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London to Cape Town World Cup Rally 2012

The Long Way Down - Against the Clock 2012

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The Concept

The London to Cape Town World Cup Rally endeavours to capture the spirit of the long distance World Cup Rallies of the 1970s. The event is not designed as a tour but as a “press on” driver’s challenge with Time Trials and a time-schedule to be maintained every day. The ambition is to revive the kind of rallying last seen on the 1977 London to Sydney marathon.

A Letter from Number 10

As the January 1st start date approached and several years of planning came to an end the Prime Minister found time to send a letter with his best wishes to the crews and all involved with the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally.

Fund Raising

The London to Cape Town World Cup Rally is raising funds to improve the lives of many communities along the route. Water Aid reaches the world’s poorest with safe water and sanitation, and African Revival provides teachers and equipment in village schools >> Read more …

About the Organisers

Philip Young is the driving force behind the Endurance Rally Association. Since their first major international event, The 1988 Pirelli Classic Marathon, the E.R.A. has promoted and organised more than 60 international rallies through more than 50 countries throughout the world.

The list includes the longest rally in history, the Around the World in 80 Days, three Peking to Paris rallies and 12 events in Africa >> Read more …

A call or email to the Rally Office will put you in touch with the most experienced organising team in the business. If you have never taken part in such an adventure and don’t have a suitable car, or if you are a highly experienced competitor looking for your next challenge, the team at the Endurance Rally Association office in Didcot will guide you each step towards the start line.

Route Survey

In January 2011 Philip Young and Jim Allen completed a month long route survey down the full length of Africa travelling through Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya and on to Cape Town. During the trip they sent back regular reports and photographs >> Read more…

Africa Motoring Pioneers

Our Africa Pioneers page recalls a proud history of pioneers who opened up Africa to the motor-car followed by many record breaking overland drives that continue to the present. The London to Cape Town overland record now belongs to the Max Adventure team for their October 2010 drive. Among the earlier record breakers we recently met John Hemsley, who in 1983 drove a Range Rover, unaided and without back-up support, from Cape Town to London in 14 days. John shared the driving with his wife in the days when navigation relied solely on maps and a compass.


The World Cup Rally Series

The first World Cup Rally was run in 1970, a ground-breaking long-distance marathon that linked up the Wembley football stadium, scene of England’s football glory in the World Cup soccer match of 1966, with the next soccer World Cup match in Mexico City – it was a resounding success and is still talked of as the toughest rally of all time. 

The winner was a Ford Escort with a 1600cc Cortina push-rod engine, and Ford then produced a special model called the “Escort Mexico”.

The second World Cup was held in 1974 in Munich, but rallycars went there via a double crossing of the Sahara Desert – the first time any rally had driven across the Sahara twice – the winner was a Citroen DS23, prepared by an Australian driver in his back-garden, which proved so reliable it won with no less than seven days of penalty points clear of the runner up, Christine Dacremont in a Peugeot 504.

In 2001 soccer’s world-governing body Fifa gave a licence for the Endurance Rally Association to use The World Cup Rally name and we revived the series with a long drive from London to Morocco and back again. Just like the two original World Cups of the 1970’s it was for production-cars with limited modifications, only this time the engine size was capped at 1400cc, keeping costs, and overall speeds, within sensible limits. A VW Golf won the first World Cup Rally Revival, just pipping a works-prepared Peugeot 206 driven by Barbara Armstrong, former British ladies rally champion.

Several Manufacturers factories built works-cars for this new rallying concept – Peugeot, Skoda, Mercedes, Daihatsu, and MG factories all built and entered cars for the World Cup Rally revivals.

Leader Board from previous ERA World Cup Rallies

Presented in placing order 1-10 in each case.

World Cup Rally 2001 – London – Morocco – London

Donie Keating / Nick Condon – Volkswagen Polo

Barbara Armstrong / Alyson Marlow – Peugeot 206 LX

David Johnson / Robert Johnson – Proton Satria

Andy Dawe / Simon Sparey – MG ZR

Larry Davis / David Wright – Saab 96 V4

Paul Carter / Geoff Dearing – Vauxhall Nova

Shirley Greenway / Andrew Johnson – MG ZR

Richard Butler / Tobin Gordon – Renault Clio

Andrew Actman / Tom Coulthard – MG Midget

Nicky Porter / Malcolm Sinclair – Mitsubishi Spacestar

World Cup Rally 2002 – London to Athens

Alastair Caldwell / Gill Cotton – Peugeot 205 Rallye

Michael Darcey / Steve Hutchinson – MG ZR

David Johnson / Nigel Banks – Proton Satria

Paul Merryweather / Sandra Deacon – Peugeot 205 Rallye

Tristan Hillgarth / Antonio Morales – BMW Mini Cooper

Roger Stevens / Michael Stevens – Seat Ibiza

Andrew Actman / James Wheildon – Daihatsu Sirion

Les Harrogate / Darren Ray – Proton Compact

Johnathan Langhorne / Mark Sayer – Rover 214i

Charlie Campey / Faye Campey – Vauxhall Nova

World Cup Rally 2003 – France and Tunisia

Nicky Porter / Malcolm Sinclair – Mitsubishi Spacestar

David Winstanley / Terri Metcalfe – MG ZR

Sophie Robinson / Paul White – Volkswagen Polo

David Maryon / Kenneth Powell – Peugeot 206

Paul Heal / Mathew Heal – Proton Compact

Stephen Cooper / Aggie Foster – Suzuki Swift

Alastair Caldwell / Sarah Born – Peugeot 205 Rallye

Robert Belcher / Jeremy Buckler – Volkswagen Polo

Adrian Grinsted / Stuart Malpas – Rover 214i

Felix Wright / John Hall – Ford Focus

World Cup Rally 2005 – London to Dakar

Alastair Caldwell / Brian Johnson – Peugeot 205 Rallye

Richard Hayward / Kane Athay – Landrover Defender 110

Dominic Manser / Jeremy Davies – Jeep Wrangler

David Palmer / Jaqueline Palmer – Landrover Defender 90

Tim Wheatley / Tony Leach – Landrover Discovery

Martin Collins / Mark Potter – Nissan Patrol

Anna McColl / Paul Clark – Landrover Defender 90

Iain Freestone / Rod Maclean – Ford Escort Mk1

Mike Thornton / Jeffrey Bechtel – Toyota Landcruiser

Paul Kane / Mary Ellen Kane – Ford GT-350

After the running of several of these World Cup marathon rallies, the governing body of British motor-sport, the RAC Motor Sports Association, brought the concept to British clubmen with a new formula of low-cost rallying to be called Endurance Road Rallying, and Lombard returned to sponsor four international rallies driving a similar course to the original RAC Rallies around Britain. Today there is a national championship, with several events up and down the country, for cars to a similar specification to the pioneering World Cup revivals.


Technical Information

Awards, and Classes:

There is one General Classification, or leader-board, which will produce an outright winner, with trophies going to each crew member, plus awards for the crews who finish 2nd, and 3rd overall. In addition, awards will be presented to each crew-member who wins one of the following 5 Classes:

Cars up to 1400cc.

Cars up to 1600cc.

4×4 vehicles over 1600cc

Classic Cars up to 2-litres, of a model-type in manufacture prior to 1986

Classic Cars over 2-litres, of a model-type in manufacture prior to 1986

Crews who finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the General Classification are not eligible for Class Awards.

In addition, there will be one Team Award, The Manufacturer’s Team Prize, presented to all crew members of the highest placed Team of two cars, where both cars are of the same Manufacturer.

Technical Requirements:

All cars must comply with the technical code of the event Regulations, and will be examined for compliance at the Scrutineering day held at Brooklands, prior to the Start.

All cars entered must retain the standard Manufacturer’s body panels, retaining the original shape and profile and be contructed with the original materials except that the front and rear bumpers, and the bonnet, may be modified or changed for an alternative material.

Cars in Classes 1 and 2 may be front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or four-wheel-drive.

Cars in Classes 1, 2, and 3 may be of any age.

Classic cars in Class 4 or 5 must only be two-wheel-drive.

The windscreen must be of laminated glass. Other windows can be changed for alternative materials. The use of heavy tinted material or mirror glass will be restricted.

Engines may be modified but must represent either an engine from the same Manufacturer, or, as Homologated for motor-sport. Forced induction, such as turbocharging, is only accepted on diesel engines.

Suspension may be modified, uprated or raised in order to meet the conditions of Africa but the general design principles of the Manufacturer’s showroom production car must be retained. For example, leaf-springs must not be replaced with coils if such an example was not the original Manufacturer’s production-car design.

All electrical components can be changed or modified.

Brake components may be modified.

The fitting of alternative fuel tanks is permitted.

Seating and interiors may be changed or modified but all cars must retain the Manufacturer’s original dashboard.

Wheels and tyres are a free choice with no restriction on type and number carried.

All cars must be equipped with the following:

Full-harness seat-belts

Roll-over protection bar with front legs mandatory in Class 3, (Recommended for other Classes)

Provision for a 5-litre emergency water supply

A minimum of two spare wheels and tyres

A 1.75 kg or two-litre fire-extinguisher

Tow-rope

In addition a legal requirement in some of the countries, all cars must carry a High-visibility jacket, two warning triangles, and spare headlamp bulbs.

The event is a timed Competition. Crews must comprise of two people, of any age, holding a valid driving licence. Changes of crew during the event will not be permitted.

To qualify for a Finishers Award crews must

Start from the Houses of Parliament on time

Clock in at Nairobi within maximum allowed lateness

Cross the Finish Line at Cape Town within maximum allowed lateness

*All cars should be prepared within a spirit of self-sufficiency. The organising of pre-arranged service assistance with the employment of strategically placed back-up crews is strictly outside the spirit of the event.


Africa Pioneers

Robert Jefferson

The first drive that could qualify as overlanding in Africa was undertaken by a Briton called Robert L. Jefferson. Hard on the heels of the first horseless carriage, he set out in 1907 in nothing more sophisticated than a single-cylinder “dog-cart” Rover. The sort of Veteran you see struggling to get up Crawley Hill on the London to Brighton every November. Tall wheels, an 8 hp-engine the size of a lawn-mower and with so little space that the tools were in a small box under the floorboards…. the Rover was an unlikely vehicle to conquer Africa.

Jefferson was no hair-brained eccentric. He theorised that rather than burden a heavy car which then needs heavy axles, heavy wheels, and heavy chassis, he bucked all the conventional wisdom with a “travelling light is best” mentality. He wanted a car that he could push, alone, or, maybe just a few locals could help pull him through difficult terrain. Small engines need less petrol to carry.

In the early part of 1907 – the same year as Prince Borghese and his four rivals set out on the Peking to Paris – Jefferson and South African motoring pioneer Frank Connock drove the Rover from Durban to Cape Town, via Johannesburg. It cannot be claimed as the first crossing of the African continent, but the journey took 16 days and, at that time no other motorist had achieved such a long drive.

Jefferson had already proved his theory of travelling as light as possible by becoming the first ever driver to drive across Europe – again in his 8-hp single-cylinder Rover… Several drivers had tried it, but had been defeated by the goat-tracks in the mountains of Romania and Bulgaria. But in 1905, carrying only spare tyres and minimal luggage, he set out from The Autocar magazine’s office in Coventry, managed to get through the Balkans, and so became the first driver to reach Constantinople (Istanbul). He returned home to be hailed a hero.

Oberleutnant Paul Graetz

The first real crossing of Africa was completed in 1908, by a well-supported German team, who aroused so much interest “national pride” was at stake to the point that even the Kaiser was to support the attempt.

Oberleutnant Paul Graetz, of the Imperial German Army, had served in German East Africa in 1902, on a road building programme. It gave him the idea to become the first to cross Africa by car, and on the same day that the intrepid Prince Borghese rode across the finishing line of the 1907 Peking to Paris, Graetz set out in a 40 hp six-litre Gaggenaue, a vehicle very similar to Borghese’s six-litre Itala. Fuel tanks for 625 miles were fitted, giant wooden wheels, 48 inches in diameter, were specially made, giving 14 inches of ground clearance. Like Borghese, he startled the locals wherever he went – they had never seen a car before. His aim was to cross Africa from Dar-es-Salam to Swakopmund, on the coast of German Namibia, reckoning it could be done in just six weeks.

First troubles were encountered in the crossing of the Rufuma river, the car sank and became glued in the mud at the bottom. Once on the far side, Graetz decided to ditch vast quantities of provisions and spares, learning lessons the hard way the car was stripped to just an emergency seat on the chassis, and an absolute minimum of personal gear.

Then a chain of disasters struck. Crossing the Ugamberenga river, water got into the engine, and cracked all four of the separate cylinder blocks. They had now a useless car, after just one week on the road. The car was towed across the veldt to Kilossa, and a crew member despatched back to Germany to find new parts. The runner fell ill in Dar-es-Salam and decided against returning – it was three months before spare blocks were sent, and even then they were put on the wrong boat. A new chauffeur arrived, a man named Koch, who brought not just new engine bits but a whole new front axle – this was not needed so was left in Dar.

Delays had meant the crew were now facing the rainy season. Most bridges were only designed to carry men in single file, or, the odd ox-cart, and the crew needed gangs of natives to rebuild bridges and haul the car with hours of back-breaking labour. When a fall bent the front axle, a runner had to be sent back to fetch the spare, causing more delays. Rocks were blasted away with dynamite. Four months in from the start, the car had covered 625 miles.

Perhaps the horrors of Graetz’s epic put others off. In 1914 this Belgian F.A.B. of Reinelt and Evanepoel set out from Cape Town for Cairo… with an 80-gallon fuel drum. They turned back after just 37 miles on hearing that a rival crew parked under a tree, disturbed a sleeping leopard, that promptly killed and ate the driver

Somewhere on the road to Lake Tanganyika, the car lurched into a sudden hole in torrential rains, and Graetz found that splitting the sump had caused the crankshaft to be twisted, all the bolts attaching the flywheel to the shaft sheared, and the clutch plate split. There was no hope of repairing it for 70 miles. A team of porters was assembled to pull the car – at one point 200 were needed.

Their entry into British Northern Rhodesia was marked by almost a month of gruelling toil, with miles of swamp. Another set-back was running out of fuel – it took a month for supplies to find the crew. In the heat, the monotony got to the crew, who played draughts with nuts and bolts, when they were found they were living on small game they had shot themselves and were drinking out of stinking, muddy puddles.

Crossing the Zambezi by using the railway bridge near Victoria Falls, the crew were put on the wrong road, and ran straight into a bush fire, the tyres were burned clean off the wheels before they managed to burst through a corridor of flames. Miraculously, the fuel tanks were unscathed. The crew limped on to Bulawayo, and then Palapye Road on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It had now taken so long, the 1908 rains were about to set in so the crew altered course for Pretoria and Jo’Burg, to spend their second Christmas on the road in some comfort.

The final 2,000 miles saw drifting sand and stony desert, and petrol consumption in low first-gear falling to less than two miles per gallon. With fuel dumps hidden in the ground marked by stakes with metal tags attached, the going was slow. They ran out of water, and co-driver Gould, racked with thirst and in complete despair, finally resorted to drinking petrol. Attacked by fever as a result, for four days he lay between life and death. Oxon towed the car and crew to Chansi, where they found fuel and supplies, and welded up a broken valve. One day, they heard an almost forgotten sound – a dog barking. The crew had discovered a lonely Boer farm. Milk, butter, eggs were greeted as luxuries. The following day, a patrol of German cavalry from the fort at North Rietfontein came across the car – as soon as Graetz spotted his flag, he knew his problems were now over. They entered Swakopmund 18 months to the day after leaving the Indian Ocean. The 5,625 miles had been averaged at just nine miles a day.

It was an all-German triumph, but it was almost as if the horrors of African travel were to put off all other attempts – it was not until 1924 that a Cape to Cairo run was successfully achieved in something resembling a normal car.

Major Chaplin Court Treatt

Major Chaplin Court Treatt, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot who had worked on airfield construction on 2,000 miles of the Trans-African air route between northern Rhodesia and Cape Town, knew what he would be up against. Major Treatt, however, made things more difficult for himself on insisting that the route was not to diverge from the “pink” bits of the map that were in British hands. He would be accompanied by his wife, Stella, and he chose two 30 hp Crossleys, which he had seen in action in the First World War. The body was turned into a pick-up truck, and the rear axle converted to twin-wheels, giving him a light six-wheeler. Wings were made of fabric. A four man crew, including a journalist by the name of Law from the Daily Express, were to join the Treatts. They were flagged away from Cape Town City Hall on September 28, 1924, by the Mayor and officials from the Automobile Club of South Africa. Hampered by mud, it took 25 days to reach Bulawayo. The journey from here one was now one of a battle against the elements.

Here they spent several weeks while a suspect axle was replaced, and a trailer was built to take some weight off. The 380 miles to Victoria Falls took four months, of thick slimy mud. Trees were cut down to put under wheels, parties of oxon hauled the cars and often progress fell to two miles a day. Torrential rains fell every day. Doors, lights, windows, and much kit was jettisoned along the way to lighten the loads. The weather was against them – from Wankie to Livingstone, normally a day’s run, would see the team bogged down completing the 50 miles in a month. They eventually reached the luxury of the Falls Hotel, and a local station master, complete with cap, whistle and green flag, escorted the car across over the Zambezi on the rails.

Their troubles were only just beginning for now bridges had to be patched up or built, often as often as every 500 yards. September 30, a year and six days after leaving Cape Town, the Treats finally entered Nairobi. Here things improved, taking a route into Uganda, they crossed the Sudan border eight days after leaving Nairobi.

They crossed the Nile on October 23, on a barge only just big enough to take the two cars. Rains began to pour down steadily, as the crew hacked their way through marshy ground. They finally saw their first Arabas at Abu Matarik, on December 14.

Their second Christmas on the road was celebrated with turkey eaten off fuel cases at El Obeid, while waiting for new wheels to arrive from Khartoum. At Wadki Halfa, they received a telegram from Cairo. It read: “Halfa to Shellal quite impossible by car.”

 

In the enormous expanse of desert between the Nile and the Red Sea, the two Crossleys became lost, but eventually stumbled over the Aswan Dam and drove into Luxor. Four days later, with clothes that were rotting on their backs, the Treats drove into Cairo, to be met by the Egyptian Automobile Club, and Government representatives.

The Citroen Central Africa Expedition

The first complete motorised crossing of the whole length of Africa was a distinction claimed by the Citroen Central Africa Expedition of 1924, who became the first to cross the Sahara from north to south, having married tank technology with a truck to produce a tank-like tracked vehicle that could cope easily with sand or mud.

Renault joined in and also produced a cross-country special, and in 1925 drove from Colomb-Bechar and through the Tanezdrouft to Niamey, then across the centre of Africa to Lake Chad and Stanleyville to Nairobi, then south Livingstone and on to Pretoria, Jo’Burg, and Cape Town.

This just snatched the glory from the Treatts and their Crossley, but at least the Treat’s could claim to have driven the length of Africa in something resembling a normal car. They were also the first to drive the whole of Africa in two-wheel drive.

Alan Gilg and Walter Kay

The first small-car to crack London to Cape Town is generally accepted as a feat chalked up by Alan Gilg, who, when jilted by a girl he had fallen head over heels for with the excuse that he simply wasn’t manly enough for her liking, set out to Cape Town to prove to himself he really was as bold and dashing as anyone else… he met Walter Kay, a pilot recovering from a near-fatal crash having flown into a radio mast, at a New Year’s Eve party in the Piccadilly hotel. The year was 1933.

They set out for Folkestone a few days later in Alan’s Morris Eight convertible – the only modification having been carried out at the Cowley factory to lower the already low back axle ratio.

They drove to Morocco – had to turn left to avoid the Atlas Mountains because the Rifs had risen, made it down the coast to Algiers, and then turned right to go south to Reggan, Niamey, Kano, and across the centre of the Dark Continent to Stanleyville, Nairobi, and on to Broken Hill, Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, up to Salisbury, and then Jo’Burg, finally making it to Cape Town.

