Over the ramp at Reims after fortifying the co-pilot with another glass of bubbly, this time courtesy of the mayor and much to his delight, a whole bottle is passed through the window as we start. We’re running 6th on the road behind the Saab, Capt Zach, Team Dave in the Volvo and the 2 Aussie Holdens but with the speed advantage of the Trusty Turbo and some dry running we set a great pace through the night and soon we’re running together with the Datsun as first cars on the road. Yes, we’re leading the Historic Monte across France!
This only dawned on us when at the first checkpoint in Sezanne, the Master of Ceremony’s basically sat on the bonnet of the car to stop us leaving in a hurry, whilst local produce (and a coffee) were pushed through the windows. The Trusty Turbo has picked up a small whine from the alternator belt, but with the mobile tanning salon on the bonnet working on full beam most of the time, we’re using a lot of volts. That said, we’ve hit some big patches of fog at times which have slowed the field and we’re told there’s a 90% chance of snow by Champagnole.
More hard running in partnership with our team mates in the Datsun and just a little snow in the air rather than on the road sees us arrive first into Bar Sur Aube. A good crowd is gathered and as these are just “Controle Passages” we can be as early or late as we like. We take the opportunity to stretch our legs, Stuart finds another coffee and some pastries out of somewhere and stitches me up with a glass of grapefruit juice on the grounds “it’ll keep you awake”. Yet still no other cars have appeared in the Controle, so we saddle up and head on for Langres and the end of this 5 hour leg from Reims.
Langres is famous in France for always being marked with the worst weather in the country on the television weather maps. And it was certainly damp and cold when we got there, although of course last year there was some 4 inches of snow on the ground at this point. Since this is a “Controle Horaire” we have time to refuel on the outskirts of the town and a quick visit with the service crew who confirm all is good with the car. Then we head into the town square, park up until our allotted time and use the time we’ve gained on the road to take in a bowl of home-made vegetable soup and a chunk of cheese in a tent heated to sauna levels. The ladies of the local car club make a big fuss of feeding us since we’re the only cars to have made an appearance and it’s some 30 minutes before any other cars show up other than our partners in crime in the Datsun. Since this is a regroup, we once again have to let the 5 cars that started in front of us in Glasgow head off first and while we pass the Saab/Volvo and Aussies in quick order heading out of the town we lose track of the Datsun and are once again running totally alone in the middle of the night for basically the full 3 hours of this leg, which is a strange feeling in a rally this big.
Next time check point is at Champagnole where we arrive to find the town square full, much to the consternation of a very tired Capt Zach who didn’t spot that this was actually the starters from Copenhagen who will now run ahead of us on the road and thought 50 cars from Reims had passed him using a different route! I try to get some shut eye, but just like last year I’m buzzing and sleep won’t come despite it being nearly 2am and having been on the road for 12 hours. So come the time allotted we head off on the 2h40 leg to Annecy: A time control that we failed miserably to reach last year after heavy snow caused enormous traffic jams on the edge of the town. This year conditions were just as bad, but since we were 2 hours earlier on the road the traffic jams had yet to form and we had a great run through the night on this leg playing in the snow with the legendary drivers such as Ragnotti and Serpaggi who caught up with us having been the first of the Reims starters. Despite driving basically flat out in the conditions, we make the control with just 6 minutes to spare and with just a couple of other Glasgow starters still on time... and head virtually straight off into the hills.
The next 3 hour leg took us up over the mountains to St Nazaire en Royans, basically a regroup before we head into Valence for breakfast. With a Controle Passage on the top of the mountains at St Pierre De Chartreuse we’re on 30cm of snow most of the way and with an average of 50kph needed once again the driving is spirited. But the road is fabulous and the Trusty Turbo is revelling in the conditions and the grip from her snow tyres. We follow an ex-WRC driver for much of the route, copying his left-foot braking techniques as he swung his Opel from drift to drift through the mountain villages and astonish ourselves at our ability to stay in touch. The CP is reached and the road becomes a little easier on the descent although tankers full of heating oil and some very aggressive snow ploughs make the route more than a little entertaining in places. We pass the Datsun coming UP to the checkpoint from the wrong direction after they’ve had a total nightmare trying to find the Checkpoint in Annecy and we have to push very hard to get to the next check on time. In fact, when we got to St Nazaire last year, the carpark was full of guys waiting for their allotted time... this year there is just us and 1 VW Golf. Everyone else is passing through as quickly as possible being late on the road. We have just 5 minutes to spare, so it’s simply a 2 minute leg stretch then plan the run into Valence. In 6 hours of running since Champagnole we’ve had just 10 minutes break in total when we weren’t basically flat out and we’re ready for breakfast.
