Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 7: The Night Loop
The final part of the rally was the night loop over the mountains behind Monaco including the infamous Col de Turini. Really all you want to do when arriving in Monte Carlo is have a beer or two and relax. But there was no such luxury for us: we had just a 4 hour break. We first dumped our stuff at the Hermitage Hotel. What an amazing place; a study in over-the-top opulence and with an unbelievably cryptic floor plan (no, I didn't say typically Gallic). Finding one's room almost needs a GPS (I hear more howls from the peanut gallery -lost in the hotel, ha! ha!, makes a change from the route though; typical!). Anyway we finally got to our room and Bill took a nap. I went back to the car to go over the route.
The night loop was a 162 Km run containing three regularities all of which had to be completed in 3hrs and 45 minutes. Time was going to be tight. We were due out around 9.19pm. By all the accounts the weather was good although there was allegedly quite a bit of ice. At least there was no fog as I'd encountered in 2002. All in all I was feeling good. I was confident in the car as well as our abilities. Our performance on the Trigance stage had shown our potential. Also we'd practiced the whole route back in December when we'd driven it twice. So it held no particular demons. At least that's what I thought...
Bill arrived at the car and we had a snack and a coffee. Jim, Juliette and Steffan were given the night off as the car had been full serviced and fuelled outside Eze village. There was nothing else to do. We were a bit concerned about our studded tyres though. We had one new one cover and one with 15% of studs remaing on the front; the rear tyres were knackered and had 1-2% studs. We should have done a better job with the rotations but the truth is we should have brought at least one more cover. Too late now.
9.19pm came around we we blasted off the podium. We were confident in finding our way out of town and duly nipped through the evening traffic to the A8 and Sospel. I worked out the corrected speeds [all around 49.5KPH -this was going to be fast!] and setteld down. We arrived at the first stage and after our usual pre-start review, lined up in the queue. The way ahead looked black as pitch and Bill turned on the fogs and spots. The latter had been fully restored at considerable expense. I'd had the reflectors re-chromed and Australian halogen bulbs fitted and I was convinced they'd thow plenty of light on the road. Well as Murphy's Law would have it, the switch controlling the beasts chose this moment to expire. "Arse" as the Red Bull-drinking set say. Bill fiddled with it desperately but to no avail. There was no alternative but to drive the route with just our headlights. At the start of the run we howled up the mountain. No problems. Bill, was right on time despite his complaints about the tyres and lights. We passed the ACM vans which we believe contained the intermediate timing points at exactly the second we should have done and I felt that we'd aced the stage (not true as it happens but that'll be the topic of another post). Fantastic, now for the Turini. We got to the start just the other side of Sospel and roared off. We were determined to storm the mountain. The route was lined with spectators who cheered us through every hairpin. Bill was concentrating furiously and didn't allow time to bleed away. We were dead on time by my reckoning as we hit the summit of the Turini (and an intermediate timing point van as I suspected; yo ho, by now we've figured out where your hiding places will be). Great going: now it was just a simple run 7Km downhill to the end of the stage. We dropped about 4 seconds negotiating the intersection and crowds at the top of the mountain and I asked Bill to pull them back. No problem we had plenty of time. He hit the gas and then disaster struck! A long sweeping left hander tightened abruptly, Bill hit the brakes and tried to power us through but to no avail. We hit a very solid wall a glancing blow on our right wing. That was it. We'd broken the ball joint. Some specatators helped us push the car off the road and I made the call to Jim. The moral to this tale must be that Guardian Angels can NEVER be given time off.
While we waited for the friendly Honda CRV to arrive we watched an Austin Healey tear his wing off on the same wall and numerous near misses including an Alfa that managed a spectacular 180 degree spin without hitting anything and ended up facing uphill and the oncoming rally traffic. Hair raising stuff! Jim et al turned up and we re-assessed the damage. There was no chance of making running repairs and we didn't have a ball joint. A tow truck was summoned and we waited. After what seemd like an eternity it arrived. Bill and I were cold -I think a little shock had set in. Bill's wrist was hurting (the MotoLita steering wheel was quite badly bent) and I was feeling a bit of whiplash in my neck. The car was duly loaded on the flat bed. Jim drove us back to Monte Carlo. We arrived back around 4.00am, absolutely exhausted. I don't even remember going to bed.
Well folks, that was the end of the adventure. I'm off to Washington DC for a few days so there won't be a post for awhile. When I do get to writing something more it will be an analysis of our performance as well as our plans for next year so please continue to watch this space. Until then...