Classic Porsches battle for London to Cape Town honours

| 24 Jan 2012

A pair of Porsches are still leading the classic charge on the London to Cape Town Rally with a 1973 911 holding on to third place overall and a 1968 912 in seventh with just a few days to go.

The cars, run respectively by Van Cauwenberge/Castelein and Caldwell/Burvill, were facing a late charge from the 1970 Volvo 144 of Atherton/Henchoz, running in ninth at the end of Day 23 at the stop in Lusaka, Zambia.

There are no other pre-1980 classics in the top 10, but thanks to the heroic efforts of Aussies James and Max Stephenson, their 1923 Vauxhall 23/60 was lying in 34th of 41 teams still on the results sheet.

Here are some more pictures followed by the official Day 23 report from the organisers. Underneath that there are more pictures and organiser reports from previous days.

Day 23 It is simply not possible to drive the full length of Africa without being in someone’s rainy-season. But if you try it in line with our time-table, it might just be possible to do it without exercising a windscreen wiper. Or so we thought…

Last night it truly rained, torrential torrents overflowed the guttering. This region has had 30 inches of rain in the last few days - but we have yet to drive in it.

When you are sleeping under a corrugated iron roof in a little tin shed, a compound grandly called The Mazingo Hotel, and a local tells you it’s about to rain cats and dogs, the subsequent racket is truly unbelievable. The noise of thunder and lightning, Africa-style, has nothing on the follow-up experience of trying to snatch some sleep inside the cacophony of a kettle-drum.

Morning came, the rain eased off, and we were on the road south again, this time heading for the air-conditioned comforts of the Lusaka Intercontinental. Showers that work, hot water in the taps, lights that come on at the flick of a switch, Mini Bars that actually contain something, with soap and a plug in the wash-basin along with a towel on a hot rail.  All pretty forgettable, however, when we come to look back on all this in the months and years to come …nobody is going to forget the sleepless night in the shanty-town of Mpika.

Today saw a short time-trial down two strips of fine gravel with grass growing up the middle, with metre-high grass on either side, first jumping over a railway line, then curving round to return further down the line for another jump as the track returns us to the main road. A circuit of Zambian farmland. 

Six cars “cleaned it”, that is to say all got within the time set for this test …if you really want to know, they were Joost Van Cauwenberge, Porsche 911;  David Boddy, Datsun; Steve Blunt, Impreza; rally-leader Andrew Actman, Hilux; Alastair Caldwell, Porsche 912; Owen Turner, MG ZR.

Then it was down more long hot tarmac, getting busier all the time, to central Lusaka. The vegetable curry is the best thing about this hotel. Our Duncan Milligan needed whip and spurs to knock into some semblance of organisation things like a car park, and a fast key service e…the little things that we all take for granted but which had required over two hours of patience on his part to make happen.

We have been met by the overwhelming enthusiasm of the Pat Moss of African Rallying, Lynn Szeftel, and Mark Terken, both from the Zambian Motorsport Federation who have assisted our passage across this vast country, with Ashish Patel of Action Auto on hand to help with those who want some welding up and overnight repairs from a workshop able to burn a little midnight oil.

Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey were among those taking up the offers of help – the MG radiator looking like it was about to fall onto the road at the next bad bump rather concentrated a number of minds on what might be the best solution.

Tomorrow, we face the easiest day of the whole event – it’s possible to get to the Victoria Falls at Livingstone in an easy five hour coast down the tarmac.  Providing, that is, we don’t have to exercise the windscreen wipers.

Day 22The eagle eyes out there will have noticed the large MG octagon on the front of Joost Van Cauwenberge’s Porsche 911 in the latest gallery photos. The logo was made in Belgium and brought to Nairobi by co-driver Jacques Castelein’s wife. But… Why?  “Does your wife like MGs?” we asked… "No, it’s nothing like that …it's to show our support for the ladies in MGs".

One of those lady MG teams, Jane and Gill in the Maestro were towed across the Zambia border due to fuel vaporisation but after clicking over to the second ex Mini van fuel tank the problem sorted itself and they continue trouble-free.

Rod Taylor and Ian Morgan are back in the running after yesterday's roll out of third position. The Hilux is looking very second-hand with lots of bent panels and plastic sheets taped in to replace broken windows. They are grateful for the rollcage.

In Nairobi Steve Blunt changed from van tyres to the hardest possible Dunlop rally tyres. The change is not proving so reliable as the Subaru has had two slow punctures since making the change.

Francis Tuthill complains he is carrying too much weight. He says it's mostly of the liquid kind which comes in crates. Syd Stelvio is doing his best to lighten the load… he’s often seen drinking a clear fluid from a plastic cup. It's possibly only water.

Tim Wheatley and Dominic Manser in their MG ZR arrived at the overnight with a smashed windscreen after the bonnet whipped up.

Jeff and Sam Robinson have headed straight through to Lusaka in the hope of making an early start with local welding…  a giant slit has opened up right across the floor of the Mercedes 280E where the back seat normally lives. Joining them is the Datsun 240Z of Grant Tromans and Simon Russell.

Day 21

It was still dark when we left to make our way south from the corrugated iron roofs of the traditional Dodoma hotel opposite the run-down railway station unchanged since the 1930's, complete with noisy steam trains that fire-up at three in the morning.

Long gravel straights bore down the flat plains with bloated baobab trees that stand to attention to salute our passing. Another day of World Cup Rally action is in store just a few hours away on the far horizon, where the Organisers' team of roving timekeepers are setting up their checkpoints to record progress.

First drama of the day involved the Toyota Hilux of Rod Taylor and Ian Morgan, who have been holding down an outstanding third overall - all the more remarkable because this is their first-ever rally. They rolled onto their roof after clouting a bank. The crew were unhurt... just a bit shaken. First on the scene was someone who knows all about this experience… Robert Belcher, driving the 400 bhp BMW X5, who tipped his car over the other day. Robert got out the tow rope and pulled the Toyota onto four wheels again. This upset changes the leader board.

Max Stephenson in the vintage Vauxhall, driving the full route, and doing better than many despite an 89 year-old car, decided to quit today. He changed his mind five minutes later. The car was stopped by the road with a hole in an over-hot cylinder head. "We are out of it… shit happens…". He was then told it was a core plug that had come out, mixing water with oil. Andy Inskip gives him a stick from a flag pole and a plug is made. "We are back in!". If they ever make another mad max movie they must give a starring role to the real life mad Max and his one-legged son, James, who does all the driving (Though with Max doing the clutch since the hand-throttle broke! NB). We were going to tell you that we watched him pour a gallon can of engine oil into the top of the radiator, but you’ll only think we are making it up.

The rocky mountain climb saw Alastair Caldwell split his fuel tank; he slowed just enough to give Jane Edgington her finest moment so far… driving a Maestro in an overtaking sweep past the Porsche on a timed mountain climb. The Blunt Subaru was slowed by overheating… the Cauwenberge Porsche 911 was a remarkable sight lifting a front wheel while hanging the back out… and Andy Actman was smooth, whisper quiet and rapid.

The crew of Car 1, Richard Atherton and Rob Henchoz, want a mention in despatches - but when asked 'how goes it?', all your reporter hears is either a grunt or "nothing to report".

The top ten now reads: 1:Actman, Hilux; 2:Blunt, Impreza; 3:Cauwenberge, Porsche; 4:Tomlin, Land Rover; 5:Turner, MG ZR; 6:Beckers, Landcruiser; 7:Caldwell, Porsche; 8:Edgington, Maestro; 9:Atherton, Volvo; 10:Claeys, Toyota 73

Days 19 & 20

The 18th day of the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally was the one and only rest day, but of course it was nothing of the sort for most of the crews and even for the organisational support vehicles, which were also unable to go much further without urgent attention.

However, amongst the repairs, some serious issues of compliance came to the fore and cars 10 and 45, Datsun 510 and Porsche 911, have each received a one-hour penalty for non-period shock absorbers. Cars in the classic classes have to run period-specification parts. This dropped both of them down around five places, with Pickering and Boddy in the Datsun leaving the top ten and Van Cauwenberge and Castelein falling well off a podium spot. Later, car 28, the Datsun 240Z of Tromans and Russell also took a penalty after fitting modern dampers – the only ones available to replace their ruined items.

Meanwhile, everyone at the Nairobi Safari Park Hotel was impressed by the legendary Kenyan bush-mechanics at work, having arrived on two large trucks with full facilities and eager to get their hands dirty. But many crews were out and about tracking down suspension spares, including the leader, Andy Actman, who demonstrated how tough the roads had been by breaking the Koni Raid shocks on his Toyota Hilux.

Thursday’s route was suggested by none other than Yvonne Mehta, whose husband Shekha won the Safari Rally three times. A loop off the main road gave a couple of hours of good gravel, humped-back pipes and small bridges, washaways and gulleys, deep holes and all the rest of the makings of traditional Safari Rallying.

