Rally crews set a first in crossing Saudi Arabia

| 11 Jan 2012

After the most demanding day yet on the London to Cape Town Rally - Day 9, organiser's report and pictures below - yesterday was spent in Saudi Arabia.

Following a night boat from Safaga, the crews awoke to find the ship heading into the sandy shores of Duba, to be met by the Saudi Arabia Motorsport Federation.

Cars were parked and the crews clambered onto ancient American school-buses to ride a short distance for immigration formalities.

Then they were set free on the coast road of Saudi Arabia, the first ever international rally to cross Saudi Arabia, according to the Federation.

After the hectic time in the Egyptian desert, it was a much more relaxed day with no timing during the 307-mile trip, and the first crews arrived at the end of the afternoon overlooking the sea at Yanbu to take advantage of the remaining daylight to check over their cars.

Today is set to be another "easy" day with just 213 miles to cover to Jeddah, where the crews will catch the evening ferry that chugs back across the Red Sea to arrive mid-day at Suakin, the rally’s entry to Sudan and much tougher times ahead. 

The leaderboard is currently headed by Andy Actman and Andy Elcomb in a Toyota Hilux, from Steve Blunt and Bob Duck in a Subaru Impreza. In third is the "youngtimer" classic BMW M535i of Renger Guliker and Pim't Hart.

Top pre-1980 classic is the 1973 Porsche 911 of Joost van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein in sixth with the Richard Atherton/Rob Henchoz 1970 Volvo 144 two places further back and the 1968 Porsche 912 of Alastair Caldwell and Hayden Burvill in 10th.

Oldest runner still on the road is the 1964 Volvo PV544 of Martin Aaldering and Josephina Freriks Aaldering in 29th.Day 9 official report (photos below)The area of desert south-east of Cairo is one of the least-known spots on earth. Facing the Red Sea on the East and stretching into the vast Sahara on its Western flank, this area was home to the Organisation for several days when we were seeking hidden bits of Egypt for the World Cup Rally to explore.

Snake Valley near Hurghada twists and turns through soft gravel and sand for a short distance then opens out across a plain – you head for the cutting between two black cliffs, the entrance to an enchanting valley. Low lying bushes, the odd acacia tree and a maze of tracks that criss-cross themselves into knots of trenches and paths. The trick is to use the basic notes with distances whirring away on your trip-meter and find the right route, foot down.

We expected a major shake up and that’s exactly what happened. The leaders would find it hard – those in four-wheel-drives would romp it. Every dog has its day and today it would be a Dakar-style blast of grit, sand, lose stones, large stones that need dodging with care, ruts and smooth sun-baked clay, diving between gaps in the mountains, all the time heading for a long line of spiky mountains in the far distance. Route note descriptions go something like this:

‘Keep close to cliff on left… go right of Acacia tree…straight on past yellow rock…avoid gulley before string of black boulders…head for trees on far horizon…keep small volcano on right.’

Emerging from all this was the Belgian Porsche 911 of Van Cauwenberge and Castelein (car 45) who set fastest time, dropping just 8 seconds. Steve Blunt and Bob Duck in the black Subaru (a non-turbo version) were nearly two minutes behind, and third best was the BMW 535i, enjoying a good run nearly four minutes behind the time set by the 911, but a good effort for Renger Gulliker and Pim T’Hart. Andy Actman’s Toyota Truck was fifth, just under four minutes adrift, behind the fourth-best Frances Tuthill and Rene Declerq, who stopped to pull out the Maestro girls at one point.

Andy Actman and Andy Elcomb had also stopped to pull out a stuck car – the MG ZR of Owen Turner. Nonetheless, Owen and Matt lost their week-long lead to their saviours, with the Subaru now second. Defeated in Snake Valley, they took a tumble down the points league.  The Maestro Girls of Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton retain fifth spot, having got stuck several times. Their good ground clearance and fairly smooth Falken van tyres, came in really useful in the soft conditions.

Crews are at a comfortable hotel for a meal and a few hours break, but at midnight we leave for the port and the crossing of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia – another first for this event, as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never before hosted an international rally crossing its territory.