The 25th Pirelli Classic Marathon got away to a stunning start from Ypres on Sunday 16th June, 48 cars had assembled for the event and 14 of them had at least one crew member who’d competed in one of the first five events.
As a guest we had Motor Sport journalist Gordon Cruickshank who’d won the 1989 event with Henry Pearman, Henry is also here with the same car that he used in 1989 and it even has the original door plates still fitted! This time he is accompanied by his partner Karen Ibberson and taking things a little easier but as the event goes on you can see the competitive edge starting to kick in.
Scrutineering had passed without any difficulties and our welcome dinner at the fabulous Pacific Eiland restaurant was well received and a fitting start to the event.
Ypres (B) to Münsbach (L)
We begin our anniversary week of Marathon Motoring in the familiar surroundings of Ypres’s historic Grote Markt. From there, it is quickly into the action as we tackle some classic sections from the legendary 24 Heures d’Ypres Rally, arranged by our friends from the local motor club.
Leaving the Flanders region, we take to the motorway to skirt the main conurbations of central Belgium and head towards the Ardennes, where we will enjoy some favourite Marathon sections of old. It is then on into Luxembourg where the densely forested hills hide a network of sinuous roads that will no doubt play their part in shaping the early leader board as we arrive at our hotel, close to Luxembourg City for a well earned night’s rest.
Ypres was busy with a special promotion weekend but we were still able to use the Grote Markt for the start as long as we were all clear by 10:00 which was when the beach volleyball started! – Yes, they’d built a couple of courts on top of the cobbles.
First test of the event was at the “paint ball” centre in Poperinge, this was formerly a kart track and we’d used it before on the Poppy Regularity Rally – it’s one of those tests that crews really seem to enjoy. Perhaps one crew who don’t have fond memories of the test were Seren and Elise Whyte, they’d made friends with a tree on the Poppy and had hoped to use the rebuilt Mini on the Marathon but unfortunately it had been damaged again by somebody else so instead they are using the HERO Arrive and Drive BMW 1602.
A couple of regularities followed in the intricate lanes that are typical of this area before a test at the Warneton Speedway, this gives competitors a chance to drive around the banked circuit and is generally quite popular unless you were one of the crews who got a “wrong test”. Many crews seem to forget that it’s better to be accurate and a couple of seconds slower than get a big penalty from doing a wrong test.
It’s similar on the regularities – we always stress to the novice crews to concentrate on getting the navigation right and worry about the timing later, you’ll never be far out if you drive sensibly and keep on the right road.
A time control followed next in the village of Silly – it’s a characteristic of most CRA events to have a mid morning coffee halt to allow crews to take a breather and have a drink. They could not relax for too long
After crossing into Luxembourg we had a tea halt at the Restaurant l’Ecuelle in Wilwerdange before a couple of regularity sections in the Luxembourg lanes. though as it was straight into another regularity and then a long cross country run before lunch was taken at the Chateau de Modave, it was a fabulous sight with the cars parked around the courtyard. After lunch we had hoped to run a test through Modave village as this was a feature of the first event in 1988 but extensive road works for a major pipeline meant that this was not possible so next up was another regularity.
It had been a relatively quiet day for the mechanical assistance crews and all 48 starters arrived safely at the overnight halt in Munsbach where we were in the new Legere hotel. The assistance crews were kept busy in the evening fettling cars that had made it to the hotel but would need work before being able to restart in the morning.Among them was the Porsche 356 of Angus and David Watt, Gus being one of the “pioneer” drivers from the early events. The car is freshly rebuilt and has a few teething problems but they are very resilient and are determined to make it to Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Münsbach (L) to Mulhouse (F)Leaving Münsbach,
We quickly cross the border into France and embark on a series of regularitiesacross the rolling plains of the Lorraine region as we make for the pine forested slopes of the Vosges, which have long been a favourite area for rallyists as they combine stunning views with flowing mountain roads that are a real driver’s treat.We spend the rest of the day exploring these mountains to the full before descending through the Alsace vineyards to Mulhouse.We started with a cross border regularity into France, before the coffee halt at the Auberge de Delme which was followed shortly by another regularity section.