Total fuel consumption was 537 gallons, and 15 gallons of oil – considered normal at the time!

A Yorkshire TV researcher found some good quality film which Gilg had shot, and turned it into a documentary, and wrote a book from diaries – Turn Left The Rifts Have Risen, Edited by Barry Cockcroft, is an engaging book on a pair who reasoned “we only did this because we were looking for something to do.”

Richard Pape

The amazing Richard Pape in Cameroon mud with his trusty Austin A90, driving from the Cape at the top of Norway to Cape Town — claiming a new first and beating rival Renault Dauphine

What do you do if you survive World War II after jumping out of a Stirling Bomber, plotting daring escapes with Douglas Bader, putting up with several interrogations by the Gestapo, and succeed in getting back to Blighty, only to then discover after its all over that you just can’t settle down to life’s ordinary rut, like all the rest?

Richard Pape thought the “export or die” attitude of the British motor-industry was all very well, but, what they should be doing in the post-war 1950s is to prove themselves to the rest of the world that British engineering really was the best. So, he came up with the scheme to drive the latest model from the British Motor Corporation, a six-cylinder 2.6 litre Austin A90 four-door saloon, from the cape at the northern tip of Norway, to Cape Town. Nobody else had driven from cape to cape, and this “first” had Richard Pape really fired up.

Bombastic, arrogant, argumentative, single-minded, incredibly determined, Richard Pape had many of the right qualities – the sort that had got him out of Nazi concentration camps and home. Nobody could tell him anything, least of all the word No. He fell out with his navigator on the run up through Norway – hardly a surprise – who was so angry he stepped into the nearest car showroom, a Renault dealership, bought a Renault Dauphine, and announced that he would race Pape to Cape Town.

When Pape’s second co-driver became seriously ill at Gibraltar Pape knew that crossing the Sahara alone and at the height of summer was against the regulations and that he would not get a permit from the French. He needed another co-driver, so he walked into the RAF Sergeants mess, regaled them with his wartime escape stories…. after all, having written two best sellers, Arm Me Audacity, and Boldness Be My Friend, Pape was something of a celebrity. He persuaded – remarkably – a young RAF flight sergeant to go AWOL and accompany him. “But I will get court-marshalled if we are caught.” Ah, says Pape, if the Nazis can’t catch me… They made the Sahara crossing, but not without provoking a massive search that would end in their arrest and further delays.

In Nigeria, the rains were heavy and the roads flooded. At one of many road-blocks, Pape was told it was impossible to continue. “Ah, but I must,” he insisted… and produced a visiting card, which he had the foresight to print in England before setting out, and now the visionary initiative was to produce dividends. It showed that Richard Pape was a Nigerian Health Inspector, and he had a hospital to inspect.. “its only just down this road.” Policemen were not going to stop the flying Pape. Bullshit, persistence, dogged determination, all saw him through… and so the car arrived in Cape Town.

The youth of the 1950s might have been inspired by Boy’s Own and Biggles, but now they had a new real-life hero in Richard Pape, who achieved a stunning race across the length of Africa in a car bought out of a showroom just days before setting out.

The car today stands in silent testimony to a brilliant achievement in the Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon, just off the M40 near Warwick. It still has the broken front spring that creaked as it limped into Cape Town on, and so sits a bit lopsided, and in the boot, are all the spares Pape had packed, along with a box of original 1950s Bronco toilet-rolls, baked brittle and as hard as tracing-paper by the Sahara sun.

Pape’s book about this drive, Cape Cold to Cape Hot, was written in the heavily timbered, black and white cottage of The Priest’s House, Stratford St. Mary, near Colchester, in Essex, tapped out on a portable typewriter on a table to the left of a large open fireplace, and was published in 1955. Someone should put a blue plaque on an outside wall of this medieval house as a memorial to Richard Pape, author of three remarkable books.

Philip Young recalls

“After reading Cape Cold to Cape Hot in 1995, I heard Pape was living in Australia, but nobody knew where, and fascinated by all his adventures, thought it worthwhile to try to track him down. International Directory Enquiries in those days would allow three numbers for one call, so, each night, I put in a couple of calls, got six numbers, and dialled them, armed with a Times Atlas of the World, picking out town names from the map of Australia, starting on the west coast at Perth. Each night, I would work my way across the map, dialling six numbers, asking if they were Richard Pape who, er, sorry to bother you, but who once raced an Austin A90 across Africa.

It was fortunate that there are not many R. Pape’s living in Australia, and I soon found myself on the East Coast, having gone through Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Sydney… and was about to give up, when the very last call got a croaky elderly woman answering… “maybe, and maybe not… who wants him?” Once again I gave the ludicrous-sounding reasoning for the call. “Well, he is in the front room, you know he is not very well… in fact, he is very seriously not well.” I had finally found the author and driver of the Austin Africa Mk 1. There was then a lot of shouting… Richard’s wife knew how to answer back in no uncertain terms to a cantankerous old bore, who these days didn’t want to talk to anyone. I told Richard about the car, and how I had driven it out of the museum after fitting a new battery to take photographs for Classic and Sportscar Magazine. “Does it still have a bloody broken front spring?” Indeed, it does. “Makes no bloody difference – it always steered like a ruddy wheelbarrow.”

Did he still have any his cine film? “No, it was in the attic – it was all burnt when I set the house on fire…

….I’m glad the car is still as I handed it to Austins… but… now you’ll have to bugger off.” The phone call ended as abruptly as it started. They were possibly the last words Richard gave to anyone other than his wife and his doctor. Richard Pape died of stomach cancer a few days later.”

Rallye Méditerranée – Le Cap

In 1950 came the first of a series of French-run Méditerranée – Le Cap events, a 10,000 mile (16,000 km) rally from the Mediterranean to South Africa. The event ran on and off until 1961, when the new political situation made further events impossible.

Here we have a film clip from the 4th edition of the event in 1959. The rally started from Algiers on January 8th and from an initial field of 28 participants it is thought that 16 teams reached Cape Town from February 20th. Former Grand Prix driver Karl Kling and Rainer Günzler won the event in their Mercedes 190D with Olivier Gendebien and Lucien Bianchi second in a Citroën DS19. British honour was upheld by Gyde Horrocks and Peter Riviere in a Land Rover.

George Hinchcliffe and Others

The first post-war record from London to Cape Town was claimed by Ex-Squadron Leader Ralph Sleigh and Peter Jopling, who got to Cape Town in 24 days in an Austin A70 Hampshire in 1949. That threw down the gauntlet to other mad Brits who tried to beat him.

In 1951, George Hinchcliffe and James Bulman prepared their own Hillman Minx and drove from Bradford to Cape Town in 22 days. This was the year of “Cape Fever” as Henri Berney and Henri Loos, drove an American Ford V8 Convertible from the Cape to Algiers in 16 days, which clipped three days off the time set by Mercier and De Cortanze in a long-wheelbase Peugeot 203.

Having driven it in his Minx, George Hinhcliffe proved to be a glutton for punishment as he returned in a works-supported Humber Super Snipe, and by using two co-drivers, so the car could be driven virtually continuously, and an air-lift from Marseille, they got the time down to a remarkable 13.5 days to Cape Town’s Town Square, from London’s Trafalgar Square. This was the record Eric Jackson only just managed to beat in the Cortina – he lost time avoiding floods and beat Hinchcliffe by mere minutes.

Then in 1951, the Algiers Motor Club set about turning it into a rally – joint winners were a Delahaye, a Jeep, and a Land Rover. The event was made more competitive for the second running in 1953, won by a Fiat 1900, with a 1100cc Moretti second.

Major Hemsley, who rallied various Leyland cars in long-distance rallies such as the London to Mexico, and trans-Sahara World Cup of 1974, set a new record in a Range Rover in 1982.

Eric Jackson

Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers – Ford Cortina – claimed the fastest ever drive between London and Cape Town

Eric Jackson was a rally driving Ford Dealer from Barnsley who became a legend of long distance drives during the sixties. In addition to two record drives between London and Cape Town he also completed a 42 day round the world record in 1967 and took part in the first London to Sydney Marathon in 1968 during which he sacrificed a good position when his cylinder head was given to Roger Clark.

In early 1963, soon after the new Cortina was launched by Ford, Eric accompanied by Ken Chambers set a new London to Cape Town record. Taking a route by way of ferry from Marseilles to Tunis, they went via Cairo and Nairobi, reaching Cape Town in 13 days 8 hours and 48 minutes, which was claimed to be just 18 minutes faster than the previous record.

Ken had a heart stopping moment on arrival into Cape Town – it was late at night and he couldn’t find the Nelson Hotel, knowing that the time-keeper from the South African Motor-Sports Club was in the bar. He drove round and round, could see the hotel, “but couldn’t for the life of me find the entrance,” says Eric.

“Panic set in, so I drove over the pavement, through some rose bushes, in an attempt to park it on the lawn, but the back wheels dug in, and all I did was sit still, wheels spinning, chucking dirt out all over the grass.” The time-keeper, who had been at the bar rather a long time, was found by a Bell Captain, who helped him out to the lawns where he stopped the watch.

In 1965 Eric Jackson raced the Windsor Castle ocean liner from Cape Town to Southhampton

Ford were pleased with Eric’s effort in the Cortina, so a couple of years later in 1965 they planned a publicity stunt to race the liner RMS Windsor Castle from Cape Town to Southampton. This ship, the last passenger liner built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead and last of the Union-Castle mailships that sailed between Southampton and South Africa, would average 24 mph and Captain Hart thought it a no brainer – he would win. Jackson set off in the Corsair but lost time with a string of punctures. He used Firestone cross-plies, and found the inner tubes were rubbing badly by the ribbing inside the tyres. Cross-plies, he argued, are available all along the route and have stronger side-walls – but it proved to be a duff choice, and the car’s progress suffered. At one point, Eric was changing tubes, fixing a puncture, on the move!

Cameroon refused the car so it had to be flown in an air-lift – and at a stroke was no longer keeping the wheels on the ground. They then drove non-stop to England, reaching a hotel at Gatwick the night before the day the ship was due to dock, the crew took a hotel room for a few hours rest and then drove to Southampton. Ford publicity chief Walter Hayes had agreed with Captain Hart that due to the air-lift, they would call it a draw, and the Corsair made it to the dockside as the ship entered the harbour.

John Hemsley

In 1983 John and Lucy Hemsley – Range Rover – set the record for the all overland drive from Cape Town to London taking 14days, 19hrs, 26mins

The current record-holder for the all overland dash between Cape Town and London is held by Brigadier John Hemsley, who as an Army Major lead the British Army Team in various international rallies. Having started in racing John took up rallying in 1963. During the next twenty years John competed in over fifty international events around the world driving works cars for Ford, Peugeot, Rover, Leyland, Rootes, Mazda and Subaru.

Early in 2010 we had the pleasure of meeting John, now 75, who today lives in very active retirement on a farm outside Bath. His Cape Town – London record is slightly different from that se by Eric Jackson in the Ford Cortina, in that it didn’t claim any neutral-sections for crossing the Mediterranean. Instead their route skirted east of the Mediterranean through Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Turkey to make it a true overland drive with the English Channel as the only sea crossing.

John and Lucy Hemsley traversed vast trackless deserts, crossed 17 borders and escaped bandits and bureaucrats on their epic 12,000 mile journey

Driving without service support in a works-supplied Ranger Rover, prepared by Tom Walkinshaw, sponsored by fizzy-drinks company Soda-Stream and co-driven by Lucy, his wife of a few months, they set the record at 14 days, 19 hours, 26 minutes. Their departure time was authenticated by the South African Automobile Association with the finish clock in London manned by Neil Eason-Gibson of the Royal Automobile Club’s Motor Sports Association. Neil sat in a deck chair under Marble Arch from 5:00am having received a phone call made by motoring journalist Michael Scarlett of Autocar from Dover saying that the Range Rover was on the A2.

The Range Rover had averaged over 80 mph including refuelling from Yugoslavia across Europe, so keen were they to get home. In fact Neil stopped the clock on their arrival at 5.26 am, then sent them off to have a wash and get changed and return when it was daylight so photographs could be taken, so the finish was spoofed up for motoring magazines and the press.

Mistaken as a terrorist raiding party they were shot at in Sudan, with machine guns peppering the Nile but missing the crew and the vehicle apart from one bullet hitting the front bumper, and they were detained in a cell in Syria. This was their biggest delay and could have shaved some hours off the record had this mishap not befallen them.

This MSA letter authenticates the Hemsley’s Cape Town to London record drive

Holed up in a small cell, with no toilet facilities and only a single bed between them, Lucy Hemsley noticed a wire hanging from a wall that ran out to a telegraph pole – it was the remains of a telephone. Through a window she persuaded some children to swop her bar of chocolate for a telephone, and the kids came back with a “candlestick” vintage telephone. Undoing the plate at the bottom with a nail file, they found five terminals. The wire had seven threads. The combination of what of the seven wires should go on which of the five terminals was a brain-teaser that occupied the prisoners for over two hours of trial and error. It took 2.5 hours to work out how to connect the phone to the wire, and with a Filofax of telephone numbers, John was able to call up the British Ambassador. he was at a dinner party, and said he couldn’t help till the morning, but would get them out.

In the morning, the crew were released with fulsome apology. “In high dugeon and bloody angry, we tried to roar away, alas, the Range Rover had clogged up air filters and the bloody engine wouldn’t fire up,” recalls John.

He was given a certificate by the RAC to record his feat, a letter of confirmation from Land Rover’s marketing department (apologising for the lack of effort by the publicity department), and a letter from John Davenport, Manager of the Leyland Competitions Department, congratulating the pair on a remarkable effort.

The Range Rover arrived in London on February 16th, 1983, and went into the Guinness Book of Records, and remains unbeaten to this day. John’s success, he reckons, was chiefly down to not stopping, for nobody…”after Tanzania, the entry into Kenya was delayed at the right person who does the stamping was at home….we just drove off without a passport stamp, argued our way at exit of Kenya, and in fact didn’t have any passport stamps when we entered Syria…that was the chief reason for our detention.”

John drove in over 50 international rallies but setting the record for the fastest continuous drive between Cape Town and London has to be his crowning achievement.

Max Adventure

In October 2010 the Max Aventure team of Mac Mackenney, Chris Rawlings & Steve Mackenney drove a 10 year old Land Rover Discovery 2 Td5 from London to Cape Town covering 10,000 miles through 20 countries in 11 days 14 hours and 11 minutes breaking the current London to Cape Town record of 13 days, 8 hrs 48 mins set in 1963 by Eric Jackson & Ken Chambers.

 

 

 

Particpants

Car Number Crew Car cc.
1 Richard Atherton(GB) / Rob Henchoz(GB) 1970 – Volvo 144 1998
2 Robert Belcher(GB) / Stephen Cooper(GB) 2002 – BMW X5 4600
3 Arnold Meier(CH) / Paul Waser(CH) 2005 – Toyota Landcruiser 4000
4 Jean-Pierre Demierre(CH) / Mireille Demierre(CH) 1977 – Peugeot 504 1970
5 Greg Newton(AUS) / Sam Newton(AUS) 1980 – Holden Commodore 3300
6 Tomas Prenosil(CH) / Lukas Kuttler(CH) 1990 – Porsche 911 Carrera 4 3598
7 Ben Dawson(GB) / Mike Dawson(GB) 1975 – Ford Escort Mk2 1600
8 David Spurling(GB) / Nigel Gray(GB) 1979 – Peugeot 504 1971
9 Chris Butcher(GB) / Sean Moriarty(IRL) 1974 – Triumph 2500TC 2500
10 Mark Pickering(AUS) / Dave Boddy(AUS) 1970 – Datsun P510 2416
11 James Stephenson(AUS) / Max Stephenson(AUS) 1923 – Vauxhall OD 23/60 4200
14 Andy Actman(GB) / Andy Elcomb(GB) 2010 – Toyota Hilux 3000
15 Jane Edgington(GB) / Gillian Cotton(GB) 1986 – MG Maestro 1598
16 Balz Hertli(CH) / Luciano Rauseo(CH) 2011 – Jeep Wrangler 3778
17 Renger Guliker(NL) / Pim ‘t Hart(NL) 1985 – BMW M535I 3406
18 Rod Taylor(GB) / Ian Morgan(GB) 2010 – Toyota Hilux 2982
19 Stuart Rhys-Williams(GB) / Colin McConnell(GB) 1994 – Nissan Patrol 4169
20 Owain Lloyd(GB) / Peter Scott(GB) 1978 – Mercedes 280 Coupe 2746
21 Paul Unwin(GB) / Diane Unwin(GB) 2003 – MG ZR 1588
23 Steve Blunt(GB) / Bob Duck(GB) 2006 – Subaru Impreza 1994
24 Rachel Vestey(AUS) / Suzy Harvey(GB) 2005 – MG ZR 1600
25 Lloyd Reddington(CAN) / Treacy Reddington(CAN) 1990 – Toyota 4 Runner 2959
26 David Tomlin(GB) / Nicholas Adcock(GB) 2003 – Land Rover Defender TD5 2495
27 Jeff Robinson(AUS) / Sam Robinson(AUS) 1978 – Mercedes 280E 2800
28 Grant Tromans(GB) / Simon Russell(GB) 1973 – Datsun 240Z 2393
29 Pierre-Henri Mahul(F) / Georges Asperti-Boursin(F) 1967 – Morgan plus 8 3500
30 Marc Buchanan(USA) / Charles Green(USA) 2011 – Jeep Wrangler 3778
31 Patrick Sommer(D) / Christine Sommer(B) 1966 – Volkswagen Karmann Ghia 1995
33 Owen Turner(GB) / Matthew Fowle(GB) 2002 – MG ZR 1589
34 Martin Aaldering(NL) / Josephina Freriks Aaldering(NL) 1964 – Volvo PV544C 1778
35 Alastair Caldwell(GB) / Hayden Burvill(AUS) 1968 – Porsche 912 2000
36 Pierre-Yves Maisonneuve(F) / Henri Minard(F) 1986 – Peugeot 505 1971
37 John Bayliss(GB) / Paul Carter(GB) 1971 – Volvo 144 DL 1998
38 Alex Thistlethwayte(GB) / David Hiscox(GB) 1972 – Datsun 240Z 2400
39  Tim Wheatley(GB) / Dominic Manser(GB) 2007 – MG ZR 1400
40 Ralf Weiss(D) / Kurt Schneiders(D) 1980 – Mercedes Benz 230E 2276
41 Guy Chriqui(F) / Philippe Thiolat(F) 1972 – Peugeot 504 1971
42 Jean-Louis Juchault(F) / Thibault de Wazieres(F) 1973 – Peugeot 504 1900
43 Mark Munne(NL) / Ben Munne(NL) 1989 – Peugeot 205 Rallye 1294
44 Dave Gough(GB) / Richard Phillipson(GB) 1972 – Peugeot 504 1971
45 Joost Van Cauwenberge(B) / Jacques Castelein(B) 1973 – Porsche 911 3000
46 Rene Declercq(B) / Francis Tuthill(GB) 2010 – Toyota Hilux 3000
47 Patrick Beckers(B) / Egfried Depoorter(B) 1992 – Toyota Landcruiser 80 4200
48 Eric Claeys(B) / Ben Deleye(B) 1999 – Toyota 73 4200
PAUSE PLAY

The Route Survey

In January Philip Young and Jim Allen completed a major route in Africa. On this trip they concentrated on the Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya where the dirt roads make it important the survey is done in the same “weather-window” time of the year as the rally. The drive to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is being completed later in the year.

FEBRUARY 23RD, 2011 – Philp Young

From Cape Town, South Africa

We have arrived in Cape Town! It’s a good feeling, driving between the manicured lawns, sweeping round the roundabouts towards the waterfront, and finally, turning off the engine for the very last time.

