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London to Lisbon 2022 Day Five – Andorra to Pamplona

 

25 Apr 2022

A Trip Advisor review of Andorra might read something like this: “Andorra, small, densely populated, blink and you’ll miss it. Plenty of fuel stations though.” Almost as soon as we had arrived in the tiny mountain country, we were out of it again and into Spain with the promise of the most stunning roads yet. The sun was out again, and snow-capped peaks loomed large in almost every direction you cared to look, yep, it was going to be a good day.

For some of us at least. Others were already suffering problems in the morning, such as car 16, who whilst on their way to the test that began the competition for the day, saw rally cars heading back towards them and wrongly supposed that they had all gone wrong and so turned back, missing the test entirely! The test too was causing some consternation, as some competitors were failing to understand the concept of completing two laps of the circuit, instead deciding that they had clearly shown off their driving prowess in one pass.

Any morning mishaps would soon have been forgotten though, as the road that carried us up and over the southern Pyrenees was as spectacular as it was long, a fast-paced rollercoaster of bends and tarmac that hugged the topography and lifted the drivers skywards, before the descent towards the days first regularity. The contours were tightly spaced again for this challenging reg, and it followed a similar pattern to the rest of the morning, only on much more constricted roads.

For anyone that did manage a look out of the window they would have been delighted by the panorama out in front and behind, indeed to each side as well. There were huge Vultures circling overhead, an imposing sight and a reminder that the world around us is natures creation and we are merely passing through.

Speaking of passing through, has anyone seen car 18, last seen travelling up a goat track into the mountains, possibly lost forever. It’s unfair to single them out, as plenty were caught out by the various options presented through the mountain passes. It wasn’t a mountain that caused most confusion though, but a run through the tiny hamlet of Noales. The narrow-cobbled streets were almost too slender to slot some of the bigger vehicles down, with the threat of the angular stone buildings gaining in ferocity the deeper one travelled into the labyrinth. The claustrophobia inducing buildings must have put some crews off, as one after the other they took the wrong right turn, causing much amusement to the locals watching out of windows.

Others were suffering mechanicals, including overnight podium sitters the Woofs. Their transmission had failed them on the first mountain climb, and possibly derailed their entire rally. Car 32 was also in strife, and indeed started a trend as other cars joined them on the side of the road whilst they were being patched up by the mechanical assistance crews, leaving the Spanish roadside looking like a pop-up garage. There was trouble too for Graeme Presswell and Phil Cottam, this time though the culprit was user error, as the Golf was reversed into a ‘car sized ditch’.

Almost as soon as the morning had begun it was over, with competition for the day concluded at lunchtime. The distance covered felt vast, but we were in the cars for just a few hours, although with the constant company of switchbacks it had felt like a proper workout.

As the scores came in, the lead at the top had been stretched further as the Binstead’s had only dropped 20 seconds all day. With the demise of the Woofs, second was again occupied by Dick and Harry Baines and Stephen Owens and Pete Johnson had put yesterday’s difficulties behind them and climbed back into third. The rally has reached the halfway point now, and the long descent south now becomes a few days heading west across the top of Spain, and the incredible roads of the Picos de Europa and multiple parts of the Camino de Santiago, the Pilgrims Trail. Anyone who hopes to beat the Binstead’s over the next few days will need some faith themselves, as that lead is certainly a mountain to climb.

Syd Stelvio

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