After this we set off into the Vosges mountains, this area was used on the 20th Anniversary event and also Winter Challenges of the past but in summer it’s possible to use roads that are closed in winter so we were able to run a regularity over the appropriately named Grand Ballon.
The dubious honour of first retirement of the event went to John Rondeau and Steve Gipson, John’s Mk 1 Jaguar succumbing to water pump failure. They are still with us though having hired a car.
Soon after we lost the Mini of Howard and Matt Warren, oil pump failure was suspected but they didn’t want to miss out on the fun so got somebody to bring out their usual Porsche but of course they will no longer be part of the classification.
David Liddell and Helen Ruud had been going well in the Triumph TR4 but broke a halfshaft, we hear that they have now found one and are hoping to have it fitted and rejoin us in Weggis.
Chris and Sue Green were late leaving in the pretty MGA Coupe, they’d been having problems with their trip meter and decided they’d rather take a few penalties for missing a couple of early controls rather than struggling with the route for the rest of the week. The ever resourceful Banham’s had come to the rescue with a spare Halda they just happened to have in the back of the van!
The Golden Tulip at Mulhouse was a great rally hotel, good parking with friendly staff and a couple of local fuel stations, it was another good meal and the bar was buzzing until the early hours of the morning.
At the end of Day Two John Abel and John Dennett were still in the lead with 1 minute 28 seconds but now in second place is the Porsche 911 of Charles Colton and Guy Woodcock on 1 minute 39 seconds and in third Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in another Tiger on 1 minute 46 seconds.
Mulhouse (F) to Weggis (CH)
We stop for lunch in the heart of the Bernese Oberland and then spend the afternoon exploring the dense network of rural byways that criss-cross the alpine meadows of the Emmental region. The day concludes with us climbing into the mountains before we drop down to the ferry port at Beckenried from where we will cross Lake Lucerne to our overnight halt at the lakeside resort of Weggis.
After the test we crossed into Switzerland for the first regularity of the day. A coffee halt followed at Herzongenbuchsee before another regularity led us to the Touring Club Suisse Driver Training Centre at Stockental. When first approached they wanted us to have individual sessions in their cradle mounted car but that would have taken many hours so instead we were able to do a test on part of the centre, watched on in amusement by the Swiss Army, I understand Switzerland is one of the few countries left where military service is obligatory and most recruits will spend some time learning how to handle military machinery under difficult conditions. We also lunched in the canteen at the centre.
The sweeps were kept busy with brakes seeming to be the major problem as we enter more mountainous areas – and it’s only going to get more mountainous in the next couple of days so hopefully they have some spare pads and will try and use the brakes a bit more sparingly, the cars of both HERO Managing Directors, Patrick Burke and Tomas de Vargas Machuca were amongst those affected, HERO General Manager , Brian Whyte has been trusted with the boss’s Porsche and has pioneer competitor Alan Pettit in the passenger seat, currently leading his class and having a lower overall penalty than the boss – is that wise?
Abel and Dennett were still heading the leader board with 1 minute 45 seconds, Colton and Woodcock were 12 seconds back and in third was the quick and nimble Lotus Elan of Graham Walker and Sean Toohey with 1 minute 58.
Weggis (CH) to Bormio (I)
The start of our “longest day” sees us skirt along the shores of Lake Lucerne and then through Altdorf, made famous by William Tell to the first TC of the day at the summit of the Klausen Pass, home to the famous Klausenrennen Hillclimb since 1922. From there, we spend the rest of the morning discovering the lesser known roads of the Graubünden region.
The afternoon section will then see us climb to over 2000 metres – high above the snowline – to cross some of the major passes of eastern Switzerland en route to the Italian border. Our first taste of Italian rallying is a superb regularity over one of the most famous passes from the Giro d’Italia, which twists and turns its way through the mountains and affords wonderful vistas down into the valleys below. Descending from these idyllic surroundings, we arrive in the charming medieval town of Bormio.
However, the day’s excitement is not over just yet – as the highlight of the day will be the early evening “Stelvio Loop”, which will see us storming the legendary 48 hairpin climb against a backdrop of mountains basking in the fiery red glow of the setting sun… Terrific stuff!
