The 3rd Alpine Trial 2016
26th - 28th September, 2016
The 3rd Alpine Trial 2016 - Rally Reports
Visit the 3rd Alpine Trial Photo Gallery to find Gerard Brown's event photographs.
Day Three - The final reckoning
Wednesday 28 September - Annecy - Col de l'Arpettaz – Annecy – 262 kms
Another 8.00am start this morning which meant a 7.30am rendezvous with a new Route Book for the navigators and for the drivers another nervous check of anything connected to braking and steering.
The final day was going to a busy one and in no way offered an armchair ride to the finish line. We would be crossing some tough terrain and passing through some high mountains on the way. There were four hilly and twisty regularities, a ‘join the dots’ special test and a long Alpine Section up to the Col du Meraillet and as the Rally crossed the top of the Col des Aravis we were given a front row viewing across to the Mont Blanc range which would be their backdrop for most of the day.
The weather forecast was good, very good in fact although some of us hardly dared to believe it to the extent that Hugh Apthorp began the day in a sheepskin flying jacket and was seen lightly poached atop the Col de Meraillet. Right from the flag there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was rising nicely along with the temperature and skeins of wispy mist hung from the bronzed and burnished trees where the light had yet to reach.
The colours of the landscape today were muted yet vibrant giving the impression that mother nature hasn’t given up on the summer yet and neither had we, every hood was down and in most cases sleeves were rolled up.
The first Regularity was on the modest Col de Plan Bois and was followed by a visit to the Col des Saisies and a small but amusing auto test before a coffee break at Yeti’s cafe. This was the easy bit though, the Alpine Section was straight afterwards and in almost 25 km the crews were taken from the depths of the Defile d’Entreroches along the Route des Grandes Alpes to the Barrage de Roselend and then to the Col de Meraillet. Although tough and demanding the views over the Lac de Roselend and onwards to Mont Blanc itself took away most of the pain.
Lunch on the Col de l’Arpettaz - an Alpine Trial favourite - saw crews basking on a sun terrace looking over at snow-capped peaks and congratulating themselves on a job well done. There were only two regularities between them, some silverware and the Gala Prizegiving dinner.
At the days end the strong pairing of Gareth Burnett and Jez Haylock held off the challenge of John Abel and Leigh Powley to take their second Alpine Trial win while Peter Lovett and Rob Henchoz took a highly creditable third place.
There have so far been three editions of the ERA Alpine Trial and, to date only one Alpine Cup has been awarded. Tonight all of that changed when Clerks of the Course Keith Baud and Anthony Preston, along with Rally Director Fred Gallagher handed out four more to some very well deserving crews. Gareth Burnett and Jez Haylock now have two each - one from 2014 - while John Abel and Leigh Powley, Clint and Brad Smith and Paul Wignall and Guy Woodcock have only just begun their collections.
Along with anybody else who cares to take up the challenge, they’ll get a second, or third, chance to claim another Alpine Cup in 2018, with the announcement that The Alpine Trial and next year's Blue Train Challenge will now run on alternate years.
Praise for this Rally was gratifying and fulsome from all of the competitors with the route singled out as the highlight while many made special mention of the organisation and the friendly and professional standard of marshalling. Many also had the sweeps to thank for getting them to the finish line. Rob Henchoz simply said that the three lunches provided were outstanding in every way with today’s held on a balcony overlooking Mont Blanc as being the stand out location.
Special awards were presented for Spirit of the Rally to Jan and Dana Hradecky who gamely coxed their little Jawa through some very big landscapes. Concours d’Elegance was awarded to Sophie and Kate Wickham in the MG and the TT Trophy for saloon cars was bagged by Tony and Pauline Mather and their Citroen Traction Avant.
Day Two - The mists of time
Tuesday 27 September -- Divonne - Lac d'Aiguebelette - Annecy -- 340 kms
Unlike yesterday morning, only thirty minutes of Route Book planning time was allowed this morning before the crews started their engines and launched themselves up and over the Col de Faucille to begin the day.
Right from this first climb it was cloudy with a little dampness hanging in the air but as the morning unfolded the mist that had insidiously crept over the Grand Balcon du Leman covered just about everything else mentioned in the route book. By mid-morning this brouillard was so dense it gave a definite surreal and other worldly feeling to the dense woods and endless switchbacks we passed through.
As yesterday, there was a packed schedule to take in - certainly more than could be fully absorbed in the thirty minutes of prep’ which was allocated - and it all started with a 28 km regularity at Col de Menthieres. This little excitement of high Alpine meadows and deep tree lined ravines led the crews to a short coffee halt and then to the feared Alpine Cup section around the Col de Richemond. Depending on your point of view this 30.6 km section was either heaven or hell and to do well, it required pin point navigational accuracy and timing precision. The results speak for themselves - four crews failed here so we are now down to seven potential holders of an Alpine Cup.
By the time the summit of the Col du Grand Colombier hoved into view the fog was a real pea-souper and most crews could just about see the signpost at the top and imagine the incredible views they’d been denied. Mountain weather is notoriously fickle and on the descent to Culoz the veil was lifted to reveal the true grandeur of our surroundings.
Indeed the blue skies were set in for the rest of the day and on the way to lunch at the Lac d'Aiguebelette via the Mont du Chat Regularity, the sunshine allowed us all to enjoy something of a holiday feeling.
Sadly, such thoughts of leisure weren’t to last long. After refreshments had been taken, the Mont Beauvoir regularity woke the Rally from any post prandial lethargy. Both the driver and the navigator needed to be on top form here to keep on top of the many changes of direction and gradient. Coffee on the Col du Granier then set things up nicely for the final Regularity of the day on the Col de Pres and a Special Test on the Semnoz Ridge.
By the time the day ended there had been a bit of a change of the leaderboard. Gareth Burnett and Jez Haylock must be seen as real contenders as they still stand in first place, but John Abel and Leigh Powell are now snapping at their heels in second thanks to an uncharacteristic but crucial mistake on the penultimate regularity dropped Peter Lovett and Rob Henchoz to share third place on exactly the same time as Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in the Sunbeam Sports who have risen several places since yesterday.
Day One – Let the Good Times Roll
Monday 26 September -- Divonne - Circuit de Bresse - Divonne -- 308 kms
As per the regulations, Route Books for the day ahead were handed out one hour before the appointed start time of each car so, this morning at 8.01am precisely 39 anxious navigators began to line up at the MTC in the hotel lobby to see exactly what they’d be facing from the Anthony Preston / Keith Baud route designing combo.
Once in receipt of the book, the navigators squirrelled themselves away with pencils, Michelin maps and speed tables to make the best use of the sixty minutes they had available. The route they were presented with was a figure of eight albeit one lying on its side and ran west from Divonne through forests and farmland as far as the Circuit de Bresse where two laps of the facility bookended lunch service in the Circuit Restaurant. Either side of this refreshment, the rest of the day featured a packed programme with four regularities, three circuit based special tests and a testing Alpine Cup section for the crews to contend with.
The Jura Mountains may not be the highest in the world, but what they lack in altitude they more than make up for in complexity and today we were going to see just how much fun you could have in an old car on some older roads. After the endless sunshine of yesterday the weather wasn’t quite as kind to us today but the misty mountains, the cols and canyons welcomed the Rally in their autumnal embrace and the rain held off until the last cars were safely back in the car park.
After 308km of twisting and turning it was Gareth Burnett and Jez Haylock who finished the day on top spot. They and their Talbot never missed a beat arriving everywhere bang on time just as they did two years previously and at this year's Flying Scotsman Rally where they once again took the overall. Does history repeat itself? They’ll surely hope so.
Peter Lovett has once again brought his nippy little BMW Frazer Nash to the party but this year he has teamed up with Rob Henchoz, a Volvo man and London to Cape Town veteran, to read the maps and run the clocks for him. They’re obviously a crew working well together as they’re sitting in second place overall and Peter took the Big Cheese award presented by Keith Baud at dinner this evening in recognition of his efforts on the tests.
John Abel and Leigh Powley who finished second in this year's Flying Scotsman also look to have held their form as they are lying in third place this evening in their Lagonda LG45.
Hairpins, horsepower and hill climbs are part and parcel of any Alpine Trial and while we saw plenty of all three today, sheer cubic capacity didn’t always pull the car through. Handling, skill and commitment were also required. Jan and Dana Hradecky’s 615cc two stroke engine for example, screamed its way along with the best of them while the diesel engine of Dominic and Jack Manser’s Bentley so impressed Sholto Gilbertson - Hart that he took his Lagonda to the nearest fuel station and attempted an impromptu conversion himself.
Finally we’re pleased to report that by the day's end, eleven crews still retain the coveted Alpine Cup qualification. Certainly that number will likely diminish as the next two days unfold but to all of those still in with a chance of taking one home we say best of luck.
Pre Start - The Grid Assembles
Sunday 25 September - Divonne-les-Bains
Welcome to the third running of the Endurance Rally Association's Alpine Trial. This year we've broken with tradition and are starting the event from Divonne-les-Bains although as usual, we finish in the Imperial Hotel in Annecy.
Having dusted themselves off from the epic Peking to Paris, The ERA team, and several crews are now assembled in the magnificent hotel, Domaine de Divonne, for the start of the 2016 Alpine Trial.
Today is scrutineering day and, Andy Inskip and his band of sweeps would be hard pressed to find a better location for a poke under the bonnet and a bit of last minute spanner time. The French Jura is stunning at any time but today it has surpassed itself, blue skies, wooded hillsides with leaves just on the turn and gloriously warm autumn sunshine covering everything in golden light.
There’s also work going on indoors though, with Eleonora Piccolo and Sue Vincent processing the necessary paperwork and ticking all of the right boxes and the Rally time clock has been tightly wound and set by Lee Vincent, the event's chief timekeeper.
The stage looks to be set for another great event but sadly, Peter Kite and Terry Thorpe aren't here to defend their title - we'll be seeing them next on the 2017 Flying Scotsman - but James Gateley and Tony Brooks, who finished a thrilling second last year in the huge Cadillac series 60 are.
Wearing the number one dossard this year, are Gareth Burnett and Jez Haylock, winners of the very first Alpine Trial in 2014 and holders of one of our precious Alpine Cups. Needless to say all eyes will be on them and their magnificent green Talbot 105, although it’s fairly safe to say that they won’t have everything their own way over the next three days as there are some very experienced crews with us once again, including Jayne Wignall with Kevin Savage and Paul Wignall with Guy Woodcock. We must also welcome Macko Laqueur who is taking part in his second Alpine Trial and, after a quick trawl through the archives we find that he was also with us way back in 1988 when he was flagged away from Tower Bridge to start the very first Pirelli Classic Marathon.
As well as rally experience by the trailer load, there’s also plenty of thoroughbred horsepower on offer down in the carpark and a couple of highly unusual vehicles to boot. Jan and Dana Hradecky for example, fresh from a gruelling Peking to Paris, have brought a skeletal, 1936 Jawa Aero Minor 1, a lightweight Czech car which was conceived and a prototype built in secret, during the second world war.
Dominic and Jack Manser have also caused a bit of a stir by bringing - as a last minute replacement - the youngest car to the Rally. A diesel powered 1949 Bentley Mk VI which sports a 6 litre Perkins engine no less. This is the first heavy-oiler we’ve seen on one of our rallies and we’re very much looking forward to watching its performance in the high mountains.
Once the formalities had been taken care of it was time to listen to the pre Rally briefing given by Clerks of the Course, Keith Baud and Anthony Preston. These two map maestros are once again looking to serve up plenty of Alpine alchemy to test the mettle of both the crews and their cars.
Unfortunately, the oldest car on the start list won’t be rolling out tomorrow, the 1922 Bentley 3-4½ crewed by Lieven van Hoylandt and Wim de Sutter has had to withdraw at the last minute. Also, Alan Smith, the very first route designer for the Flying Scotsman Rally was due to be take the start tomorrow as the navigator for Melvin Andrews in a 1936 Bentley 4½. A half shaft broke virtually in the hotel car park means they’re unable to take part.
Dinner tonight was a very civilised affair and the bar did a brisk but respectable trade, early nights were very much the order of the day.