock showed the police the detailed OS maps of the route, whilst noting that six cars belonging to the public who hadn’t paid their parking fees in the square had all been towed away within minutes. A large crowd enjoyed the sight of the fantastic rally machines, though, as ever the biggest crowd was around the 1927 Bentley Le Mans car.
Back at the night halt Hotel Paradores in Salamanca, work on tired vehicles commenced as owners and the HERO Mechanical Assistance teams wielded jacks and tools for running repairs. Andy Simpson’s MGB V8 was jacked high in the air as mechanics sought to repair Andy’s anti roll bar mount which had been ripped out. Next door Steve Farmer’s MGB V8 was also up on jacks awaiting a fix as Steve described the issues. “The car is pulling violently to the right, I suspect the pads have gone but luckily I have a spare set. The hand brake cable broke yesterday so we are waiting for another to arrive but the cars are really starting to feel it now!”
Tyre wear is still a bit of an issue as well. Max Behrndt disappeared in his Datsun 240Z to have new tyres fitted whilst Simon Arscott was swopping his front tyres on the Bentley with the back ones due to all the cornering pressures on the rear with such a heavy car.
Rally leaders Stephen and Alexander Chick had time to reflect on the mistakes that lost them time to the pursuing Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte today. Alexander; “We made a mess of both TC regularities with penalties of 24 and 8 which were down to human error. Through a village where naturally there is a slow speed (13 mph) there was a Timing Point on the other side where we were early at the control by eight seconds, so I had miscalculated.”
“We are both to blame” said Alex’s father Stephen, “Alex had shouted to me, ‘slow, slow’ but by then we could see the control.” Alexander responded to the report that there had been a bit of a ‘kerfuffle’ in the Austin Healey at the time; “ It was my fault so it was natural to shout as soon as I realised the mistake, but both of us were not quite on it today, even though the afternoon was a bit better.”
In response to Clerk of the Course Bob Rutherford’s assessment that today had been a ‘relatively easy day’ and that tomorrow the ‘screw would be turned up a bit’ Stephen Chick said; “Good, we prefer it when it’s harder!”
They will still have to deal with the ever present threat of Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte behind them by just 35 seconds at the end of day seven. Elise Whyte; “we dropped 22 seconds over 22 controls, which whilst it could have been a bit better, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. It was a brilliant day!”
Words by Tony Jardine
Photos by Will Broadhead