Those makings included a pair of giraffes loping off the track into the bush, and a bit further on gazelles, then goats, then a herd of cows, then some zebras, all of which to be told they could not qualify as spectators.  Our course was remote rallying down long mostly-sandy tracks – choking dust clouds cutting visibility in the early-morning sunshine was predictable, so crews started at two-minute intervals. 

Underlining just how hard African rallying really is, consider this: Steve Blunt in the Subaru, second overall, posted another good time today but in the process finished with bent front suspension after opting for a change to longer springs yesterday which proved to be too soft...the old adage, ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it’ came to the driver’s lips when recounting his problems at the Tanzania border.

This natural break allowed tales of yet more problems to surface. The Car 6 Porsche of Tomas Prenosil caught fire while on the back of a truck trying to reach the border – flames engulfed the whole car, including their carnets. Francis Tuthill, riding inside the top-ten driving a Toyota Hilux, came out of the bush with a bent rear axle and arrived at the hotel on the back of a truck. Car 31, the VW Karmann Ghia, has fuel-pump problems after a dose of fuel so dirty the fuel-pump gave up trying. Car 44, the David Gough Peugeot 504 has alternator problems.

Car 40, the Weiss and Schneiders Mercedes 230E, holed its sump for the second time while the Volvo of John Bayliss and Paul Carter struggled through the day with a broken Panhard rod. The Ford Escort of Mike and Ben Dawson was one of several crews who suffered navigational problems. Owen Turner is looking happier having received a fresh supply of shock-absorbers for his team of three MGZRs, but Jane Edgington was looking less chuffed after having a tap at the back from the faster Datsun 510 of Dave Boddy, blinded by the dust – he will re-start tomorrow higher up on safety-grounds. The plucky Maestro escaped with a broken rear light.

Friday started with a mud-bath, with all traffic pushed off the road for exclusive access by the Chinese road builders. The problem with that is that overnight rain combined with the rich red earth produces sticky mud-filled axle-clogging ruts.

First drama of the day was when the official diversion was blocked by a bus meeting a truck with both stuck fast. Some nimble footwork saw the word passed down the line to get up onto the new road - some got the message, mostly two-wheel-drive cars, and everyone made it to the first time-control. The road quickly climbs to 1,500ft, it's slippery in places with full-on hairpin bends thrown in, just like the old photos of the Stelvio Pass in Italy (pics to follow, we hope).

Today saw some intensive competition on a 100km World Cup Section - the Porsche 911 of car 45 made it look easy completing the day penalty free. Joost Van Cauweberge in his green polo shirt and shorts turns a mountain climb and a string of time-controls through thick vegetation into a run to the shops.

At the head of the field both Andy Actman and Steve Blunt dropped a couple of minutes so they maintain their positions.

Behind, it's a grim struggle for survival. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy are still out there in their Datsun 510 after support crew member Andy Inskip’s improvised inner tube fanbelt failed to work, though his ratchet strap steering drag link on the Lloyd/Scott Mercedes seemed fine. The Mercedes 280 of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott is delayed with broken steering.

Francis Tuthill had better luck. When the axle failed on his Toyota Hilux, he found a second-hand spare from a breakers yard. The crashed donor vehicle had only done 200 miles. The axle was quickly fitted ready for the morning restart.

Friday’s run was 424km, but as the crews have all gathered by now, this even just doesn’t let up. Tomorrow is a 595km marathon from Dodoma to Mbeya, featuring another World Cup Section and a rocky 15km climb to Ifiga summit, 4000ft above.

The leaderboard is understandably showing a preponderance of tough 4x4 vehicles, with five of the top ten in off-roaders, plus the Subaru Impreza of Bob Duck. But the Belgian 911 (car 45) is now up in fourth despite that penalty and the pluck 914 and MG Maestro remain a highly creditable 7th and 9th respectively. It’s hard to see any of the remaining days passing without some major shake-ups, such are the conditions and demands on cars and crews, but in just nine days we’ll know who made it Cape Town in top spot.

Day 18 - rest dayDays 16 & 17

For the lucky ones who could reach Nairobi under their own steam, the old colonial Safari Park Hotel must have appeared like a particularly well-appointed oasis. Two days of Kenyan roads have reduced a pretty serviceable group of cars to a drawn-out string of battered jalopies – this is African rallying at its toughest.