We grab fuel on the run into the town centre so the Trusty Turbo is fully ready for the long day that is still ahead of us and then pass into the Controle at Valence. However the ACM use this opportunity to fit a GPS box to the car to help timing on the stages (and to make sure we’re not speeding on the road sections) and they can’t get ours to function... the wiring isn’t playing ball. So we waste 40 mins of the 60 minute break trying to get it sorted. Breakfast is missed, all we can do is try and close our eyes for 10 minutes and plan the next leg. Unsurprisingly sleep is not easy to come by. And before we know it, with alternator belt squealing, we are off into the Ardeche for the 1st stage of the Monte 2013, the legendary Burzet.
A good run up into the hills in glorious sunshine wakes us up properly and despite some issues with the handbrake on the start line, we’re up and away, running hard into the twisty opening section of the stage. The new trip working perfectly, but we just can’t stay at 50kph, the stage is too tight and ice patches on the corners stop me committing too much into blind turns. We’re flat out, but we’re behind the pace required. We quickly catch the car in front, a Russian in a Moskvitch who is struggling worse than us and we try to pass him. He doesn’t appear to have seen us though despite flashing lights etc and slams the door on us a couple of times, finally a short straight beckons and I open up full boost to drag past him.
But he moves over on us, pushing us off the road. It has to be a deliberate act. We drop a wheel off the inside into the ditch and we skate along on the sump guard before we fire out of the ditch with a big leap now in front of him. It’s cost us 300 metres we need to make up, so we push on. However unbeknownst to us, something has flicked up into the engine bay and broken an oil cooler. 3km up the road, the oil light flickers and then there is a death rattle from the engine and we cost to a halt. Game over for 2013. We’re totally gutted to have come all the way without penalty and then be taken out on the first stage. We call the support crew, explain we’re freezing to death on the top of a mountain and if they could hurry to come rescue us it would be appreciated. Then we put out the warning triangle behind us, pull our woolly hats down over our eyes, the co-pilot gets out his trusty pillow and within 10 minutes we’re both fast asleep.
So not a glorious end to our week and we’re gutted not to have made it right through the event, but we’ve had a hell of an adventure and the memories of the run through the snowy mountains to St Pierre will live with us always. What next? Will I state categorically that we won’t be back at the start line in 12 months time like I foolishly did last year? No. The send-off from the people of Glasgow was fabulous, the welcomes in all the towns and villages across France was equally warm and the roads travelled were simply superb. But someone has already made an offer to buy the Trusty Turbo so perhaps we’ll borrow something different for our next adventure.... watch this space.
My thanks as ever to EFG for their support... and to our wives for letting us escape for a few days and understanding that “a man’s gotta do”.
Your “slightly sad to see the rally leaving here without us” correspondent,
As you left us, the Glasgow contingent were setting forth from Calais in the direction of Reims with co-pilot fortified for the long night ahead with some Champagne and the driver contemplating when it’s acceptable to drink the first energy drink of the 27 hours before I’m expecting to get out of the car again.. News reached us in Reims that the interview with the EFG International crew was on the BBC main news along with footage of us crossing the start-line, so mothers and ageing Aunts across the UK were pleased!
Reims is just a short 2 ½ hour jaunt from Calais and the time given for the leg is generous so we were able to relax, or so we thought as we noted that the Trusty Turbo was either getting some pretty spectacular fuel mileage or the gauge had gone faulty. Suddenly the needle plummeted the last quarter of the dial and we immediately bailed off the motorway to haunt for petrol, drifting down into Central Reims, the fuel light flickered on, then 100 metres later the engine coughed and died... fortunately at this exact moment a petrol station appeared and we only had to get out and push for 50 metres, albeit across the middle of a busy junction with some rather irate trams passing...
Fuel onboard, we arrived in Central Reims and were waived through to take up a prime position in front of the Town Hall ready for the Glasgow starters to lead the Reims starters over another start ramp.
It’s not often you set sail from Scotland, on a Winter Rally, wearing snow tyres on your car, in glorious sunshine. But the weather gods smiled on the Monte Carlo participants as we left Glasgow on Saturday afternoon.
