The Baltic Classic Rally 2017
28 May - 10 June
JUNE 5, 2017
Riga to Liepaja
Today the plan was to put a bit more endurance into the endurance rallying we’ve been enjoying of late.
A damp early morning track blast at the Riga Motor Museum and Bikernieki track was followed by a long section along the largely un-metalled byways of Latvia, to a passage control deep in the low lying landscape around Ziemassvetku. The navigation wasn’t difficult, the pace was relatively easy but what the section did demand was driver concentration. For anyone with long distance rallying aspirations this sort of day comes with the territory and it’s often on these sort of unmade roads that any car preparation issues are shown up.
Obviously man can’t live on gravel alone and the excellent lunches continued today with pasta Bolognese, pork cutlets or fish served up in the traditionally styled Tavern Eglieni and the generous portions surely caused many crews to reassess their power to weight calculations.
The tempo quickly resumed after the mid day break though and we soon found the route winding its way through a more open landscape than we've been used to with fields of vivid yellow rape giving some colourful relief against the various shades of green we’ve become used to. Occasionally it was as if we were diving through a land that time forgot and, in many of the small villages we passed through, the roads were once again dotted with small groups of smiling, waving and very curious locals. Even the nesting storks, sat imperiously on their telegraph poles, seemed to nod their approval in our direction.
Two regularity sections kept the navigators occupied while the final 100 km of the day gave the drivers a chance to explore their cars dynamics between the time controls in Kuldiga and Medze.
The roads through this section reminded us of epic routes through Africa, Mongolia, South America or Alaska (take your pick) and braking, steering and acceleration all needed to be done with a light touch, balance and precision. In short it was a drivers road and, as one nameless navigator once commented, she could hear the hairs on his chest growing - mile after mile.
London Cape Town veterans, Jean Pierre and Mireille Demierre know all about rough roads and, at the sweeps car park party this evening, they recounted the story of the day the wheels came off their wagon on the infamous Marsabit Road to their fellow Swiss Volvo drivers, Harald and Caterina Krauspe.
Jack and Merle Bauer were seen sat by the side of the road late on the day, awaiting some sweep assistance, the big Bentley was running too hot for Jack’s liking and he wanted a second opinion before firing it up and continuing to the night halt in sunny Leipaja, Latvia’s premier seaside resort.
Once the Bauer’s were back on the road though and, in the spirit of endurance rallying, Henk and Lady Verkou in their Jaguar took it upon themselves to shadow them into the town.
Before we sat down to dinner we saw that the Classics leaderboard has changed - albeit only slightly in that Lorna and Mike Harrison have swapped second for third place with Rene de Clercq and Eric Claeys. Gavin and Diana Henderson are still in first place, which will be greeted no doubt, by sighs of relief in Marblehead Massachusetts (population 20,000). The Vintageant top three are unchanged with Bentley still comfortably leading the constructors championship.
Something of a pattern is emerging here and with the end game fast approaching, anyone who has been keeping their powder dry now needs to think about letting off some fireworks.
This evening, even though the sun is shining and we’re by the seaside having a great time, the day has been tinged with sadness. This morning we learned that one of our own ERA family ‘members’ has left us. Chuck Lyford, the winner of both of our South American rallies in 2013 and 2016 succumbed to the injuries he sustained during the Spokane Festival of Speed in the USA after crashing in his Elva Mk 7. Many crews with us here today will doubtless remember duelling with him through the Andes, into Patagonia and over the Altiplano.
Chuck, along with his wife Pam, their full size stuffed monkey and Chevy Fangio lit up these events with his driving, his energy and his witty dinner time repartee. A man of the world and a man of many talents, Chuck was an accomplished racing driver, an exceptional hydroplane competitor, a legendary pilot and from what we saw, a loving husband. His motto “every day counts” was one he lived by and, the email from his own account, which announced his death to the world, was signed off with it. Fred Gallagher led the tributes to Chuck over dinner, glasses were raised and many of us silently promised to make every day count.
All at the ERA send their condolences to Pam and the Lyford family.