There was quite a buzz in Newport tonight as the tiredness of arriving competitors was masked by the adrenalin rush they were still feeling after their action over the Epynt Ranges and Caerwent, charging between the maze of buildings.
But those fabled rally locations took their toll. No less than fourteen rally cars stopped over Epynt alone, some of them to be fixed, some out of the anniversary RAC Rally of the Tests for good like Callum Guy and gold medal winning LeJogist Amy Henchoz, after a piston let go in their Volvo engine.
Dan Willan and Niall Frost are hanging onto their lead in their Volvo PV544 over Paul Dyas and Martyn Taylor’s Volvo Amazon, as the two teams have been locked in battle all day. Starting with a one minute deficit, Paul and Martyn were quite happy not to be first car on the road. By the time the rally reached the RAC Rally famed Llandrindod Wells Metropole Hotel, Dyas and Taylor had closed to within 24 seconds.
Clearly the Willan/Frost Volvo was feeling no ill effect from its back axle shock mount welding of late last night as the pair again pulled a little more time out on the Amazon. Both teams were loving the fight but adoring the Epynt and Caerwent experience even more!
Dan Willan; “I think we have been having the King Kong of Ding Dongs, it has been nip and tuck all day. We caught a bit of traffic this morning, then it was back level pegging again, but Epynt, what a way to spend a Saturday afternoon? It is just amazing, an unreal place, with so many forest and tarmac tracks, it was superb!”
Niall Frost, Dan’s navigator was asked if Dan was taking it a little easier to help preserve the welded back axle? Niall; “I don’t think Dan knows what that means. He’s only got one speed. It’s my job to slow him down most of the time.”
Paul Dyas; “It has been an awesome day. The young pretender over there, (pointing to Dan Willan) if he’s still been taking time out of me, and I have been really pushing today, then he deserves it, that is just brilliant. We closed in by Llandrindod Wells, he took a bit of time out of us in Caerwent, but so long as we are all in striking distance, it’s a great battle.
Tomas de Vargas Machuca who has moved ahead of Paul Crosby and Ali Procter in the standings, but not the official RAC Rally of the Tests results, was pretty excited about the experience he and navigator Martin Pitt enjoyed today; “That was mental! The stones, the tracks, what a blast! There were so many vibrations that it broke the bonnet pin!
“We have been trying hard but it helps having a really good navigator, I have to say. We have really good vibes in the car, Martyn is trying his best, I’m trying my best but we have good clear communication.
This Fiat is indeed an Arrive and Drive car and I’m glad that it is going through the punishment so that we can iron out the last niggly bits to make it even better for whoever is fortunate enough to hire it. A great car.”
Harm Lamberigts, Ford Escort Mexico;
“This is a lot of fun. That’s the thing why we do the tests, it’s my favourite. I have two favourites, that’s these bad roads and when they are slippery. I like the snow rallies like Winter Trial, but this one with all the tests and different places, that’s fantastic. And it’s going on and on and on, and that’s the nice thing and that’s the thing we love. The slippery roads, the organisation, this is great we love it.”
Away from the frontline there are over twenty crews attempting the RAC Rally of the Tests for the very first time. They have been encouraged to wear an X plate on the back of the car so they can be identified and helped or offered advice if need be. Stewart Christie is one such RoTT Rookie, so what does he make of it?
Stewart; “ It’s my very first RAC Rally of the Tests so it’s a baptism of fire. But it’s good fun. Robin my navigator is one of the most experienced navigators, he has done it 14 times! So between the two of us, we’re sort of getting somewhere in the middle order now, we’re sitting mid table.
“But it is really, really tough. You have just got to get the right route and keep working away. I had a bit of a moment this morning on the Ditton Priors regularity, we almost went down a bank, but we kept it on the road, we’re still here and not too tired, the adrenaline keeps me going!”
Susan Dixon, Triumph 2000 navigator who has been working very hard today with driver Darren Everitt.
“We have had an absolute blast. Those gravel tracks, the hooligan driving, he just loves it. I think he thinks the back end should go before the front end. But it looks like that when we wa I think probably Caerwent was my favourite today, there was a bit of fog, but it caused a bit of a shrieking dance for me around some of those coordinates, checking the up from down.”
Michiel Ooortman Gerlings, BMW 2002; “ Yes this is my first time on the RAC Rally of the Tests. It is that we have this great black X on the back of the car. Yesterday we decided to paint the big black X on the roof. But well, we didn’t have time. It’s hard. Yeah, we did Winter Trial for several times, like 10 times. But this is something different, the places you come to, it’s lovely. It’s great, and so is all the paperwork!
“Well, I had a good night’s sleep to try and be ready for this day to try and improve, in the Winter Trial we are normally quite up high in the rankings, here we are quite low in the ranking, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the first time and it’s lovely.
“There are also some of the sections quite fast, like this morning, some of those tests and regularities, you enjoy that and very slippery, yeah, the driver enjoys it, I enjoy it, of course as well. But it’s speeds quite high although it’s safe, the conditions are safe.”
The Ditton Priors regularity was a very popular venue which Michiel referred to, and that together with Epynt, and a foggy Caerwent provided the major meat of the anniversary Rally of the Tests so far. The cars have taken a punishing, its tough on them and the crews as Elise Whyte and Richard Boughton found out when their BMW stopped, having climbed well inside the top ten. Rob Henshaw has had brake problems too, but we wait to see who can make it to the start line in the morning and just who can beat the certain sting to come in the navigation on the last crucial day.
The two battling navigators in the leading Volvos will need their wits about them as they fight for the anniversary glory, after all, The RAC Rally of the Tests is the one they all want to win, but to win the 90th edition would be very special indeed.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases