Even before the start of the first Regularity this morning, leaders Stephen Chick and son Alex’s rally looked like being finished as their 1959 Austin Healey refused to start and nothing would get it going! After yesterday’s timing error nearly cost them the lead, this time it really looked like it was game over... Until the HERO technical assistance team arrived like the cavalry, just in time!
Stephen takes up the story; “It seemed like a combination of bits not working, we were trying lots of different things to get it going, then the assistance service crew descended on us and just pushed me out of the way! They changed the points, the condenser and as if by magic, it started! Alex and I were calm, we just had to get the tools out and try and sort it, it became a ‘Zen’ moment for me, what else could we do? The boys were fantastic, just so determined to get us going again we really have to thank them. We were around half an hour behind but Alex drove like the wind, we caught up with no penalties.”
After the first regularity, crews arrived at the incredible ‘Sanctuary of our Lady of the Rock of France’. At 1783 meters above sea level, teams were looking down over the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra de Francia below! It is unreachable in the winter, but this an ancient place of pilgrimage and contemplation, and certainly gave Stephen Chick something to be thankful for as he again checked his engine. As rival and second place man Daniel Gresly approached to find out what had happened, Stephen said; “it was you, sabotage!” Smiles and laughter followed.
45 cars left Salamanca heading towards six testing Regularities after Clerk of the Course Bob Rutherford had promised that the ‘screw would be turned a bit’ on Thursday, and so it was. Said 2018 Golden Roamer Award-winning navigator Ian Canavan, “Its certainly been ramping up, it’s getting trickier, a good morning none the less for myself and Stephen (Owens, in 5th place Porsche 911), we only dropped 17 seconds.”
To illustrate the point further, experienced and successful navigator Tony Davies who is sitting alongside Irvine Laidlaw in the Porsche 911 2.7 RS lightweight had lost time looking for a landmark concrete parapet marked in the road book, losing a minute. By mid-afternoon Tony was in despair! ”I lost us another minute and a half, it’s been a disaster, can we cancel today?”
Irvine and Tony’s issues benefitted another Porsche crew chasing them down for second place in the class, Peter and Helen Morris in the beautiful black 1972 Porsche 911 RS. Peter and Helen were only a second behind at the start of the day but had been employing legitimate gamesmanship yesterday for example, by asking to jump a slower Mustang in line for the regularity so as not to get slowed down, leaving the Laidlaw Porsche to cope with the Mustang. Tony Davies took two minutes for the start instead! “You’ve got to try anything, a bit of gamesmanship doesn’t hurt. Today they incurred a line penalty too.” Helen added, “It’s been a needle match, all great fun!” They were delighted to end the day taking the second in class and a superb 6th overall following some sideways moments on the final Regularity of the day.
The lunch halt was at the amazing Hopederia Sierra de Gata, now a hotel in the old Franciscan convent of San Miguel where crews ate their lunch in the old chapel with the alter still in place. At this border retreat, the language is an entirely different one, a mix of Spanish and Portuguese, but the teams’ prayers asking for an easier run in the afternoon were mostly in English.
Chris Moss on his first long-distance rally with navigator Paul Sharp in the ex-Henry Inuretta 1974 Ford Escort RS2000, climbed back up the field today to claim 22nd place overall. He really enjoyed the old convent grounds where he found part of the foundations containing a large Lilly pond with hundreds of goldfish swarming around, most of them chasing the remnants of his bread from lunch that he’d thrown in.
Norweigan Agnete Segalstad with her navigator and husband Ole Rasmus Robak have been working hard to earn their second in class and 28th position overall in their 1983 Mercedes 500 SL. As she was watching Chris Moss feeding the goldfish she said how much she liked nature, so much so that; “I stop to take pictures of animals and flowers, I have already seen an eagle and two deer today! But unfortunately, on the Regularities, there have been too many wrongs today. A car stopped in front of us as they were lost, then I picked a wrong turn after my husband had made a mistake before that, so we are equal in blame so far!” Agnete admitted that she hasn’t been feeling well at all since arriving for the start of the rally in the UK. “ I was given medication in the UK but I had a bad reaction to it so I am still not great. My husband is a doctor but he’s no use, he’s an orthopedic doctor, his advice is ‘it will pass’!” A spirited effort considering.
