Rally hots up as it heads down Africa

| 17 Jan 2012

With the rally crews that left London on New Year's Day just more than half way through their epic trip to Cape Town and taking a rest day in Nairobi, the sturdy classics are still featuring high in the pecking order.

There were just 42 cars still running at the end of Day 16 of the London to Cape Town Rally and the 1973 Porsche 911 of the Belgian crew of Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein was lying in a stunning third position overall, headed only by a 2010 Toyota Hilux and a 2006 Subaru Impreza.

Next best-placed classic is another Porsche, the 1968 912 of Anglo-Aussie team Alastair Caldwell and Hayden Burvill.

Also showing well is the all-female equipe of Jane Edgington and Gillian Cotton in a 1986 MG Maestro, one place ahead of the 1970 Datsun of Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy

The two Volvo 144s are running in 13th and 14th, with the team of Atherton and Henchoz ahead of Bayliss and Carter.

See the full current standings here.

Below are the organisers reports for the days since our last update:

Day 11

A blazing hot sun begins to set over another day on the World Cup Rally here in Jeddah at the end of two fascinating days experiencing the hospitality of the Saudi Arabia Motorsport Federation. Slick border formalities are now underway as cars file onto the ferry for the night sailing to Sudan.

Several crews took time out today for a spot of servicing in local garages. Greg Newton's Holden was on a ramp and had an oil change and a check over so thorough that the locals even balanced the wheels. The cost… three hours later? £20. Just about all of us are coming away with pockets full of Riyals as motoring here is so cheap it's hard to comprehend. Locals like American V8 gas guzzlers and monster 4x4s, and why not when a gallon of petrol is cheaper than a can of coke.

It's a land where law enforcement comes with zero tolerance, so it's a surprise that local youths got inside the Porsche 911 of Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein and stole the Yellowbrick Tracker, Garmin GPS and trip meter. The police are onto it... All they have to do is follow the Yellowbrick road.

We are going to be on board for another parting of the Red Sea hopefully landing at midday followed by a 700kms blast down a bumpy tarmac strip through another desert to the dusty town of Gedaref. On the route survey last year there was no food in the restaurant, perhaps this might be the evening where we break into the emergency rations.

Day 12

It took 2.5 hours after the ferry docked for all cars to clear customs and immigration and by 4.30 the first cars set out for the 700kms across a dusty desert to the market town of Gedaref. David Hiscox in the Datsun 240z was sidelined for a while with overheating after the electric fan stopped working. Dave Gough and Richard Phillipson, Peugeot 504, stopped with a puncture after hitting a pothole. The potholes were vicious for first 200 kms. The pre war Vauxhall of James and Max Stephenson strides down it all averaging 100kph. Marc Buchanan and Charles Green, Jeep Wrangler, are running slow and steady.

Eric Claeys and Ben Deleye, Toyota 73 have had the biggest drama reported so far, hitting a donkey asleep on the warm tarmac which has stoved in the radiator... we have been running in the dark for most of the time.

By midnight 20 crews had reached the hotel after what has been an easy run. If the Vauxhall can romp along cruising at 60mph then those not here have clearly opted to take it even more steady. The road quality improved visibly after passing the town of Kassala.

The cars are now parking up in the street of the hotel, with no shortage of police on guard.

Day 13

We left Gederef in the Sudan before sunrise and found our way through the maze of streets – the smell of hot bread coming out of an oven of a baker’s shack was temptation for some to make a stop to take on provisions for the day.    

We climbed up steadily crossing the barren plain that runs up to the highlands of Ethiopia, and reached the frontier soon after it opened at 8.0am.  Formalities leaving Sudan proved a frustrating time, with only one officer capable of stamping the Carnet de Passage, and he was still at home, so we had to call him up…passport stamping in immigration meanwhile saw a queue of rallydrivers filling in the forms.  We paid the $10 tax and then inched our way to Ethiopia. What a transformation! Here formalities were like a well drilled army. Our visits to meet the Ambassador in London and various appeals to the Ethiopian Government for reinforcements had been well received, and no car was to spend more than 10 minutes completing border transactions, with extra smiling staff sitting behind desks eager to help snap things together.

