The 22nd Classic Marathon

12th - 18th June 2010


The full results book is on the Downloads page.

MGB on Leg Six

The winning MGB of Mark and Sue Godfrey on Leg 6

Leg Six - Biarritz to Biarritz

A busy morning’s competition packed in five regularities before an arrival back in Biarritz in time for a late lunch. There were plenty of “Ups and Downs” and that included the roads as well as the potential leader board changes...

To avoid any issues with getting out of Biarritz the MTC was held in the village of Ibarron, following a route check the previous night it had been found that the propose droute out of town was closed due to flooding so there was a hasty re route prepared. In the end those who’d not read the amendment were saved as overnight the flood waters had subsided.

The day started with a self start regularity from exploring the rolling farmland south of Souraïde. The route then followed the Nive valley south to the bustling tourist trap of St Jean-Pied-de-Port, which was quickly passed en-route to a TC at Lecumberry.

Now back in the mountains and the next regularity quickly climbed up onto the barren heights of the Col d’Aphanize before turning south over the fabulous Col d’Arhansus to Chalet and the start of the third regularity. Concentration was important here as if a wrong turn is taken it is easy to end up in Spain!

A late morning snack had been arranged at the remote Hotel Sources de la Nive, right in the heart of the hills. After this quick breather, competition resumed with a long regularity on the demanding roads around Arneguy before a second passage through St Jean Pied-de-Port took us to the start of the last regularity. This final explored some narrow lanes in the Basse Navarre area. From here, it was an easy cross-country run back to Biarritz for the final MTC in the Place St Eugenie in the heart of the old town, as had unfortunately been the pattern for the week the wet weather was present to welcome the first couple of cars home but as it dried out an increasing crowd of locals and visitors gathered to welcome the crews in.

Joe Reynolds had a very good run in his BMW with Fred Bent but it was a very sick sounding BMW that crossed the Biarritz finish line and the car expired shortly afterwards but not before they had claimed the third overall spot.

Porsche 914

Andrew and Sarah Mallagh - Porsche 914/6

Andrew and Sarah Mallagh had their best result to date, winning their class and on penalties finishing in third but by being in a post 68 car not eligible for overall awards, I wonder whether they will be bringing out their 911 next year?

Howard and Matt Warren had their best Marathon result yet with top honours going to Mark and Sue Godfrey for their first Marathon win in the MGB that a week looked as though it was destined for retirement but thanks to the efforts of the sweep crews and many competitors the car park clutch change saw them through the event.

The prizegiving was held at the magnificent Chateau Brindos and after an inspired prize giving by the duo of George Mullins and Keith Baud competitors were served a splendid meal before returning to Biarritz and it’s numerous bars where the celebrations for many lasted into the early hours.

It had been a tough event made even more so by the poor weather on the latter stages of the event but all competitors were praising the overall route planning and organisation of the event.

The competitors view - Day Six

This morning we had a longish run out to a café for a self-start regularity in the rain. We arrived a little late, having been stuck in traffic in the preceding village, and had to start our trip before we arrived at the start line, which is never good. We then met a tractor on a very steep climb, but fortunately had enough time to catch up before the control. We were on a maze of tiny lanes over rolling countryside in a light drizzle. Frank had a minor moment and arrived at a control backwards and lost a few seconds, but not enough for us to catch him, and he’s keeping us away from a class win.

Following this, we had enough time to briefly appreciate the Basque architecture: white farmhouses with red shutters and red sandstone stonework. What was equally notable, were the amount of dual language signs, where the French place names had been spray painted out. The next regularity had a difficult section through a small village, with a mad car chasing collie and a quick speed change at a village out sign…. which we missed. By the time we noticed, we had too much to catch up, and gained a big lateness penalty, oops.

Today we had free range pigs on the route to complete our wildlife spotting. Next we climbed into the fog, and this made keeping to speed really difficult, especially for those drivers wearing glasses. Here, the Schaffrath’s ended up in a ditch with a damaged wheel, unfortunately as they took the spare wheel out to prepare for a wheel change, a moment of inattention resulted in the wheel disappearing down hill at a rate of knots, and we are not certain that it’s been found…… Just prior to this we had passed the Spurling Morgan, which had broken a stub axle, so the end of their rally. Just after the last section, I lost all brake pedal pressure as the fluid had boiled. Fortunately, it was lunch next and there was time to bleed the brakes, though not helped by my assistant, Paul Bloxidge, depressing the clutch pedal instead of the brake pedal! He blamed the too small pedals in my wee car.