The weather has been stunning with temperatures in the 30’s but the temperatures are not helping the over heating problems that some cars are facing on the mountain climbs.We had to be a bit careful in the afternoon as the day ended with a ferry trip across Lake Lucerne to our picturesque overnight halt at Weggis and the stunning Park and Post Hotels, rooms were so nice we were surprised that all crews actually started on time – many were seen enquiring about returning at a future date for a more relaxed stayThe first time control was about 40 km down the road at the Sundgau Kart Circuit. Another good test of drivers refraining from getting too exuberant and sticking to the track, particularly as at this venue the owner is very protective of his grass and imposes a big penalty on anybody who drives on it which translates to a big time penalty for drivers who go mowing!Kees Buurman and Jan Veening in the Ferrari 250GT have also now retired, they’d been having fuel pump issues and with no likely fix in sight decided it would be best to retire rather than risk any further damage.A fabulous lunch had been laid on at the Geoparc circuit and straight after lunch crews had two goes at a regularity section around the circuit. Being on private land it was possible to set a higher average speed than that usually used and this caught some crews out with a higher number of late penalties than you’d generally expect.Leaders at the end of Day One were John Abel and John Dennett in the Sunbeam Tiger with a total penalty of 20 seconds and closely behind were Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage with 28 seconds and third were Howard and Matt Warren with 34 seconds.
For many today would be the highlight of the event as it featured the Stelvio – a climb that has become a must do on the list of drives for any classic car enthusiast, but it’s also extremely popular with both cyclists and motor cyclists hence why we have our drive in the evening when it quietens down considerably.
The first Time Control of the day was at the Klausen Pass hotel shortly followed by a regularity section, best performance on this regularity was by Barry and Roma Weir in their Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda with a total penalty of just two seconds. Not far behind them were Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage on four seconds, Marathon newcomers Ian Chalmers and Jane Webb in an MGB scored five as did Graham Walker and Sean Toohey in their usual Lotus Elan Sprint. Graham has been re building a Reliant Scimitar but the good results he continues to get in the Elan don’t seem to be encouraging him to complete it!
Unfortunately due to logging operations the next regularity was lost with the course car providing a hastily arrowed re route. In a couple of places we’d been able to re route around similar operations but often there is only one road across the mountain and if that’s blocked there is no option but to use the main roads – it’s all part of the fun of an event in areas where often the minor roads will only be open for six months of the year so any operations such as logging can only be competed in that period.
We lunched at the Alvaneu Bad Golf Club, after lunch there were two more regularities – on the first Paul Wignall and Martyn Taylor got a zero in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint. This was Martyn’s first event using a Halda and he was finding it quite a steep learning curve. Best on the next over the tricky Passo Mortirollo was Colton and Woodcock with six seconds, just one second further back were Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings in the stunning Ferrari 250 GTO replica.
After a short break in Bormio to allow luggage to be unloaded and fuel taken on board crews set of on what for many would be the highlight of the event – the Stelvio loop.
This consisted of three regularities and it was unlikely that many crews would be getting early penalties! Colton / Woodcock and Walker / Toohey tied with five seconds with the Tigers of Abel / Dennett and John Korrison and Peter Rushforth on eight seconds. This time also matched by the MGB of Marathon pioneers Marc Tipping and Tony Jolly.
The second regularity of the evening was the famous Umbrail Pass, best performance on this was achieved by Joel Wykeham and David Brown in the smallest engined car of the event – the Fiat 127, the downhill sections suiting him better than the climbs. The finale of the evening was a run up the Stelvio with three timing points to make it that little bit harder!
The only crew on zero were Colton / Woodcock, next best were Wignall / Savage on two seconds, many struggled to make it up on time and scored maximums but the capped penalty structure does mean that totals are kept in perspective. Henry Pearman and Karen Ibberson had obviously decided just to enjoy the drive and were one of the few crews to achieve early penalties!.
It was great to see all crews coming back into Bormio having enjoyed the evening loop, helped no doubt by the fine weather and resulting good visibility.