It meant we were on the road ahead of schedule – a big relief all round for what had been planned as another marathon day, this time the twists and turns of the mountains of Ethiopia beckoned, a glorious road.  Drivers faced a string of time controls in the hills, and the majority found themselves collecting time-penalties. 

However, before the day even started, Jane Edgington in the MG Maestro with Gill Cotton on the clocks had unknowlingly collected a bonus of six minutes over the Porsche 911 that has been breathing down her neck for the past few days – the six-times Dakar driver was just one minute behind in the results. Clearly, having the lowest-powered car in the whole rally in the top ten at this stage is something of a major achievement, but holding of a Porsche was something that was never going to last…today, of all days, with mountains to climb up, the one outcome you could predict was that Jane would be ending the day having slipped down the rankings.

It was not to be. The simple error in clocking out meant the Porsche collects six minutes of penalties, so the gap now widens between the Maestro girls, and the maestros in the 911, Joost van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein.  They were not alone, two others copped penalties for failing to clock out on time. 

At the end of the timed section in the hills, Owen Turner and Matt Fowle put up a good showing to sit outside the time-control having arrived four minutes early…only a handful of cars were capable of this kind of showing, and Jane only just scraped in with less than a minute to spare.  Both Porsche 911s made light work of it, but regarded it as a good morning’s spot of entertainment.

Eric Clayes came in on a tow-rope, his second radiator on the busted Toyota having let go after makeshift repairs from hitting a donkey in the night.  He says he borrowed a radiator from the Datsun of Grant Tromans, and found hooking up the hoses of Datsun to Toyota fairly straightforward.  (He found a brand new radiator after arriving on the tow rope into Bahir Dah).

Others were less fortunate. The game little 1700cc Kent-engined Escort Mk2 of Mike Dawson and son Ben has snapped a front stub axle and Frances Tuthill reckons this is going to be a tricky job to repair – it remains three kilometres from the exit border of Sudan. The second Datsun 240Z of Alex Thistlethwayte was sidelined with problems caused in the night when the electric fan packed up, so it’s limping on into to Bahir Dah – another late night for them.

Others had headaches of their own – David Spurling hoped a misfire was down to dirty fuel but Nigel Gray reckoned it was more serious and was investigating possible head gasket issues as he got out his feeler-gauges to adjust a closed-up tappet to number three cylinder. The glass bowl fuel filter looks a black as coal and there is no spare filter on board. 

Ethiopia has been a remarkable experience. They have never witnessed an international rally before now, and coming into town, the preview publicity on national TV meant every local inhabitant wanted to see what the fuss was all about. “Just like India,” said one driver, “No, more like the Mille Miglia,” said another. Photographer Gerard Brown (who also snaps cycle races) says it’s just like the Tour de France: “Police on every corner and crowds going mad everywhere….makes you feel great!”

Walls of excited people blocking the road welcomed drivers as they approached the inner city hotel. Crowds lined the streets and the Government prudently had closed some of the roads, which meant thousands of people hung from lamp posts, stood on the garden of a roundabout, and stood up on walls of buildings to cheer on the cars. Children were wildly excited and making progress was at less than walking pace for fear of running of over someone’s foot.

“ Incredible – I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” was Matt Fowle’s reaction. “They are treating us like Kings!” said Andy Actman, and he was not far wrong, flower petals were strewn in our path up the marble steps to one hotel, and red roses were clipped to envelopes containing our room keys.

We have two more days in Ethiopia, and the welcome we have just received from the locals here has been the biggest – and best – surprise of the day. 

Day 14-15

From Bahir Dar to Awasa was long – 750km in all – and harsh from the word go: beginning with 200kms of difficult gravel, it started off particularly rough. Early starters drove it in the dark. Daybreak at Mota Road, the first of two World Cup Sections saw battle commence - the Subaru Impreza of Steve Blunt and Bob Duck set the best time, nearly a minute quicker than the Belgian Porsche of Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jaques Castelein.

