The Baltic Classic Rally 2017
28 May - 10 June
JUNE 10, 2017
Szczecin to Berlin
It was the last hurrah today and, after the wild ride we've enjoyed over past last two weeks it would have perhaps been acceptable to enjoy the procession into Berlin, the German capital. But no such luxury was afforded the rally today.
A Monte Carlo style street circuit was to be enjoyed / endured (delete as appropriate) early this morning and over two laps it featured cobbles, cambers, climbs and kerbs in quick succession.
Tyre choice would prove crucial this morning and, crews like Arthur Manners in his Lagonda and Nicholas Philips in the Ford Model A had gone for a soft semi slick compound with a few extra cuts - balancing grip for extra stability through the corners. What tyres their Vintageant rivals were running however remained a mystery, shrouded as they were in period style tweed tyre warmers.
The organisers, along with the West Pomeranian Motor Club in Poland had pulled out all of the stops for this blast through Sczeczin, scores of marshals, miles of warning tape and a thumping euro disco beat added to the tension already hanging in the air. Jack and Merle Bauer sat on the start ramp in their big Bentley, nervously gunning their engine as the seconds counted down. Finally, and with a wave of the flag from the Mayor Szczecin they were off and the rest followed, at one minute intervals.
In two tight and twisty laps of the track the drivers wrestled with the sort of dynamic forces they thought that they'd left behind on the track in Kaunas. Well secured undergarments were a definite advantage this morning to counter both the G forces through the corners and the turbulence over the cobbles. Any body parts not correctly contained were at the mercy of the laws of physics.
Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey literally flew through one section in their little Mini whilst an audacious and much more terrestrial overtaking move by Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman was thwarted by Lorenz Imhof ’s and Adrian Bielser’s big Rover.
In places along the course, the enthusiastic crowd stood three deep and it was good to see our old friend, Joost van Cauwenberge, along with his wife Christine amongst them, they'd come to support their Belgian compatriots, the current leaders of the Classics category.
This test was definitely one that will live long in the memory but all good things must come to an end and, once their track time was up the crews headed almost directly back to the highway and onwards to Berlin where the chequered flag was waved at the iconic Brandenburg Gate and the inaugural Baltic Classic rolled to a halt. Fourteen days, eight countries and six capital cities from where it started.
Our night halt was the equally iconic Aldon Kempinski where the prize giving dinner was also held. Rally Director Fred Gallagher led the evenings entertainment where the class awards and individual winners trophies were presented by the Clerk of the Course, Mark Appleton and the ERA’s Eleonora Piccolo. The Spirit of the Rally - a discretionary award - was given to the well liked and well travelled crew of Charles and Nellie Bishop with their Vauxhall 30/98.
A delighted Eric Claeys, driver of the winning Datsun 240z captured the zeitgeist perfectly when he told us that their win was inspired by a 'certain Theresa May's strong and stable mantra'. Eric had brought a strong car, which he'd built himself, and along with Rene they were a stable team. The difference between the Belgian Rally crew and the British Prime Minister of course is that the former were popular outright winners.
Rene Declercq his co driver, felt that along with winning, the best thing about being on the rally was meeting old friends and making new ones. Along with his good friend Joost van Cauwenberge he's now an ERA rally winner and declared that he will come back next time to defend the victory - in a faster car.
This is the second long distance ERA rally that the Belgians have won in succession following the Rally of the Incas, and Fred Gallagher appealed to the audience to “come on guys, its time to up your game”.
Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman winners of the Vinatgeant Class were similarly delighted and Bill recounted that for him, driving WRC stages as we had done was a real thrill but the entire route was fantastic. The others crews were great to rally with and the ERA organisation was as brilliant as ever - if not more so. All in all it’s been a fantastic event enjoyed by everyone I'm sure and I’d like to finish by saying big thank you to everyone involved. Jacqui herself added that it’s been a “fabulous rally with some really tough navigation to keep us on our toes. I thought that we'd blown it in the airfield regularity and was very relieved to see that everyone else had as well”! This is the second long distance ERA rally that Bill and Jacqui have won, the first being the Sahara Challenge in 2015.
Following the dinner, a tired but satisfied rally headed out into Berlin to wring the last drops from this fantastic adventure.
Every day counts.