 

Our last Diary Report had us on the northern-edge of the Kalahari Desert, at the dusty little town of Ghanzi. We wanted to explore a 70 kms bush track near here, and then go right across the desert and emerge at Uppington. However, the car was creaking and groaning, so we cut (a very long cut) to Jo’Burg, to the Emgee Workshop of Roger Pearce. As the name implies, Roger is the sort of bloke that if you broke off an arm, it would have octagonal veins running through stamped with the MG letters.

In three hours, he restored the Freelander with a good service, replacing the Honda Civic driveshaft (“not sure how you got here, must have been a miracle”) and with a Land Rover item and new drive-shaft, we were good to go. He also took us to his home, promising to cook us breakfast and the idea of a shower was welcome too… his wife Lorraine was only allowed to brew up a pot of tea, something she did three times as the first hardly touched the sides. Poached egg, crispy bacon, brown bread and marmalade, Roger jumps around the kitchen in his shorts and trainers and 15 minutes later we are looking out over his garden to a most welcome breakfast… the night before had been three hours parked up beside the road trying to catch some sleep in the car while trucks roared past.

Abandoning the route had not been an easy decision. But when back at Livingstone, the last words of Nick Selby at the Foley’s Land Rover garage was “take it gently, it might not last long.” In fact his transplant of Honda item in the drive-train did well.

After leaving Roger’s workshop – stuffed with all sorts, not just MGs, we saw a Daimler Dart, Triumph TR4, Jaguar E-Type V12 with the engine out, and a as-new Hillman Minx convertible, we hit the road for Cape Town.

Another long main road haul might sound rather dull. The weather made sure it was nothing but…a tremendous thunder-storm hit the road some 300 kilometres out of Jo’Burg, and we drove through the eye of the storm, with almost zero visibility. We had seen it coming… thick dark clouds rolled in on the left side, while over on the right, the horizon still had a hole in the sky to show a touch of blue which turned pink as the setting sun made its farewells. Then the storm took over. This slowed our pace right down, tricky going at times, so we stopped for the night… at yet another trucker’s doss-house, and this morning knocked off the remaining 800 kilometres, to drive into Cape Town in time for lunch.

We have found some good roads, others not so good, and a few the rally perhaps ought not to go near. We go home with more work completed than we first planned, but, now need to sort out a return trip later this year to plug the gaps. Equally, we found some great places to stay… and some not so great but probably will prove to be truly memorable, and, we met some marvellous people along the way. We have met with nothing but goodwill and encouragement, wherever we stopped.

Our short stay in Cape Town ended with meeting up with two readers of this diary. Angela Swain, and her friend Lucy, have become sufficiently inspired to have a go themselves. These two South African ladies are planning to drive one of the smallest cars in the event, and we were presented with a completed entry-form for a VW Golf, a car that was made in South Africa until last year. It’s the classic Mk1 shape. We took Angela off for dinner at the Mount Nelson Hotel on the other side of town – it was the Mount Nelson where Eric Jackson finished his record-breaking drive of 14 days behind the wheel of a Ford Cortina. A fitting place therefore to celebrate the end of our own journey.

Angela drove us to the airport, and next week is going up to Jo’Burg to talk to Roger Pearce about preparing her car… look out world, these two girls are really fired up and determined to crack the London to Cape World Cup Rally.

We will be writing a “reflections” newsletter to those on the Cape Town newsletter list in the coming days.

FEBRUARY 22ND, 2011 – Philp Young

From Ghanzi, Botswana

We left Nata and turned directly west for Maun, a considerably better road with recently resurfaced tarmac, and making an early start at 6.30 from North Gate Lodge we drove for three hours with the early morning sun on our backs, arriving just in time for the end of breakfast at Riley’s Hotel. It had been an easy run, with just one police checkpoint, who looked at our International Driving Licence and then waved us on, and without any stops for elephants in the road.

 

The plan had been to turn south-west towards the Kalahari, and then take in a 70 kms gravel road which looks promising for a Time Trial, which will hook up with some 200 kms of dirt road, an ambitious assault right through the heart of the Kalahari Desert. It will bring us out at Uppington. Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys came this way, and while the usual antics of driving around with no doors is all a bit predictable, the sunsets and the scenery were truly stunning. But Africa has a way of upsetting the expected, and today’s gameplan just didn’t work out like that.

We are in Ghanzi, where we were due to turn off the main road and onto the first part of the long haul on gravel, but we are now awaiting attention to our front drive shaft, which is sending up some worrying vibrations at anything more than 80 kph. We have found a workshop and will be on their gate at 7.30 in the morning …hopefully, we can tighten things up (or, even weld it up, as Nick Selby had considered when thinking out loud back in Livingstone), and hopefully then get going, but ideally, what we need is a new left-side Freelander drive-shaft with constant velocity joint. We have 1,800kms between here and Cape Town to cover. Is there a reader of this Diary who is in the region and provide the magic-wand??

Looking back, some of our problems might well have been brought on ourselves . Had we had a tyre-compressor on board, we could have lowered and raised the tyre pressures on the haul from the Ethiopia border and across the harsh desert of northern Kenya, where the track is akin to driving on the Moon. We could have dropped the pressures for the first 150 kms of hard corrugations, which shake the fillings in your teeth and rattle your eyeballs. Goodness knows what all this shock does to drive shafts and suspension. We could then have pumped up the tyres for the later rougher bits. As it was, a compromise of 36lbs all round got us to the end of a difficult day without a single puncture, which was pretty impressive given that the Cooper tyres are merely “Reinforced” jobs. But… Perhaps this was the start of problems setting in.

Also, it has to be said, when you buy a car with a past history, you are also buying past metal fatigue. The car has done the longest Camel Trophy of the whole series in romping around South America in 1998, and while Rally Preparation Services in Witney have replaced a lot of the usual “wear and tear” items, where, exactly, do you stop? At what point do say this is an item that is likely to have had a hard time, so let’s replace it, and where do you say “this looks in good condition, let’s leave well alone.” Time, and budgets, also are a key influence in all this. Yet metal fatigue will always find the weakest link. And, as Nick-the-Genius back in the Land Rover garage in Livingstone said, “in Africa, everything busts … sooner or later everything breaks.” We are not going to record what he thinks of Toyotas.

Today we sliced through a rubber hose that acts as an air-intake to the turbocharger, we could hear it wheezing and it was obvious all the vibration had caused it to split. So it was sliced through, and the ends joined up with gaffa tape. It looks very much as if the pipe was original equipment to the car, so, a 1998 Camel Trophy original bit of history here went under the scalpel – an item which finally, in Botswana, said enough is enough. It was gremlin that was sorted in ten minutes in the car park of Riley’s Hotel in Maun. Since leaving Dover, we have had very few Gremlins, so let’s not lose a sense of perspective. I’ll come back to the Freelander when I write our summing up of all this.

Right now, our minds are focused on cracking on… and getting further south than the top of the Kalahari. It was chicken and chips yet again tonight, that in itself is a good incentive not to stay here longer than we have to.

FEBRUARY 20TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Nata, Botswana

It was only a matter of time. You simply cannot storm down the full length of Africa without a day of either suffering African Gremlins, or, African Wildlife, and today we suffered both.

 

First, the wildlife. It’s such an uplifting experience when you come across elephants crossing the road, and today we had to stop for four such experiences, and it doesn’t matter how many times you have seen wild elephants on your rally-travels, it’s an experience that always proves uplifting.

And we needed some uplifting. We also had a herd of giant Kudu, as big as the biggest reindeer you’ve seen, also by the roadside, with giant horns and a body as thick and strong as a Fresisan bull. We also saw plenty of monkeys.

But the morning began as a drepressing affair, as first we left the Royal Livingstone and drove into town to sit outside the gate of Foley’s, the local Land Rover specialist. Nick Selby came along bang on 7.30 to open up. Grumpy, moody, and offhand, we didn’t think we would get much out of Nick at first, but after he drove The Camel into his workshop, and got his two lads to work taking the wheel off, the atmosphere changed. It was a challenge… and Nick likes a challenge.

Yesterday, we suspected a broken drive shaft. We were not far wrong. In the rapir to the ball joint, the driveshaft had a circlip either not put back right, or, the circlip decided to part company… first, we had a knocking noise, and then a pull strongly to the right. We inspected the left side, and the right, couldn’t see anything wrong, but drove on slowly, accompanied by gruanching noises that sounded ominious. Nick said the same thing. The drive shaft had come totally detached on the left side, well, we said, it was not like that when we jacked it up. Hmm, it could have done a lot of damage …nobody spoke, the two lads got to work stripping it all out.

Nick’s verdict was that we needed a Land Rover Freelander constant velocity joint, that goes on the end of the drive shaft. A call to the Land Rover dealer back in Lusaka revealed they had the spare, but couldn’t open up till Monday and it would be a day or so before it could arrive, at the earliest, possibly, best part of a week.

 

So, Nick said he would drive into town and see what he could come up with. Half an hour later he returned with a Honda Civic drive shaft. Put the two side by side on the workbench, and they look identical. Nick got one lad to give it a bit of a grind with an electric drill, and rummaged for some bottles of Loctite. This super-glue substance is highly rated by Nick – he says if it fails on the way out of town, come back and he will weld it all up.

After three goes, three strip downs, the Honda CV unit fits the Freelander. A minor miracle. By 12.0, the workshop are packing up and we are reversing out of the yard. Without doubt this is a remarkable feat of ingenuity on behalf of Nick Selby and his two lads, who simply refused to be defeated. It really was an act of genius all down to the tenacity, cunning and determination of the Foley Workshop, and Nick Selby… who is also a pretty likeable sort of bloke, who certainly knows his Land Rovers.

We caught the ferry across the Zambezi. By now it was early afternoon. A hectic, manic affair, and once in Botswana, started to pound down 300 kilometres to the first town, along excellent tarmac with long, long straights bordered by all grass, often 10ft tall. Nata is little more than three gas stations, one small hotel, made up of chalets with thatched roofs, totally some 20 beds. But welcome non the less. We were aiming to get to Maun today – this one of the few times where the Route Reconnaissance Team have failed to meet their set target. Basically, we are now 300 kms behind target.

A gin and tonic, followed by a Lion lager, restores things marvellously, and Susan the boss has served up an excellent dinner. Jim had Chicken and Chips. I had the only other thing left on the menu…Chips and Chicken. Followed up with Apple Pie Crumble, and, er, another G&T.

It’s an early night as we have a lot to catch up with tomorrow, but after such a fraught day, a good night’s sleep is guaranteed.

FEBRUARY 19TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Livingstone – Victoria Falls, Zambia

A late start from Lusaka. We went to the Land Rover dealer on the outside of town with Sam Chingambu, (vice president of the Zambia Motorsports Association), found the car had been fixed with two new ball joints and a load of grease pumped into prop-shaft universal-joints which are growling in protest if we go over 100 kph.

 

Sam kindly led us out of town in his Jap-box which was a great help as we negotiated various roundabouts being cut up by the local taxis (all painted in Ford Olympic Blue), and finally we are on the right road to Livingstone. We stopped to say goodbye and we were on our way.

We took a look at an off-road section but the car was moaning and groaning, and we realised we were just wasting our time given that Sam and his rally-organisers could knock this into shape far better than us with all their local knowledge, so we pressed on – we hope to be back to see Sam and the Zambia International Rally which uses the sugar plantations in this region next May.

The road settles into a quiet and lonely lope, but nearing Livingstone the front drive shaft has given out all sorts of painfull noises and the car is pulling to the right, so, we limped into town, found Foleys, the Land Rover workshop, but they had just closed ….tomorrow morning at 7.30 they open. We plan to be first at the gate. There are similar fixers of Toyotas and Nissans nearby and Bennet’s, a large general purpose parts dealer, so this is a sort of “motor city” for Livingstone.

We drove on towards the River Zambezi. We could see the mist of Victoria Falls over the trees, and the sun was falling fast, but priority was nursing the car so we couldn’t hurry the last bit. Pulling into the gate, we went wrong – look, all route-surveys are allowed a wrong turning now and again, and we found ourselves heading towards the Royal Livingstone Hotel, not the Zambezi Sun. But we had seen several Zebra on the golf course of the Zambezi Sun, crapping on the manicured lawns and drinking out of the swimming pools, so concurred that we were indeed heading in the right direction.

 

We have rattled off a few photos of the setting sun, as we drank a gin and tonic (Jim was into an ice-cold Guinness), and you’ll get the atmosphere from these …big beams, straw thatch roof, leather books, leather chairs, long mahogany bar (not quite as good as Hemingways, Kenya, but must rank as second-best), and fan is slowly turning in the ceiling …the piano is playing Scott Joplin in the corner, missing several essential notes.

The barman is mixing cocktails and a chocolate milk-shake all at once, and all around are large black and white photos of the White Man enjoying the Livingstone Hotel around 1910 (there is a car in one shot) …and suddenly the car problems are forgotten.

Turn the tap and there is instant hot water, a towel-robe is across the bed, and the view out of the big window is of the Zambezi whizzing by over the Falls just a hundred yards up the lawn…

This has been an easy day. That is not to say it will be the same for you, as Sam and his mates have plans to give you a spot of competition you won’t forget, and leave you with lasting memories of Zambia far more impressive than flopping about in hotels like this.

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Lusaka, Zambia

 We are at the Intercontinental Hotel for a whole day as the Zambia Motor Association want to take us to dinner this evening, which is good as there is much to discuss. 

 

They said that when the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally makes the newspapers, all hell will break loose as wherever the rally goes, there will be lots of spectators. How many is lots? we ask… “oh, a few hundred thousand, give or take a few.”

Here rallying attracts bit interest. The Zambia Motor Association is supported by the Government, and has several key sponsors such as local banks and oil companies. They organise a round of the Africa Rally Championships, close roads down and use local farm land – we are going to visit some sugar plantations tomorrow which they reckon is good twisty rally ground – and we know from past experience with our events that have come to Zambia that they really know how to turn things on.

So, it’s a day to grease the car, change the tyres around and catch up with the laundry. Back on the road tomorrow… heading for Livingstone and the Victoria Falls. Can’t decide on the hotel choice, the Zambesi Sun is comfortable enough, but its a charmless pile of concrete built for the Cosmos/Thompson holiday sort of trade, with big swimming pools…. there is more charm with an olde-world type hotel out on the river bank, all wooden beams, button-back leather chesterfield chairs under a straw thatch and you look out over the river speeding by to the Falls at a zillion knots, but I seem to remember being bitten to death while supping the Sundowner, and arguments over poor service and missing laundry…. ho hum, decisions,, decisions.

Another Day… Another Country: Into Zambia (Tuesday 15th) – I once had lunch with Princess Anne. I’m sorry if this sounds like name-dropping, (I could also mention I’ve eaten sausage-rolls with her father), but I was reminded of dining out with H.R.H. when walking out the door of the Princess Anne Room of the Mbeya, Mount Livingstone Hotel. Honestly… What would she really have made of this place? I would dearly love to know. Before dining with Her Royal Highness, I had a little briefing on etiquette and table-manners. It seemed a prudent thing to do – just because she loves horses doesn’t mean she has to dine out with one. Unfortunately it wasn’t curry and a one-fork job, so there were all sorts of solid-silver knives, forks and spoons, which have to be picked up in a certain order, and you don’t ask for Colman’s or say pass the Tabasco. Subjects of conversation are also part of the pre-lunch briefing. Next time, there won’t be any topic other than the Mount Livingstone Hotel, Mbeya, southern Tanzania.

Firstly, the bed was rock hard – sleeping on the floor would have been as good. “Does ‘Marm’… which you call her once you have first addressed her as Your Royal Highness, …have a bit of a back problem from falling off so many horses?” The shower is tiny, and the hand-held shower is a struggle to reach over your head, in fact, I gave up. Jim is almost Princess Anne-height and down the corridor in the “standard room” has exactly the same problem. The chances are that the two rooms are identical, it’s just that one now has a red plastic label nailed over the door saying Princess Anne Room after the visit by royalty. All other doors just get a number.

 

And what would the Royal Patron make of the Spaghetti Carbonara? The dinner menu is a well thumbed worn out grubby plastic laminated wire-bound booklet, as this hotel boasts no less than 100 international dishes, including a whole page of Japanese cuisine, mostly raw fish which must be easy on the kitchen staff when there are power-cuts. The hotel claims no other hotel in the whole of Africa has a menu with 100 dishes. I asked for the Chicken Rogan, but was told it was not available, so bang goes the 100 dishes boast. Next choice: Spaghetti Carbonara, it sounded safe. The Spaghetti was due at 7.30, but by 8.30, and several bottles of Kilimanjaro later, the chef came out of the kitchen, walked to our table, and asked: “Would Sir like some cheese with his Carbonara?” Five minutes later, the plate was put down in front us… it was Spaghetti Bolognaise, with a hard-boiled egg sliced on top as a final flurry of garnish. There was no sign of any cheese.

We left Mbeya after checking an additional hotel, mapping the route to two petrol stations and a tyre depot with a sign over the door – “We Fix Any Make” – and made our way to the border with Zambia. Every other kilometre we noted down a gas station, in fact the run to the border is lined with every sort of fuel station you have never heard of…. “Kobil” is in a type-face and colour scheme that could tie up the lawyers at Mobil for years while increasing their pensions. We later learned the reason for the propensity of gas-stations…. Zambia’s council planners are not at all keen on road-side petrol stations.

Frontier Formalities. You want to know how we got on? Well, it’s a right old shit-fight, as you can imagine.

First of all, you have to squeeze past a line of trucks, then, get forced over by one coming out from the country you are trying to get into, then, the moment you open the door you are besieged with offers of fixers who would sell you their granny given half a chance, “I’m just trying to keep my family off the streets,” was the opening line of one young lad who didn’t look old enough to support a family. But, we know the drill, and no, we don’t need your help, thank you. Pride comes before a fall. In Tanzania, things are pretty slick, and you breeze in and out of various offices, get the carnet stamped… here, and… again, here, and… fill in this form 21a, and… go to that desk, over there… who will tear out the top bit along the dotted line… next…. get your passport stamped, down the corridor over there… Yep! Simples!

Now do it all over again up a muddy yard with large puddles, broken paving slabs, welcome to Zambia. Oh dear! It was us British who taught them all this red-tape, when they called themselves Tanganyika, and now we really are totally tied up in it – just because you know the drill doesn’t mean you can get by without a fixer, (rate of pay to be discussed later).

 

First the carnet is waved high in the air, and over 50 Africans pull back in awe… a foreigner wants to get to the window they are fighting to reach, and, just like Moses, we are now at the head of a line of shouting, pushing, shoving fellow-travellers… all eager to pay something to the bloke on the other side of the window. The carnet is stamped. “Go down the yard, the desk at the end tear off counterfoils,” shouts man behind glass. We shout back. “Why? …Can’t you tear it off?” “Not our job matey… go down the yard.” So we go down the yard, and then go back up to the crowd to fight to reach the man behind the window again, to get a stamp that proves the counterfoil has been torn off. Smiles! Thank-Yous! See you next year!

Next step: Immigration. We apologise for not having visas, a limp excuse, there just wasn’t time. “You want a visa? 50 Dollars!” Nar, yer having a larf lady… its 30 bucks at Travcour, back in London. “Then go home to London, here it’s 50 dollars.” A large label is pasted on another page in the passport, which is thumbed through for another blank page, which is then covered in two large stamps. In five minutes, we have a visa, and some impressive stamps. “Next time, please bring your own ink pad, as this one is drying out… they only really work in our rainy season, when the damp helps the stamper.” We promise to oblige.

Next it’s Customs. This is a worry as we don’t have an easily visible engine number, a must do job that we had overlooked back home. We need not have worried. The bloke behind the desk wants a form filled in, stamped, and handed back to him. He is not going out into the yard to see if the car actually is what it says on the form. The customs man is too busy collecting forms to do any inspecting, and we are not going to make any suggestions, so, we move to the next desk.