The ladies at the lunch stop had prepared a lovely spread and a pretty table just for the rally. We made a muck up on the next section, but managed to get back on time, even with an extremely steep climb on wet tarmac. Now we were convinced that Frank and John were well ahead of us and even a good performance in the final regularity section wasn’t enough to claw back a class place. While we weren’t watching, the fuel guzzling 911 of the Bloxidge’s had also passed us in the overall standings after they had ceased to haemorrhage points like ‘throwing confetti at a wedding’ on the middle days of the rally.

However, we did catch up the Merryweather/ Johnson Mercedes to pinch equal 6th overall, way exceeding our best hopes for the event. Joe Reynolds had spent the last day and a half labouring with a three cylinder BMW, which must have been hell on the steep climbs, but they finished still finished 3rd overall, even though the car finally gave up the ghost between the finish control ad the car park! The run back to Biarritz was dull and wet and we arrived to a welcome arch that still looked more like Scarborough! But, great event all round.


Arriving in Laruns

The Harvey & Jan du Cros Austin Healey 3000 follows John Abel and Stephen Bradley, Sunbeam Tiger in to Laruns at lunch on Leg Five

Leg Five - St. Lary Soulan to Biarritz

After a couple of long days, today started off with a bit of a lie in with a slightly later start time. Once underway we headed north from St Lary over the Horquette d’Ancizan to the first regularity of the day through the narrow lanes around Sarrat de Gaye.

Turning south again, we passed through the rather unattractive ski resort of La Mongie as you ascend the Col du Tourmalet to a TC at the summit café. This was the high point of this year’s event (at 2115m) and spectacular mountain scenery should have been on offer but instead the mountains were shrouded in mist.

After descending from the Tourmalet, the next regularity was another climb. This climb to Luz-Ardiden has dashed the hopes of many a Tour wannabe. We did not go right to the top but turned off mid-climb to take a little-used road back down into the valley.

The route then headed into Argelès-Gazost for a fuel stop – fuel stations in rural areas are becoming increasingly scarce so often the route has to be diverted off its natural course to allow crews to refuel. A short regularity over the Col de Spandelles and the next big climb over the Aubisque followed. In the ski resort of Gourette a short test was run in one of the vast roadside ski car parks. From here a short drive took us to Laruns where the hotels Ossau and Pamplona hosted a lunch for us.

The afternoon section saw us descend from the high mountains via a series of interesting regularities and a couple of TCs, the first of which had offered on our previous visits a seemingly endless panorama across the surrounding countryside.

A final run through the rich farmland of the Pays Basque, with its distinctive white and red buildings, heralded our arrival in Biarritz, the rain had eased off by this point and we just hope that the sun will shine for tomorrow the final day when we do a Biarritz – Biarritz loop.

The day was full of drama for many crews, the sweeps had worked late into the night at St Lary Soulan to ensure as many cars as possible could restart. In the end most left but some decided to take an easier route to Biarritz fearing that their cars may not be capable of another day in the mountains.

Lowest penalty for the day was Paul Merryweather and Brian Johnson. Many of the crews who did so well at the start of the event are now unfortunately sliding back as the penalties are increasing and tension builds for the final day. The Godfrey’s MGB is still heading the field but snapping at their heels are Howard and Matt Warren in the Porsche 911 just 10 seconds behind. Andrew and Sarah Mallagh are a further 11 seconds with Joe Reynolds and Fred Bent four seconds behind them. Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage are another 11 seconds and then it's Merryweather and Johnson another 9 seconds. So with one day to go there is still potential for changes, not only is there the human element of ensuring the driver is on the right road at the right time there, for many, is the need to nurse the car through the final stages of the event.

Many cars have had problems with punctures on what have been generally quite smooth roads but in some cases the roads have been littered with stones and rocks that have been washed onto the road in the recent storms.

It is great to see the camaraderie amongst the crews and newcomers to the event being welcomed into the fold. The running order is revised each day which gives crews a chance to mix with different people and the reverse seeding ensures that the whole field is kept together. The out control each morning is an interesting place to be as the crews mingle with those that will be their running mates for the day ahead, swapping car numbers so that they may keep an eye on each other and minimise the risk of visiting a control at the wrong time. The number allocated to each car is based upon that cars age and does not reflect the expected finishing order.

With five regularity sections on the final day who knows who will cross the finishing line back in Biarritz in first position.......

The Competitors view...

Day Five

A dull start as far as the weather concerned and straight onto our first col of the day, the Aspin, where we met the first wildlife of the day, lots of cows, looming out of the mist, who didn’t seem too interested in ceding passage to the rally cars. From here we crossed towards the Tourmalet, where we saw some fresh snow on the summits, and then donkeys, horses and lamas in La Mongie, as well as a particularly nonchalant dog lying on the apex of a hairpin bend.