Several crews finished with broken exhausts but the saddest casualty of the day was the Guliker/Hart BMW535i which hit a large rock that split the sump. It was running 4th, so this created a vacancy at the top, which would be filled by the ex-Dakar winning van Cauwenberge in his 1973 Porsche 911, who finally leapfrogged the girls in the Maestro, who stay fifth. Pim ‘t Hart returned to Bahir Dar where the BMW’s aluminium sump has been welded but will have to wait until tomorrow to return to Mota village where Renger Guliker remains with the car.

Top five in Saturday’s first World Cup Section were Blunt, Impreza 1:36; Cauwenberge, Porsche 2:28; Actman, Hilux 2:37; Tomlin, Defender 2:40; Tromans, 240Z 2:43Five cars completed the second World Cup Section within the allowed time and without penalty, with Alastair Caldwell next up losing just 3 seconds. Overall, Owen Turner’s MGZR stays third with the Blunt/Duck Impreza second and Actman and Elcomb holding first in their Hilux.

Those watching the Yellowbrick tracking page (www.londoncapetownrally.com/cartrack.html) will notice that Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott are making good progress catching the event after fitting a replacement engine in Gedaref.  At 10pm Saturday they were north of Addis Ababa, about 320kms from Awasa. Eric Claeys and Ben Deleye still have some distance to drive before reaching Awasa…they were delayed after filling their Toyota with petrol instead of diesel. They are travelling quite close to the Peugeot 504 of Jean-Pierre and Mireille Demierre.

Unfortunately the parts needed to fix Ben and Mike Dawson's Escort missed the overnight plane from London. They were seemingly left with an almost impossible task to repair their car and catch the rally, though an update by a relative on Facebook suggests they’re underway with some improvised solution while the new stub axle wings its way to Africa.

By contrast, Day 15 was short and easy - for a change – bringing the crews from Awasa to the Kenyan border at Moyale. Rapid formalities completed, they were soon driving what the Chairman of the Kenya Motorsport Federation describes in his letter to us all as "God's own rally country".

‘God’ was a word that came quickly to our lips as we hit the giant ruts that took us up the dirt track to the very basic Al-Yusra hotel... no beer, and for 38 drivers the mattress is on the floor - and these are mattresses we bought this afternoon, cost: 600 dollars.

It was an easy day for all except the two Datsun 240Zs. The Tromans & Russell Datsun has been coping with a broken suspension upright after hitting potholes, while the Thistlethwayte & Hiscox's car is having a troubled time with overheating and currently still in Ethiopia making very slow progress towards the border. The border is now closed until tomorrow morning.

Day 16

Petrol supplies have run dry but more is expected at midnight.

While there is a party atmosphere in the campsite beer tent tonight the day’s dramas are not yet over for some.

Cars that have not yet reached Marsabit, ...rescue has been dispatched,  include…    •    Ralf Weiss & Kurt Schneiders, Mercedes 230E  - have a holed sump.They are trying to fix it with local help and a fibre glass kit, but remain close to the Sololo

Junction control point, 170km from Marsabit tonight.    •    Alex Thistlethwayte & David Hiscox, Datsun 240Z – Have no spare tyres left. They are near the Lonely Tree checkpoint 95kms from Marsabit.    •    Renger Guliker & Pim ‘t Hart, BMW535 – holed sump for the second time. At 23:00 they are on the move again 65kms from Marsabit .    •    Jean-Pierre & Mireille Demierre, Peugeot 504 – have broken suspension 47kms from Marsabit.

A few of the problems suffered by others…    •    Martin & Josephina Aaldering, Volvo PV544 – have broken axle links but limped in to Marsabit at 23:30    •    Andy Actman & Andy Elcomb, Toyota Hilux – had a puncture.    •    Jane Edgington & Gill Cotton, MG Maestro – fuel pipe leak - fixed, and accelerator cable tied up with cable ties.    •    Paul & Diane Unwin, MG ZR – rear shock problems.    •    Owen Turner & Matt Fowle, MG ZR – burst all the shock absorbers and stopped to fit spares.    •    Alastair Caldwell & Hayden Burvill, Porsche 912 – changed a shock absorber, but the top mount is also broken.    •    Paul Carter & John Bayliss, Volvo 144 – two shock absorbers failed.

Nairobi and the prospect of a day off beckons ...we are at the Safari Park Hotel tomorrow night.