Sunday, March 02, 2008

Monte Carlo Historique Rallye 2008: Prelude

Bill at Reims
Bill at the scrutineering sheds at Reims doing mods to the rockers or something...

To the rally faithful, here's the first of the posts I've been promising on this year's 11th Monte Carlo Historique rally. It'll take a while to describe the event so sit down with a cuppa and enjoy. To my non-petrolhead readers I would ask your indulgence for the next few days; normal (non-rallying articles) will resume shortly. Anyway here we go...

Prior to the start of the rally on February 1st, my horoscope said "Mercury, your ruler, is in retrograde for the next three week. This transit will cause chaos in all areas of your life involving travel and communications. Avoid taking trips during this period if possible". Great, just the advice I needed before a long distance rally in a foreign country. In any case I packed my cases containing navigational paraphernalia, road book, maps, race suit, helmet and a tone of other miscellaneous gear and staggered off to the airport. I managed to check onto the flight without incurring a luggage surcharge despite being a good bit overweight and counted my blessings. I settled in the seat of the Boeing 777 (see my previous concerns) and 10 hours later landed at Heathrow without incident and made my way to Bill Richards' place. So far so good: maybe the rally gods were smiling for once.

Over the next two days days I did the usual car preparation. PRX 720B was cleaned, graphics applied, tools and spares sorted out and the tyres calibrated against the Halda. Back in November/December the car had been strengthened and upgraded. It was now fitted with FIA seats –not particularly pretty but much safer than the old period buckets. We had paid special attention to lights. Gone was the rack of vintage Lucas “flame thrower” spot and fogs which were quite ineffective despite new reflectors and halogen bulbs: in their place was a set of a full set of Cibié Oscars. The headlamps too had been replaced with the latest halogen offerings and were also a huge improvement over the previous units (also halogen but an older design). In addition, Bill had done an amazing engine tuning job –the 1293cc lump pulled to 8,300 rpm and had serious grunt most of the way there. Bill estimated at least 110bhp which is a lot in a car weighing aroung 600Kg. Finally we'd given a lot of thought to tyres. This time we had a total of 16 boots: four Dunlops for dry conditions, six intermediate winter tyres Yokohamas sourced in Austria by Jim Wirtz and six Hakka studded for snow. We'd never been this well prepared and overall felt fit, fast and confident.
Bill and John at Ashford
Mad Dogs await rally with eager anticipation

More important than any number of technical innovations is the service crew and this year we had a superb complement. Jim Wirtz was masterminding the logistics and was assisted by his wife Juliette and Stefan Sittner. All three were from the Luxembourg Mini Club and performed sterling service for us in 2005. In addition John Griffin (Griffy) from the London and Surrey Mini Club, who had originally intended to shadow us and write a story for an automotive magazine was press-ganged into the team. Thus our service team comprised four adults as well as Juliette and Jim’s young son Sam and three vehicles carrying what seemed like a ton of tools and spare parts.

So early in the morning of Thursday 31st January Bill and I met up with Griffy and we set off for Dover. And here our problems started. Overnight a serious storm had blown up. Wind gusts of Force 10-11 were being recorded and the Port of Dover was closed. The ferry office advised us to stay put they anticipated sailing at 1.00pm. Now it seems whatever way I elect to cross La Manche I encounter difficulties. Devoted readers may recall that back in 2005, Bill and I had caused the evacuation of the entire Le Shuttle due to a fuel leak. In 2008 I had opted to use the ferry system not only was it considerably cheaper ($60 vs $400) but it is more relaxing and less claustrophobic. And at the back of our minds we didn't want to encounter any officials that might have remembered us from the 2005 incident! At this point we considered making a run for the tunnel but received conflicting information as to whether there was any availability. In the end we decided to wait it out and eventually boarded and sailed around 3.00pm

The Channel crossing was actually quite mild considering the waves we'd observed earlier in the morning and we arrived in Dunkirk at 6.00pm. The three hour drive to Reims was uneventful although we did stop to change tyres and make another Halda check. Eventually we arrived at the Mercure Hotel, met up with Jim, Juliette and Stefan, scoffed some dinner and turned in for the night. Next day was going to be long.

To be continued...

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