As the day wore on more mistakes were being made on the trickier Regularities. When asked how he was getting on, Andy Wilson who is navigating Simon Arscott in the Bentley Le Mans, his first ever event, replied; “If you’d have asked me 35 minutes ago I’d have said fine, but I just made a big mistake sending us the wrong way!” Simon wasn’t too bothered, he was more concerned by the state of his tyres; “they’re wearing out!”
Graham Platts is a mathematician from Monaco who is driving his immaculate 1956 Austin Healey 100M navigated by logistics expert Neil Ripley. “It should be the other way around really, but then we managed a landmark success today for the first time on the event. Four zero’s in a row on the first regularity of the day! Later we lost a minute, after all the zero’s, but we were still smiling as we played our joker!
Graham always has the roof down on the white car and always wears his trademark Panama hat come rain or shine, and sometimes uses the Healey in Monte Carlo. “Ask him about cleaning the car”, said Neil, “ he’s obsessed with keeping it clean, look at it, gleaming, he’s forever cleaning it!” The duo finished the day in an excellent 10th overall.
Another crew who are keeping up consistently high performances are Steve and Julia Robertson in the 1955 Triumph TR3, seventh overall despite technical issues. Steve; “ we have a leaking radiator which has been treated with Radweld to try and stop it up. We have to keep the heater and fan on full blast to try and keep the engine cool but the noise of the fan is so loud the marshals tell us they can hear that whirring before they hear the engine!”
Annabel Jones was content with 9th overall today, fighting back after some timing errors yesterday in the Alfa Romeo with driver Paul Wignall. “We had a good morning losing just 11 seconds”.
Evidence of tougher navigation in the Regularities was seen on the 5th of the day, ironically close to Belmonte now across the border in Portugal where the famous navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral was born. He discovered Brazil in 1500 although he made mistakes on the way! Crew after crew missed the triangle to a Timing Point, Andy and Ros Simpson in the MGB V8, Steve Farmer and John Gearing in a similar car plus David Coxon and Pete Hawkins who had to make a rapid turn back into their own dust from the Austin Healey. The biggest lockup was by third-place Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in the Sunbeam Tiger.
Further on in the Regularity, the village of Soito became the ‘crystal maze’ for rally cars except they couldn’t see a thing in the narrow cobbled streets and that lead to confusion for many crews. Patricia Gillespie navigating for husband Drexel said;” I forgot my left from my right, when we got to the village I was trying to do so many things all at the same time that I got confused! We’re still talking though, that’s the important thing!”
Daniel Gresly was happy to retain second place overall with navigator Elise Whyte at the close of the day. We also lost a little bit of time in the village but the rest of the day was really good, as usual, Elise has been great.” They are now 42 seconds behind the leaders Stephen and Alex Chick.
Daniel’s son Max Behrndt was equally happy now he has his new tyres fitted; “ what a difference! We are cornering so well now, the Datsun is going to be great on the tests. We only dropped 13 seconds through five regularities, that was great. That’s what happens when you have a great navigator like Seren Whyte!” The pair retain their fourth place, now just six seconds behind Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in third.
Michael Moss and James Ewing also enjoyed a great day rising to 12th overall, third in class in the wonderful Fiat 2300 Abarth Coupe, after a charging performance on the last regularity of the day the Poco do Inferno! What a piece of road, winding around the edge of a mountain where even the trees hang on for dear life on the steep slopes. The light and shade under the trees hid some of the dangers. With huge rock faces lining the road in parts, and narrow off camber twists with rocks on the inside apex, it was certainly a challenge. One hairpin was so acute that Michael Moss ran out of steering lock and just touched the bank on the outside.
Said navigator James Ewing; “ We hadn’t missed a thing all day, all the controls, it had been going very well, but we just got away with that one!”
Words by Tony Jardine
Photos by Will Broadhead