What does all this cost? You might well ask. Firstly, we already have insurance, a document called a Yellow Card covers most of Africa, but we are now told we need “local insurance” and have to see a bloke in a blue van parked up outside, who would sell us “local” for $50, then there is the Carbon Tax, another $50, and guess what, the moment the cash landed, the lad behind the desk announced he had to go to the bank. He leaves suggesting we return later for the receipt. Finally? there is a Toll Tax… with so much shouting going on, the exact order of things is now a blur. No, wrong order… we are told we need to pay the Local Council Tax, a mere $30, and, finally, yes, finally, we can’t leave the main gate without paying the Toll Tax. In all, we are now at least 200 dollars lighter, and the fixer’s fee has to be discussed… he gets $50 dollars, and with that, grimaces the sort of look that can only mean his family are about to be evicted onto the streets. He gets his dosh, and now skips off back to his mates to collect his commissions.

To do well and survive in this environment, you need a pair of sharp elbows, a polite manner with lots of smiles, and plenty of “please… today if possible”, while at the same time being very determined and bloody rude. I visit an office with a sign over the door: The Standards Bureau. There I meet a lovely lady who suggests “three hours is the norm here, why didn’t you get yourself an agent?” She sees nothing wrong in the Standards that her Bureau are applying.

 

Yes, we were fleeced but the good thing is that we did all this inside an hour, from start of the gate that was goodbye Tanzania, to the Toll Tax man on the last gate saying “welcome to Zambia, er, have you paid the Road Tax?” No, what is that for? “It’s for mending the roads. There are lots of potholes in the next 500 kilometres… we need money to fix ‘em. “

We smile. He smiles. We have all had enough. The Freelander snicks into first gear while we are busy smiling at each other, and gently rocks forwards… the man in the bright day-glo jacket steps back. Jim is holding a fist full of receipts, a complete deck of cards, except for the Carbon Tax Receipt… “to leave this gate, I only look for the Toll Tax, it’s not my job to check all the others….” We laugh, he laughs… and we drive off. Surprisingly, nobody checked if we had a stamp in the passport, or a carnet, all you need to get into Zambia is to pay the man on the last gate his Toll Tax. Down the road, we realise that we didn’t actually need half of what we had just endured… nobody had looked at the car. Nobody checked our bags. Nobody asked what we were carrying, or even where we were going.

If by now you are thinking, “I don’t need all this grief” just consider this: when we crossed this frontier on our Classic Safari Challenge touring event, we breezed through in mere minutes. In fact, it was so pain-free, I can’t recall having been here before!

It was 350 kilometres before we saw the next fuel station, or even a roadside shack selling bottles of coke. We drove down arrow-straight tarmac strips, until we reached the far horizon, then jinxed the wheel a bit, sometimes left sometimes right, but mostly it’s a road that requires no steering at all… all interspersed with the odd vicious pothole. We counted no less than four jack-knifed lorries that had turfed a valuable container of somebody’s goods into the undergrowth.

We drove along completely surrounded by lush green rolling hills of grass, bushes and trees. The scenery, after a night of heavy rain, was remarkably green, and remarkably beautiful. The more we drove, the quieter the road became… 200 kilometres into Zambia, and suddenly we are pounding along with the whole country to ourselves. It’s another world.

FEBRUARY 15TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Mbeya, Tanzania

The best of Tanzania… (Monday 14th) The capital city of Tanzania is? ….hands up all those who know the answer. Dodoma is a place nobody has heard of, yet it’s the capital of a vast African country, famous for nothing, with nothing much to shout about, other than the stunning countryside all around, and its remarkable old-Colonial style buildings.

 

We left “The Modern Hotel” – a truckers cheap doss-house having been woken up at 5.30 to the sound of singing… happy-clappy hymns orchestrated by the Evangelical hotel manager holding an impromptu church service, which echoed all round a hotel, and given all the walls are lined with white tiles, including most of the floors, we couldn’t possibly hope to sleep through the harmonising hotel-staff all rejoicing at the prospect of another day. After a breakfast of two greasy omelettes, we drove around the town for half an hour or so.

While Dodoma might regard itself as a city, in reality it’s just a small town. There are villages back home bigger than this. It has an airstrip, a few roundabouts, and a set of traffic lights. It also has a charming railway station, although it looks as if the last train left town many years ago. The station is in the old-Colonial style, with large sheets of dark red corrugated-iron roofing. Opposite is an old Colonial style hotel that may be our overnight base during the rally.

We were soon on a simply brilliant road heading south. Much better than yesterday. Quite narrow in places – single car width – with many hump-back bridges that need to be taken with care otherwise you end up with a truly heavy landing on the other side – this road is graded-gravel, with soft, chewy, treacle-sort of sand for some long stretches, and blessed with long straights with long open flowing bends, a real drivers delight. We cracked on over this and averaging 75 kph becomes an easy sort of stroll. The road was empty all morning – no oncoming cars, no trucks to overtake.

Two hours later we came across a checkpoint, a security barrier in front of an impressive dam. Five kilometres later you are getting out the car again and signing the book, handing in a green ticket to prove you have passed through (let’s hope they have over a hundred tickets when the rally arrives) and we are on our way again. We found a twisty, gut-wrenching, challenging mountain climb with long drops that requires total concentration, and you find yourself swinging on up through the series of bends on a track that cuts through rich green jungle while hugging the cliff of an escarpment. A remarkable road, and anyone who climbs up to the plateau at the top will be a little out of breath come the summit, after a drive that is truly unforgettable. The mountain-climb is a bit rough in places, dodging large volcanic stones, and rutted and pitted, but the rest of the morning is great stuff.

 

We took lunch in a scruffy roadside café called “The Yummy” – it was Chicken Biriani… Jim thought it was passable, and tucked in to the mountain of rich yellow rice – but there was more bone than chicken breast and it left me wondering if I should have ordered pizza.

A total of 250 kms of gravel piste is followed by 350 kilometres of welcome tarmac, one of the busiest roads we have driven for a long while, and we spent the last two hours carving our way through trucks – having not seen another driver all morning, the afternoon made up for the loss by being doubly busy, until we found ourselves on the outskirts of Mbeya, honking horns, people walking all over the road, motorbikes, taxis (old 1970s Datsuns and Toyotas), which led us to the Mount Livingstone Hotel. More Old Colonial, the rooms are lined with panels of wood, and your scribe has been given the Princess Anne Room, one of the best rooms in the place, only because the receptionist believed the hotel would be even more famous after receiving a mention in the Rally Recce Blog.

We are now little more than 100kms from the border with Zambia. Tanzania has been good to drive, with super-friendly locals..it surely doesn’t get much better than this.

A long day in Tanzania… (Sunday 13th) We set out from Arusha, at the north end of Tanzania, not far from Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, and drove directly south to the capital city of Dodoma. On paper, it looks a fairly short day of 450 kms, and is the most direct route – the alternative is a large swing out towards Dar Es Salam, and would add a whole day.

It proved to be an interesting day, the first 200 kilometres on new tarmac, as good as Sudan, and we made excellent progress after a hesitant start getting out of Arusha (Nairobi Road looks obviously the right turning, but with a name like that you think twice before taking it – given we have just come from there), and we are soon pounding our way past vast open grasslands… leaving the Serengeti behind us in the mirror.

We begin to climb steadily into hills ringed with dark clouds – it rained heavily last night and pools of water are in the roadside and some fields appear more like Chinese paddy-fields. Eventually, the tarmac runs out, and we are now on a graded murum dirt road, with potholes filled with water. So far, our journey down the length of Africa has seen us knock off the days without using our windscreen wipers, but we encountered a shower coming into town yesterday evening, and during the night there was a further heavy downpour. We are now driving on mud or slime, with a firm surface underneath.

 

The road surface varies greatly, but while it is certainly more slippery, and our average speed is brought right down, we complete today without finding anything that will prove impossible in a two-wheel-drive car, so we feel rather pleased. At one point we were overtaken by a Volvo Estate, with a family of at least six on board, with a sofa and a fridge on the roof. It’s been a good day, and run against the clock will be quite a challenge.

The Land Rover Freelander is running totally standard springs and shock-absorbers, and coped with today’s conditions admirably. We dropped the tyre pressures the other day and with less resistance in the sidewalls, collecting a puncture on a sharp stone was a constant worry, but again the 205-80-16s Cooper-Avon A/Ts romped over everything that came our way.

We even took in a spot of hedging and ditching today, as we slid into a deep ditch trying to avoid a truck – we thought we had done all the right things: a) stop totally, get out the car to survey the seen, b) ignore all the shouts from locals giving advice; c) pick a route around; d) holding back the car in first gear, dabbing the brakes… but still gravity takes over, and it decides to slide wickedly sideways – however, it drove out forwards in first gear, but, it cost us 20 dollars. Those who reckoned they had helped push were by now a large crowd, how they all could have got round the back of the Freelander remains a mystery, and we didn’t see one pair of muddy hands. Hindsight is 20-20 vision, and of course what we should have done is paid the driver of the truck to roll back a bit…or, got in the cab and rolled it back ourself…or, brought a smaller car.

We found a mountain climb for a Time-Trial, twisty and steep, and then stopped for lunch. We found a gap between some trees, and drove off the road into the bush. Today’s drive was rather lonely – we drove for some hours without seeing another vehicle on the track, and at times, the bush on either side is encroaching to swallow up what remains of the road, banana leaves brushed either side of the Freelander at one point – single car width. The countryside was magnificent, lush and green and a total contrast for yesterday’s dry and arid bush in the Masai. No two days are ever the same when you drive the length of Africa.

Dining out with Jim is always a surprise, and today the lunch menu consisted of chili con carne, followed up with a frothy cappuccino and hot sticky chocolate pudding. All brewed up on the single ring gas stove. The chili one of Jim’s army-ration boil in the bag jobs. A silver-foil bag is dumped into a can of boiling water and, with the lid back on to pressurise and so speed up the cooking time, the contents of the bag are soon piping hot. The water also cooks a similar bag of chocolate pudding. The hot water then makes the coffee, and what is left over finally rinses out the mugs.

 

You may at this point be prompted to ask how we are surviving on other fronts – have either of us been ill? We are pleased to report we are in the best of health, and no, Delhi Belly or Montezuma’s Revenge has yet to strike at the Route Reconnaissance Team. This might be down to the fact we have a little bottle of Dettol type substance in a slot in the dashboard, we wipe our hands with this alcohol-primed juice several times a day, and a wet-wipe also goes over the steering wheel, gear-lever and door handles and the like, at regular intervals. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Grandmother was always saying, and hacking down the length of Africa, we have taken her words very much to heart.

Tanzania is an ex-Colonial country and the locals are quick to remind you that they are members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and are proud of it – we found someone who spoke English every time we stopped… you are soon surrounded by eager faces wanting to meet you, and excited by the prospect of cheering an international car rally driving through their country.

Tonight, we are just outside of Dodoma, we arrived late, and as it was now getting dark, and we found a truck-stop type doss-house for the night. It looks as if the place could do with buckets of Dettol. The menu promises “Boneless Chicken cooked Italian Style”, followed by vegetable soup.

We are too tired to suggest that perhaps the soup ought to come first. However, the fridge has a Windhoek Lager… the first course looks promising, and of the liquid kind.

FEBRUARY 13TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Arusha, Tanzania

Our last day in Kenya. With some sadness, we inched our way out of the main gate of the Safari Park Hotel, which will be our base-camp after the long flight from Mars (see below).

 

We drank Tuskers beer in Hemingway’s bar, under its towering vaulted ceiling made of dark cedar logs as thick as telegraph poles, rather reminding us of the real Hemingway’s out on the Indian Ocean coast at Malindi. The car park is massive and we have met up with some former Safari Rally competitors and the hope is that we will run an extensive overnight service-session here – for those who want help with running repairs Kenya is just the place… here they can fix anything.

We left the hotel at 6.20am and being early, and being a Saturday, we rather hoped that it would be a breeze to hack through the city traffic and find the Arusha road south. This proved a little more frustrating than first planned and it was an hour and half before we could relax, and the traffic thinned out.

Our plan was to get to Kajiado, take breakfast in the Gardens Café, and then turn into the Masai bush to explore a maze of roads to the east of the main highway for a Time Trial on classic Safari Rally roads, and we were not disappointed. The hills above the main highway that bores south to the Tanzania frontier look down over some wonderful rallying country, perhaps some of the most interesting and challenging roads we will surely find in the length of Africa.

This was a time consuming process in order to make intricate notes. If we are not inserting the GPS waypoints, writing the Tulip diagrams, adding in some description, we are coping with a variety of terrain that really does offer the lot. We started off on hard gravel, a few kilometres of corrugations, then onto rich red dusty dirt, patches of sand that had to be stormed through. Then deep ruts… some parts of the road here have been washed away totally, over a brow and down a hill…we come across little streams full of boulders (but no water, this still needs marking in the notes, who knows what we will all face this time next year). Then some bigger rivers, thankfully dried up but the river beds are a challenge… if they contained any water at all would be truly awesome.

 

Some bridges look as if they are about to fall down, some bridges have the track washed away, with big lumps of concrete torn away. We found one track only just wide enough for the Freelander, as half the track had disappeared into a wide ditch, running for several kilometres – just as if the ground had been ripped apart by an earth-quake.

However, for those of you bringing a Mercedes 280E, Volvo, Datsun 240Z, Ford Escort, Peugeot 504 or 404, or a Triumph 2.5, you can be reassured that providing you can half drive, none of this will present any problems for a two-wheel drive classic – even a 205… in fact Jim over lunch reckoned the ideal car for this would be either a Citroen 2CV, or a Renault 4.

Talking of lunch, it was yet another Pot Noodle – served up in the middle of the bush, to the weirdest shrieks we have ever heard from birds in the nearby Acacia trees. The cooking pot is a large calor-gas bottle ( …don’t even think of this, it’s far too heavy….) which burns more fiercely when my ancient ex-Paris Dakar Samonsite briefcase is used as a wind-break. Lunch was washed down with a mug of tea – using up the last packet of long life milk we took from the cafeteria of the Visemar Line ferry from Venice to Alexandria. This milk has been quite remarkable, has travelled well, no punctures in the sachets, and really is long life…we are in admiration for the way it’s still tasting fresh despite the heat, and rigours of the trip.

We are now in Arusha. We crossed into Tanzania, border formalities taking little more than an hour, and drove down a brand-new strip of tarmac between vast plains of grass, heading for a pile of dark brooding mountains on the horizon that look as if they are piercing imminent rain clouds, and about to spoil a brilliantly hot sunny day.

 

We have yet to see any bad weather since leaving France. While in Africa, we have not used the wipers once… but coming into Arusha, sure enough, the clouds from the mountains rolled down and we had a light shower for ten minutes of so, alas, not heavy enough to wash the thick coating of dust from the car, which has got into everywhere and everything. Even the door pockets, tops of the door sills, the dashboard and instruments, are all covered in a fine coating of red dust. Our final few kilometres into town was guided by someone who takes part in rallies with a light-plane – Mike Harries – we had got talking at the border during paperwork formalities, and he turned out to be a mine of information on the conditions ahead.

In the comforts of the hotel – the best in town – a hot shower blasts the dust from ears to toes. Out of the window, we’ve spotted a team of lads down in the car-park armed with buckets about to set to work on the Freelander. So, another country, and another good day, with over 100 kilometres of stunning bush roads under our wheels that now offers one of the best competitive sections so far.

And as the Yellowbrick tracker-map shows, we are still inching steadily south.

FEBRUARY 9TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Nairobi, Kenya

Life on Mars…

 

A large sign greets us at the entrance to Marsabit saying “Welcome to a little bit of Mars”. Surrounded by rich red dusty roads, and red dusty streets, there could indeed be a drop of the red planet here, and proof, if proof is needed, that there really is plenty of life on Mars.

If you stand at the one and only gas-station, a run down Shell garage, life on Mars is all around you, with honking of horns, music blaring out, noisy motorbikes, the hustle and bustle of this place certainly has plenty of life. Our Freelander is alongside over a pit with two local mechanics giving us a good service.

Up the road at a wooden chalet, Jim is relaxing over a Tusker beer, taking photographs of the elephants, water buffalo and baboons. A few days to chill out then at a place that is virtually the half way point is surely a good moment to take stock of the event, so far.

Firstly, the roads: Conditions have been, in the main, far better than we had expected. However, the 500 kms from Moyale to Marsabit is classic Kenyan dirt track, with sections that are very similar to the piste of Algeria – incredibly rough. Boulders the size of tennis balls hammer into the wheel-arches, cannon into your exhaust, and axle casings, gearbox casings, and the underfloor are bombarded with ancient volcanic rocks.

We were reminded of a conversation we had some time ago with Francis Tuthill, the Safari Porsche specialist at Banbury back home, who reckoned that he had developed a “rock buster” suspension set up for Porsche 911s… here, a rock-buster kit is just what you need, and while most of the African roads we have encountered have been really good, these few kilometres really will be a test of your rally preparation. The World Cup London to Cape Town Rally will be won or lost on reliability, in general, and suspension preparation in particular.

 

We have seen nothing that would defeat a two wheel drive car, and plenty that will have a 4×4 driver rather bored… there is also plenty where good handling and agility will be a decider (taking a very heavy fuel-tank, heavy wheels and heavy spares could easily overload a car to the point that it is no longer is competitive).

We have seen on the Moyale to Marsabit section stretches of road that really does require as much ground clearance as you can possibly get. So, forget 70 profile tyres if an 80 profile gives you even three millimetres of extra ground clearance, go for the tallest. After all, this is not a rally where going through a corner a hundredth-of-a-second quicker than the next man is going to win anything.

We emerged after a very long day to arrive at Marsabit with no punctures. This surprised the locals, and we met one overlander who had nine, and another who had 14. Our tyres are no stronger than normal van tyres, and had we seen this road would no doubt have opted for something stronger, but the Cooper A/Ts have done well, and the conservative tread pattern ideal for pounding down lots of arrow straight hot asphalt, and are not “diggers” when it comes to skimming over the surface of sand. We ran 36 lbs p.s.i, which might be too hard and the reason why the shockabsorbers are groaning in protest – a difficult balance, as the locals all run softer on the corrugations.

The road from here is smoother (some corrugations, but not as vicious), and about 15 kms of white sandy tracks, which are passable easily in two wheel drive if you keep up momentum and have not got chunky tyres that refuse to skim over the surface), and this lasts for about 80 kms, after that, we are all on brand new tarmac all the way to Nairobi (which is gridlocked with traffic). A time-trial along the first bit suggests itself…

So far, we have met with nothing but enthusiasm from locals everywhere, keen to make the event a success. Everywhere we stop we are surrounded by friendly faces. And we have driven down some of the most stunning roads on earth… most days have been a real driving joy, a reminder of what it was once like to drive without any other traffic. Quite a few days have included hours and hours without seeing another truck or car, which is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

The Freelander is now in Nairobi. Our next aim is Arusha, on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, after visiting a loop off the highway suggested to us by Yvonne Mehta, a classic section from the glory-days of the Safari Rally.

FEBRUARY 5TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Marsabit, Kenya

 

Into Kenya: An early start – it can not be avoided. The hotel owner has also built a new mosque right at the back of the hotel, which starts the chant for customers at 5.30, but as there are so few takers, the morning sermon is also broadcast from the rooftops. If that is not enough, at 6.0am breakfast begins in the cafeteria, we know this as the giant TV screen is tuned in to CNN and the volume is turned up to full-blast.

We leave the car parked outside and take an early morning stroll around the town, with the plastic bags and litter blowing into shop doorways. A smell of bread leads us to a bakers and we buy half a dozen small loaves. Jim the Chef wants to cook an Egyptian tin of frankfurter sausages for our lunch today, and has the Colman’s Mustard to go with it. A trip to a bank, so avoiding all the touts offering to change money, and we then find a cyber café. This is a frustrating ordeal, as the attempt to send pictures back to the Rally News Desk ends in failure, after nearly an hour of fuming. It means we are now setting out later than planned.

We easily find the road south, and after a police checkpoint, another salute and a “welcome to Kenya!” we are on our way. Camels are walking down the side of the track.

The road is fast, smooth gravel, fine dust billows up in our wake as we storm down a long endless track with high thorn bushes on either side. For the first 50 or so kilometres, all is well and we have settled into cruising-mode. Then the corrugations start. If you can imagine 100,000 million scaffold poles placed across the road, a few inches apart, you will get the picture – the drumming, thumping constant kicking through the steering, the shaking of the dashboard that suggests it’s about to land in your lap, even the headlining is vibrating¸ as if to say it’s suddenly decided it wants to try being the carpet. The instruments are a blur. Doors are vibrating, along with everything else. The car is not going to take much more of this, and it seems whatever speed is chosen, the vibration is much the same, but, worryingly, the humps in the road seem to be getting bigger.

 

Alarmingly, all this vibration shakes lose a radiator hose and the radiator loses all its water, the temperature gauge climbs off the clock… how long has it been like this? Have we clocked this in the nick of time, or, is the engine now so hot we have blown the head gasket?

We spot a white building on the left, with a large patch of shade beside the left wall, and pull in, and park up. It happens to be a mosque, but this hadn’t occurred to us, with greater worries on our mind. The Imam wants ten dollars, for parking in a holy place, which goes into his back pocket – no hope of a receipt – and water can now be collected in empty bottles found around the back of the car from a nearby tub that collects storm-water from the roof. After 45 minutes of fiddling, the hose is reconnected – all things with screws or nuts and bolts need a blob of Loctite to withstand this kind of pounding, don’t think of leaving home without it… and we are on our way. The road gets rougher, and wilder. We spot gazelles, monkeys, and more camels.

Our day ends at the game-park lodge of Marsabit, after 500 kms of the roughest road we have ever encountered. Elephants are munching on tall grass as we climb up the dirt road to the front of the wooden-chalet hotel. It is just getting dark. It has not been a day without problems and first thing in the morning we are driving back down the hill to the garage where they reckon they can sort what we suspect is broken front shock absorber mountings.

The tyres withstood the pounding today – no punctures from the Cooper-Avon Discovery A/Ts. Everyone says drop the pressures for corrugations, put them up for the serious rough-stuff to keep the sidewalls stiff, but after much debate, agreed to keep them as they are… 36lbs cold.

Kenya has been as radically different from Ethiopia, as Ethiopia was compared with Sudan…the rest of the road to Nairobi simply can’t be as bad as today.

FEBRUARY 4TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Moyale, Kenya

Out of Ethiopia: The day begins at first light, a morning ritual of various checks around the car, and we were soon making our back out to the outskirts of town. 

 

It had been one of the most pleasant hotels since leaving The Royal opposite Deal Pier, and just as you say to yourself, “it can’t possibly get any better” your impressions are confounded. Africa is always so full of surprises. We needed a hotel big enough to take the whole rally, and we found it at the Haile, named after the famous Ethiopian long-distance runner who set new world records. This hotel also takes your breath away.

The Haile is set on a bank overlooking a vast fresh-water lake. Enormous glass windows, stretch the full width of the hotel framing a vast panorama of wild Africa. Down below, a couple of fishermen are punting along in reed canoes, it could be Lake Titicaca high in the Andes. We meet the manager and a deal is struck for our booking next January, car parking is discussed and allocated, and various menus also become an agenda-item. This place will go down as one of the highlights of the whole event, and after the ultra-basics of the hostel-like accommodation the night before, a welcome battery-charge for the final day out of Ethiopia.

Before leaving town, we found another tyre-fixer, who disagreed with the previous diagnosis, the flat tyre we had the other day was indeed a puncture, and set to work to prove it, pulling out a horse-shoe nail. Fortunately, one of the last-minute efforts on the preparation front was to get hold of a couple of inner tubes, and the first of these was now being inserted into the tyre which now hangs on the back door – but only after a spot of shopping for a tub of Johnson’s Baby Powder, essential to stop an inner tube chaffing the inner ribs of a tyre and causing yet another puncture.

 

We pounded down empty dead-straight roads that carved long slices through desert / scrub / grasslands, often with weird shaped mounds poking up through the grass – artwork by termites adding some variety to the landscape – and just in case anyone dares to suggest that while this day is a total contrast to the canyons of the Rift Valley is becoming just a trifle monotonous, we have found a competitive section that when measured came out at exactly 100 kms. That should keep drivers and navigators alike on their toes for an hour, or so. For our lunch break, we pulled off the road, parked up under a tree for a spot of shade, and Jim the Chef brewed up a cup of coffee, and with the hot water left over, presented lunch: Yet another Pot-Noodle, this time a “Bombay Bad Boy” washed down with a plastic tub of fruit-salad.

Eventually we end up in Moyale. This is a fly-blown run-down shanty frontier town – overlanders we spoke to said the only thing it’s got going for it is that it’s not the Kenyan side of town, on the other side of the bit of rope that drops down across the road at the end of a long wooden pole. We spotted several “hotels” – we can’t say they are best described as truck-drivers stop-overs, as we have hardly seen a truck all day. Music blares from various shops, there are a few dusty cafes, and walking around in the heat made us realise being pestered by “guides” as young as 12 who either want to show us the way down this one-street town to the frontier, change our money, or show us the best hotel. Jim buys a crate of water. There is then a ruction because the money he handed over didn’t include the cost of the plastic bottles, only the water. Hmm, another scam we didn’t see coming. Given there is no reason to stay here, we rapidly decide we might as well press on, so we found the customs officials and started to jump through the various hoops of form filling. It was now 5.30, and the various desk officials were already packing up for the day, reckoning if we were not done by 6.0pm, we would be spending one more night in Ethiopia. “Which is better by far than the Kenya side of town.”

By the time we emerged from Immigration, behind the high yellow gates and a taxi rank of blue 1980s Toyota Corollas, and crossed the road to the blue gates of Customs, all the offices were closed. We walked around a few, tried a few doors, found one or two that were not locked, and rummaged around a few desks and drawers for anything that looked like a rubber stamp. All we needed was a stamp on the carnet counterfoil to show we had left Ethiopia. We failed to find a rubber stamp, so decided to press on to the next hurdle and enter Kenya without the carnet being stamped, well, why not, it also avoided someone poking around the back of the car, or complaining they can’t find the engine-number.

 

We pass under a long washing line barrier of old knotted rope, and we are into No Man’s Land. As this is neither Kenya or, Ethiopia, it is not maintained by anyone, and you bounce over terrible ruts for around 500 metres, deep ruts with sharp stones and heavy-landings into potholes that can swallow a Freelander wheel, and we finally emerge at the another pole and long string with a saluting Kenyan soldier. “Welcome to Kenya,” he says with a smile that would make Colgate proud, and we park up under the trees of Immigration. A cool breeze runs down the slope, the sun has been fierce all day is now setting behind us, and it’s another country – it puts a bounce in your step.

“What time do you close?” The blue-shirted official says 6.30…and looks at his watch. It’s 6.30. We begin with the stamping of passports – a ten minute job and given there are no computers, this is impressive – we reckon the Kenya Customs desk to be the fastest processors of passports so far, and with Immigration waiting, our Carnet is also stamped. The fact the counterfoil to confirm we have indeed left Ethiopia has not been torn out, and also a stamp on the remaining counter foil that proves we have entered, and, departed, Ethiopia, is studied hard by the Kenyan Customs Chief. “I think I know what has happed here.” Hmmm. “But, nothing to do with me – welcome to Kenya!”

With that, we are now driving up the tree-lined avenue. It’s 7.0pm, and, get this, all that we meet in these various offices reckons that entering Kenya will be just as fast when the rally arrives. The trimmed trees, manicured patches of grass, and not a spot of litter anywhere, the offices of Kenya’s customs and immigration services give a totally false impression of what is to come. Climb up the hill and the tarmac stops, and you are immediately in a scruffy town with plastic bags and litter blowing around in the dust of rutted, bumpy dirt-surfaced streets, and all so bad it could make an Afghanistan town look appealing… turn a corner, and it’s now a scene from a Clint Eastwood Western. A frontier town where everyone keeps moving on, not wanting to care much for… whatever direction you are facing, you’re surely just movin’ on…

We found a narrow dirt street with a new hotel, the tallest building in town, we had high hopes of this place, but having found the alcohol-free-bar and dined out on chewy lumps that were described as deep fried chicken, with a cup full of piping hot rice which we watched steaming in a microwave on a shelf alongside the breakfast tea-cups, washed down with a glass of mango juice and four Sprites. It is obvious to all but the management what lost potential there is here. Entertainment while we picked our way around the plates was a giant screen of news reports from ‘Cairo in Crisis’ brought to us by the London office of Al Jazeera…. a ticker tape strap-line at the foot of the screen says their Cairo offices have been shut down – er, get this, by Arabs who suddenly cancelled its funding. We ask the waiter if there is an internet-café in town, but the shrug of the shoulders says it all.

Dark unlit streets outside are none too inviting, so we decide on tracking down someone with internet connections after breakfast… we had hoped to make an early start in the direction of Nairobi, but we are keen to send some photos back to Base-Camp.

The next section, everyone says, will be the hardest yet. A 600 kms trek across a bleak desert will be very hot work, and the first half is all corrugations. A big test for the soft-sprung supple suspension of the old Freelander.

FEBRUARY 2ND, 2011 – Philp Young

From Awasa, Ethiopia

Into Ethiopia: We left Sudan behind us, headed into the rising sun, and pounded down a tarmac strip to the frontier between vast grassy plains dotted with the occasional Accacia trees… it could be Kenya. 

 

The border hassles lived up to expectations but we were through both Sudan Exit and Ethiopia Entry in a few hours, and immediately found ourselves driving an excellent tarmac road that twisted and turned along the side of giant canyons of rich red stone. Rounding a corner Jim Allen rubbed his eyes with disbelief… a UK registered truck from the Dragoman overlander-tour company, and being driven by Peking Paris marshal Tony Jones! We stopped for a roadside “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” sort of moment, and from nowhere a big bunch of children suddenly thought this really is an exciting moment and soon drowned out all conversation.

A long day, with one of the most stunning driving roads in the whole of Africa, and finally ending up in the bustling town of Gondar. Corrugated iron roofs of wooden shacks glinting in the setting sun, the roads lined with Eucalyptus trees took us to the top of the town.

The rally hotel was full with various tour groups, so we found a small square a couple of kilometres lower down the mountain – a shabby old villa that was once the bolthole of Italian wartime leader Mussolini. PY asked if he could have Mussolini’s bedroom, but was told it was already occupied – by a German couple. We spent the evening dining with the two Germans,(who stress they are not Facists…) and who agreed with our view that the menu left a lot to be desired, Jim Allen who until now had consistently proved that he could eat anything had a tough time with a tough steak. This steak was called a “Steak Bismarck”, asking how it gets this name we were told it’s as tough as a battleship. Jim can confirm this. It’s decks were covered in two fried eggs, which were eaten, the rest was shovelled to one side of the plate. For Jim, it was a total surprise, not being very adventurous when it comes to navigating a menu, he had ordered Fish&Chips…

We left Gondar at first light, and aimed the Freelander at Addis Ababa, the goal being to peel off in a busy town some 100 kms down the road, and work our way around the town-centre and find a dirt track, which if the Michelin map is correct, runs for some 200 kilometres and actually “cuts off the corner” saving 100 kms of main road to Addis. We had a frustrating time trying to find the right slot, but once on the dirt, what promises to be an excellent timed-section started to quickly come together. We even found a small mountain stream that had to be splashed through as the bridge had collapsed. We drove between fields and ended up on a sweeping gravel track that rose up and down through rolling countryside. An excellent rally road.

 

Having started off on corrugations of the teeth-chattering variety (we were so glad the Land Rover retained the standard soft-spring suspension, it copes superbly with ruts and corrugations), the track finally improves, and we were quietly pleased with the way it came together. However, after hitting some bad potholes on the main road as we descended into a spur of the Rift Valley, and one or two bad gulleys on the steep climb on the other side (with many hairpins – this is slow going), it became apparent that getting to Addis in a single day is not really on, so we stopped in a run-down shanty-town of old shacks, and found a couple of beds in a truckers-rest stop. Evening meal was a slice of omelette between two round bread buns.

The following morning, we made an early start, after changing a wheel which rather mysteriously had gone flat over night – (taking it to one of the many roadside tyre repair sheds that can be found in every village confirmed that there was no puncture) – we pressed on and found two possible hotels just capable of accommodating the rally.

In Addis, the streets were gridlocked with traffic, we stopped for a mid-morning coffee having discovered an excellent roadside café, which is included in the route-notes. We had another pair of omelettes, washed down with two cups of excellent cups of tea, two glasses of mango juice, and rounded off with a slice of pastry cooked that morning and still warm.

It took nearly two hours before the dodging of trucks, vans and old taxis – mostly Ladas, old Datsuns and Toyota Corollas and India-style two-stroke Tuk-Tuks – and headed south. Not a great day, rally-wise, but we always knew that hacking our way through Addis would be quite an ordeal.

We are now in a pleasant looking small town called Awasa, and found a hotel with only two rooms available (or so the lady says…), we said an immediate yes. It’s been too hot, too tiring to haggle. We have round beds – yep, round beds – a bathroom with a giant round Jacuzzi, television, mini-bar stuffed with various beers, electricity that comes and goes (power cuts are something you get used to, it’s handy to pack a candle and a box of matches), and, given we had no shower available at the truck-stop last night, running hot water.

After sending this to the website manager, we are off shortly to the dining room. If there is a Bismarck Steak on the menu, Jim says he is going to be saying yes… as he’s bound to be finally served his Fish and Chips.

JANUARY 31ST, 2011 – Philp Young

From Gedaref, Sudan

It has taken five days to get across Sudan and hit the road that the rally cars will use running south from the Red Sea coast at Port Sudan on the way to Ethiopia. 

 

Sudan is the largest country in Africa but you don’t appreciate just how big it all is until you come to drive it. An 800 kilometre day might sound excessive, but the roads are very empty, and in a very good state of repair – probably some of the best roads in Africa.

After our first camping night on the way south from Wadi Halfa we spent a couple of nights in Khartoum with time to catch up on the laundry and arrange essential meetings. Before getting back on the road we drank a refreshing sundowner of chilled yoghurt and mint while watching the sun set over the Nile. We were sitting on the deck of the ancient gunboat used by Lord Kitchener to re-take Sudan for the British in 1895 from the Dervish who had ruled for 15 years after defeating General Gordon.

Two days from Khartoum and we were exploring an off-road section in the desert neat Kassala. A local camel-farmer was driving over 50 camels to market but as we had lots of notes to jot down we were in no great hurry. Much of the morning was spent exploring tracks that looked promising but ended up nowhere, or, in a village. A wrong turning even had us driving up an old railway line across the desert – no trains were due, it fell into disuse after the British stopped running things in 1956.

We stopped off in a village and chatted to a tyre-fixer who runs a veteran 70-year-old donkey-engine to power his generator and equipment. He is looking forward to a spot of business from passing rally cars so we noted the spot in the route-book.

 

The time we have spent in Sudan has been fascinating. We have met lots of interesting people, who are full of enthusiasm for the World Cup Rally visiting their country – it has been pointed out that Sudan has never before received an international rally.

We have seen just four British cars, in our five days here, apart from the occasional 40-year-old Land Rover…a Mk1 Ford Cortina, a Mk2 Ford Cortina with a broken steering arm, and two Hillman Hunters, one parked in a bush and the other in a backstreet. Both Hunters are complete and on the rally route should anyone think of needing spares…

The roads throughout Sudan have proved the biggest surprise, and are far better than we had expected. Petrol is plentiful with gas stations 200 kms apart or less, and there is more readily available supply of diesel than we found in Egypt. All garages seem to stock both diesel and petrol, but often only two pumps – the petrol is universally one grade that we are told is 90 octane. The cars on the road seem modern than in Egypt, mostly Kia, Toyota trucks and Corollas, some Suzuki Jimny’s and Nissans.

It’s the hottest so far, and it’s getting to both of us a bit. Put the washing out on a fence rail and its bone dry within five minutes. The mountains of Ethiopia will be very welcome…

JANUARY 26TH, 2011 – Philp Young

From Wadi Halfa, Sudan

The Route Reconnaissance Team set out from England, stopped the night at The Royal Hotel in Deal where Nelson once regularly stayed, and moved on the following day into Northern France to check out the French Time Time Trial near St. Quentin in the Somme Region, which was tricky as the tracks we hope to use were under water.

 

We then drove across Europe from Beaune via Chambery through the Alpes into Italy to catch a brand new and very comfortable ferry from Venice to Alexandria, certainly the best ferry we have ever sailed on. Apart from trucks, we were one of five overlander vehicles on the boat so we had the cafe, restaurant and cabins much to ourselves. Brand new… but it sails empty!

The team have now arrived in Sudan. Despite opinions that there would be civil unrest following the recent referendum to divide into two parts Africa’s biggest country, everything is friendly and peaceful, and we have met nothing but co-operation and willing assistance, there is lots of enthusiasm here with locals eager to be part of an international event.

As you know, the route survey has two options on getting to Sudan (one via Saudi, which comes later), this option is via Egypt. We found three competitive sections, to be run as Time Trials, in the desert east of the Nile near the Red Sea, and without doubt these have been the most stunningly beautiful desert tracks we have ever experienced. Something for everyone here, mostly smooth and certainly well within the capabilities of a small two wheel drive car, in fact we have yet to find anything that will be a real challenge for a 4×4, as the desert tracks are often twisty. Rapid changes of direction and navigation with quick GPS work will be called for here if a good result is to be achieved. A few rough waddis (river crossings, which were dry but boulder-strewn) but mostly smooth, very little in the way of corrugations, some sand sections but mostly stones/loose gravel and from the recent tracks we could see, popular with local off-road bikers. One Time Trial was over virgin terrain with no tracks of any previous traveller in site and a storming section to a far horizon with jagged mountains to aim at, the sort of thing only found in a Lara Croft film or a good African adventure such as King Solomon’s Mines. In fact one of the Time Trials is a route used to an old gold-mine.

So far, the standard 60 litre tank has been perfectly adequate range, as our car has standard springs and only uprated shockabsorbers to cope with fairly light luggage and equipment we have not filled a jerry-can. Petrol is 90-octane at its worst, some better fuel is available but harder to find. We have a two litre diesel engine and not all gas-stations stock diesel.

 

Some of the days will be long, we drove one day of over 700 km, and as we have said all along, this will be very much of a “press-on-regardless” style of event, with a pressure that comes from a time-schedule to keep to, with the addition of the Time Trials.

Our recce-photos show the wild, empty terrain of the Time Trials as well as the hectic street scenes, where local children are keen to carry out an enterprising car-wash business the moment you park up. The streets of Egypt are full of Peugeot 504s, some 404s, old Toyotas, and 1970s Fiats – the 504 is by far the most common sight, and all the taxis are 504 Estates. Once into Sudan, it is again the 504 that is clearly the mule of Africa, but there were a row of Series 3 Land Rovers outside the Customs-shed.

We have put into the route notes places where tyres can be repaired or new tyres bought, and local roadside repair-workshops. We expect good back up to the event from locals here. Rallying without sweeper-mechanics is not as daunting as it sounds, there are good facilities to be found in every village. English, Italian and French are common languages.

Sudan has a network of very good tarmac roads. The weather has been warm throughout, and is it hot here, like a really good summer’s day in the UK. No rain is expected, it would seem January is a good weather-window. It is, however, Africa’s biggest country and some very long sections are inevitable before we reach Ethiopia.