The fog was getting quite thick on some of the cols, but at least visibility was good for the regularity sections. One section descended a little used minor road, strewn with rocks, which made for an interesting natural slalom as we struggled to keep to accurate time. We had a slight mishap on the next section as we slithered to a halt at the stop line and I dropped a wheel onto the grass and lurched off the edge of the road. Fortunately, I halted our progress and was pushed back onto the tarmac by Jess, Paul Heal and Dick Appleton, in good time to be out of the way before the following car arrived.

We later learned that the Mallaghs had a disaster here as Sarah accidentally knocked the tripmeter calibration, meaning that they drove at exactly the wrong speed for the whole section, and collected considerable penalties for it. From here we had a short transit to the final test of the event in a very hilly car park. Frank Fennell was particularly good to watch here, and quick too!

Next was a well-deserved lunch of traditional Basque…. spaghetti bolognese, but no sign of Iain Tullie and Paul Wignall, who finally appeared as we were all leaving. They had a problem with overheating, apparently caused by a stuck thermostat and seemed to have arrived after penalty free lateness, but we’ll see. Poor old Willy Cave came through with little time to spare and had to wolf down a few mouthfuls of someone else’s spaghetti before disappearing again. The next ‘Foret’ regularity was on winding uphill hairpins and a real challenge to keep to time, and few of us managed it. I managed to lose extra time my making a hash of the last of a series of some twenty corners, typical!

The countryside now was more like my native North Yorkshire, except for the appearance of the first griffon vulture and they are huge. We were now entering rolling roads and lots of junctions, which were used to good effect on the final regularity for the day, where an accurate tripmeter was essential, as many of the junctions had wrong slots lying close by. Many crews were lured down wrong lanes, and one particularly unfortunate crew were the leading Godfreys who actually got stuck in a farmyard, explaining why Sue appeared at the finish covered in mud! We had a good run here, but were passed by the Merryweather/ Johnson Mercedes, which had taken an early wrong slot.

From here it was far from over as we navigated through a maze of lanes and tiny slots to a secret check, which not everyone found. Along here we met Gerry and Annabel, doing a spot of bird watching, and what a sight, 30 plus vultures soaring on the afternoon air currents, amazing. For the final, not-so-wildlife spotting, a large flock of limping sheep being driven down the road towards us.

The run in to Biarritz was busy in the 6 o’clock traffic and we arrived to a cold, grey and windy coast, more reminiscent of the finish towns of the `Rally of the Tests’ in November, than the Marathon in France in June. But, the weather has been exceptionally bad in parts of France this week, and we have actually missed the worst of it.
 

Porsche 911

Best performance on Leg Four & now third overall
Howard and Matt Warren - Porsche 911

Leg Four - Carcassonne to St. Lary Soulan

Another long day but this one was not planned. Problems with the hotel in the original overnight halt of Luchon meant a late route change and we are now in the small ski resort of St Lary Soulan instead.

The action started with a short self start regularity which twisted its way into the hills south from Carcassonne and this got crews into the groove before a second longer section, which afforded fine views of the Pyrenean peaks to the south.

After a quick stop for the first morning TC in the valley at Couiza, the terrain became more challenging for the morning’s third regularity, which finished with an impressive descent into the Gorges de l’Aude. By this stage many considered that the event could have been subtitled - The Rally of the Gorges.....

A re-route due to a landslide took crews to a TC in the small mountain village of Mijanes before the first big Col of the event - the 2001m Port de Pailhères. This traditional Tour de France climb preceded the final regularity of the morning - the short but sharp ascent of the Col du Pradel. A pleasant cross-country run followed before a test on the twisty Circuit de Lavelanet.

Today’s lunch was taken in the medieval Bastide town of Mirepoix and thanks to the co-operation of the local Mairie you will be parking right in the heart of the historic town centre.

After lunch, crews returned to the circuit for a chance to better the morning’s time before a longish run west past Foix to the densely wooded heights of the Massif de l’Arize for the first regularity of the afternoon.

Descending into the valley, the next short regularity took in some narrow roads en-route to a TC in the quirky roadside Auberge - Chez Jo in Portet d’Aspet. It was a run across west to the final regularity, which featured a stiff climb over the Col d’Azet. Had the weather been kinder this regularity should have provided a superb mountain vista but unfortunately instead crews were faced with torrential rain and a hailstorm meaning that it many crews took the wise decision that just concentrating on staying on the road was more important than worrying about regularity times.

We finish the day with the Godfrey’s back on top with a slender 18 second lead over Wignall and Tullie, Howard and Matt Warren had the lowest total on the leg and this has allowed them to hold their third place with Reynolds and Bent in fourth place 50 seconds behind. Andrew and Sarah Mallagh are doing very well in their Porsche 914/6 just 11 seconds behind but as they are in a Post 68 car they don’t qualify for overall awards but are leading their Class. In Joint fifth place is the Sunbeam Tiger of Wignall / Savage and the Sprite of Parson / Dickson.

