One thing you can be assured of on the road is change, as the miles tick by nothing stays the same for very long, even if sometimes it feels like a recurring pattern is set. Today the scenery changed yet again, in the constantly unravelling tapestry that charts our progress from London. The elevated roads of yesterday and the previous few days were left behind and where once snow-capped peaks and hardy high-altitude flora were all that could be seen from the window, today the countryside was much more verdant and lush.
The mountains were still there, but distant and hazy in the early morning sun and the route now climbed up and down through the terraced farms and vineyards of the Douro Valley, with the irrigate slopes abundant with vines and olive trees and punctuated with stabs of colour from the lavender that grows here.
Not that the drivers and navigators would have had much time to take all of that in, as whilst we were competing at a much lower altitude, the ascents and descents were still plentiful and in some cases the switchbacks were proving tricky to make it around in one go. Off the beaten track was certainly a phrase that sprang to mind, as the notes took us on a tour of some roads less travelled, and in some cases not well maintained!
By lunchtime the leader board was also becoming a little more constricted, as the more powerful Datsun 240Z was taking chunks of time out of the Mini on roads that favoured its more formidable powerplant. Third place had also changed hands again, as after a good morning, Stephen Owens and Pete Johnson had claimed back third place. The white 911 was looking masterful in the bright sunshine and sounding glorious, but then so were many of the machines, which at this late hour is a marvel after so many miles have been covered.
The afternoon had some more up and down regularities, but the main event was a return to test action at the historic Caramulo Hill Climb, always a favourite for the drivers whenever we visit this part of Portugal and today there would be two opportunities to tackle the ancient asphalt. First up the hill was that white 911 of SO and Pete Johnson, with the Armco reverberating to the six-cylinder orchestra in the boot of the Porsche, a soundtrack that was repeated by their nearest challenger, Tony Sutton in his Porsche. In the middle of those two were the hard charging second placed pairing of Nick Maris and Henry Carr, with an altogether different soundtrack, albeit still with six pots still.
These three looked visibly fast, and all posted times in the 2-minute thirties, around thirty seconds faster than the Mini of Baines Jr and Sr, and this would equate to another five seconds back into the pockets of Maris and Carr. Fastest time up the hill though would actually be claimed by David Coxon and Phil Hawkins in the number 17 Healey, and bragging rights at the bar this evening secured after posting a 2:26, the only crew to get under the 2:30 barrier.
It was a great way to conclude the penultimate day of action and when the scores were posted top spot hadn’t changed, with Dick and Harry Baines still out in front. Their lead though, that was looking quite healthy a few days ago, is now a mere 8 seconds leaving everything in the balance for the final days competition.
Anything could happen tomorrow, and in truth it would be cruel for the Baines to lose out on the win at this late stage, but the Maris/Carr pairing have also driven beautifully over the past few days and have made a strong case to take the triumph. Neither deserve to lose, but it will all come down to the last few miles and a final day that has 5 tests. It is set to be a nail-biting decider.