After 453 kilometres, four regularities and one test on Leg One of the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, just two seconds separate the Mini Cooper S of Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering from the second place Peugeot 504 of Christopher Townsend and Richard Lambley. The battle was waged largely across the French flatlands as the teams head to higher ground in Leg Two, but one of the highlights was the competition at the superb Jean Brun Circuit International kart track where the German-Italian crew of Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini sped to an impressive fastest time in their Lancia Fulvia which has benefitted from much recent work. They are sixth overall in the standings.
After the competition, crews headed to Michelin land in Clermont-Ferrand where the global company are head-quartered, following an invite to partner HERO-ERA for the rally or visit their L’Adventure Michelin Museum. The final time control of the day was actually inside this fascinating facility which is opposite the Stade Marcel Michelin where the Premier League Clermont-Ferrand team play their rugby. As well as tyres, with Competition, Aviation and their famous maps to show off, crews enjoyed a twenty-minute visit before heading to their night halt in Saint Nectaire.
Nigel and Sally Woof have number one on the doors of their Volvo PV544 and that’s where they are aiming to be by the end of this rally. They made a great start today, finishing third overall with a top ten test time at the kart track equalling the Reliant Scimitar SE4B of Richard Prosser and Peter Blackett. The Scimitar is one of three very different cars on the event, but it suffered some clutch issues and was blowing a fair bit of smoke before the start of regularity three. Despite the issues, the crew have come through the first day and into fourth place.
Although the more modern classic cars of class five are not eligible for the overall awards, they are already engaged in a healthy class battle. Whilst two VW Golf GTi’s sit unofficially in first and fifth places overall, they are actually fighting for the class win with Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan first, leading Michael Moss and the returning ace navigator Andrew Duerden in their black VW.
It was a keen contest between two of the most successful navigators across some quite tricky regularities today, that witnessed the close call of just two seconds at the end of the day. Ryan Pickering and Richard Lambley have been keeping the penalties to a minimum for their drivers Kevin Haselden and Christopher Townsend respectively as the regularities became more challenging particularly over OnLay-Semelay and the fourth at Ebreuil-Champs, where cars appeared from all directions having taken wrong turns or got caught out.
The gradients increased as the day got longer with some impressive twists and climbs along some ‘fun driving’ lanes. There was great French scenery too as the cars traversed lakes, crossed viaducts over dams and then ran deep into the forests again.
But even for LeJogGold Medal winners Angus McQueen and Mike Cochran in their BMW 323i, there was confusion on the third and fourth regularities which lost them precious time. Mike; “We had actually been running quite well, only losing four seconds in one regularity, but I was looking down trying to work out where we could have lost the time, when I looked up again I’d missed a turn and we lost two minutes! What we’ve learned on this event in particular is, navigation first, timing second!”
The crew had earlier found a jet wash hidden behind some petrol pumps at Chateau Chinon, they weren’t washing off the mud from the BMW, but trying to spray away the remnants of the fuel leak which had been with them since the issue arose on the M3 in UK heading to the Channel Tunnel.
The Jean Brun Circuit International kart track presented a wide sweeping course and facility good enough for cars to take, at speed, the impressive circuit. Two grandstands full of some very appreciative French enthusiasts cheered and jeered in equal measure at the rapid rally cars and those that spun or missed the chicane!
The grunt from the big Austin Healey was loved by the crowd but they missed the huge lurid slide that David Coxon and Pete Hawkins survived as it was on a fast flick behind the grandstand. But they didn’t miss David Maryon and Andy Ballantyne spinning their MGB just across from the grandstand or the BMW 2800 CS of Christian von Wendell and Franz Ortenburg totalling missing the chicane.
They appreciated the sliding Thomas Koerner and Udo Schauss in their tortured BMW 320 and appeared to be transfixed by the unusual sight of a Rolls Royce Shadow driven at speed around their kart track!
The Rolls Royce has a bit of history through its owner Nigel Keen who is being navigated by Bruce Norris; Nigel “I’ve owned the car for 30 years. I’ve driven 10s of 1000s miles in it, but my sons don’t like it. So I know that when when I’m finished with it, and I’m on my own cloud, it will go to the auction house the next day!
“So we thought we’d give it a Viking funeral by making it into a rally car, and that’s been a lockdown project to make sure. Bruce and I were at college together a long time ago, 50 years ago. Okay, we thought we would come and do some rallies. We got a place in Peking to Paris and then that was cancelled and then we got a place in Sahara that was cancelled. So we thought we will come on the Winter Challenge as our first novice rally entry. So we’re quite glad to be on it so far.”
Bruce; “Well, we’ve done two or three three point turns, it has been less than perfect, but it’s challenging. And I haven’t navigated on French roads before, it’s a bit different from England.. It’s very comfortable, it’s very nice. I mean I’m not falling asleep. It’s good fun and we’re learning something because we’ve both never done a rally. I’ve never navigated on a rally before, all my navigation has been on the compass.”
Nigel was asked about the narrow roads when they get up into the mountains. Nigel;. “It’s the best car in the world. So there’s no problem there, we’ve got lots of power we’ll come up hills OK. We have six and a quarter litres of Rolls engineering pushing us. As long as we keep the back wheels on the road, I think that will be okay.”
Bruce; “I’ve got to be his passenger, but Nigel unfortunately has done a course with Ferrari on how to go round corners fast. And it’s not the way you and I do. It’s the opposite way round. The power is in a different place, and it’s released and put on again and I’m dreading some of the circuits.”
Another very different car on the rally is the P4 Rover of Mark Simpson and Liam Hammond; Mark “The Rover is going well, very well. All is good at the moment but if there are any problems we have my navigator Liam who is also a very good mechanic..
Liam; “We call the Rover Russell he needs a drink at the moment. He’s got through half a point so I will give him a bit more in a minute but apart from that he hasn’t missed a beat actually.”
Nigel; “So here we are on the first leg which we enjoyed. it’s been good, very good. We are getting back into it, getting back into the swing but some things we have done wrong. We really didn’t check ourselves out, but we just realised we had to do the event at the last minute.”
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases