The Concentration Run is a 900Km drive to the real start of the rally at Vals-les-Bains in the Ardeche mountains. Essentially it's a long, gruelling, run that tests the fitness of crew and car alike.
Once we'd left Reims we overcame our nervousness and settled into a groove hitting all the Passage and Time Controls correctly. At all of the latter there was much welcome coffee and food laid on. The drive through northern and central France was unremarkable except for the weather which was cold and miserable with sleet, rain and unrelenting permeating damp. Bill's driving was great and he was unphased by the clusters of faster cars swarming around us. Indeed he kept up with most of them and psyched out many including a Lancia Stratos who pulled over to let us by. In the immortal words of Peter Egan "not many cars can stand relentlesss hot pursuit from a BMC A series engine". Too true!
We pushed on through the night and morning came. By the time we stopped at a time control for coffee at the nice market town of Le Puy en Velay it was snowing and we were feeling pretty tired. We'd made no mistakes so far and were only 100Km from Vals-les-Bains. Apart from getting to Vals on time there was only one more thing to do, namely calibrate the Halda against certain signs on a 13Km section of the N 102. I was completely confident about this. Not only because the metered section was very clearly defined in the rally carnet but also becuase I'd calibrated the Halda quite extensively against Km markers as well as a GPS device. It was 4% slow, -well actually 3.77% to be precise. And there was no significant difference the Dunlop road tyres and the Colway snow jobs. So when we got to the official measured section I wasn't too perturbed by the fact that the Km markers were obliterated by snow. We were starting to hallucinate with tiredness and quite pushed for time. Also this flat part of the Ardeche plain was starting to resemble Russian stepppes with powdery blizzards blowing horizontally across the road. So we pressed on as I was totally confident the Halda would be dead on with a simple correction factor (mistake number 1). I did however say we'd get a partial calibration on a 6 Km section of the route. Having done this I didn't believe my figures of 10% slow (mistake number 2). We thrashed on to Vals les Bains; the final section of the concentration run saw both Bill and I completely punch drunk. At one stage I thought Jim and Juliette from our service crew were sitting in the back of the Mini. By some good fortune we made it to Vals on time, then proceeded to our hotel where we had a bite to eat and then gave the car a service with Jim and the gang. We were feeling tired but confident although unfortunately didn't realise we'd already committed an act of self-sabotage. We had a wonderful provencal meal (yes, I know we were in the Ardeche but it was country cooking at its best) snugged up to an enormous wood burning furnace. Quite delightful. We then turned in, quite ready for the Classification Run the following day.
To be continued...