A crowd of over 13000 along with television crews from STV/BBC watched some 100 cars go over the start ramp: the local car clubs having turned out in force to wave off the Monte participants with a big contingent setting off for a tour of the highlands, a dozen more modern cars running direct to Monte Carlo plus the 9 crews that were going “On the Historic” and would be our companions on and off for the week. These included the Graham brothers in their “SPG Racing” Lancia with a Glaswegian hamster mounted on the roof! (Bonus points for anyone who makes the link...) A crew out of the Czech republic in their Skoda who seemed hot favourites to be the outperformers from our little crowd, a 1970’s Saab, a Volvo Amazon stuffed full of 3 Glaswegians who wore matching suits and all seemed to be called Dave, our team-mates Zac and James in a Datsun 240z, a father and son from France in a 1978 Porsche 911 and 2 crews from Australia who were there to celebrate Holdens participation in the Monte 60 years ago. Running 2 cars, a copy of the original 1953 car crewed by the son of one of the original drivers (whose claim to fame was that both his father and step-father were on the 1953 event) plus triple Australian touring car Champion Craig Lowndes and a more modern Holden with the biggest spot lamps we’d ever seen on the front!
Scrutineering had passed somewhat eventfully as the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) had decided to send their own man to supervise. Unfortunately his knowledge of English documents was somewhat lacking and he threatened to cause issues for the assembled crews and was somewhat unpopular by the time it was all sorted.
Over the ramp and running out of the Peoples Palace gardens, we passed 1 mile of cheering spectators, it was a fabulous send-off from Glasgow, although some-what spoilt by the policeman at the exit gate waving all the cars onto the main road in the wrong direction! Not an great start to head North if you are hoping to get to Monaco.
The rally then did a ceremonial loop past through Blythswood Square and the old Scottish motor-racing headquarters from where the Monte used to start in the 1950s before heading South to Kilmarnock and then long run across to Scotch Corner. Starting 3 hours earlier than we did last year meant more hours of daylight (and potentially more hours in bed in Calais) but it also meant more traffic on the road and it was a long grind before we reached the top of the A1(M).
After 5 hours behind the wheel we needed a leg stretch and since we were passing co-pilot Stuarts grandparents grave, we took the opportunity for a quick stop for him to pay his respects and for me to indulge in a little “sideways with style” practise on the snowy side-roads.
Hunger got the better of us soon after, and after a quick stop at a chippy on the A14 (eaten on laps on the road of course...) we passed the first checkpoint at Barnby moor at the same time as the Lancia of the Grahams, but sometime behind Zac who appeared to be hoping for a new record Glasgow-Folkestone! A couple of spectators mentioned a bit of blue smoke from the Trusty Turbo, but we’d been running on full boost for a long while and it was a new engine so I wasn’t too concerned. However, at our last scheduled refuelling stop at the Cambridge Services, we arrived at the pumps in a huge cloud of blue smoke... the dipstick revealed no oil in the sump and after topping it back up, the car refused to start. Although it didn’t sound seized, it clearly wasn’t happy. Cue panic calls to the service crew and then a miserable couple of hours waiting by the coffee machine in the Shell Shop, convinced that our rally ends before we’ve reached the M25, let alone the Med!
On arrival, the Speed Scotland crew dive underneath the car and discover an issue with the engine that is quickly fixed, and also that the fuel pump has become disconnected! Our ability to restart was unrelated to the emptying of the sump... and on repairing the wires, she fires first prod and we are away. I take it easy initially until the Dartford Crossing when it’s clear that the crew have solved the oil issue then push on for the Tunnel where we manage to grab our reserved train with just 5 minutes to spare! This was to become a theme for the next few days... Right behind us on the train was the Saab which had been limping, but we passed the Skoda abandoned on the side of the M11 and word was that the Australians were struggling back behind us somewhere while “The Daves” were apparently on a sight-seeing tour of McDonalds restaurants en route in the Volvo.
Straight out of the tunnel and straight to the Hotel and bed, exactly 12 hours since we cleared the start ramp in Glasgow and 16 hours since we presented the car at scrutineering.
It was some surprise that when the time came to start at Calais the following lunchtime, it was a full complement of cars from the Glasgow contingent that presented themselves. Despite some discussion over which McDonalds to visit between Dave (Father) and Dave (son) the Volvo was present, the Czechs apparently had been suffering from “not enough water” in an air-cooled Skoda in the worst rain seen on the M11 for some time so we remain none-the-wiser to the troubles there while the Aussies had broken the gear linkage on the modern car and run a wheel bearing on the old one, leaving their crew with just 2 hours sleep so far. The Calais control more than compensated though as the Champagne was open and sandwiches provided all much to Stuarts delight as it was at least 1 hour since breakfast... next stop Reims!
It's 10 o'clock in the evening we're in Langres and the Trusty Turbo is leading the Historic Monte field across France!
Yes after some spirited driving since Reims we are now actually the first car on the road!
After our troubles yesterday the car has run perfectly since we left Calais at midday. so ten hours down and another 9 hours until we reach Valence. then its a 1 hour break before another 9 hours on the road. so a long night ahead but the crew are in good spirits.