Monday’s run from the border to the village of Marsabit was probably the slowest 250km day the crews could have imagined, such were the atrocious road conditions. Only cold bottles of Tusker offered some consolation, especially as petrol supplies at the village pumps ran out after the crews started arriving. Numerous cars suffered punctures and broken shock absorbers or suspension mountings, with some experiencing rather more serious halts.

The Ralf Weiss/Kurt Schneiders Mercedes 230E got a holed sump, fixed (sort of) with local help and a fibreglass kit, but they were well short of Marsabit by the end of the day. Alex Thistlethwayte and David Hiscox in their Datsun 240Z ran out of spare tyres and spent the night near the appropriately named Lonely Tree checkpoint camping on the roof of the Datsun, believing that hyenas do not jump. Renger Guliker & Pim ‘t Hart, previously as high as third in their BMW 535i, holed the sump for the second time, but somehow got moving again.

Despite the atmosphere in the beer tent the night before, Tuesday began at 0730 hours with 520km of corrugated dirt goat track, which astonishingly enough, is the main road to Nairobi. There were no World Cup Sections today but a series of Time Controls on 90kms of gravel and sandy tracks was enough of a challenge for most. South of Laisamis there is new tarmac, courtesy of Chinese roadbuilders who are busy working north. Within two years the tar will reach the border at Moyale and the last two days' challenge will be consigned to history.

The latest litany of casualties includes the following: the BMW X5 of Robert Belcher and Stephen Cooper fell on its side but was pulled back onto four wheels with help from Stuart Rhys-Williams and Colin McConnell’s Nissan Patrol. The BMW is now on a truck. The Tomas Prenosil, Lukas Kuttler Porsche 911 is also on a truck; cause unknown, but a 964 Carrera 4 is a complicated car to fix in rural Africa. The Atherton/Henchoz Volvo reeks of petrol with a split rubber petrol pipe and broken Range Rover engine mounts, while the other Volvo 144 crew of John Bayliss and Paul Carter are hoping to reach the Nairobi hotel around midnight.

They are among those limping in, after breaking axle tie-rods, ripping brake lines and losing their shock absorbers. Underlining just how demanding the conditions have been for the last two days, only 21 of the 42 remaining cars clocked into the final time-control within their time allowance. Many sick cars are being nursed towards the Safari Park Hotel through the night.

Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton in the Maestro were the first crew in a small car to reach Nairobi, though with a bonnet pin torn out by vibration. Jane said: ‘It's the only thing broken but the car is crying out for some service. I now know what hell looks like, truly dreadful's an amazing car, I just don't know how it got here. There's carnage out there.’

The remarkable catch-up drive of Ben and Mike Dawson's Escort Mk2 continues. They drove their Escort Mk2 into the Safari Park Hotel at 23:30 local time, Tuesday night. They have driven almost non-stop for 54 hours covering 2500kms from just before the Sudan/Ethiopia border after being stranded for two and a half days with a broken stub axle. They’ve echoed the amazing effort of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott after they re-built their Mercedes 280 Coupe’s cylinder head in the Sudan and caught up on Sunday.

Wednesday sees the first true rest day for the rally, which will be a blessed deliverance after more than a fortnight of continuous driving. How many of the crews will get to spend a day by the pool remains in doubt…frantic repairs and servicing should spoil the break for many.

All the recent turmoil has churned up the running order somewhat, though the top two remain serenely unaffected, bar the odd puncture.

Here is the top ten as it stands tonight: 1st Actman/Elcomb, Toyota Hilux; 2nd Blunt/Duck, Subaru Impreza; 3rd Van Cauwenberge/Castelein, Porsche 911; 4th Tomlin/Adcock, Land Rover Defender; 5th Taylor/Morgan, Toyota Hilux; 6th Turner/Fowle, MGZR, 7th Caldwell/Burvill, Porsche 912; 8th Pickering/Boddy, Datsun P510; 9th Beckers/Depoorter, Toyota Landcruiser; 10th Declerq/Tuthill Toyota Hilux.

Only three of the top ten are now from the pre-1980 classes, with the Belgian 911 holding an hour’s lead over its nearest rival amongst the classics, Alastair Caldwell’s 912. Previous occupants of the leaderboard have slipped a little, including Atherton and Henchoz in the 144 now resting in 12th, a place behind the Maestro of Edgington and Cotton, but miles ahead of the poor Dutch crew in the BMW 535i with its battle-scarred sump, who are in 28th place, 10 hours off the lead.

Thursday will see competitors turning to the last of four road books, covering the remaining trek from Nairobi to Cape Town. Will everyone get their repairs done in time to reach the border with Tanzania by Thursday night?