Specialist Vehicle Restoration
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Monte Carlo Challenge continued...
Another day of hard driving lay ahead - hairpin bends, dry roads, shadow, black ice and, before we knew what we were experiencing, the car was rolling on to its nearside. I realised what was happening, and it was like slow motion, but what was important was that ahead was a pile of tree trunks, neatly stacked. I attempted to leap over on top of Roger in order to change the weight distribution within the car (only possible in a car without seat belts!), and it worked - the car came back down on to all four wheels, stopping short of the tree trunks by about 30 millimetres.
With the Austin now virtually abutting the trunks and straddling a ridge of snow, we slowly bumped it around to face in the direction from which we had come, heading back towards a stretch of dry road where it was possible to turn the car round ready for another attempt. Slowly the black ice was navigated, but just as we were pulling away a local on a bicycle passed by, turned to watch us, cycled on to the black ice and immediately fell off!
After a relatively easy 257 kms we reached Poligny - as navigator it was my job to jump out and check in. Four minutes early! Roger went to park the car and when I came out of Control I couldn't find him, but at the end of the parking area I saw a large gathering of people. At the heart of the crowd were Roger and the Ulster - what a poser! This continued for the remainder of the Rally - wherever we went or stopped, people continually admired the car and our determination.
We continued along a very pleasant country road passing Chatillon, Chateau-des-Pres to St. Claude, with a quick dash into the Control of the Café le Club, as we had lost precious minutes during the last Regularity at Bois du Chamois. Passing through a further five controls to reach the end-of-leg Control at Annecy, we were well within our scheduled time. With time in hand this allowed us to check over the car in preparation for the following day, when we would be into the mountains to the east of Geneva.
Tuesday morning and we were ready to go, but had failed to notice when we checked the car over the previous night that the front suspension had become detached from the mounting bracket on the front of the chassis. A quick repair was necessary and completed well within the time, as the Vintagent cars were scheduled to depart after the Historic and Classic entrants. The drive through Annecy saw us catch up with the cars that had departed one and two minutes before us as the car was performing extremely well (as she had been for the previous two days - a credit to Peter Maguire who had prepared her for this event). We reached the Control with ten minutes to spare at La Muray, to eventually discover that a Lagonda that we had passed was only running on five cylinders as opposed to eight. Later on during the day we saw those poor guys stripping out part of their engine.
At the Col de Cou at 1116 metres altitude, we were to be faced with another Regularity, but unfortunately our Tripmaster was no longer working - the reason being that earlier in the day, whilst getting back into the car, my trouser leg caught the control knob and damaged the unit. This meant that we had to drive this Regularity section working directly off the speedometer. 14 kms later and after the Regularity, we were accidentally hit on the navigator's side rear mudguard by an overtaking car, nearly putting us off the road - but with Roger's skilful driving he managed to keep the car under control.
A brilliant morning's driving and navigating through beautiful scenery took us to Evian-les-Bains, where all competitors stopped for a well-earned break before heading for Thonon-les-Bains. So far our timing was on schedule for this section but now, due to falling rocks, the route had to be changed and with an error in my navigation, we started losing minutes. Cars in all classes could be seen doing U-turns, reversing and going in all directions! As navigator I had to make a decision as to which way to go, but a quick check on the map re-established us on our route. Another decision then had to be made - did we miss out the Control at Vailly and drive to the next Control?
Prior to joining the D26 I had to make the decision as to whether we could drive to Vailly within the 15-minute penalty period and then catch up our time to Mieussy without accruing too many additional penalty points. Yes we could - and we successfully made both Controls with only 23 penalty points.
During the following two Controls we managed to make up a few lost minutes, and then came the last Regularity of the day - Col de la Forclay, altitude 1147 metres, which was a first gear, hairpin bend climb with spectacular views of Lake Annecy way below. The decent was wonderful, twisting and winding its way down, and with time in hand. We eventually joined the D909 where we unexpectedly met with commuter traffic. Our time in credit started to be eroded as we sat in slow moving traffic, so I leapt out of the car and proceeded to run to the Control, applauded by many onlookers, but we still lost three minutes.
Leaving the petrol station we took a leisurely drive back to Annecy for an early finish at 18.17 hours for a shower, dinner and a check of the notice board. To our astonishment, we discovered that on the Col de Cou Regularity we had achieved third place, losing only 0.01 seconds, with the first two cars being exactly on time. We were amazed at this result as we had worked solely off the speedometer.