Leg Two territory in southern France is known as ‘Forgotten France’ with it’s high mountains and deep valleys surrounded by volcanoes, so much so that Bonnie Tyler wrote a song about it. It is remote and wild and suffers from severe weather – perfect then for the Winter Challenge which lived up to it’s name as snow, ice and heavy mist greeted the crews for the first regularity. They knew it was going to be full on winter conditions when they saw a major snow plough with chains on its wheels!
Although it was difficult seeing that far ahead though the cold mist of Saint- Victor-la-Rivière at 1100 metres, remote hill farm buildings appeared to be just forms.
The first in trouble was Michael Moss with Andrew Duerden navigating, as Michael beached the Golf in deep snow, only for Christopher Townsend and Richard Lambley to hit the VW’s front wing as they were unable to avoid it in their stout Peugeot 504. The wing and the Golf were pulled out, but time was lost.
Later on regularity two, near Condat at 1000 metres, Dave Maryon and Andy Ballantyne were stuck in deep snow on an uphill section. The media 4×4 tried to pull them out backwards but it didn’t work, then the Mechanical Assistance crew arrived just like the cavalry, appropriately dressed in their short-sleeved HERO-ERA shirts to pull the MGB out frontwards!
With so many teams either going the wrong way or slipping off the road, just keeping a good pace and in the right direction in the snow was paying off. The marshals showed each crew the sign at the start of regularity one to say they were to ‘reduce all speeds by 5kph’ which also helped, especially on the Col de Neronne, the third regularity which was totally snow bound. In fact, the snow was so deep in parts that there had to be a deviation of the route for snow drifts.
By keeping on plugging away and back on time, Dave Maryon and Andy Ballantyne finished the day 5th overall in the MGB, with Michael Moss and Andrew Duerden third in class five and inside the top ten.
Three great performances today in the snow and ice came from Richard Prosser and Peter Blackett in the Reliant Scimitar SE4B, Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini who looked in command, in the sometimes treacherous conditions in their Lancia Fulvia, to move up to second, and Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering who worked so hard but so well together to retain their lead in their Cooper S.
After lunch at the 15th century Chateau de Salles on the hills outside Verzac, the teams knew they had descended from on high to the deep valleys where there was little snow as the sun started to shine. This was deceptive as away from the sun the tracks were still slippery. Yet another challenge was to be the severe uphill hairpins demanding lock and power but there wasn’t always grip. Many had to make two or three point turns – especially the Rolls Royce of Nigel Keen and Bruce Norris – but it was still going.
A svelte performance also from Ed Abbott and Paul Bosdet in the long wheelbase Jaguar XJ-S V12 which gilded its way up and floated over the snow to lead their class and unofficially be third overall as this more modern classic does qualify got the overall positions.
Sadly, Christopher Townsend and Richard Lambley were out after slipping off the road just after managing to take one of the severe hairpins in one turn. The Peugeot 504 was too badly damaged to continue and luckily the crew were unhurt, but it was a shame after such a great first leg when they were second.
Seven regularities and one test at the Kart Centre at Millau constituted a long but enjoyable day. They came in search of snow, ice and an Adrenalin rush but there is more to come. Tuesday’s Leg Three will go on into the night after a short break, so add darkness to the testing conditions up in the mountains and you have a great Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo formula.
Ed Abbott, Jaguar XJ-S, 1st Class 4. “It’s a real winter challenge, we had a great start. It was very slowly, very slippery, but unfortunately, we’ve got a snow plough paving the road for us, but we had some really great fun going uphill using good judgement to keep it on the island, it was exceptionally good. Yes. The Jaguar was perfect because its traction is exceptional, we have quite a bit of weight in the back. That’s really good, it’s just so much fun. We just had to be really focused on navigation but it was an exceptional morning. When you get up to 3000 metres, three and a half 1000 feet, you know, the snow and the ice up there, it was very challenging. It’s just what we wanted to get the day going. Brilliant.”
David Maryon MGB 4th. “Second regularity we caught up about a queue of about six or seven cars but we couldn’t see why, so he said, well, they look like they’re struggling on the ice we’ll just go round them but fell in the ditch. When we met you, we were there and then the gallant trucks pulled us out. Then there was a deviation, I think two regularities back, it worked out in our favour because we lost all the time on that regularity, but the next one got back in time and went through and did about four seconds or something. So no damage to the MGB just a little bit of superficial.”
Kevin Haselden, 1st overall, Mini Cooper S. “Interesting. Some nice snow to drive through, which was quite testing and fun. We got held up on a big section with a farmer loading some animals but there’s been a few slippy bits, then a lot of dry bits lower down. There were places where it was quite fast as well. We haven’t found any really deep stuff apart from one control, around a triangle, somebody had blocked the entrance because they got stuck. We actually drove around them but it was quite tight.”
“Ryan Is really absolutely excellent. Great timing, great navigation, I couldn’t be happier actually”.
Will Rutherford, Clerk of the Course; “It’s a real winter challenge, so far it is, we’ve lucked in this morning for tough regularities in the snow. The competitors have had a lot thrown at them this morning with a small route change because of a snow drift. But they’ve all coped really well with that. We’ve got everybody here to lunch which is great. Fantastic lunch here in Chateau but this morning was really tough for them.
We’ve heard of a few or misdemeanours this morning from crews but more than anything, everyone’s worked together and, you know, kept everybody on the road. A couple of marshals have managed to flag down some snow ploughs to make sure that the roads can be passed which is part of the game.
Dominic Lingg, Fiat 124 Sport 1600 Abarth, 10th overall; “I’m enjoying it very much. And it’s getting better and better. Today we had snow, that’s what I’m here for, the car was running perfect, it couldn’t be better. Yeah with navigation we had some difficulties but it was always going to be tough. It also brings the history of the sport back to your memory, that’s exactly what they have in mind that works Fiats. When I saw these rallies lot of years ago, I saw this Fiat running, climbing the hills. So I feel like that and eventually get a car like that!”
Richard Prosser, Reliant Scimitar SE4B, 3rd overall. The driver getting on a bit, and the car but is keeping going. Yeah, for sure she’s OK but we are not doing so well today. There has been some baulking and queues, not everybody’s used to snow and ice. But anyway, we’ve come through to here. First time I’ve brought it to a winter rally, I’ve been running it for 30 something years really, but it’s the first winter event for us, you’ve got a lump of iron in the front and three litres, so we have to be sensitive with the throttle – I intend to keep it going!”
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases