Day seven of the London to Lisbon Rally, a week on the road non-stop and very nearly three quarters of the way to the finish. Endurance athletes hit what they call ‘the wall’, a mental barrier as exhaustion kicks in it seems almost impossible to continue, smash your way through that wall though and everything is downhill on the other side. These rallies are no different, and whilst there are longer events out there, after a week of muscling cars with no power steering around treacherously narrow roads, with the added mental stress of concentrating on the trip meter and keeping up with the route book, both driver and navigator are getting tired.
The cars too are suffering, this is a workout for them, and any weaknesses will be exposed, as we all saw yesterday. 37 cars went through this morning’s time control, the attrition is starting to hit, but, if cars and crew can make it through the next day or two the finish is but a few miles away…
Not that I’m expecting any pity for any of them, this is an endurance and reliability event after all, this is what we have all signed up for and it remains the fact that the roads we are being treated to are some of the finest in the world, never mind Europe. That trend continued where it left off, after a bit of a concentration run along the Cantabrian coast to jettison the rally right into the middle of the good stuff in the Picos de Europa. Regularity one was a tricky affair, all narrow streets and villages. Then it was time to gain altitude again, with two competitive sections over the Alto la Torneria, the first part of which gave the crews their last glimpse of the sea. The next time they see it they will have made it to the finish.
These hills and mountains are still fairly wild places, punctuated by villages that looked like something from a Spaghetti Western, with tumbledown houses in a state of disrepair, sometimes half built, sometimes half fallen down, but always centred around a magnificent church or chapel. The roads themselves matched the towns at times, often hemmed in by vegetation and home to all manner of animals seemingly roaming free. These animals also include Wolves and Brown Bears, so it would pay dividends not to stray from the chosen path too far and anything that these hunters didn’t finish would soon be snapped up by the Vultures and Eagles circling on the thermals overhead.
Thankfully, nobody succumbed to the region’s apex predators, before lunch at least in any case, but there had been some cannibalistic hunting between Porsches, as Tony Sutton and Bernard Northmore had pulled ahead of Stephen Owens and Pete Johnson, who can’t seem to make their mind up about whether they want to stay on the podium or not! With three regularities and a test in the afternoon though, there was plenty of competition to do a bit more sorting out.
What an afternoon as well, with a bit more climbing on the twisties, just encase anyone needed more practice, there was also some excellent runs through the bottom of gorges, alongside the Rio Tuerto and into the Ponga National Park, with another climb under the gaze of more snow-capped peaks before another descent to the vast Riano Reservoir. Sadly, the iridescent turquoise water was dulled by the inclement weather and cloud overhead, although the mountains on the far side of the body of water had an altogether ethereal magic about them as they leered out of the gloom.
The rain didn’t last for long, and by the time the cars pulled up for their second test of the day at a kart circuit in Vidanes, that followed a coffee break, it was dry. The first drivers out onto track then had their coffee, making a good audience to observe the next crew’s skills. The track was quick, and as usual the Porsche drivers were keen to push the limits of adhesion, thank fully this time everyone kept the wheels pointing mostly in the right direction!
At the end of the seventh day Dick and Harry Baines remained in the lead, now with an advantage of nearly a minute over nearest challengers Nick Maris and Henry Carr. Third place had, possibly predictably, changed hands again, with SO and Pete Johnson back in third place, but only by 9 seconds over Sutton and Northmore, with the Robinson’s not too far back in their trusty TR3.
Portugal beckons tomorrow, and I for one will be sad to leave Spain behind, but there is no time built into this competition for sentimentality. The clock is ticking, just three days now until the finish is reached.