The competitors had been promised even more spectacular views than they enjoyed on the opening day of the Temple Rally but no-one expected goats to add to the dramatic scenery as the cars roared and soared into the mountains of southern Greece.
Odd for all, particularly shepherds and dogs who found their daily routine of herding goats at 2300 feet interrupted by classic car excellence as the sound of their growling engines echoing in the high peaks was matched by the goats with their bells.
Day two of the HERO-ERA Athens to Rome 2500 mile event had everything and even the road blocks of the animals which many suffered was only another tantalising taste of local life as the cars threaded their way through tiny mountain hamlets on roads which demanded the utmost concentration themselves. Car after car reported finding the goats in their path as they climbed into the Taygetos range on the Mani Peninsula.
All took it in their stride but none more so than Tomasz Dzitko and his navigator Beata Siwek who finished a day of four regularities and a test in top spot on a day when the blazing sun toasted the parched earth of the region and eached 35C. Tomas and Beata managed their distinctive orange MGB GT, with an 1800cc engine, superbly collecting only 4.33 minutes of penalties.
The 230 mile drive from Nafplio to Kalamata is not in itself a trial but the route devised was outstanding in variety to offer even more breath-taking scenery than before. Soaring to the heights, down to the coast, back up again, round the twisting and highly demanding spaghetti roads, the field moved round the gulf.
All made it but Tomas did enough to lead by ten seconds from first day position leaders, Benno and Nina Britschgi who even managed a swim in the sea when the cars stopped at a glorious beachside restaurant for lunch for a well-earned buffet.
“Overall a good day but there are another 11 so anything can happen but yes, it went well for us and the car,”said Tomas when they arrived at Kalamata. “ I mean they said the scenery, the views and everything would be fantastic. And they were. We loved this run.
“Goat is the name of the day for us. On regularity one we had to stop and let the goats go on, then on regularity three we had another set of them.
There was this shepherd dog and when we started to sound the car horn, it barked back at us and chased the car. I had to speed up and that threw us so I was one second too early or something like this because of this.
“The test was good for us though. It had unpredictable curves, with a longer first circuit. It was flat out and you had to brake heavily to make it. I saw a few people make mistakes but Beata and I have devised a system which works well for us.
“Most people use left and right to say about where the cone is to be passed. But we say your side or my side and I can react better to that than saying left or right. And this is the language that we use the code system. This afternoon was good although we were a little bit too optimistic about the Greek drivers were too slow for us at times but the scenery was always there to enjoy. At times you were high up and could not see the end of the road and the sea just looked like an infinity pool.”
Tomas and Beata, who live in Warsaw together, have done several HERO-ERA rallies including The Flying Scotsman twice since he bought the MG after entering for the Adriatic Rally before owning a rally car.
“The deadline started to approach and finally I started to ask people, ‘what should I do? What car should I buy and a friend said to buy an MGB GT, it’s the best car it’s not expensive. I found this beautiful car with the sunroof and I love the colour.”
The stresses and strains for drivers and navigators in hot, mainly non-air conditioned car, led to errors in timing, map-reading and on the day of a hundred hairpin bends, patience and diplomacy were required.
The friendly rivalry is shared by the Polish couple and Steve and Penny Gale, from Monaco, who also compete in a very similar MGB GT. They lie in tenth spot and hope to improve after the HERO-ERA mechanics at the end of the day fixed a sensor fault which cost them time
Karl Eisleben, from Palm Beach, and his co-driver, Joan McCabe, admitted to two errors each at the lunch stop with Joan saying that her turning over of two pages took them well off route costing a 30 minute excursion but the driver of the Shelby 350H summed the in-car politics up by saying: ”It’s like when the goalie makes four great saves and let’s one in. Everybody forgets the great saves. We remember those so we get on just fine.”
Benno Britschgi, driving the Ford Mustang 390 GT, is delighted that his muscle machine is powering along but conceded that the regularities had mixed he and his daughter up at times. Even so, they were second overall just ahead of British pairing Peter Morton and Louise Morton in their BMW 2002.
“Going up the mountains is easier in the Mustang,”said Benno, who lives in Switzerland, “but coming down was a bit hairy on some of those hairpins and we met oncoming traffic which almost caused a crash. And of course there were the goats. We met two flocks of them which slowed us but again we were able to make up time so we did pretty well.”
Day two took the field close to Sparta and tomorrow sees competitors heading to more Greek cultural heritage at Ancient Olympia as they continue to manoeuvre their way through the Peloponnese.
Back for this stylish run comes the Bentley Speed 8 if repairs are completely successful after it suffered a breakdown on day one.