For those who are concerned about newspaper headlines and talk of “troubles” we have seen nothing on our travels and met with nothing but friendly enthusiasm. The 1998 Land Rover Freelander might be slow but so far it’s not missed a beat, and there is not a creak or a rattle anywhere.

PAUSE PLAY

The Route Outline

The route drives across Europe before taking a ferry from Greece to to North Africa. After Egypt the route moves on to Saudi Arabia and on to Jeddah. From Jeddah we cross the Red Sea to Sudan, and a day’s run then brings us to Ethiopia, and a stunning mountain road takes us from the frontier deep into Ethiopia and the road to Kenya. 

Here we cross a demanding desert track and on to Nairobi for a day off …we then head south to Tanzania, driving from Arusha to Dodoma, and continue heading south for Zambia, where the local Motor Federation will be organising some Time Trials in the Plantations around Lusaka.

After taking in the splendours of Victoria Falls at Livingstone, we cross the Caprivi Strip, the narrow passage of land that takes us into Namibia, lots of gravel roads here… finally into South Africa and on to Clanwilliam, gateway to the Cederberg Mountains, and our drive into Cape Town …the celebrations will be an all-night section run from the bar of the Table Bay Hotel!

This is the first rally to stage a timed-drive with the clock ticking every day from Europe to Cape Town without recourse to airlifts or special shipping – the only boats involved are scheduled ferry-services, in a route that aims to keep the wheels turning all the way, clocking up results daily with the successful survivors going home with trophies at the end of a very special rally-adventure.

Date Route Country Kms
Jan 1 Scrutineering, Brooklands. London Start: 7.00pm UK 130
Jan 2 London to Beaune via Dover-Calais ferry, 3.40am France 610
Jan 3 Beaune to Florence France, Italy 840
Jan 4 Florence to Ancona (Port) – ferry, 4pm Italy 300
Jan 5 Igoumenitsa (Port) to Kamena Vourla Greece 470
Jan 6 Kamena Vourla to Piraeus (Port) – ferry, 12am Greece 490
Jan 7 On Ferry – Rest Day Mediterranean
Jan 8 Alexandria (Port) to Ain Sokhna Egypt 350
Jan 9 Ain Sokhna to Safaga (Port) – ferry, 4am Egypt 460
Jan 10 Duba (Port) to Yanbu Saudi Arabia 520
Jan 11 Yanbu to Jeddah (Port) – ferry, 9pm Saudi Arabia 350
Jan 12 Suakin (Port) to Gedaref Sudan 720
Jan 13 Gedaref to Bahir Dar Sudan, Ethiopia 510
Jan 14 Bahir Dar to Awasa Ethiopia 760
Jan 15 Awasa to Moyale Ethiopia, Kenya 510
Jan 16 Moyale to Marsabit Kenya 250
Jan 17 Marsabit to Nairobi Kenya 540
Jan 18 Nairobi – Rest Day Kenya
Jan 19 Nairobi to Arusha Kenya, Tanzania 410
Jan 20 Arusha to Dodoma Tanzania 440
Jan 21 Dodoma to Mbeya Tanzania 610
Jan 22 Mbeya to Mpika Tanzania, Zambia 500
Jan 23 Mpika to Lusaka Zambia 700
Jan 24 Lusaka to Livingstone Zambia 500
Jan 25 Livingstone to Tsumeb Zambia, Namibia 1050
Jan 26 Tsumeb to Windhoek Namibia 650
Jan 27 Windhoek to Ai-Ais Namibia 840
Jan 28 Ai-Ais to Clanwilliam Namibia, South Africa 650
Jan 29 Clanwilliam to Cape Town South Africa 330
Total distance (kms) : (14,400)

DAY

0

NEWBURY, UK - DECEMBER 30TH, 2011

London to Cape Town Rally Briefing

Over 20 crews attended a briefing session today at the Newbury Hilton Hotel for a navigation seminar by Alan Smith, and a Garmin GPS teach-in by Kim Bannister, followed by a navigation run round the lanes in the dark. All reckon it proved a worthwhile “breaking of the ice” although the run was held in torrential rain.

A Datsun 240Z with four wheels on the roof, a VW Karmann Ghia with one wheel on the roof, Volvos, Mercedes, Toyota pick-up trucks, all with their day-glo door panels certainly turned a few heads driving out of Newbury.

Crews now have only one day left for final packing and fettling before meeting up the Brooklands museum on Sunday.

DAY

01

DOVER, UK - JANUARY 2ND, 2012

The Route from Dover

Mud and Slime – First Day Action …

A hectic start to the rally tonight has produced a few surprises. 

 

The results at Dover highlight strong performances for the smaller cars in the event, with Owen Turner and Matt Fowle in their 1600cc MG ZR emerging from wet, muddy and slippery lanes on the North Downs of Kent plus two off-road forest sections as overall rally leaders. They now cross to France with a grip of over five minutes ahead of the field.

Second place overall is the 1600cc MG Maestro of Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton, 30 seconds ahead of the big 4×4 Toyota Hilux of Andy Actman and Andy Elcomb, with the Subaru Impreza of Steve Blunt and Bob Duck a further 30 seconds behind, and Renger Gulliker BMW in 5th.  A good effort by Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey puts another small car into the top ten, ending the night in 9th place with their MG ZR. The Volvo of Car 1 Richard Atherton and Rob Henchoz is in 10th spot.

Second fastest car in the two forest sections was the Belgian Porsche 911 of  Joost Van Cauwenberge & Jacques Castelein, who then found the navigation from maps was enough to slip down the leader board.

Saddest news of the night was the demise of the Triumph 2.5 of Chris Butcher and Sean Moriarty who fell off the road breaking the steering against a tree stump. They were then bumped by Andy Actman’s Toyota who found nowhere else to go when another crew stopped on the track to check the Triumph crew. Without the required parts the Triumph had to be recoverd by transporter. Actman’s Toyota has a few marks on the front bumper.

The rain fell heavily in the afternoon leaving the lanes awash with mud and slime, and the forests were particularly slippery.

DAY

02

BEAUNE, FRANCE - JANUARY 2ND, 2011

Beaune, France

Battle-report from the Western Front

Day Two of the World Cup Rally starts at 5.0am with the Captain of the P&O’s Pride of Canterbury demonstrating how to perform a handbrake turn with 40,000 tonnes of cross-Channel ferry into his narrow parking slot inside Calais harbour.

Dawn breaks over the depressing scene of concrete as we disembark down to the empty plastic sentry-boxes of the immigration officials, and on past the vast truck-parks that sweep the visitors to France out onto the area of rolling pastures sliced in two by the main north-south autoroute to Reims.

Often on trips like this we have found ourselves asking the question: What does it take to use the amazing network of gravel tracks that criss-cross the fields on either side of this boring road for a spot of rallying?

It was on a trip through northern France that curiosity simply had to be answered by taking time out… and so here is an inside-account of how some things are clicked together for events of this kind. We wanted to know how to talk to the Mayor of the village, he would know the answer to the question that was on the forefront of our minds. A tractor ploughed up and down the lonely furrows of the big field before the village, and we stop. Let’s walk across and ask the farmer!  The ploughman turns off his 200hp John Deere engine, and swings two Wellington boots over the side to slide down and shake our hands. “You want the Mayor? Well, I am the Mayor!” We explain the strange request.  Ah, says the Mayor, you need a permit for that, come to my office in an hour, and I will write it out for you. And so, 60 minutes later, we find ourselves sitting on the concrete steps of his office in the centre of the village. The Mayor arrives by tractor, still wearing the muddy boots, and sits at his desk…scribbles out with a felt-tip pen the permit, and suggests we take it to his mate, the Mayor of the next village, for him to copy out the same wording on his notepaper, while waving a finger over the big map on the wall.

“I will be away at my cottage in Le Touquet ….so regret I will not see you racing past my house,” he says apologetically, “please don’t break the speed limit.” Er, what is your speed limit?  Well, its 90 kph. Is this fast enough for you?

You just couldn’t find such on the spot co-operation back home.

And so the day has come. We return to the Mayor’s village, houses boarded up with wooden shutters, peeling paint giving up the battle of keeping out the wind that whips across this vast open plain of what was once called The Western Front.

Today, a different kind of conflict is taking place. The gruff deep-throated growly of the 400 bhp V8 BMW engine of Robert Belcher is chased by the howl of Porsche 911 engines, and the baying six-cylinder Datsun 240Zs, all with crews cracking the whip in the hope of turning the tables at the front of the leaderboard… while wondering what they have spent in recent months in preparation, only to be beaten soundly on the opening leg of this competition by the cheapest cars on the entry-list.

The morning mist hangs low around the copes of trees at the top of a hill where the remains of a fort from the battle between Napoleon and Wellington once saw troops dug into the mud here.  You flick 90-left and then 90 right around the fields to climb up to this spot, long straights in between, overnight rain has sliced up the mud with rivulets of running water… now this is more like it.  You charge across a big open landscape, no hedges or fences divide these fields, just great gravel tracks, with deep pools of water that thump under the wheel arches. You apply the spurs to get a good clip on up the summit, running now in front of the fort in the wood, hook it right now, on mud-covered gravel, slip and steady up, you slide over wet grass, fall into the ruts of another long track, and this time there is grass growing up the middle, and the ruts are getting deeper… and then it’s  now into a series of blind crests, sudden drops, another blind crest, into another sudden drop, needing power to slither up the other side… hardly good ground for a small front wheel drive hatchback. The 4×4 drivers are delighted with this, but power is no answer, as anything but a disciplined right foot sees momentum take over… the tracks of the early runners show plenty must have had a white-knuckle moment just missing an early ending stuck in a field, giant S-shaped lines are carved in wet mud.

At the end of it all, Paul Heal from the Shaftsbury Motor Club is clicking away the stop watch, hunkered down out of the wind, propped up on a faded green barn just next door to the empty Mayor’s house.

The MG of Owen Turner keeps the lead to head the results table today, but second place was snatched by a good run by Andy Actman’s Toyota tonka-toy, the Maestro Girls slipping down to third. Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey keep their 9th spot, suggesting a finish in the top ten by Cape Town is going to see a right cat-fight… the Mercedes of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott lose a place, and the very British Land Rover now nudges into the top ten.

A few go up, and a few go down… conflict in the mud of the Somme first thing in the morning was always just so.  And so the order changes some more after the giant-killing acts of the sprats of the rally the previous night.

Walking wounded? We hear that David Gough in the Peugeot 504 has cured a mysterious engine problem that saw him running on two cylinders through the Kent lanes to Dover… and talking of Peugeots, the 205 from the father-and-son team, Mark and Ben Munne, from Holland has found someone to fix a wheel bearing problem first thing in the morning.

With no sweeper mechanics and no service crews allowed on this event, you have to be quick-witted to find spares and help to stay in the game. The Dutch are looking happy with themselves in the bar this evening.

DAY

03

FLORENCE, ITALY - JANUARY 3RD, 2012

Florence, Italy

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.

DAY

04

SUPERFAST FERRY, ON THE ADRIATIC - JANUARY 4TH, 2012

The Adriatic

Misty Mountains in Umbria.

Turn off the main road, thread your way through the Cyprus trees, and you begin the climb to the ridge of high hills overlooking the valley of Piobbico. We are in Umbria, it’s been a 5.0am start that followed on from the late finish last night, and we are all feeling somewhat weary.

But the adrenaline rush of another timed-to-the-second World Cup test-section quells any thoughts of early-morning fatigue and the competition is on again.

We had driven out of Florence through dense fog and patches of black-ice. It was to prove particularly unpleasant.  This was enough to catch out Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey who have been inside the top-ten from the start with their game little MG ZR. They braked into a roundabout, and slid straight on, clouting a concrete parapet.  This was sufficient to stuff the radiator and damage a lot of the front steering.  But having completed the Peking to Paris they know all about being resourceful and soon found Igor the Hammer, who began work sorting the damage. However, even Igor couldn’t fix the MG in sufficient time to catch the mid-day Superfast Ferry that carries us on over the Adriatic to Greece. The girls have missed the boat. However, they plan to catch another, sailing a few hours later, and reckon on catching up by mid-day tomorrow.

Also suffering again today was the crew of Car 44, the Peugeot 504 of Dave Gough and Richard Phillipson, who were pushed onto the boat within minutes of sailing after suffering head-gasket failure…this, on top of fuel problems that have heaped up frustrations since leaving Big Ben.

The long snaking gravel track this morning was in bright sunshine – the fog was rolling down the hillside  as Owen Turner and Matt Fowle set out in their 16000cc MG ZR. They were again to set a cracking time, to finish some 50 seconds up on the event’s second-overall Andy Actman and Andy Elcomb in the Toyota Hilux… the gravel was wet, and some sections were muddy, but the MG skips on with the two Andys finding that having four-wheel-drive is not much help here.  “We expected to gain on him this morning – what have we got to do,” was Actman’s first comment.

Best-performing car was the Porsche 911 of car 45, Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein, who dropped just 32 seconds, the engine of the Porsche echoing off the rocky walls… he overtook Caldwell’s  four-cylinder 912 in the closing few kilometres… car 10 was second, the Australian crew of Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy who dropped 45 seconds in their Datsun. Car 33, Owen Turner’s MG was third on 1m08s and fourth best, Alastair Caldwell and Hayden Burvill, appearing on the leaderboard for the first time, dropping 1m28s seconds, over car 41,  the Peugeot 504 of Guy Chriqui and Phillippe Thiolat from France, 1m36s, closely followed by Ben and Mike Dawson in the orange Escort on 1m39s.

The Porsches and the Australian Datsun have been taking it easy up to now – but show them a snaking gravel track over a ridge of mountains first thing in the morning, and the early-morning fog was rapidly replaced by rallying’s red mist.

DAY

05

JANUARY 5TH, 2012

Kamena Voula, Greece

Snow and ice in the Greek Mountains

This is going to be a short report because the restaurant in the Galini Hotel here at Kamena Vourla has a marvellous spread of food set out… and not many customers. 

Most are out in the carpark servicing their car while the food goes cold. The temptations have been a top chef producing a fine meal, or, meeting up with the service-teams of the Peugeot 504 rally-club of Greece… the cold night air in the car park has won.

We faced heavy rain from the moment we drove out of the hold of the Superfast Ferry and began the haul into the mountains of northern Greece. We climbed 1,000 metres in 100 kilometres.  There is a re-group coffee stop at a roadside café just before the giant rock pillars of Kalambaka, where a James Bond movie was filmed with a daring climb to one of the monasteries at the top – monks used to do it regularly in a wicker basket.

We then faced the surprise of snow and ice, near Lake Plastiras, with so much snow the road became something like The Monte, and it was a good move to get the advance car out here early as they were able to arrange a nifty re-route around a snow blockage for a timed to the second World Cup Rally section. Everyone dropped some time on this one, some more than others, but Andy Actman in the big Toyota sliced the best part of a minute off the rally leaders in their MG ZR, he was to prove best-performance of the day on two World Cup sections.

There then followed what on paper looked perfectly simple – follow the Tulip road book to the next competitive section. However, it ran through several very narrow streets of tiny mountain villages, and finding the slots is harder than it sounds – some of the front runners are upset to lose several minutes on what was looking slackly timed and easy to follow.  The village of Mesenikola at the top of a mountain has rocky narrow streets barely a car’s width.

The final test of the day was an Acropolis Rally goat-track and was to prove quite surprising – muddy, slushy, remains of snow and ice, it rose and fell over blind crests along a mountain ridge and then dropped steeply downhill… some took wrong turnings.  Apart from the odd gulley across the track, it was fairly soft going to the Stirfaka finish. Alastair Caldwell and Hayden Burvill in the Porsche 912 were quickest on this test with the Impreza of Steve Blunt and Bob Duck 13 sceonds behind. These two crews were obviously not tempted by the wrong turnings.

Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey are here with their MG ZR, having caught a later boat.

Outside, car 44, the Peugot 504 of David Gough, is having a major engine overhaul including a new head gasket, having been suffering fuel issues since London. The engine is on the lobby steps in order to gain the most light.  David Spurling lost a wheel on the top of a mountain but limped on with the use of garden chain, driving 60 kilometres into the arms of the Greek Peugeot Club. The two Datsun 240Zs have taken on a good service to their brakes –  and one needed a cracked oil-cooler repaired. The Greeks are providing a service for anyone.

Tomorrow sees six World Cup sections on classic Acropolis ground. Survivors catch a late-sailing ferry for Africa, and dine at sea.

DAY

06

BLUE STAR DIAGORAS, MEDITERRANEAN SEA - JANUARY 6TH, 2012

Across the Mediterranean

Up to our knees in Moussaka

The story of the rally today has been one of attrition and a battle of the elements. Over half the rally became stuck in glutinous mud this morning. The rally leaders got through, but in the process, churned the surface and the later numbers made things more difficult – two cars then spun sideways blocking the route.

The French Morgan V8 of Pierre-Henri Mahul was an early-morning retirement, slipping off the road on black ice and snapping the chassis rails. (..rumour is that the Morgan has morphed into a Suzuki Jimny and is on the boat. Ed). A second probable retirement came soon after with the news that Datsun 240Z crew of Alex Thistlethwayte and David Hiscox spun on a hairpin bend also finding an ice patch, but clouting the front end sufficiently hard that it looks like it could be out of the event. They have been trucked to a garage in Athens, and it is hoped to straighten out the metal work and suspension sufficiently to get onto the boat for more repairs in Egypt. (sadly the Datsun missed the boat by a few minutes. Ed)

There were six World Cup timed sections today, and the most competitive, and demanding of rallying days so far, incorporating some classic ground from the Acropolis Rally.

Everyone has their own story to tell. Robert Belcher, in Car 2, the 400bhp V8 BMW, says he didn’t get stuck in the muddy section, just powered through, but later in the day encountered his biggest fear of all – running out of petrol. “The last two stages were treated like an economy run, we were worried we would run dry.” he said on arrival at the port.

The same problem hit the Escort crew of Mike Dawson and son, Ben, as they ran out of fuel on the second to last section, Pissia.  “But it’s been a wonderful day, you wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

Andy Actman says… “it has been a great day” which suggests the 4x4s have made lighter work of it than the rest.

Some good performances were seen from Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein, who set fastest times on four of today’s World Cup Sections to move up into 8th place.

Quotes from the crews:

Grant Tromans, car 28, Datsun 240Z… “We ran out of gas a mile after the end of last stage”

“Hardest day’s rallying of my life…” says leader Owen Turner  “…we got stuck in mud, huge slide nearly collecting an olive tree, dense fog, suffering from lack of grunt… very hard work”

“A good practice day for Kenya…” says Mark Munne in the little Peugeot 205, “now going fine, a really super day”

“Very tricky, almost impossibly dangerous on our tyres… ” says Pierre-Yves Maisonneuve, Peugeot 505, “Nobody will forget Greece, ever”

Peugeot 504 driver David Spurling said “We had to cut out a lot after getting stuck…  I can’t believe Africa can be any worse”

“Wonderful day, best so far” says Belgian Eric Claeys, car 48 Toyota.

“Wonderful day but we lost some time towing Alastair Caldwell out of the mud..” says Francis Tuthill,   “…we only just spotted him as he was off route”

“I’ve been up my knees in mud” said John Bayliss, after his Volvo went off. “…the rear of the car is a little crumpled”

DAY

08

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT - JANUARY 8TH, 2012

Alexandria, Egypt

Once in a Blue Moon

A large orange moon hangs over the thin line of twinkling lights on the horizon – our first sight of Africa as the MV Diagoras chugs slowly towards the harbour lights. The captain has called up the services of a pilot to guide us through what has now become one of the most dangerous waterways in the World.

