Completing the circle
So how did it end?
And did a crew of total novices that set out from Glasgow looking for adventure 5 years ago manage to turn into a crack regularity rally squad?
Well when you left us, we were in Valence, 42nd overall just 341 points behind the leaders, with 3 stages and a long leg back to Monaco for a short pause before attacking the legendary Turini night stages ahead of us. But it’s fair to be said that the crew and car were beginning to look a bit rough around the edges after 3 long days at the wheel. Although the latter was still firing at the first push of the button, the tyres were looking extremely worn.
Leaving Valence in glorious sunshine we struck out South East for the first stage, an 18km special which while not particularly challenging saw us struggle to get our heads in gear and even had a mild panic at the start line with too many buttons to press and not enough hands in the “pre-launch sequence”… but although we were 51st equal on the stage, we had just 4 seconds more error than the leader. So far so good, we’d now sneaked up to 40th.
Stage 11 saw us avert near disaster when a power spike in the car saw the trip reset half way through the stage… without a measure of how far we’d come, it’s impossible to work out an average speed. However some quick thinking by Stuart saw us back on the right speeds and while we dropped 12 secs over the stage this was really a great result considering and overall we’d now sneaked up to 38th.
One of the features of the Tuesday is that there are no halts on the run back to Monaco: you leave Valence with 9.5 hours to get home and a large amount of countryside to cover which bathed in sunshine was absolutely spectacular. By this point we’d been having increasing trouble with the slow puncture (which we’d switched onto a rear wheel yesterday) but which was now needing air before every stage start and risked compromising our schedule if we had to stop on the road sections. However ZR12, the run into Greolieres is an area and road that I know well, and with both of us now fully awake and the trip behaving itself, we put in our best result of the rally, coming home 2nd! Given we’d really struggled to find the rhythm this was exceptionally pleasing and would take us up to an outstanding 32nd in the overall standings.
We pushed on from stage end up over the Col De Vence where so many new road car launches are held due to the spectacular nature of the road and the views. The descent in particular was a stretch that I really wanted to have a clear run at given the number of times I’ve driven it, but just as we were coming to the summit we were overtaken on a blind crest by two completely mad Japanese in a Datsun 240Z who were running late due to a small pause they’d had while discussing with the French police and their radar gun. Now the Japanese guy was pushing hard, but we were in thick fog and my local knowledge meant he was never going to shake us off… eventually he missed his braking point into a slippery hairpin and shot straight up the entry track to a horse ranch (and luckily NOT over the edge) while we continued down the rest of the Col to a rendezvous with a local friend who was to collect our spare wheels and roof rack to try and lighten up the car for the night run. However some 3km short of our planned halt, coming out of the last hairpin of the Col, the rear tyre finally cried enough and we had to stop to change it. So given none of our snow tyres had anything left in the way of tread we were forced to put a pair of studded tyres on the front and the best of the snow tyres on the rear for the night legs. Then a quick pitstop to deposit the very sorry looking couple of wheels and directly to La Turbie, where after an exceptionally quick fuel stop to top up the tanks for the night we arrived (at the end of a 9.5 hour leg remember) with just 6 minutes to spare having driven basically flat out all day… luckily we didn’t elect to stop for a coffee like a couple of our novice team-mates earlier in the week who hadn’t appreciated that Monte schedules are very tight indeed.
Talking of our IRDC team-mates, to say they’d been in the wars would be an understatement: Alistair Hutton in his ex-works Landcrab had blown the hydroelastic suspension on a speed bump and lost his service crew for 3 days! One of the Glen crews had a brake seizure at the end of a ZR and ploughed off the road into a ditch ripping off a wheel while Mr Brown and Mr White had rebuilt their Rovers engine before even reaching Dover and the FIAT of Oliver Tomlins seemed to require a small rest in the middle of every ZR but was still limping to a finish.
So on arriving in Monaco, we were in high spirits! Had an all British crew ever even won a prize on the Monte? We were now leading our class after all… and 32nd if we could hold onto it would be astonishing. But the 90km of specials over the Turini lay ahead…
A quick shower, Red Bull and our last fresh clothes and at 23.19 we set off from the Port Hercule with the Fulvia feeling lively shorn of the extra weight and the crew tired, but up for the challenge. The Turini was to throw everything it had at us though, with thick fog, endless hairpins (some 60 in total) and even an enormous Stag blocking the road at one point! The hills were littered with broken down and crashed cars: The BMW in front of us crashed exiting a hairpin and ended up perched “Italian Job” style on a brick wall with large drop below, a Golf went nose first into a ditch and the confused driver then broke his leg falling out of the car, while a lovely Porsche 911 lost an argument with a brick wall.
Whether it was the lack of grip on the studded tyres, lack of talent on the part of the driver or a combination of the both but we simply couldn’t go quick enough to be on the pace required, despite overtaking a number of cars in the stage and at one stage hitting the rev limiter in top gear (around 130kph) before catching the brakes alight braking into a downhill hairpin. Really the car needs to be specially set-up for these 2 stages with hydraulic handbrake and a driver trained in skidding the car around tight corners with rear wheels locked. Plus a set of cut-slicks on the front wheels wouldn’t have gone amiss… but really this last night is the domain of the real rally drivers as opposed to those who simply play at it one week per year.
The result was that we slipped back in the standings to 66th, hanging onto our top all British crew status, but slightly disappointing after our forward progress all week. Spare a thought though for the crew of another Fulvia, the #65 who lead the rally for most of the week, but finished 92nd after the Turini! So perhaps the last night simply doesn’t favour little-engined front wheel drive cars?
Arriving back on the port at 3.30am, there was a definite feeling of “could do better” but yet a great sense of achievement. Perhaps after tonight’s Gala dinner the magnitude of how far we’ve come since that first foray into the mountains in the deep snow of the 2012 Monte will sink in. We’ve made some good friends, we’ve shared some great experiences and learnt a lot about ourselves (not least just HOW bad it can smell in a small car with 2 large men in it after 24 hours of driving!).
Will we be back? If we can put it all together again in 2017 and find the time and support, of course we will. This is simply the toughest thing you can do in an historic car probably anywhere in the World, it pushes the crew and the car to the limit and hence the sense of achievement simply in finishing is enormous.
And of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of EFG and our families. Our thanks to the EFG team who update this website so everyone can follow our progress and of course support us in this and our other racing endeavours. It’s been a great 5 years…
Your ”already planning where he can learn to handbrake turn” correspondent,