Further down the field it has been great to see Harvey and Jan DuCros back out on the Marathon, they missed last year’s event due to Harvey’s poor health but he has made a great recovery and we look forward to seeing them out on many future events either in the Big Healey or there is a rumour that a “new” car nicknamed Red Robbo is the offing. Another returnee to the Marathon is the lovely Lancia Flavia Coupe of Tony Welsh and Anita Williams, it is nice to see somebody bringing such an unusual car out on the event and we hope that perhaps owners of other similar cars can be persuaded out too. Our class structure has been questioned but it is aimed at ensuring cars of similar abilities are in the same classes as for the purposes of test scoring cars score only against those in the same class, which is why we have Sunbeam Tigers and Porsche 911 together.

The underground garage at tonight’s hotel has been very useful enabling the sweep crews to work in near workshop conditions rather than outside in the dark and wet conditions that currently prevail. Many cars have been in for attention including the Mercedes-Benz 280SL’s of John Bateson and Barry Weir – both have been fettled back into health and will be setting off again tomorrow, not so fortunate is Martin Price who will be cruising to Biarritz. His Porsche 911 now having only three working gears and a blowing exhaust he has decided that taking it easy will be the best option. Keeping him company will be Tony and Susan Simpson in their TR7, it’s been a tough event as an introduction to the Classic Marathon and hopefully they will return on another event when the sun will shine to make it just that little bit easier. Julian Pitts and Graham Briggs had a problem with their fuel tank and were unable to find anybody in Carcassonne who was able to repair it so are now on their way home sans car. Dennis and Penny Robson have been having a difficult time and the final straw was a broken wheel so they are another who will be taking the easy route to the coast.

It’s another day of mountain climbs tomorrow and we are all hoping that the weather will be kinder to us so that the driving may be enjoyed and the scenery seen at its best.

The competitor’s view.....

Day Four

We left from the car park in Carcasonne in brilliant sunshine today, but the weather forecast wasn’t good. A simple regularity out of town was an exercise in timing accuracy, with a single, long timing point. We zeroed it, but so did lots of others. The next regularity on tulips began at the ominously named Col de l’Homme Morte, and had a sting in the tail on a short gravel section, which some overshot, but most got small penalties.

The Gillespies in their Tiger decided to go off in a different direction entirely earlier in the regularity and visited a village 7km off route! From here there was a lovely gravel drive over the hills with our first views of snow on the not so distant Pyrenees.

Another regularity had a pair of odd grass triangles on it, which was the source of much discussion before the section, and resulted in early arrivals and a few near misses. A group of very enthusiastic cyclists cheered our arrival, though I doubt they knew whether we had done well or not.

Now we were entering the mountains and soon climbing our first big col, the Pailheres. A narrow road snaked up to 2000m and we were soon in the cloud, when we had a sudden run in with a wasp that decided to get caught up between us, not very handy on a wet hairpin bend.

The next regularity was cancelled by a landslide, so we had a re-route to arrive at a kart circuit for a very enjoyable test. The Mallaghs equalled the bogey time and the rest of us battled for class honours and zero penalties. Cook and Topham had more fuel problems and stopped mid test.

A short run took us to the historic village of Mirepoix, where all the old buildings had been built on oak stilts, but who knows why? Here we had a great steak and chips lunch in the market square in the sunshine, but the clouds were gathering. Another shot at the circuit, where most of us shaved one or two seconds off our previous times.

As we climbed into the hills, we began to get intermittent, but heavy showers, and we were putting the hood up and down the whole way to the next time control, in a rustic café, with coffee and cakes laid on and a roaring fire, which was most welcome, given the now steady rain.

I replaced a fuse, which had resulted in no wipers or brake lights for the previous few kilometres, only for that one to prove faulty a few minutes later, with the constant rattling getting the better of new components.

The climb of the Col de Mente was extremely wet. The next descriptive regularity on tiny lanes had to be cancelled as the finish marshal’s clocks decided to misbehave part way through, which was a shame. A run over the Col de Peyresoude, which was getting ready for the arrival of the Tour de France in a few weeks time, brought us to the final section over the Col d’Azet. It was now steadily raining and the tops were shrouded in cloud. There was a nasty timing point at the foot of the hairpin bends to catch out those running early, and a middle and top point to see who had the grunt to get back on time up the climb.

Many cars were severely tested and dropped lots of time, while some found wrong slots and picked up big penalties.

The results board showed that the Godfreys had snatched the lead back from Wignall and Tullie in second and Howard and Matt Warren were up to 3rd. We had a good day and were now equal 5th.
 