 

The harbour of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra is now littered with the wrecks of ships where other captains got it wrong – the various mistakes in navigation in recent years are plainly on view off the port side, with containers being pounded by waves of cargo-ships lurched to one side. Egypt’s paralysed authorities are incapable of organising a salvage of the wrecks that have turned the route to the quay into such a tricky obstacle-course.

The Blue Star line have done us proud. It has been a thoroughly comfortable ship, although sea-sickness has effected many as we rocked and rolled through a choppy storm last night. The food and endless supply of free drinks has impressed us all. The captain allowed us the rare honour of having access to our cars for an hour while at sea. Most spent the hour packing and tidying up, with the ship rocking violently from side to side only Alastair Caldwell dared to jack up his rallycar onto three wheels in order to repair an exhaust mounting of his Porsche 912. He sounds reasonably pleased with his progress so far, quick to point out “ …it’s pretty good for a VW van engine” .

We are now braced for the most demanding of bureaucracies as crews prepare for several hours of form filling, lining up to have chassis-plates and engine numbers inspected and copied by officials who take a brass-rubbing on tracing paper rather than try to write them down, sniffer dogs, and giant X-ray vans inspect our equipment.

Today is set to be an easy transport day past Cairo to a hotel beside the Red Sea. This is a rare moment – a rally set to drive the length of Africa, a once in a blue moon opportunity, has now arrived.

DAY

09

SAFAGA, EGYPT - JANUARY 9TH, 2012

Safaga, Egypt

Sand Trap in Snake Valley

The area of desert south-east of Cairo is one of the least-known spots on earth. Facing the Red Sea on the east, and stretching into the vast Sahara on its Western flank, the Organisation spent several days here seeking out one of the hidden spots of Egypt for the World Cup Rally to explore.

 

Snake Valley near Hurghada twists and turns through soft gravel and sand for a short distance then opens out across a plain – you head for the cutting between two black cliffs, the entrance to an enchanting valley. Low lying bushes, the odd Acacia tree and a maze of tracks that criss-cross themselves into knots of trenches and paths… the trick is to use our basic notes with distances whirring away on your trip-meter and find the right route, foot down. Timed to the second, you spend most of the morning working your way westward, and then turn south.

We expected a major shake up and that is exactly what happened. The leaders would find it hard – those in four-wheel-drive would romp it. Every dog has its day and today it would be a Dakar-style blast of grit, sand, lose stones, large stones that need dodging with care, ruts and smooth baked-hard clay, diving between gaps in the mountains, all the time heading for a long line of spiky shaped mountains in the far distance. Crags with pyramids, it’s a row of mountains you get when you give a child of six a blue pencil, or open an original copy of Rider Hagard’s King Solomons Mines.  Route note descriptions go something like this, “keep close to cliff on left… go right of Acacia tree… straight on past yellow rock… avoid gulley before string of black boulders… head for trees on far horizon… keep small volcano on right.”

Emerging from all this was the Belgian Porsche 911 of Joost Van Cauwenberge & Jacques Castelein who set fastest time, dropping just 8 seconds, Steve Blunt and Bob Duck in the non-turbo black Subaru Impreza was nearly two minutes behind on 2m05s, and third best was the BMW M535i enjoying a good run, nearly four minutes behind the time set by the 911, but a good effort for Renger Gulliker and Pim ‘t Hart. Andy Actman’s Toyota Truck was fifth, just under four minutes adrift, behind the fourth-best Rene Declercq and Francis Tuthill, who stopped to pull out the Maestro girls at one point.

Andy Actman had also stopped to pull out a stuck car – the MG ZR of Owen Turner. Owen and Matt lost their lead which they had held from the outset today. Defeated in Snake Valley, they took a tumble down the points league to 4th overall.  The Maestro Girls of Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton retain 5th spot, having got stuck several times. Their good ground clearance, and fairly smooth Falken van tyres, came in really useful in the soft conditions.

Crews are at a comfortable hotel for a meal and a few hours break, at midnight we leave for the port and the crossing of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia – another first for this event, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never before ever hosted an international rally crossing its territory.

DAY

10

YANBU, SAUDI ARABIA - JANUARY 10TH, 2012

Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Yesterday was the most physically demanding day so far, with numerous cars suffering heavy time-losses stuck in the soft sand between the walls of the canyon that confronted crews at the start of the first desert section.

In the evening we took over the hotel at the Safaga Red Sea resort and tucked into the biggest buffet meal of the event so far. Stories of the highs and lows and frustrations of the day unwound as crews relaxed before leaving to check in to the ferry terminal at midnight. Rapid formalities by the Egyptian fixers soon had us on board for the night sailing to Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians had done away with the need for a carnet-de-passage, which saves time and hassle having more forms stamped, and had also done away with the requirement to have Egyptian number plates – two small reforms since the Egyptian revolution, which have made driving across Egypt a lot easier.

We all slept on board, and awoke to find the ship heading into the sandy beaches of Duba, to be met by the Saudi Arabia Motorsport Federation, who have provided us all with excellent support and encouragement. We parked our cars, clambered onto ancient American school-buses to ride a short distance for immigration formalities, and then we were on the road. The coast road of Saudi Arabia – we are the first ever international rally to cross Saudi Arabia, something the Federation seem very proud of – swept us down to another seaside resort for the night.

After the hectic time in the Egyptian desert, this was a much more relaxed day with no timing, and the first crews arrived at the end of the afternoon overlooking the sea at Yanbu to take advantage of the remaining daylight to check over their cars.

Tomorrow sees us enjoy a late-morning start for Jeddah, where we catch the evening ferry that chugs back across the Red Sea to arrive at mid-day on Thursday at Suakin, where we enter Sudan.

DAY

11

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - JANUARY 11TH, 2012

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Leaving Saudi Arabia

A blazing hot sun begins to set over another day on the World Cup Rally here in Jeddah at the end of two fascinating days experiencing the hospitality of the Saudi Arabia Motorsport Federation. Slick border formalities are now underway as cars file onto the ferry for the night sailing to Sudan.

Several crews took time out today for a spot of servicing in local garages. Greg Newton’s Holden was on a ramp and had an oil change and a check over so thorough that the locals even balanced the wheels. The cost… three hours later? £20. Just about all of us are coming away with pockets full of Riyals as motoring here is so cheap it’s hard to comprehend. Locals like American V8 gas guzzlers and monster 4x4s, and why not when a gallon of petrol is cheaper than a can of coke.

It’s a land where law enforcement comes with zero tolerance, so it’s a surprise that local youths got inside the Porsche 911 of Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein and stole the Yellowbrick Tracker, Garmin GPS and trip meter. The police are onto it… All they have to do is follow the Yellowbrick road.

We are going to be on board for another parting of the Red Sea hopefully landing at midday followed by a 700kms blast down a bumpy tarmac strip through another desert to the dusty town of Gedaref.

On the route survey last year there was no food in the restaurant, perhaps this might be the evening where we break into the emergency rations.

DAY

12

GEDAREF, SUDAN - JANUARY 12TH, 2012

Gedaref, Sudan

A good run to Gedaref

It took 2.5 hours after the ferry docked for all cars to clear customs and immigration and by 4.30 the first cars set out for the 700kms across a dusty desert to the market town of Gedaref. 

David Hiscox in the Datsun 240z was sidelined for a while with overheating after the electric fan stopped working. Dave Gough and Richard Phillipson, Peugeot 504, stopped with a puncture after hitting a pothole. The potholes were vicious for first 200 kms. The pre war Vauxhall of James and Max Stephenson strides down it all averaging 100kph. Marc Buchanan and Charles Green, Jeep Wrangler are running slow and steady.

Eric Claeys and Ben Deleye, Toyota 73 have had the biggest drama reported so far, hitting a donkey asleep on the warm tarmac which has stoved in the radiator… we have been running in the dark for most of the time.

By midnight 20 crews had reached the hotel after what has been an easy run. If the Vauxhall can romp along cruising at 60mph then those not here have clearly opted to take it even more steady. The road quality improved visibly after passing the town of Kassala.

The cars are now parking up in the street of the hotel, with no shortage of police on guard.

DAY

13

BAHIR DAR, ETHIOPIA - JANUARY 13TH, 2012

Bahir Da, Ethiopia

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.

DAY

14

AWASA, ETHIOPIA - JANUARY 14TH, 2012

Awasa, Ethiopia

A tough day to Awasa

It’s been a long tough day from Bahir Dar to Awasa beginning with 200kms of difficult gravel that started off particularly rough. 

Early starters drove it in the dark. Daybreak at Mota Road, the first of two World Cup Sections saw battle commence – the Subaru Impreza of Steve Blunt and Bob Duck set the best time, nearly a minute quicker than the Belgian Porsche of Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jaques Castelein.

Several crews finished with broken exhausts but the saddest casualty of the day was the Guliker/Hart  BMW535i who hit a large rock that split the sump. Running 4th this created a vacancy at the top. Pim ‘t Hart returned to Bahir Dar where the split aluminium sump has been welded but will have to wait until tomorrow to return to Mota village where Renger remains with the car.

We have ended the 750km day at perhaps the most comfortable hotel of the entire event – owned by an Olympic runner who won medals for running barefoot, the management know all about recovering from human endurance. It is just a shame the wi-fi is not working, we have a similar problem in the next few nights so reports may reach you by semaphore or pigeon-post.

Top five in today’s first World Cup Section are Blunt, Impreza 1:36; Cauwenberge, Porsche 2:28; Actman, Hilux 2:37; Tomlin, Defender 2:40; Tromans, 240Z 2:43

Five cars completed  the second World Cup Section within the allowed time and without penalty with Alastair Caldwell next up losing just 3 seconds.

The top of the leaderboard changes with the Cauwenberge/Castelein  Porsche moving up to 4th behind Owen Turner’s MGZR with the Blunt/Duck, Impreza second and Actman and Elcomb holding first in their Hilux.

Those watching the Yellowbrick tracking page will notice that Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott are making good progress catching the event after fitting a replacement engine in Gedaref.  At 10pm tonight they are north of Addis Ababa about 320kms from Awasa. Eric Claeys and Ben Deleye still have some distance to drive before reaching Awasa… they were delayed after filling their Toyota with petrol instead of diesel. They are travelling quite close to the Peugeot 504 of Jean-Pierre and Mireille Demierre.

Unfortunately the parts needed to fix Ben and Mike Dawson’s Escort missed the overnight plane from London. They are now left with an almost impossible task to repair their car and catch the rally.

DAY

15

MOYALE, KENYA - JANUARY 15TH, 2012

Moyale, Kenya

Into God’s own rally country

A short easy day – for a change – brought us from Awasa to the Kenyan border at Moyale. Rapid formalities and we were driving what the Chairman of the Kenya Motorsport Federation describes in his letter to us all as “God’s Own Rally- country”.

God was a word that came quickly to our lips as we hit the giant ruts that took us up the dirt track to the very basic Al-Yusra hotel… no beer, and for 38 drivers the mattress is on the floor – and these are mattresses we bought this afternoon, cost: 600 dollars.

It was an easy day for all except the two Datsun 240Zs. The Tromans & Russell Datsun has been coping with a broken suspension upright after hitting potholes, while the Thistlethwayte & Hiscox’s car is having a troubled time with overheating and currently still in Ethiopia making very slow progress towards the border. The border is now closed until tomorrow morning.

Tonight, your reporter Syd Stelvio drove up the road to Mars – after 50kms he turned round. It was a drive twice as hard and three times as rough as the route survey last year.

Mars is a good name for our finish tomorrow night as the red earth might be “God’s own rally country” but the track to Marsabit village is a drive totally alien to most of us.

DAY

16

MARSABIT, KENYA - JANUARY 16TH, 2012

Marsabit, Kenya

Signal from Mars

Petrol supplies have run dry but more is expected at midnight.

While there is a party atmosphere in the campsite beer tent tonight the day’s dramas are not yet over for some.

Cars that have not yet reached Marsabit, …rescue has been dispatched,  include…

Ralf Weiss & Kurt Schneiders, Mercedes 230E  – have a holed sump.They are trying to fix it with local help and a fibre glass kit, but remain close to the Sololo Junction control point, 170km from Marsabit tonight.

Alex Thistlethwayte & David Hiscox, Datsun 240Z – Have no spare tyres left. They are near the Lonely Tree checkpoint 95kms from Marsabit.

Renger Guliker & Pim ‘t Hart, BMW535 – holed sump for the second time. At 23:00 they are on the move again 65kms from Marsabit .

Jean-Pierre & Mireille Demierre, Peugeot 504 – have broken suspension 47kms from Marsabit.

A few of the problems suffered by others…

Martin & Josephina Aaldering, Volvo PV544 – have broken axle links but limped in to Marsabit at 23:30

Andy Actman & Andy Elcomb, Toyota Hilux – had a puncture.

Jane Edgington & Gill Cotton, MG Maestro – fuel pipe leak – fixed, and accelerator cable tied up with cable ties.

Paul & Diane Unwin, MG ZR – rear shock problems.

Owen Turner & Matt Fowle, MG ZR – burst all the shock absorbers and stopped to fit spares.

Alastair Caldwell & Hayden Burvill, Porsche 912 – changed a shock absorber, but the top mount is also broken.

Paul Carter & John Bayliss, Volvo 144 – two shock absorbers failed.

Nairobi and the prospect of a day off beckons …we are at the Safari Park Hotel tomorrow night.

DAY

17

NAIROBI, KENYA - JANUARY 17TH, 2012

Nairobi, Kenya

Notes from Nairobi

Cars are now arriving at the big thatched awning of the old-colonial Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi. It’s hard to believe that one of the worst roads in the whole of Africa is actually the main road to Nairobi.

The Joost Van Cauwenberge Porsche breezed it, as did Andy Actman’s Hilux but most of the rally are limping to Nairobi.

The Atherton/Henchoz Volvo reeks of petrol with a split rubber petrol pipe and broken Range Rover engine mounts.  “…otherwise it’s a mint condition Volvo” says Richard.

David Spurling, Peugeot 504 arrived happy to be only 40 minutes late describing “130 km of tracks comprising a mix of goat tracks churned up by JCB and vile corrugations.”

Stuart Rhys-Williams and Colin McConnell, Nissan Patrol, used a tow rope to pull the BMW X5 of Robert Belcher and Stephen Cooper back onto four wheels after it fell on it’s side… The BMW is now on a truck.

The Tomas Prenosil, Lukas Kuttler Porsche 911 is also on a truck.

Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton were the first small car to reach Nairobi. They have a bonnet pin torn out by vibration. Jane said “it’s the only thing broken but it’s crying out for some service  …I now know what hell looks like, truly dreadful road  …it’s an amazing car, I just don’t know how it got here. There’s carnage out there.”

Alex Thistlethwayte and David Hiscox, who are running very close to the Dawson Escort, have tweeted that they spent last night camped on the roof of their Datsun 240Z believing that hyenas do not jump.

Late extra…

After a truly remarkable catch-up drive Ben and Mike Dawson drove their Escort Mk2 into the Safari Park Hotel at 23:30. They have driven almost non-stop for 54 hours covering 2500kms from just before the Sudan/Ethiopia border after being stranded for two and a half days with a broken stub axle.

Volvo 144 crew John Bayliss and Paul Carter are hoping to reach Nairobi hotel around midnight. They are among those limping in, after breaking axle tie-rods, ripping brake lines, and losing their shock absorbers.

Underlining just how demanding the conditions have been for the last two days, only 21 cars clocked into the final time-control within their time allowance. Many sick cars are being nursed towards the Safari Park Hotel through the night. Tomorrow’s repair-day is going to be hectic.

DAY

18

NAIROBI, KENYA - JANUARY 18TH, 2012

Nairobi, Kenya

Little rest in Nairobi

The only rest-day in 14,000 kilometres has failed to live up to its name. 

Most crews have been hard at work restoring their cars for the remaining 10 days. Two local rally service vehicles appeared in the car park this morning and provided welding and facilities for repairs to anything that required a workbench. Everyone has been impressed witnessing the legendary Kenyan bush-mechanics at work, first hand.

For most it’s been a worrying case of tracking down suspension spares as well as welding up broken bits. Even the travelling organisation vehicles were in a sorry state, and clearly unable to go much further, so the Nairobi rest-day could not have come soon enough.

Among those now looking very anxious are Owen Turner and Matt Fowle who ordered new shock absorbers to be couriered in. The sun is now setting behind the Acacia trees, and it looks like they will be setting off in the way they came in  …without any rear dampers. Their vital parts are tied up in red- tape at customs.

Rally leader Andy Actman has broken front suspension. He has discarded the worn out Koni Raid shocks and for the rest of the route will run standard Toyota springs and shocks bought off the shelf from the local dealer.

Among the cars missing from the hotel but in Nairobi and planning to re-start tomorrow. The Peugeot 504 of Jean-Pierre and Mireille Demierre are rebuilding their suspension and the BMW535 of Renger Gulliker and Pim ‘t Hart is in town with the crew fixing their split sump… broken for the second time on the road from Marsabit.

Talking of shock absorbers, cars 10 and 45, Datsun and Porsche, have received a one-hour penalty for non-period shock absorbers. Cars in the classic classes have to run period-specification parts.

It’s a shorter day tomorrow – alas we are leaving Kenya …a pity, we all feel we should have spent longer sampling “God’s own rally-country”.

DAY

19

ARUSHA, TANZANIA - JANUARY 19TH, 2012

Arusha, Tanzania

On the road again

After a rest-day in Nairobi trying to nail the wheels back on, we set off as dawn was breaking over the city and inched our way into the early-morning traffic heading for the rising sun.  

We soon found ourselves on the main highway south to Tanzania – only a few opted for the direct run to Arusha, across the border. The rest were up for the fight of trading places, diving deep into the bush.

Our route today was suggested by none other than Yvonne Mehta, whose husband Shekha won the Safari Rally three times and Yvonne thought a section from this golden-era would be rather appropriate.  A loop off the main road, and re-joining it for the road to the frontier after a couple of hours of good gravel, humped-back pipes and small bridges, washaways and gulleys, deep holes and all the rest of the makings of traditional Safari-Rallying. When a finger was being waved across the map with a glass of wine in the other hand, Yvonne was quick to say she had not seen this road for the best part of 30 years.  On our route-survey last year, it took a lot of finding.

Today, we first of all had to sound our horn to get a pair of giraffes loping off the track into the bush, and a bit further on, gazelles, then goats, then a herd of cows, then some zebras, all had to be told they could not qualify as spectators.  Our course was remote rallying down long mostly-sandy tracks – choking dust clouds cutting visibility in the early-morning sunshine was predictable, so crews started at two-minute intervals.  It was an example of Kenyan rally-tracks at their best, but it was not to everyone’s liking…  Alastair Caldwell reckoned it was difficult, challenging, and hard, for cars that have already suffered greatly.

Given you can only ever please some of the people some of the time, today’s run proved highly successful.  We leave Kenya with no problems in our wheel-tracks, and the local support we have received has been overwhelmingly  helpful, and has made a great contribution to individual efforts. The help of two large trucks with full facilities from rally-minded Kenyans eager to get their hands dirty was a great boon yesterday.  While all that was going on in the hotel car park, work was proceeding to check the route and carry out public relations in remote villages – this could not have happened without local knowledge and the kind of encouraging support from local expertise willing to help make a success of a unique event visiting Kenya.

Today has not been easy. Underlining just how hard African rallying really is, consider this: Steve Blunt in the Subaru, second overall, posted another good time today but in the process finished with bent front suspension after opting for a change to longer springs yesterday which proved to be too soft…the old adage, “it it’s not broken, why fix it” came to the driver’s lips in recounting his problems at the Tanzania border today.

