If yesterday was a proper Marathon Day, then today was a Marathon day and then some, to misquote the great Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap, today was “turned up to 11”. There was a bit of everything, but then any day that spans two countries, across a distance of 376 km and involves seven regularities and two tests is bound to throw in some surprises.
It is a bit of a job recounting the details of day four, as it all seems to have run into a big rally-shaped mess in my brain, not so much a case of it all being rather samey, more that the what’s and where for’s have come so thick and fast it’s a job providing punctuation to the day’s experiences – it’s been a hard day for the old synapses.
It began innocently enough, with another morning bathed in Slovenian sunshine, a start to the day that has become almost as routine as a cup of coffee. There were more wonderful sweeping roads to enjoy as well, the stretches of which were bracketed with picturesque villages with their pretty churches that have been such a feature of the landscape in the upper areas of this country. It is almost more Austrian than Austria, a comment that is meant as a compliment, of course.
We were climbing higher today, and as the altitude increased so did the views and even the Krsko Nuclear Power Plant miles away down in the base of the valley didn’t really spoil the vista. You see whilst the route has been excellent, we have spent a lot of time pedalling between the trees so far, so it felt good to have an unmolested view of the countryside, which stretched for miles. Life was good and the regularities were enjoyable once again, but perhaps it was a little too good and the rally Gods had decided that a little mischief was in order.
This began innocently enough, a Tractor here, a slow-moving lorry there, all costing the competitors little snippets of time. Things went a little too far when on reg four a logging truck going about his business blocked the route entirely, leading to a, well, logjam of rally cars. Engines went off and the crews disembarked their vehicles, some watching the tele-arm of the arctic picking up great fistfuls of logs and some remarking that they wished they had bought a picnic. Nobody panicked, as there was little to be done, rally cars long enough, and something like this will happen. Car 5, Gerd A. Buehler (DE) + Elina Feierabend (DE), in the beautiful BMW 503 were actually somewhat pleased about the interruption, having wrong slotting just before the congestion, “now everyone around us is losing the same amount of time” chuckled Gert.
At least the border into Austria was a simple affair, with the uninterested border officer barely managing a glance up from his newspaper as the cars passed. I daresay he didn’t fancy stepping out of his air-conditioned office into the afternoon sun, and who could blame him, it was another very hot one. The heat was particularly prevalent on the first of the day’s tests, at the FTZ Mobling Kart Circuit, which is built into the side of the hill and offered up the challenge of multiple elevation changes, rewarding those that could carry their speed. The tests even saw our top two go almost head-to-head on track, with the Porsche harrying the E-Type around the brightly painted curbs of the track.
Apply enough heat for long enough and eventually you will get a storm, particularly in the mountains, and as the route took us deeper into Austria the blue skies that had so far been our steadfast companion disappeared and the atmosphere took on a much more threatening demeanour. A storm was coming, and what a storm it would be. At the afternoon rest stop at Murau the weather warning klaxon sounded, such was the intensity of the weather system moving in and the heavens opened upon our little travelling caravan, and onto the marshals waiting in the hills above the town, in position for the final regularity of the day.
It was but a precursor to what was to come though, and as the regularity finished and the crews headed up into the Solk Pass, the intensity of the thunder and lightning increased and the rain was replaced by golf ball-sized hail stones, threatening to pierce the windscreens of the cars and turning the road into a moving mass of white balls and forcing many of the crews to take cover.
It was certainly an exciting part of the day, and a big talking point as the crews rolled into the finish, greeted by beers provided by long-time HERO-ERA competitor Otakar Chladek, and all of this with one final test still to contend with as well, a test that was thankfully unaffected by the weather. With all of the happenings of the day the results team certainly had their hands full, but at the sharp end Paul Crosby had clearly got the scent of victory in his nostrils, or possibly Ali’s feet, either way, they managed to accrue just 15 seconds of penalty on the day to extend their lead to almost a minute over second-placed Marcus Anderson + Matthew Lymn Rose, although it must be noted that bragging rights on the tests went to the boys in the bright red E-Type.
It is hard to believe that it is the penultimate leg tomorrow, and it is another long one at 359 km, seeing the rally move back across the border into Slovenia before one more day of competition. Plenty could happen between now and then, a misplaced logging truck or a farmer herding their Cows might snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or vice versa depending on which end of the force majeure you happen to be on…