Saturday, March 08, 2008

Monte Carlo Historique Rallye 2008: 3rd Movement "The Common Leg"

Mad Dogs at Valence
Mad Dogs preparing to leave Valence: note to self -the robin red breast race suit makes me look like the Michelin man. Photo courtesy Stefan Sittner.

On Monday 4th February we started the first part of what is known as the Common Leg of the rally. The previous day's "Classification Run" is now somewhat erroneously named. In the past it dictated the competitors' running order but this year we continued to go out according to our car number and thus we hung around in Valence city centre for quite awhile as 263 cars raced off in front of us at 1 minute intervals. On this day the rally took us over the Vercors plateau and on to the Haute Alps. The first regularity, ZR5, was a golden oldie run over the Col de L’Echarassone. Here we made a major mistake and went out on our intermediate Yokohama tyres instead of studded Hakkas. On our December recon run we had got over the mountain quite easily in our rented Peugeot despite snowy conditions. Six weeks later, however the conditions were horrendous. The stage was packed snow over hard ice and the effect of 263 cars (our running number was 264) going before us had caused a “washboard” effect in the packed ice which shook many cars to pieces and ruined our front tyres. Many cars went off altogether. We lost a lot of time and the front wheel spun constantly which caused the Halda reading to become wildly inaccurate. We somehow bumped our way to the end of the stage and pushed on to ZR6 at Les Nonieres. Our frantic text to the service crew requesting an urgent wheel was pinged back saying that conditions were so bad that the vehicle with our much needed tyres had itself got stuck in a snowdrift and had no traction. So off we went to ZR6, again without our studded Hakkas.
Battling the elements_2_2
PRX 720B tackles the Col de L’Echarassone on the wrong tyres

Memorial to French Resistance Fighters marked the end of ZR5

Conditions were also horrendous on the transit section and I know understood the old rally saying “See Vercors and Die”. Die is a small town at the bottom of the plateau.
Ethereal view from the Vercors plateau: the road goes down to the appropriately named town of Die

We had so many slips and spins on the way down I started to think that the heavenly view from the top of the plateau was going to become a literal one before the end of the day. So we did the ZR6 on our hopelessly inadequate intermediate tyres. We spun several times and eventually slid into a snowbank (we were towed out by a kind spectator). We did eventually find some grip and Bill shot over the brow of the Col and made the descent at terrifying speed. There were several hairpins on the way down and Bill just hurled the car into them doing dramatic handbrake turns on each occasion.
Extreme conditions
Extreme conditions persist on ZR6 and our tyres are still inadequate

We completed the stage, found the service point, Jim et al. zipped on our snowtyres and we made the time control at Mens on time and despite these two horrendous stages were amazed to find later in the day that our overall position had stayed almost the same. Everybody else had had a torrid time and many cars were damaged or abandonne.

ZR7 at Mens was a super stage. We whizzed around it with no difficulty bang on the clock and then found ourselves climbing back through the ranks. At the end of the stage marshals presented us with a note that ZR8 was cancelled due to a blizzard and we were to make our own way the Serre Chevalier ice circuit just outside the night stop at Briancon close to the Italian border. I was then forced to do some old fashioned “plot and bash” navigation -plotting the route while on the move. It wasn’t too difficult. We took a long diversion south through the town of Gap instead of going north and arrived at the Serre Chevalier in the dark. It was bloody cold and snowing.
Ice circuit
Arrival at the ice circuit. Photo courtesy Stefan Sittner.

We checked in at the time control and before we knew what was happening we were pushed out onto the ice circuit. Here a bit of hilarity ensued. We’d researched the ice circuit carefully and knew the layout. We were also aware that the result of this particular stage (and it was conducted as a regularity) didn’t count to the final rankings but it had its own trophy. As we were channeled onto the circuit I was unprepared to say the least: I’d only just got back into the car had my seatbelts weren’t on (this situation was rapidly corrected), the Halda wasn't zeroed and the chronometer was somewhere on the floor of the car. In front of us a BMW that was always zooming past on the road was spinning hopelessly. Bill, however, was in his element and went into full “Stig” mode. The Mini flew around the circuit and we overtook everybody.
On the ZR9 ice circuit we overtook everybody. Photo courtesy Stefan Sittner

Bill drifted through every corner and we were having a great time. The instructions said do four laps and exit but we were having such fun we couldn’t stop. After about eight or nine circuits Bill came out with the immortal line from The Italian Job “Try to find the exit, we can’t keep going round here all day” -we were giggling like naughty schoolboys when we eventually found the sortie and departed for the night stop back at Briancon. We’d placed 27th overall on the ice circuit and and we were actually first in class.

Porsche out of shape

Opel can't cope

PRX 720B avoiding a BMW

Mad Dogs frolick in snow

All video clips courtesy Stefan Sittner.

To be continued...

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