BMW 1600 Alpina

Going well on the Chateau Lastours Test
Joe Reynolds & Fred Bent - BMW 1600-2 Alpina

Leg Three - Millau to Carcassonne

It was action from the word go today with a self start regularity climbing straight out of Millau onto the plateau to the south of town. During this section there were fine views of the Viaduc de Millau, the morning mist lifting just as the first cars started. On the next road section there was chance to see the viaduc at close quarters enabling competitors to appreciate the sheer scale of the engineering feats involved in its construction.

A lovely run along the Vallée du Tarn followed as competitors headed for the first TC of the morning at Le Truel and the next regularity in the interesting lanes around Ayssènes, which passed a number of fine perched villages clinging to the hillside.

More attractive scenery was on offer as crews headed south via a TC in the small town of Camarès and the next regularity in the Monts de l’Espinouse to Fraisse-sur-Agout where there was a brief stop for sandwiches.

Continuing southwards, the next regularity explored some interesting roads in the Minervois area before descending onto the flatter countryside of the Aude plains for a pleasant cross-country run to Carcassonne, and the overnight hotels in the shadow of the impressive Cité Medievale.

An early afternoon arrival gave time for a stroll around the medieval city, a quick snooze or for some time to do some more repairs to their car.

A late afternoon departure started with a long regularity exploring the Val de Dagne followed by a second, which twisted its way along the Serre de Quintillan to Cascatel-des- Corbières. From there, it was only a short run to Château de Lastours for a couple of tests on the estate’s famous piste roads and an excellent meal in the Restaurant la Bergerie.

There seemed to be no major overnight car issues with the sweeps having been kept busy late into the previous night fixing various cars, the Mercedes-Benz 250SL of Merryweather and Johnson needing some wiring work to restore the wipers – with the predicted weather nobody wanted to be without these, particularly as this crew are now in fourth place!, The Austin-Healey Sprite of England and Rushforth was having some “clonking” sounds sorted. Denis and Penny Robson had a problem with the overdrive on their MG Magnette and were hoping that the part would be waiting for them on arrival at Carcassonne – it was and has now been fitted but no news as yet on whether it has solved the problem.

The tests at Château de Lastours proved very entertaining as crews explored the limits of their cars handling on a surface that appeared to have very differing amounts of grip depending on which line was taken. Former leader Mark and Sue Godfrey nudged a large water container but thankfully without damage to anything other than their pride, others who nudged the tyre barriers were the XK150 of Charles and Kit Graves and the Morgan of Cook and Topham, several others had spins and Reynolds /Bent had a lucky escape or the driver had very good car control as they were very close to an unforgiving earth bank. The test was overlooked by the approach road meaning that all errors were highly visible to the waiting drivers.

Several crews had left the evening meal promptly in order to attend to car niggles before they became too serious, Graham Walker and Sean Toohey have been fettling their Scimitar Coupe since the start, purchased only a week or so ago from Ebay, it is to date demonstrating that you can have fun with a reasonably priced car as long as you have a big box of spanners and some even bigger washers to help keep it all together.

Wignall and Tullie have edged themselves into the top spot but have a slender seven second lead over the Godfrey’s. Howard and Matt Warren have moved up to third in their Porsche 911 with a good consistent performance on the road. Fellow CES Director Charles Colton is showing that he and Guy Woodcock are still a crew worth watching out for as consistently quick test times should see them do well but a mistake on Day 1 means they still have some catching up to do but with three legs remaining we are just half way through the event so many more changes can be expected over the remaining Legs.

And now for the Competitor’s version.........

Day Three

This morning’s rude awakening was a quick uphill regularity which caught a lot of us napping at the first timing point, but then followed a nasty little hairpin right onto gravel, where minimum penalties were around six seconds, but any of us received considerably more than that for nosing into other potential slots. The next transit passed under the Millau viaduct, not quite bathed in sunlight, but clear enough to admire it, British architect too! We arrived at a small café for a time control, but it was closed and there were no toilets, always a problem.

The next regularity appeared to particularly vex Fennell and Bayliss, who managed to search out every wrong slot imaginable, passed Cook and Topham in the Morgan three times and still only dropped three seconds at the time control, which was sited on a stretch of downhill gravel track.

A straightforward regularity and a nice transit through wooded valleys brought us to a market square and a sandwich lunch, where Paul Wignall had a brake pipe fitted, before heading off to a difficult regularity, where many were caught out by the fact that FIA regularity events don’t avoid using the same stretch of road twice, as is the case in the UK, so many didn’t do two loops of a large grass triangle, but rather ended up somewhat early at the second control, this then caused knock on problems as the final slot was down a tiny track, and if tripmeters hadn’t been reset to the correct distance, this would be overshot, which the Grays in the Mercedes did.

