Rally of the Incas 2016
November 13 - December 9, 2016
After exploring the vast empty spaces of Patagonia and the extreme south on our first visit to South America for Rally Cape Horn back in 2013, the 2016 Rally of the Incas sees us heading north to explore the ancient heartlands of the Incas, high in the Andes.
Starting from the vibrant Argentine capital, Buenos Aires the route heads south along the Atlantic coast to take in a spot of whale watching on the world famous Valdes Peninsula before striking in land towards the mountains. We revisit the stunning Llao Llao hotel and the spectacular volcanoes of the Chilean Lake District before reaching the Pacific coast of Chile. Our journey north then begins as we traverse the high Andes taking in such diverse landscapes as the hyper arid Atacama Desert, the verdant Argentine wine region and the windswept Altiplano. The event is rounded off with some unforgettable days in the land of the Incas visiting must-see attractions like Lake Titicaca, the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, the Nazca Lines and, of course, the stunning lost city of Machu Picchu before the grand finish in Lima – capital of Peru.
Set against this backdrop of stunning scenery and rich cultural heritage, the rally competition will comprise one or two test sections a day using remote gravel and tarmac roads combined with the many excellent race circuits South America has to offer.
The event runs in two categories: Vintageant for cars up to 1941 and Classic for cars up to 1975 types. Cars of a later date, but unchanged mechanical specification, can be considered at the Organisers’ discretion. Classes are formed within the two categories based on engine size and performance.
The route is suitable for newcomers and experienced crews. Many roads are good tarmac or gravel, with competition on more remote roads, private land or race circuits. We supply an easy to follow Route Book marked in kilometres and miles with turn by turn instructions and added details such as points of interest, fuel stations and lunch and fuel stops. Every crew new to the ERA is given a booklet packed with hints and tips on navigation. You do not need a Garmin GPS, but you may bring one if you wish.
The ERA advise and help with shipping the cars to and from South America. You can use any shipping agent, but we do recommend CARS, who have handled our shipping for many years. They are efficient and can ship cars from anywhere in the world. They handle all customs, import charges etc, you simply fill in the forms and hand over the keys.
Tell Me More
The Rally of the Incas was quickly filled back in August 2015. To find out more about this or any future rally events contact any of the Rally Office team.
Contact the Rally Office for more information
Phone: +44 (0)1235 831221
Email: [email protected]
The Rally of the Incas 2016 Participants
|1||Graham Goodwin(GB) / Marina Goodwin(GB)||1925 – Bentley Super Sports||4500|
|2||Philip Noble(GB) / David Brown(GB)||1937 – AC 16/80 Sports||1991|
|3||Brian Shields(USA) / Colin Shields(USA)||1929 – Buick 25X||3300|
|8||Keith Ashworth(GB) / Norah Ashworth(GB)||1927 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4500|
|11||Nigel Dowding(GB) / Mary Antcliff(GB)||1934 – Aston Martin MkII||1495|
|12||Paul Kirkham(AUS) / Mariella Kirkham(AUS)||1934 – Ford 40 B Tudor||3916|
|14||Philip Macwhirter(AUS) / Laurette Macwhirter(AUS)||1969 – Morgan plus 8||3528|
|16||Paul Carter(GB) / Vincent Fairclough(GB)||1936 – Bentley Derby 4¼||4250|
|17||Anton Gonnissen(B) / Inge Willemen(B)||1929 – Bentley Special Speed 8||5675|
|18||Peter Thornton(GB) / David Garrett(GB)||1939 – Ford Coupe||3600|
|21||Leon Bothma(ZA) / Hester Bothma(ZA)||1947 – Bentley MkVI||4250|
|22||Chris Clemons(AUS) / Tim Clemons(AUS)||1952 – Sunbeam Talbot 90||1944|
|23||Richard Everingham(ZA) / Seonaid Beningfield(ZA)||1953 – Bentley R Type||4566|
|24||Mario Illien(CH) / Catherine Illien(CH)||1955 – Citroen 11B||1911|
|25||Ed Howle(USA) / Janet Howle(USA)||1967 – VW Type 1 – Beetle||1600|