At the end of Day 4 the overall lead was held by Colton and Woodcock on 2 minutes 30 seconds with Wignall and Savage in second 19 seconds behind. Third place was held by Abel and Dennett on 3 minutes 7 seconds and fourth was the Tiger of Korrison and Rushforth on 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
Bormio (I) to Cortina (I)
We enjoy a shorter day today but there is still plenty of action in store, starting with a climb of the mighty Gavia – another of the most hallowed passes in rallying for over half a century… Once over the top, we descend into the valleys of the Trentino region for further interesting regularities amidst the Alpine meadows and apple orchards.
Lunch is at the Bolzano Safety Park and we have a test before and after on the kart track. After lunch we cross the mighty Adige valley to enter the main Dolomite massif. In the golden age of rallying, the roads that crossed these mountains such as the Duran, Pordoi and Sella were little more than dusty goat tracks that struck fear into the hearts of even the most experienced rally crews. Whilst age has mellowed many of these passes, we have sought out new challenges for you to enjoy before we arrive in Cortina d’Ampezzo – “The Jewel of the Dolomites” and our ultimate goal.
On the first regularity we had six crews with just one second penalty across the two timing points, they were Marathon regulars Keith Graham and Sue Hoffman in an Austin Healey 3000, Neil Beresford and David Quainton in another Healey 3000, Michael Moss and Willy Cave in the unusual Fiat 2300S Coupe. Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage helped consolidate their position whilst John and Pauline Dignan overcame their fuel vaporisation problems in the MGB and another MGB mounted crew, Ian Chalmers and Jane Webb were the final crew (in numerical order) to get the solo penalty.
On the second regularity of the day the Colton / Woodcock and Wignall / Savage both got zero scores, winners of the Marathon in 2010 and 2011 Mark and Sue Godfrey got just one second, Ken Dobbs and Peter Opie got three seconds but their event was to come to an abrupt end on one of the Safety Park tests when a wheel came off their Triumph TR3A.
The Tests are scored on a class basis with the quickest in class getting zero and second in class three seconds and third five seconds, this is to be reviewed for the 2014 season as some consider the current system disadvantages those not able to be the quickest in class, but what is clear is that the current system is better than a scratch timing system and does minimise the spread of penalties and hence mean people who perhaps don’t have a car particularly suited to Tests do not get too discouraged.
After a stunning lunch in the Safety Park Reception building there was another run at the Test before crews tackled two more regularities on the way to Cortina. On the first we had three zeroes, Tipping / Jolly, Colton / Woodcock and 89 Winner Henry Pearman and Karen Ibberson. Caldwell / Rings were on one as were Anderson / Lymn Rose, Walker / Toohey and Andrew and Sarah Mallagh. Korrison and Rushforth were the only crew on two seconds.
The final regularity into Cortina was the Giau, on the final route survey, carried out a couple of weeks before the event this was as far as we got as having driven over this in light snow the survey crew got up the next morning to find that the area had received a dose of heavy snow overnight. It was so bad that even the Giro d’Italia cycle race had to cancel or amend several stages. Thankfully by the time of the event the roads had been cleared and we were able to drive our regularity section over the Giau. Quite a lot of crews had two and three seconds but only Tipping and Jolly got a clean sheet on both timing points.
When all the calculations were done in the Hotel Bellevue the lead was retained by Colton and Woodcock on 2 minutes 38 seconds, second was still Wignall and Savage on 3 minutes 3 seconds meaning that their deficit over the leaders had increased by six seconds. Abel and Dennett were in third on 3 minutes 36 seconds but snapping at their heels on 3 minutes 38 seconds was the Tiger of Korrison and Rushforth so there was plenty of scope for position changes on the sixth and final day – the Cortina – Cortina loop.
More to follow . . . ..
On the next regularity Alex Geigy and Carl-Gustav Mez got at zero on both timing points and several other crews were on one second including Marathon regulars Andrew and Sarah Mallagh in the Porsche 914/6. Amother crew to get just one second were first timers Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose in the Jaguar E Type. This was the car used by Marcus’s father Colin on the early Marathons and had been in storage for many years. Daniel Gresly and Max Behrndt also got one second in their Porsche 911, Max is another competitor on his first event. Parts of the event had been very close to Daniel’s home and he’d commented that our Route Designer Anthony Preston had managed to find roads that even he did not know existed!