The drive into Carcasonne was more reminiscent of Spain than France as we passed through numerous areas famous for the wines such as Minervois and Corbieres. Here we had a long stop in a car park, which rapidly turned into a service area: Andrew Mallagh was busy with drive shafts, and the Magnette was receiving a new overdrive solenoid. By now the sun was high in the sky and the forecast poor weather had not materialised as we headed out for two more regularities.

The first, on tulips, began easily enough, but then a tiny junction left took us into a maze of tiny, rough lanes and tracks, tough to follow and keep to speed on, with a well-placed timing point to catch us out. We popped back out onto the road, and to carefully time a slow stretch through a very pretty village and onto the final timing point. The second was relatively straight forward on a narrow windy road, but we certainly found that cutting corners to make up time, leads to a shorter route and early penalties……

A final treat lay in store as we now headed off to Chateau de Lastours, which produces wine, but also has miles of gravel stages for rallying. We began with a tight circuit test on gravel where many spun, some were caught and others, who knew how to balance throttle and steering were rewarded with excellent times.

The final test was a mini stage, with a few cones to slow us down, the track dipped and swerved and was a huge fun, Cook and Topham stopped with a failed fuel pump, some of us spun and headed for the vines and others got it right! We all dined at the Chateau and received a complimentary bottle of wine, for later, as we still had to drive back to our hotels.

Results were posted, and Wignall and Tullie had pinched top spot, but just seven seconds ahead of the Godfreys, while there was lots of swapping about down the order as a tough day had re-arranged the penalties and leader board considerably. Keith Baud presented a bag of nuts to the Graves in the big Jaguar for chucking it around with such aplomb. The oldest team received escargots, possibly as a comment on their leisurely pace. We had a mixed day and dropped to eighth, but that’s just at the halfway stage, so all to play for.

MGB

Maintaining their lead at the end of Leg Two
Mark and Sue Godfrey - MGB

Leg Two - Valence to Millau

The opening day on the Classic Marathon is traditionally an easier day and designed to allow crews to settle in before the competition begins in earnest on the second day. This year is no exception with nine regularities planned for today.

Unfortunately last minute route changes led to the cancellation of one section but the eight remaining proved enough of a challenge and on arrival at Millau even the seasoned competitors were complimenting Anthony on his chosen route, combining largely traffic free roads with stunning scenery.

After leaving Valence, the route quickly crossed the mighty Rhone and headed west into the Ardèche to sample some classic rallying terrain, starting with an interesting regularity south west of Le Moulinon (the start of a famous Monte-Carlo stage). This was followed by a fine drive along the corniche road up to Mézilhac and the first time control of the day.

Next up was Burzet - a name synonymous with the Monte-Carlo rally, although the roads used on the second regularity are often blocked by snow in winter so rarely used on that iconic event. The route after Burzet was subject to a late re-route when it was found that this winter’s heavy snows had left a couple of roads in a bad state.

A couple of cars succumbed to mechanical problems and it remains to be seen whether the sweep crews can work their magic to get them back into the event.

Very few crews seem to be getting zeroes at any of the timing points proving how challenging these roads are. First clean of the day went to Barry and Roma Weir in their Mercedes-Benz 280SL, on the first regularity they were followed by Richard Prosser and Andy Gibson who cleaned one timing point in their Reliant Scimitar, the only other crew with a zero on that regularity were Tony Arnold and David Hughes in Daisy the MGB.

Burzet must have been a little easier as there were several cleans on this and some of the leading crews getting early penalties makes you think perhaps they maintained some of their early pace.

The lunch halt at the top of the Col de la Croix de Bauzon was also the location of today’s test. Fastest on this test was the MGB of the Godfrey’s proving that the clutch repairs had been successful. This short sharp test in the ski car park perhaps suited the more nimble cars.

After lunch, the action re started with a regularity through the dramatic Gorges de la Borne followed by another interesting section which descended into the valley at Villefort. The route then headed south into the northern fringes of the Cévennes for the first afternoon Time Control in Chamborigaud and then a short regularity giving a flavour of the sinuous roads that twist and turn their way through these densely wooded hills.

The challenge had returned with these regularities and again there were few with clean sheets and many with early penalties.

Emerging from the hills the route ascended onto the extensive limestone plateau of the Grand Causses (affording fine views of the surrounding countryside) to the start of the next regularity, which descended into the spectacular Gorges du Tarn via Montbrun.

The day was brought to a close with a run along the bottom of the Gorges to a Time Control at the Manoir de Montesquiou in La Malene and a final short regularity back up on the plateau, which culminated in another dramatic descent to le Truel. From there, a straightforward run into Millau offered the first views of the impressive “bridge in the sky”.

The sweeps were kept busy late into the night sorting out various minor problems, it looks as though we have just two retirements to date and tomorrow sees us head towards the medieval city of Carcassonne, hopefully the sun will return so the stunning scenery can be seen at it’s best.