Your " just pleased to still be in the rally" correspondent
The Speed Scotland crew arrived and spoke nicely to the Trusty Turbo, and not only did she fire up, but the oil consumption issue seems to have stopped as well... perhaps the new engine has bedded in?
So around 11pm we set forth once again, destination Eurotunnel, and with some committed driving in very damp conditions, we made our reserved train with 5 whole minutes to spare.
IT was a very tired crew that crashed out in a Calais hotel at 4am.
We arrived with the 1974 Saab that set out just ahead of us from Glasgow, they too had been limping a little towards the Channel, while we passed the Czech crew with their Skoda dumped by the side of the M11 awaiting their service crew. Our team-mate Capt Zach in his Datsun 240Z seems to have had the best run through of anyone, the Australian crews with a 1950’s and a 1970’s Commodore were rumoured to be having trouble with the newer car of the pair, while the Volvo Amazon crewed by a family of 3 in their matching jumpsuits were also rumoured to be MIA. We’ll know more when we check-in here in Calais in a couple of hours.
Your “back in the game and happy” correspondent,
The sun was shining and over 16,000 people came out to watch the start from the People's Palace in the heart of Glasgow.
Our speed Scotland crew was sixth over the ramp behind on the Australian touring car legend Craig Lowndes and passed down nearly a mile of cheering spectators to reach the main road.
The Trusty Turbo was running beautifully as we left Scotland behind but at the Yorkshire checkpoint it was apparent that we were putting out a little oil...
A precautionary stop at Cambridge services revealed very little oil in the engine and car won't restart... it's nearly 10pm and we have to hope the service crew can perform a minor miracle when they get here.
Your "could it be over so soon" correspondent,
The first event of 2013 for us at Speed Scotland will once again be the Historic Monte Carlo rally: Regular readers may be a little surprised because if you read our adventures on this event last year HERE, then you’ll note I was firmly of the opinion that I wasn’t ever going to do it again!
But the organisers of the Glasgow start were keen to have the Speed Scotland team along after our recent television appearances on the BBC Speed Dreams programme (catch the 2nd episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4Mek-AOXCE ) and at the end of the day, the Monte really is one of the great adventures. EFG International once again kindly offered to support us and give me a forum for my daily mutterings on here, so it just “had to be done”.
So the trusty Turbo has been rebuilt after it’s dismal failure on the Tour Britannia last year, a new tripmeter has been installed that relies more on mechanics rather than volts (of which we seemed to be in short supply most of last year), my courageous co-pilot, Stuart, has signed up again for the danger seat and on Saturday at 2pm we set sail for Monaco from the Peoples Palace in Glasgow.
This year’s schedule is as tough as ever, but feels a little easier somehow: A slightly earlier departure from Glasgow should see us at the Channel Tunnel in the early hours of Sunday morning, allowing us a few extra hours sleep before checking in at the Calais Controle. We’ll then head to Reims where we’re at the head of the pack leaving from there instead of at the back and drive right on through Sunday night to hopefully arrive at Valence in time for a Coffee and a Croissant around 7am Monday. In a break from tradition, we don’t head on to Monaco, but instead we head into the hills West of the City to take in 2 timed stages before getting back to Valence in time for tea around 4pm. Some 28 hours after we left Calais. If the roads are clear in the UK, then we’re hoping for 8 hours sleep on the Saturday night, else we’ll be awake from scrutineering on Saturday around 9am until bed in Valence early on Monday evening some 60 hours and 2000km later!
The rally then takes another big loop around Valence on Tuesday as we do all the stages that Mr Loeb and the rest of the WRC crews were fighting with just last week, then onto Gap on Wednesday night, before arriving Monaco on Thursday afternoon for a quick bite to eat before the legendary final night on the Col du Turini, finishing back in Monaco in the early hours of Friday.
I can assure readers, that the sense of achievement if you make it to Monaco, as we did last year with no road penalties, is simply fabulous. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we can’t wait to do a second time ;-) Although those icy cols and wintery conditions mean it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Trusty Turbo will once again make it to the harbour front in Monte Carlo.
Take a look at the conditions we experienced last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usCmim86vVE
So if you should find yourself in Glasgow on Saturday, we’ll be in Parc Ferme on Buchanan Street from around 10.30 AM until Midday when the cars head to the Peoples Palace in convoy where we’ll be parked up until the first car goes over the ramp at 2pm. Joining us will be Australian Touring Car legend, Craig Lowndes who will be attempting the rally in a 1950s Holden! I hope he’s packed his thermals...
Your “can’t wait to point the rally car South” correspondent