The Car 6 Porsche of Tomas Prenosil, caught fire while on the back of a truck trying to reach the border – flames engulfed the whole car, including one and their carnets. Francis Tuthill, riding inside the top ten driving a Toyota Hilux, came out of the bush with a bent rear axle and arrived at the hotel on the back of a truck. Car 31, the VW Karmann Ghia, has fuel-pump problems after a dose of fuel so dirty the fuel-pump gave up trying. Car 44, the David Gough Peugeot 504 has alternator problems. Car 40 the Weiss and Schneiders Mercedes 230E, having holed its sump once at the very start of the section to Marsabit, did the same thing again. The Volvo of John Bayliss and Paul Carter struggled through the day with a broken rear panhard rod. The Ford Escort of Mike and Ben Dawson was one of several crews who suffered navigational problems.  Owen Turner is looking happier having received a fresh supply of shock-absorbers for his team of three MGs.  Jane Edgington was looking less than happy after having a tap at the back from the faster Datsun 510 of Dave Boddy, blinded by the dust – he will re-start tomorrow higher up on safety-grounds. The plucky Maestro received a broken rear light. Car 4, the 504 of Jean-Pierre and Mireille Demierre  is back in the event after fixing front suspension. And, rally leader Andy Actman, now running totally showroom-standard front suspension, finished the visit to the African Bush with sparks flying from wires around his loose battery.

Tomorrow we drive a route you can see on YouTube from the 1971 Safari Rally …we are driving from Arusha to Dodoma, and some of this hasn’t changed since the ‘70s.

DAY

20

DODOMA, TANZANIA - JANUARY 20TH, 2012

Dodoma, Tanzania

Up the Jungle

It was Carry On Up The Jungle today, and what a carry on. It was hard and relentless. 

The day started with a mud-bath, with all traffic pushed off the road for exclusive access by the Chinese road builders. The problem with that is that overnight rain combined with the rich red earth produces sticky mud-filled axle-clogging ruts.

First drama of the day was when the official diversion was blocked by a bus meeting a truck with both stuck fast. Some nimble footwork saw the word passed down the line to get up onto the new road – some got the message, mostly two-wheel-drive cars, and everyone made it to the first time-control. The road quickly climbs to 1,500ft, it’s slippery in places with full-on hairpin bends thrown in, just like the old photos of the Stelvio Pass in Italy.

The dense woods give way to jungle where trees are trying to reclaim the road. Timekeepers – some, like Jim Allen, are dropped off for hours on end to work on their own – take in all sorts of strange noises from the surrounding trees while awaiting a rally car.

Today saw some intensive competition on a 100km World Cup Section – the Porsche 911 of car 45 made it look easy completing the day penalty free. Joost Van Cauwenberge in his green polo shirt and shorts turns a mountain climb and a string of time-controls through thick vegetation into a run to the shops.

Another penalty free crew today is the Grant Tromans and Simon Russell, Datsun 240Z. In Nairobi they fitted special modern shock absorbers because they were the only ones available. Non-period components on their classic category car incurred a 1 hour penalty but todays run suggests the modern shocks are working well.

At the head of the field both Andy Actman and Steve Blunt dropped a couple of minutes so they maintain their positions.

Behind, it’s a grim struggle for survival. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy are still out there… They were not at dinner tonight for the first time just because of a rubber band failure. They changed a perfectly good fan belt in Nairobi. Somehow, the old one shrunk – who out there has ever heard of that happening – or, the wrong belt found it’s way into the boot of the Datsun. When the new belt failed, the old one would not go on. Andy Inskip suggested cutting out a rubber band from an inner tube, but this also failed – the Datsun from Australia was seeking a tow from a local truck.

We are also waiting for the Mercedes 280 of Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott delayed with broken steering.

Francis Tuthill had better luck. When the axle failed on his Toyota Hilux yesterday, he found a secondhand spare from a breakers yard… The crashed donor vehicle had only done 200 miles. The axle was quickly fitted ready for the morning restart.

For some, bad luck comes on an African spade… for others, it’s served with a dollop of jam.

DAY

21

MBEYA, TANZANIA - JANUARY 21ST, 2012

Mbeya, Tanzania

The road to Mbeya

It was still dark when we left to make our way south from the corrugated iron roofs of the traditional Dodoma hotel opposite the run-down railway station unchanged since the 1930’s, complete with noisy steam trains that fire-up at three in the morning.

 

Long gravel straights bore down the flat plains with bloated Baobab trees that stand to attention to salute our passing. Another day of World Cup Rally action is in store just a few hours away on the far horizon, where the Organisers’ team if roving timekeepers are setting up their checkpoints to record progress.

First drama of the day involved the Toyota Hilux of Rod Taylor and Ian Morgan, who have been holding down an outstanding third overall – all the more remarkable because this is their first-ever rally. They rolled onto their roof after clouting a bank. The crew were unhurt… just a bit shaken. First on the scene was someone who knows all about this experience… Robert Belcher, driving the 400 bhp BMW X5, who tipped his car over the other day. Robert got out the tow rope and pulled the Toyota onto four wheels again. This upset changes the leader board.

Max Stephenson in the vintage Vauxhall, driving the full route, and doing better than many despite a 75 year old car, decided to quit today. He changed his mind five minutes later. The car was stopped by the road with a hole in an over-hot cylinder head. “we are out of it… shit happens…”. He was then told it was a core plug that had come out, mixing water with oil. Andy Inskip gives him a stick from a flag pole and a plug is made. “we are back in!”. If they ever make another mad max movie they must give a starring role to the real life mad Max and his one legged son, James, who does all the driving. We were going to tell you that we watched him pour a gallon can of engine oil into the top of the radiator, but you will only think we are making it up.

The rocky mountain climb saw Alastair Caldwell split his fuel tank, he slowed just enough to give Jane Edgington her finest moment so far… driving a Maestro in an overtaking sweep past the Porsche on a timed mountain climb. The Blunt Subaru was slowed by overheating… the Cauwenberge Porsche 911 was a remarkable sight lifting a front wheel while hanging the back out… and Andy Actman was smooth, whisper quiet and rapid.

The crew of Car 1, Richard Atherton and Rob Henchoz, want a mention in despatches – but when asked ‘how goes it?’, all your reporter hears is either a grunt or “nothing to report”.

The top ten now reads: 1:Actman, Hilux; 2:Blunt, Impreza; 3:Cauwenberge, Porsche; 4:Tomlin, Land Rover; 5:Turner, MG ZR; 6:Beckers, Landcruiser; 7:Caldwell, Porsche; 8:Edgington, Maestro; 9:Atherton, Volvo; 10:Claeys, Toyota 73

DAY

22

MPIKA, ZAMBIA - JANUARY 22ND, 2012

Mpika, Zambia

An easy day to Mpika

The eagle eyes out there will have noticed the large MG octagon on the front of Joost Van Cauwenberge’s Porsche 911 in the latest gallery photos. 

The logo was made in Belgium and brought to Nairobi by co-driver Jacques Castelein’s wife. But why?  “Does your wife like MGs?” we asked… “no, it’s nothing like that …it’s to show our support for the ladies in MGs”.

One of those lady MG teams, Jane and Gill in the Maestro were towed across the Zambia border due to fuel vaporisation but after clicking over to the second, ex Mini van, fuel tank the problem sorted itself and they continue trouble-free.

Rod Taylor and Ian Morgan are back in the running after yesterday’s roll out of third position. The Hilux is looking very second-hand with lots of bent panels and plastic sheets taped in to replace broken windows. They are grateful for the rollcage.

In Nairobi Steve Blunt changed from van tyres to the hardest possible Dunlop rally tyres. The change is not proving so reliable as the Subaru has had two slow punctures since making the change.

Francis Tuthill complains he is carrying too much weight. He says it’s mostly of the liquid kind which comes in crates. Syd Stelvio is doing his best to lighten the load… he’s often seen drinking a clear fluid from a plastic cup. It’s possibly only water.

Tim Wheatley and Dominic Manser in their MG ZR arrived at the overnight with a smashed windscreen after the bonnet whipped up.

Jeff and Sam Robinson have headed straight through to Lusaka in the hope of making an early start with local welding…  a giant slit has opened up right across the floor of the Mercedes 280E where the back seat normally lives. Joining them is the Datsun 240Z of Grant Tromans and Simon Russell.

DAY

23

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA - JANUARY 23RD, 2012

Lusaka, Zambia

Lusaka update

It is simply not possible to drive the full length of Africa without being in someone’s rainy-season. But if you try it in line with our time-table, it might just be possible to do it without exercising a windscreen wiper. Or so we thought…

Last night it truly rained, torrential torrents overflowed the guttering. This region has had 30 inches of rain in the last few days – but we have yet to drive in it.

When you are sleeping under a corrugated iron roof in a little tin shed, a compound grandly called The Mazingo Hotel, and a local tells you it’s about to rain cats and dogs, the subsequent racket is truly unbelievable. The noise of thunder and lightning, Africa-style, has nothing on the follow-up experience of trying to snatch some sleep inside the cacophony of a kettle-drum.

Morning came, the rain eased off, and we were on the road south again, this time heading for the air-conditioned comforts of the Lusaka Intercontinental. Showers that work, hot water in the taps, lights that come on at the flick of a switch, Mini Bars that actually contain something, with soap and a plug in the wash-basin along with a towel on a hot rail.  All pretty forgettable, however, when we come to look back on all this in the months and years to come …nobody is going to forget the sleepless night in the shanty-town of Mpika.

Today saw a short time-trial down two strips of fine gravel with grass growing up the middle, with metre-high grass on either side, first jumping over a railway line, then curving round to return further down the line for another jump as the track returns us to the main road. A circuit of Zambian farmland.  Six cars “cleaned it”, that is to say all got within the time set for this test …if you really want to know, they were Joost Van Cauwenberge, Porsche 911;  David Boddy, Datsun; Steve Blunt, Impreza; rally-leader Andrew Actman, Hilux; Alastair Caldwell, Porsche 912; Owen Turner, MG ZR.

Then it was down more long hot tarmac, getting busier all the time, to central Lusaka. The vegetable curry is the best thing about this hotel. Our Duncan Milligan needed whip and spurs to knock into some semblance of organisation things like a car park, and a fast key service e…the little things that we all take for granted but which had required over two hours of patience on his part to make happen.

We have been met by the overwhelming enthusiasm of the Pat Moss of African Rallying, Lynn Szeftel, and Mark Terken, both from the Zambian Motorsport Federation who have assisted our passage across this vast country, with Ashish Patel of Action Auto on hand to help with those who want some welding up and overnight repairs from a workshop able to burn a little midnight oil.

Rachel Vestey and Suzy Harvey were among those taking up the offers of help – the MG radiator looking like it was about to fall onto the road at the next bad bump rather concentrated a number of minds on what might be the best solution.

Tomorrow, we face the easiest day of the whole event – it’s possible to get to the Victoria Falls at Livingstone in an easy five hour coast down the tarmac.  Providing, that is, we don’t have to exercise the windscreen wipers.

DAY

24

LIVINGSTONE, ZAMBIA - JANUARY 24TH, 2012

Livingstone, Zambia

Relaxing at Victoria Falls

A bright and warm sunny day greeted competitors as they left Lusaka this morning to pound down an empty tarmac road. Tall grass and Eucalyptus trees line the ribbon of freshly laid bitumen that heads south to Livingstone.

Most crews left early in order to see the Victoria Falls. Some were working late last night in the workshops set up by the Zambia Motorsports Federation. It took nine hours to adapt the Holden of Greg Newton to run Toyota shock absorbers and the work was all done for free! Rachel Vestey’s MG radiator looked like it was about to fall out and it was welded up around the front end to reinforce things …also done for no charge.

Quite a few cars left Lusaka today with a much greater chance of reaching Cape Town thanks to the hospitality of the Zambia national motor club.

Tonight we are at the Zambezi Sun hotel, a short walk through the bushes from the Victoria Falls. Most of us have spent the afternoon chilling out, taking in the splendour of the World’s largest water-fall, and enjoying each other’s company in the pool bar. A giraffe wandered across the lawn followed by a herd of Zebras …surreal. The band played on, animals ignored us and we gave them the attention they prefer …just a second glance.

A few drivers took to the swimming pool – and why not, it’s hot. There is 1,000 kms to be cracked in the day coming up, plus the border into Namibia. The World’s oldest desert beckons.

DAY

25

TSUMEB, NAMIBIA - JANUARY 25TH, 2012

Tsumeb, Namibia

The Longest Day

We are into the longest day, driving over 1,000 kms down The Caprivi Strip. 

It’s arrow straight to far horizons through thick green vegetation – two-metre tall grass lines the road. Good feeding ground for herds of elephants. David Tomlin and Nick Adcock stopped their Land Rover to allow a bull elephant to cross the road.

On the map, The Caprivi  Strip appears like a strange finger pointing inland, narrow but long, a relic of the times when Africa was carved up in Colonial fashion to give Germany access to the sea from the centre through their adopted Namibia.

The clocks are running today but in effect it’s a simple and easy run – something that will no doubt be appreciated by the many walking wounded.

Car 44, the Peugeot 504 of David Gough and Richard Phillipson has run a wheelbearing and is staying the night back up the route at Rundu to carry out repairs. The Beckers & Depoorter Landcruiser was among the few who failed to reach Tsumeb within the allowed time after running out of diesel.

The vintage Vauxhall of Max and James Stephenson arrived at the Minen Hotel in central Tsumeb at 7.30pm, completing the 1,000 kms in 12 hrs 17 mins – “a great day, we saw elephants and warthogs, could have trimmed a bit more off the time had the border worked as brisk as Ethiopia and Kenya”.

The Organisation has tonight been strengthened with the arrival of reinforcements from the South African motor-sport scene. We now have four additional marshals put together by Rene Booyson.

The Jane Edgington and Gill Cotton Maestro was broken into when parked up at a busy gas station. The girls had gone next door to the Wimpy burger joint. Jane says they forced the lock with a screwdriver and nicked her camera.

DAY

26

WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA - JANUARY 26TH, 2012

Windhoek, Namibia

Heat and Dust

All crews are finding the Namibia timing restrictions a little frustrating, the Belgian Porsche 911 sat outside one time-control for six minutes this morning. 

Police patrol cars were running speed checks very early this morning, but failed to find any customers amongst the rally drivers.

Watching the cars at the end of today’s second World Cup Section, Alastair Caldwell did well, although the four-cylinder Porsche sounds a lot noisier, and John Bayliss, driving Paul Carter, seemed to have the measure of it, lifting the broken Volvo over the worst of the ruts.

Paul & Diane Unwin’s MG ZR stopped on this afternoon’s WCS, apparently with some fuel or engine management problem, delaying their arrival at Windhoek until after the control was closed.

Someone who had more problems today was Jeff Robinson – a wheel dropped into a hole, this was enough to stuff the sump-guard, a stone holing the sump, and a chip from the same stone flicked up and holed the radiator, according to Jeff. In long distance rallies, Mercedes have gone down in history as ultra-reliable cross-country tanks. But all the Mercs on this event have suffered more than their fair share of daily troubles. And we still gave a long way to go.

Rene Declercq and Francis Tuthill limped out of the bush with a blown turbocharger on their Hilux …however the Toyota dealer in Windhoek had it replaced and running again before dinner. A Toyota dealer in Belgium had called up to stress the urgency.

In the morning we leave Windhoek and one of the most comfortable hotels so far for a final spot of camping at Ai-Ais tomorrow.

DAY

27

AI-AIS, NAMIBIA - JANUARY 27TH, 2012

Al-Ais, Namibia

More Heat and Dust

Maestro girls Jane and Gill were delayed for about 10 minutes after sliding off the road on the Spreetshoogte WCS. 

As anticipated, the Namibian gravel has produced tyre problems for some …the Sommer VW Karmann Ghia punctured on a time trial and the Weiss and Schneiders Mercedes suffered four punctures. Owain Lloyd and Peter Scott stopped in Helmeringhausen for 3 hours with drive shaft problems on their Mercedes. The Robinson Mercedes is reported to be on a truck to Cape Town after the oil pump failed.

To cope with the high temperatures Alastair Caldwell has fitted a plastic bucket on the back of the Porsche 912 to act as an air scoop.

A number of cars took the main road in their bid to reach Cape Town. The Thistlethwayte Hiscox Datsun 240Z continued all the way to Cape Town

DAY

28

CLANWILLIAM, SOUTH AFRICA- JANUARY 28TH, 2012

Clanwilliam, South Africa

Down to the Wire

We have a new leader, as the rally heads towards the Cape Town clock-tower and a likely photo-finish.

The two Andys – Andy Actman and Andy Elcombe – have headed the leaderboard  from the top of Africa, but today slipped  to second. Steve Blunt and Bob Duck in the non-turbo Subaru Impreza snatched the lead with a determined effort, overhauling the first-placed  Toyota to lead by just seconds. After nearly a month, the fight to win the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally could not have produced a tighter finish. First to congratulate Steve and Bob was Andy Actman, waiting at the end of the Olifants River time-trial.

There was drama aplenty throughout the field today. The crew of car 42, the 504 of Jean-Louis Juchault and Thibault de Wazieres, limped to the end of the final test with a shredded rear tyre; Jane Edgington’s Maestro is mis-firing onto three cylinders, she suspects either poor fuel or even a burnt exhaust-valve; and Car 36, the 505 of Pierre-Yves Maisonneuve and Henri Minard, saw the driver sprinting in the hot sun to the time-keepers at the end (drinking a litre of water on arrival) to flag down another car to ask for a petrol can. He had run out! Car 7, Mike and Ben Dawson, gave him a jerry-can to carry back to the stricken Peugeot.

Dusty and hot at 41°C, the twisty, narrow track to the finish of today’s competition put a premium on handling, and the agile Subaru sliced into Actman’s lead to emerge a few seconds ahead.

Tomorrow, the Cederbergs are all uphill, the final challenge on Day 29 looks like favouring those with a bit of grunt. The run into Cape Town will finally decide things.

DAY

29

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA- JANUARY 29TH, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa

Champagne and tears

 

At last! We finally see the silhouette of Table Mountain… and roll down the long drive lined with palm trees to the Table Bay Hotel – the South Atlantic a pebble throw away. We have made it.

It’s an emotional moment. Tears roll down the faces of grown men. The weeks of tension finally evaporates in the hot sun. shrieks of joy from wives and girl friends. Sheer relief from mothers, all combine with hugs and kisses amid the froth of champagne spray. Engines are turned off for the last time.

It’s been a tense day – Africa has been throwing surprises in our tracks from the moment we arrived in Egypt. Today, rally leader Steve Blunt, after extending his three second lead into a still slender 38 second margin, ran out if petrol. The gauge was faulty. Minutes ticked by waiting for someone to save the rally leaders.

All the Peugeots lined up alongside each other, crews sat on the roofs shaking hands, camera crews snapped away, as families and loved ones who have not seen driver or navigator for a month threw their arms around grimy shirts that looked as if they have been worn for weeks. The stories and adventures unfolded in South Africa’s summer sun and the beer bottles lubricated dry throats, to improve upon the telling.

So, rocky goat tracks in Greece that followed on from dark woods in Kent and muddy tracks of the poppy fields of Northern France. Egypt’s Snake Valley, to the thousands that cheered us all the way across Ethiopia, the amazingly rocky track that is Kenya’s road to a place called Marsabit …Tanzania’s muddy jungle trails …to a country called Namibia, so vast, so open, and so empty, one driver remarked: “Does anyone live here?”

In 14 countries, touching three Continents, driving 14,000 kilometres in 26 driving-days we have, today after reaching Cape Town, experienced an event only made possible by the combined enthusiasm and encouragement of many along the way… Tonight we now gather together for one last time, and cheer those who are taking home a silver trophy.

But, deep down in our hearts, we are all agreed on one thing. All those who drove into Cape Town are very special winners.

PAUSE PLAY

Event Reports

This is the first rally to stage a timed-drive with the clock ticking every day from Europe to Cape Town without recourse to airlifts or special shipping – the only boats involved are scheduled ferry-services, in a route that aims to keep the wheels turning all the way, clocking up results daily with the successful survivors going home with trophies at the end of a very special rally-adventure.