And now for the Competitor’s version.........

Day Two

Today always looked challenging, nine regularities in the routebook, more corners than you could shake a stick at, and rain forecast! Fortunately, some late information from the French authorities meant that we lost one regularity and another was altered, so just eight then!

We were straight into it, and the first timing point was at the top of an endless staircase of hairpins on a goat track, and everyone was late. The Gilmores were parked up with problems at this first timing point. The next two timing points were a little easier and luckily there were few cars on the route to slow our progress, perhaps the poor forecast had scared them all off.

The next time control brought tales of three point turns to climb the previous hairpins and time lost by many crews. The following regularity was a short drive away with a self-start, which one or two crews seemed to find difficult to find, resulting in a ‘flying’ start, never good for the concentration. The sky was becoming grey and drops of rain were falling as we set off on the descriptive regularity, which seemed to go according to plan. The third regularity of the day was in full, heavy rain and the road surface was becoming a little slick, no surprise then that the single timing point was at the foot of a difficult series of downhill hairpins and just before a junction, so most crews skidded to a halt, just a few seconds late.

We were now in beautiful Ardeche country, limestone gorges and forests, as we climbed several passes to get to a ski lodge at the Col de la Croix de Bauzon at about 1,300m. Here we had a short test around cones in the car park, pretty much made for the Sprite, but I wasn’t fastest, quite. After a good lunch we headed off to yet another regularity which had a single instruction, ‘End of regularity’, so, one to watch the road on and keep to time and it seemed to go smoothly. We were in a Porsche 911 sandwich for most of the day as we pressed along the increasingly wet roads, which kept us on our toes. News filtered in that one of the Porches was out with gearbox problems, and a long way from home with no breakdown cover.

The next regularity teased out quite a few errors from crews, most of them unforced, we messed up a speed change but lots of crews who should know better decided to read from the wrong speed tables and therefore drive perfectly accurately, at the wrong speed….. Soon we began to come into the Tarn valley, and it was magnificent, even in the grey and drizzle, rock arches, tiny roads and even a section of split single file in each direction at different levels to accommodate the terrain. A quick time control in a lovely hotel had a particularly fierce Madame who demanded we buy a coffee before securing a place in the toilette! Fortunately, it was good coffee, and chocolate.

A good run up the Tarn valley and then climbed up the steep side of it, brought us to the final regularity of the day, which turned out to be quite a gentle affair, with a single timing point. Then time to head for home, around yet more bends.

Thinking back, none of the drivers could remember a straight longer than 100m all day, and arms and tyres had been severely tested. We had a brief view of the new, but already famous Millau bridge as we entered the small town of Millau, but hopefully it will be basking in sunlight tomorrow morning, but not if the forecast is right!

I have to say, we were somewhat surprised to find that we had the best leg total for the day and were now sitting in second place. How did that happen? My inexperienced navigator, is somewhat overwhelmed by it all. Mark and Sue Godfrey in the MGB kept a tight hold of the leaderboard and will get the best lie in, setting off last tomorrow with reverse seeding.

Austin Healey

Stephen Chick & Philip Sloper - Austin Healey 3000
on the Circuit de Bresse skid pan

Leg One - Beaune to Valence

Beaune provided its traditional welcome to classic rally crews and scrutineering passed without incident, no doubt helped by the sunny weather.

For some though the problems had started even before scrutineering. Mark and Sue Godfrey arrived at the hotel on Friday afternoon with Mark complaining that they he was having trouble getting the MGB into gear. Peter and Betty Banham had also just arrived and as we all know Peter likes nothing more than getting his hands dirty and before long various modifications were being made to the hydraulics but to no avail and it was decided that the only option would be for the engine to be lifted out.

This was duly done without the aid of any mechanical lifting equipment and the problem was diagnosed as a faulty cover plate. Phone calls were made back to the second sweep crew who had yet to leave the UK to see if they could bring another with them. A second hand replacement arrived on Saturday afternoon and again with the aid of lots of helpers the engine was lifted back in. A quick test drive proved the work had been successful and that they would be able to start the rally on Sunday morning..

In the organisation of the Beaune start we had been given much help from Jean-Pierre Cropsal of the Beaune Grand Cru Classic Car Club, Jean-Pierre is also the PR Director of Maison Joseph Drouhin and he had kindly arranged a cellar tour as a prelude to our dinner in the Salon Roy at the Hospice de Beaune.

The tour and subsequent tasting were much enjoyed and as you might expect our meal that evening was accompanied by fine wines from the cellars of Joseph Drouhin. For the start on Sunday morning we were privileged to be allowed to start from the centre of town, outside the Market Hall, now somewhat tidier than when it was used as a scrutineering venue on the Winter Challenge. Locals and visitors to the town of Beaune were able to wander around the cars as they waited for the off. There were no non starters but some competitors who do not compete regularly did admit to some nerves as they waited to be flagged away.

