Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 6: The Common Leg (ii)
We spent Monday evening in Gap in the Haute Alpes. Every long distance rally through France that I've ever done has stopped here. It is quite literally a gap in the mountains and the largest town in the southern alps. I've always liked the place. Probably because it's located in quintessential rally country (sorry about this cliché but it's true). Lots of narrow, twisty, mountainous roads on which Minis excel as well as breathtaking scenery. There is also a feeling that one is not far from the riviera and that journey's end is on hand. At our hotel we met up with Bill's customers Nicky West and Rob Stacey and enjoyed a fairly racuous meal along with Jim, Juliette and Steffan. Our improved performance had done wonders for morale. Our only "poor" showing of the day was on the long Sauvoron stage. Despite the fact I thought we had virtually cleaned the section I'd made another basic error. At one point we'd taken a wrong turn and driven into a farmyard. We'd recovered quickly and Bill stormed up the right route rapidly finding the lost time. However I'd forgotten to reverse the Halda and negate the extra distances thus effectively elongating the route by about one Km and consequently making us about 2% fast and concomitantly dropping down the order. Oh well!
The following day, Tuesday February 1st, we set off from Tallard aerodrome with eager anticipation and a feeling that we'd finally found our groove. Unfortunately this mood was dented (pun intended) on the first regularity at Selonnet. This was a choppy and fairly unpleasant stage with mixed conditions. Nevertheless Bill made the time as requested although the road was so rough I frequently found it difficult to read the speed tables. One of my major dislikes is bridges, especially on fast downhill descents. They are frequently icy, narrow and at a right angle in the road. They are always hard and unyielding and there is a lot of scope for unpleasant impacts. The route description of this stage warned of dangerous bridge right at the end of the section and I duly primed Bill with this information urging caution. Well we didn't hit the bridge but an Alfa Romeo running two cars in front did and succeeded in completely blocking the road. By the time he was pushed to one side we'd lost about three minutes. A rallying "incident" but not much we could do but press on. Bugger!
Jim and the crew switched us back to our Dunlop road tyres for the fast road section through Sisteron (a big hold up as we negotiated the passage control in the town centre) and on to time control at Castellane. Then it was on to to the final regularity of the day at Trigance. Apart from a Keystone Cops-like interlude trying to find the start of the section and about which the less said the better, we had our best result of the entire rally, placing 9th overall out of 299 cars. Now that's more like it. There was absolutely no reason why that performance couldn't have been achieved on all the other stages if I'd had the Halda correctly calibrated. Now all we had to do was go directly to Monte Carlo. This was some of the fastest driving we'd done on the whole event. We'd been picking up traffic all afternoon as we approached the outskirts of Nice and I was anxious not to collect a lot of road penalties. We eventually pulled onto the A8 motorway and Bill put his foot down. PRX 720B responded with a howl and we saw the speedo register 150 Kph. My hearing has just about recovered and I'm hoping that those ominous double flashes in some of the tunnels will not result in some traffic violation Euroticket turning up in the mail. We shot into the time control at Eze village only to discover that I'd made a mental note of our arrival time as 2.39pm instead of my correctly calculated 2.49pm. We were 10 minutes early! Fortunately the marshalls gave me the correct time after I'd hung around their desk like a nincompoop while Bill was asking what was going on [aside to navigator: for the next event buy a countdown timer to avoid these cock-ups]. But really that was it. Outside Eze we pulled over for a relatively leisurely service and then growled into Monte Carlo, picked our way through the late afternoon traffic to the Quai Albert and crossed through the famous podium. While I collected our finishers' medals and trophys Bill parked the car and we savoured the Mediterranean air. The warmth and pleasantness of the riviera always comes as a delightful contrast to the sleet and snow of the preceeding five days. Bill and I basked in the atmosphere, enjoyed a coffee, and then went to the Hermitage Hotel for some rest before tackling the night loop later that evening. We had also received news of our performance on the Trigance stage so morale was high.
Watch out for the final installment of Bill and John's excellent adventure being posted here soon...
P.S. All the Monte Carlo location photos are provided courtesy of Christian Malin.
P.P.S. Several people have remarked about the slightly dodgy looking individual furtively scrutinising me in the lower photograph and seemingly communicating in a clandestine, secret agent style. We think he's in the employ of one or more Porsche teams who can't believe a Mini can go so fast. Or possibly an ACM official with similar views...!