|26||Christoph Ley(D) / Alfred Reichhart(A)||1959 – Mercedes Benz 220S Ponton||2195|
|30||Dennis Varni(USA) / Kathleen Varni(USA)||1961 – Ford Falcon GT||5700|
|31||Nicholas Pryor(GB) / Lesley Stockwell(GB)||1962 – Volvo PV544||1780|
|32||Hermann Frye-Hammelmann(D) / Gisela Hammelmann(D)||1963 – Mercedes Benz 300SE||2996|
|33||Marco Halter(CH) / Claudia Engelhardt(D)||1963 – Ford Falcon Coupe||5700|
|34||Blair Healy(AUS) / Mary Healy(AUS)||1964 – Peugeot 404||1600|
|35||Garry Boyce(NZ) / Ken Williams(NZ)||1964 – Mercedes Benz 220SE||2195|
|36||Clemens Lansing(D) / Agneta Lansing(D)||1959 – Mercedes Benz 219 Ponton||2195|
|37||Robert Wilkinson(GB) / Mark Wilkinson(GB)||1926 – Bentley Speed Six||6597|
|38||Andrea Hammelmann(D) / Paul Henschel(D)||1964 – Jaguar MkII||3780|
|39||Gavin Henderson(GB) / Diana Henderson(GB)||1965 – Porsche 911||1991|
|40||Chuck Lyford(USA) / Pamela Lyford(USA)||1938 – Chevrolet Fangio Coupe||3540|
|41||Stan Gold(USA) / Brant Parsons(USA)||1965 – Porsche 911||2000|
|48||Stephen Partridge(NZ) / Corgi La Grouw(NZ)||1958 – Morris Oxford||1800|
|50||Jan Hradecky(CZ) / Dana Hradecka(CZ)||1965 – Mercedes Benz 230SL||2334|
|51||Phillip Blunden(AUS) / Lynda Blunden(AUS)||1965 – Austin Healey 3000 MkIII||3000|
|52||Alan Beardshaw(GB) / Tina Beardshaw(GB)||1965 – Sunbeam Tiger||4261|
|53||Amin Hwaidak(D) / Jens Jarzombek(D)||1965 – Ford Mustang||4735|
|54||Dominique Vananty(CH) / Daniel Spadini(CH)||1966 – Citroen DS21||2175|
|55||Hans Middelberg(USA) / Jurgen Grolman(D)||1967 – Ford Mustang Convertible||2890|
|56||Erik van Droogenbroek(NL) / Ferdinand Rahusen(NL)||1967 – Ford Mustang||2980|
|57||Mark Winkelman(NL) / Colin Winkelman(NL)||1968 – Porsche 912||1584|
|58||Ronald Vetters(B) / Ann Puts(B)||1967 – Chevrolet Camaro||4100|
|59||David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB)||1968 – Triumph TR250||2498|
|60||Andrew Long(GB) / Gina Long(GB)||1968 – MGC GT||2912|
|61||Barry Nash(GB) / Malcolm Lister(GB)||1969 – Rover P5B||3500|
|62||Richard Martin(GB) / Travis Cole(USA)||1972 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|63||John Crighton(AUS) / Marian Crighton(AUS)||1972 – MGB GT||1800|
|64||Bill Gill(AUS) / Katherine Gill(AUS)||1972 – Mercedes Benz 350 SLC||3500|
|65||Joost Van Cauwenberge(B) / Christine De Landtsheer(B)||1973 – Porsche 911||2994|
|66||Michel Leempoel(B) / Francis Blake(GB)||1972 – Peugeot 504 Coupe||1900|
|67||Serge Berthier(F) / Jacqueline Thome ep Berthier(F)||1973 – Jensen Interceptor Series III||7200|
|68||Layne Treeter(CAN) / Len Treeter(CAN)||1960 – Chevrolet Impala||4600|
|69||Dirk de Groen(NL) / Alexandra de Lespinasse(NL)||1958 – Mercedes Benz 219||2195|
|70||Lars Rolner(DK) / Annette Rolner(DK)||1928 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4398|
Rally of the Incas – Route Outline
Start: Buenos Aires
Pre event formalities will start with vehicle collection on the afternoon of Friday, 11th November. We will then host a welcome dinner in the evening, giving entrants the opportunity to meet their fellow competitors and the Organising Team. With one more day in Buenos Aires before we hit the road, cars will be checked, and crews will complete documentation before attending a short briefing on the event. In the evening there will be free time to enjoy one of the many fine restaurants in the city or perhaps catch a Tango show…
Day 1: Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata
An early start will see us leave the busy city of Buenos Aires. We have chosen a Sunday start to avoid the city’s traffic problems as much as possible. Competition commences almost straight away with a circuit test just south of the city before continuing on the coast road and exploring the gravel roads inland. No journey in this area would be complete without a visit to the Fangio Museum and Circuit at Balcarce, where we will finish the competition for the day. Our overnight stop is a short drive away in the city of Mar del Plata, the biggest beach resort in Argentina, so there will be an opportunity to catch some late afternoon sun before dinner this evening.