Once underway there was plenty to do and most crews had reasonable scores on the first regularity section and after this it was onto the test at the fabulous Circuit de Bresse, the main circuit was booked for a motorcycle event so we had use of the handling and driving school area, this had the advantage of incorporating some “low grip” areas and many crews made a hash of these and incurred penalty points for driving into rather than around the cones, after a good lunch in the circuit club house the test was run again so crews had chance to see if they could better their time.

Many did but as you would expect some got over confident and ended up with worse times. It is always good to see crews new to the event getting a good result, Steve Chick and Philip Sloper were leading after the morning sections in their Austin Healey 3000 and only dropped one place in the afternoon, following on from the test there were three regularities with multiple timing points providing plenty of opportunities for penalties to be gained by those getting back into the groove.

At the end of the day the lead was held by the MGB of Mark and Sue Godfrey proving that the efforts put into repairing the car were well justified.

Chick and Sloper had dropped to joint second on the same time as the experienced crew of Joe Reynolds and Fred Bent. Paul Wignall and Iain Tullie were joint fourth with Richard Prosser and Andy Gibson.

The sweep crews had not been that busy but there had still been several minor issues to resolve to ensure that all 53 starters were able to get to the end of the day.

Jottings from the Yellow Peril

For those who regularly follow CRA events will know that these daily stories also often contain a competitor’s view of the proceedings from the driver of the Yellow Peril Austin Healey Sprite. Being a brave man Simon has foregone his usual co-driver for this event and is instead being co driven by Jess, daughter of Rally Director Jeremy Dickson. Any allegations of inside knowledge can be wiped out by the fact that until very recently she has been in Milan and therefore far away from the Rally Office. Simon’s version of Day One is given below.

Day One

Pre event repairs included a new clutch on the MGB of the Godfrey’s and a radiator swap on the hot-running Cortina of Gary and Jane Edgington. The group dinner was in the Hospice in the historic town centre, and what a beautiful setting always aided by good wine. Next morning, after a leisurely start from the beautiful town of Beaune, we were soon running through some great scenery towards the first descriptive regularity of the day.

Things seemed to go quite well, the Du Cros Healey had a minor moment of indecision, but were soon on their way again and back on time. Although, we weren’t at all sure where Anthony had managed to spot a windmill and a fire hydrant on one section of the route! The final section on gravel was fun and not a place to be catching up time. A brief foray onto the autoroute and then a secret check to make sure we hadn’t pressed on too far along, brought us to a time control manned by Luc and Marcel who many will remember from the Poppy Rally, we had a few minutes here before we were on our way again.

A nice piece of transit took us to a driver training centre at the Circuit de Bresse where we had a test before and after lunch, taking in the skid pans. As usual, these never really favour the bold, and Howard Warren and Frank Fennell were both seen to have moments facing in the wrong direction. John Abel posted the fastest time, but it turned out that a missed cone might have shortened their route a little.

After a great lunch in a converted barn, most of us managed to improve upon our times second time around. The scenery was becoming more hilly and the limestone outcrops began to appear. The next regularity was a hill climb at a single speed and we were expecting a real push to keep to time. As it happened once the first section was over, things eased up and the surprise single timing point and End of Regularity sign was a welcome surprise.

Another jogularity didn’t make use of most of the speed changes and section which they had planned, but rather stopped at the first timing point. Another TC and a longish drive to climb through the limestone gorges and cutting through dramatic rock tunnels brought us to the final regularity section. Anthony had been making things progressively more difficult during the day and this one had very few instructions (always worrying), several speed changes and a tortuous looking route. This was one of the ones where you have to keep to the main road unless told otherwise, and this can be more difficult than it appears, and several crews made some quite lengthy detours into the forest and down dead-end roads. Worse still, the beautiful Alfa Romeo 6C of Alistair Caldwell came to a halt at the top of the pass, no fuel………

Another car that had been hunting out the fuel all day was the rather uneconomical Porsche of the Bloxidge’s. Early results suggested that the new clutch on the Godfrey’s MGB was working, as they were at the top of the leader board, with CRA newbies Chick and Sloper second in the big Healey.

At dinner Keith Baud gave out an assortment of test-related awards. The E-Type of Littleboy / Gill got the award for the biggest and most stylish spin on the circular skid pan. Peter Rushforth swapped with his driver for the second test and took six seconds off his driver’s time, but it is his car! The Stag crew missed the most cones and I won the most over-exuberant and best navigator squealing award! The Mallagh’s and Charles Colton won the award for joint fastest.