Climbing out of Millau above the Gorges du Tarn for the first regularity at Montpelier-Le-Vieux, it started snowing, that turned into thick enough white stuff that regularities two and three had to be cancelled, whilst later in the day the La Remise regularity had to be shortened to avoid the glassy ice on severe hairpins where no traction could be gained. The icy grip of the Winter Challenge had won this battle, temporarily.
But before the teams could sample the next slippy parts of the night TC section, they sampled the great Monte Carlo Rally tradition of tart au pommes, or apple pie, at rally fan Yves Jouanny’s Rally Museum in Antraigues, he was there to greet them. Yves and his wife have served every driver and co driver on the rally for many years, so much so that it has become part of rally folklore, and each crew member got their slice.
At the Main Time Control at Vogue, before the crews ventured out into the night, Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering were still leading in their Mini Cooper S from Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini’s Lancia Fulvia, but anything can happen in dark of the Ardeche, as many a Monte Carlo Rally veteran will tell you.
Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan were leading class five and unofficially leading the rally, similarly Ed Abbott and Paul Bosdet’s Jaguar XJ-S V12 is unofficially fourth but they lead class four, both crews are putting in cracking performances. Hanging onto the official podium position in third was the Reliant Scimitar of Richard Prosser and Peter Blackett, before the night section.
With snow falling on the way to the first regularity of Leg Three, it made a pretty sight as any tracks were getting covered by white flakes fast, it was virgin snow for the front order cars of Otakar Chladek and Hana Neumitkova in the Mercedes Benz 350SL and Christian von Wendel and Franz Ortenburg’s beautiful BMW 2800 CS. The road was a white sheet but still you could make out the crests, which took cars along a roller coaster for the first three kilometres.
By the time the cars were making their way to the Ski Station Alti Aigoual at 1400 metres, the snow was a thick blanket, and the Marshals could not get into the next two regularities, never mind the bad weather indicator of locals in their cars in ditches!
As Deputy Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock announced to all the competitors at the ski station that the next two regularities had unfortunately been cancelled, Will Rutherford, the Clerk of the Course explained that this was a consequence of a good Winter Challenge with too much snow for once, but as he further confided; “This is another reason why such an event as this is a map rally, if we had been on tulips we would be in a spot of bother now!”
Competitors had fabulous fun driving the snow laden section to the lunch halt towards Anduze without the worry of Timing Points or Controls as they had time in hand to enjoy their machines over the white stuff. Thomas Koemer and navigator Udo Schauss did just that as they slalomed their BMW 320/4 along a wide stretch of road sending huge plumes of snow skywards as they threw the machine from side to side in power drifts.
The lunch break in the valley brought a total contrast with sunshine and melted snow, but it only gave crews brief comfort as the event was back on schedule with two more regularities and a test before the short break for briefing and plotting of maps for the night section which included a Time Control section – everyone’s favourite, although not always when it is in the dark and the Monte Carlo territory of the Ardeche!
Roads leading to the Ribes – Montreal regularity number five were epic. He tightest of hairpins down the narrowest of lanes, cars even squeezing between small houses where they just made it through. It is still a mystery how the Rolls Royce Shadow of Nigel Keen and Bruce Norris scraped through – but they did! Still, they keep going, and in the afternoon ran with the hood down to celebrate the brief sunshine!
Having driven regularity six in the dark, but with a full moon, as a prelude to La Foyelle and the TC section, there were mixed opinions from the team afterwards. Dave Maryon felt that it was very slippy, especially coming down over frozen snow and ice in the MGB with Andy Ballantyne.
Whilst on the tricky Genestelle-La Fayolle regularity, even leaders Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering missed a turn into the Timing Point on their Mini, worse, second place men Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini disappeared off down the valley in the wrong direction in their Lancia Fulvia. The marshals waved them goodbye. It was a long night.
Car 17, Christian and Franz, “Difficult? Yes, difficult because this is our first regularity in English way. On the continent, regularities are slightly different, yes. And we’ve rarely had some regularities at night. So, we were struggling a little bit and obviously we don’t have a really big magnifying glass there, so we missed the right turn. We’re having fun and that is what counts. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes.”
Car 25 Anto Clay, after being asked how the night section was, “Excellent, excellent. We knew there’d be little tricks where the time control hidden in little lay-bys. We’d sneak in there. We always find them we seemed fine. But that means we’ve missed some.”
Continuing after we asked about their visibility “Yeah, perfect, perfect. You just want to watch out for locals and their cars because you can see that being quite annoying for them he but no, it’s excellent. It’s really good. What a lot of work to lead on as well. Start of the night. On with the long nights so they say”
Car 1’s Sally Woof on the night section, “Actually not too bad. We decided to ditch it the sense of timing, right just concentrate on the route. And well, I think we stayed on Route certainly made both controls so that was a result. I’ve got a really good little magnifier. I don’t know how we manage otherwise, because it’s such high scale that everything’s tiny, tiny.”
Car 7 Tim Lawrence on the night section, “That was pleasant but you’re easing us into the time control section which is where everything changes, even the top 10 could be topsy turvy later on. So let’s say so far no ice on the road, but again give us another couple of hours and it could get pretty sleety. So we will see how is the visibility it’s clear I can’t see stars in the sky but it’s not misty at the moment. So it’s good to go, green lights you ever be okay. So fingers crossed all right.”
Car 24 Martin Pfuderer, “Yeah, I just knew how to boil. The snow was very good to this morning. Yeah for me Docomo shooting this video the last afternoon after the stars are shining Marshawn was always gone”
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases