London to Cape Town World Cup Rally 2012
The Long Way Down - Against the Clock
FLORENCE, ITALY - JANUARY 3RD, 2012
We Go Hillclimbing in Italy
We left Beaune after a good breakfast and set out for the long trek across France to the border with Italy. Before diving into the Frejus tunnel, the sun broke to lift the gloomy grey clouds and all of Italy, for the rest of the day, has been driving in bright sunshine.
The final hours of the day before arriving at Firenze (Florence) would be diving up and down the sides of the Liguirian Hills on narrow mountain roads. As twisty as Corsica was how some of the experienced drivers summed it up, and the roads – familiar to anyone who has rallied the Monte Carlo events – lived up to expectations.
With a World Cup section, a series of timing points strung strategically through the hills where time lost racks up penalties that are piled up in a cumulative fashion, has proved a punishing test. Cars were arriving with burning brakes and the acrid smell of clutch and brake pads that have been given a thrashing.
Only one car managed to “clean it” and arrive at the finish penalty-free, Owen Turner coasted into to the finish checkpoint in his whisper-quiet MG ZR with a few seconds to spare, and did so with a puncture, after praying for the final few kilometres that the tyre would stay on the rim.
His second-placed rival at the head of the leader board today dropped back a bit as the twists and turns on good tarmac offered no benefit to a big Toyota, and Andy Actman arrived 50 seconds adrift of the little MG. “It would have suited the Sprite I left at home,” said Andy.
The Maestro Girls were overhauled by the Subaru Impreza, the two cars arriving at the finish together. The Maestro is now in 4th spot. Their rivals for the Ladies Prize, Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey, also dropped down a slot to tenth. The hills are hard work for small engines and the Datsun 240Z of Grant Tromans is now 9th, five minutes behind the Volvo of Richard Atherton and Rob Henchoz. A few cars cut out the route altogether, preferring to accept a stack of penalties.
The Volvo of Martin and Jo Aaldering became stuck on a rock and received a tow from Arnold Meijer’s Toyota, and was able to drive on after losing time. The biggest problem-story of the day is of the fate of car 20, the Mercedes of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott. They took time out, to find a spare felt joint between gearbox and prop-shaft today, and after two hours in Turin’s main Mercedes dealership, found what they had been hunting for… this cost them the penalties of missing two Time Controls. They got to the Ligurian Hills section with five seconds to spare, but then got a puncture. The wheel was changed – inside two minutes, a great effort. More problems then hit the Mercedes with a front wheel falling off… the wheel-studs are damaged and a spare wheel cannot be bolted on without replacing the studs. The car is still in the mountains… the crew are safe and the driver using an iphone for translation is busy trying out his quickly-learned Italian to explain how he now expects help to rebuild the car in time to catch the ferry for Greece.
The day ended with a fine meal of home-made lasagne and other pasta dishes in the hotel restaurant. One more day in Italy, and we are on the boat for Greece and the gravel trails of the classic Acropolis Rally…
Owen Turner has a seven minute lead, but Steve Blunt and Bob Duck in the Subaru (a non-turbo version, we hasten to add), along with Andy Actman, are now all out to knock them off their perch.