London to Cape Town World Cup Rally 2012
The Long Way Down - Against the Clock
Bahir Da, Ethiopia
BAHIR DAR, ETHIOPIA - JANUARY 13TH, 2012
An eventful day for some
We left Gedaref before sunrise and found our way through the maze of streets – the smell of hot bread coming from the oven of a baker’s old 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 8am. 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 rally drivers filling in the forms. We paid the $10 dollars 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 off 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, (this penalty has now been removed Ed) 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 is as a good morning’s spot of entertainment. The 400 bhp BMW of Robert Belcher had broken a rear suspension link in Egypt and repaired it by cutting tube from a rusty bed frame found by roadside. He made the control on his minute, "the bedstead is holding up".
Eric Claeys came in on a tow-rope, his second radiator on the busted Toyota having let go after makeshift repairs after hitting a donkey last 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 has now found a brand new radiator in Bahir Dar.
Others were less fortunate. The game little Escort Mk2, powered by a 1700cc Kent engine of Mike Dawson and son Ben has snapped a front stub axle and Francis Tuthill reckons this is going to be a tricky job to repair – it remains ten 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 and it’s limping on into to Bahir Dar as this is written – 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 as 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 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.
What of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott who reached Gedaref at 7am this morning, just as the rally was leaving, after being trucked from Suakin? We hear they found a replacement engine in Khartoum, sorted the part and got it delivered to Gedaref, which is a feat in itself. Can they overcome the problems and catch up with the rally? As we write this the Yellowbrick tracker shows them still in Gedaref.
We have two more days in Ethiopia, and the welcome we have just received from the locals here has been the biggest surprise of the day.