Day 2: Mar del Plata to Bahia Blanca
We re-start at the Fangio Circuit for the first test of the day before heading inland to drive some of the Pampas gravel roads, then join the main coast road as we head west to the city of Bahia Blanca, where we end Day 2.
Day 3: Bahia Blanca to Puerto Madryn
Today will be a long day on fast roads as we head south, hugging the Atlantic Coast, to the town of Puerto Madryn, the gateway to the Valdes Peninsula, for our first rest day of the event.
Day 4: Puerto Madryn – Rest Day
Today we leave you to relax and enjoy the natural wonders of the Valdes Peninsula. The coastline is populated by sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals. Whales frequently visit the warm and quiet waters of the gulf, making it the ideal location for whale watching. If you are lucky you might spot Orcas (or Killer Whales) in the open sea off the Peninsula.
Day 5: Puerto Madryn to Esquel
Leaving Puerto Madryn, we have a test at Trelew Circuit, before heading into the “Welsh Villages” and a stop for tea and cakes at a Welsh Tea Shop. This area still has pockets of the population who speak Welsh from the migration that took place in the 19th Century. The rest of the day sees the event head west through the Chubut Province to Esquel, a small frontier-like town close to where Butch Cassidy is reputed to have sought refuge. This is the southernmost point of the route, and from here, we begin to curve northwards as we traverse the high Andean Cordillera.
Day 6: Esquel to Bariloche
The day will start at the race circuit just outside Esquel with a chance to blow away the dust from yesterday’s long journey. Heading north we will use an excellent gravel road through the stunning Los Alerces National Park then more gravel follows to El Maiten and a final small circuit test, before heading in to the town of San Carlos de Bariloche and a second rest day at the fabulous Llao Llao Resort.
Day 7: Bariloche – Llao Llao Rest Day
A day to relax and enjoy the facilities at one of the most exclusive hotels in South America. Play a round of golf, walk, hire a bike or just simply unwind with friends around the pool and enjoy a cocktail or two.
Day 8: Bariloche to Pucon
Our route today takes us through the lakes area with stunning vistas before a short gravel hill climb test near San Martin de los Andes. We cross into Chile for the first time at the remote border post at the Paso Tromen and continue on a lovely downhill gravel road to our hotel for the night, on the banks of Lago Villarrica just outside the resort town of Pucon. It is worth taking a little while to explore Pucon in the evening before dinner as it has many unique shops and great bars.
Day 9: Pucon to Concepcion
After breakfast we head off into Volcano territory as the route goes past Volcano Llaima using a spectacular dirt road through the Conguillo National Park – a terrific driving experience. The volcano last erupted in 2008 and as you drive through the park you will be able to see the evidence of lava fields around you. We then head to the west coast of Chile and our first view of the Pacific Ocean as we make for our overnight stop in the coastal town of Concepcion.
Day 10: Concepcion to Vina Del Mar
Today will be spent exploring the maze of gravel roads along the Pacific Coast as we head north to the city of Vina Del Mar, literally “Vineyard of the Sea”. Vina Del Mar is now seen as the one of the most desirable places to live in Chile and is an internationally renowned coastal resort with superb beaches, excellent hotels and entertainment.
Day 11: Vina Del Mar – Rest Day
Vina del Mar offers lots to occupy crews on the rest day, alternatively this is the opportunity to spend the day working on your car. The evening will be free to enjoy one of the many excellent restaurants in the city.
Day 12: Vina Del Mar to San Juan
Today we head inland for our second border crossing back into Argentina at Los Libertadores. This border post, at over 3000 metres high, is set against a stunning mountain backdrop. It is one of the main border crossing points, so transit is generally quick and easy. From the border we travel to the city of Mendoza, passing Aconcagua – the highest peak in the Andes before turning north towards San Juan. The circuit just outside San Juan is planned as our final test of the day before we head into the city and our overnight hotel.
Day 13: San Juan to La Rioja
From San Juan our route takes us through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Talampaya National Park, famous for its breathtaking gorge and rock formations. The park is verdant with wildlife, including guanacos, maras, foxes and condors. Our overnight halt is in La Rioja, the capital city of the province of the same name. Here we also plan to use the local race circuit for a quick blast of a test to round off the day’s activities.
Day 14: La Rioja to Tucumán
Leaving La Rioja we head off to explore the gravel roads of the Sierra de Manchao and the Sierra Aconouija for some challenging test sections before arriving in San Miguel de Tucumán (usually referred to as simply Tucumán), our overnight stop.
Day 15: Tucumán to Salta
The centre of the Argentine wine region will be the focus of our route for today as we travel through Cafayate, and on to the city of Salta. Nicknamed Salta la Linda (“Salta the beautiful”), it has become a major tourist destination due to its old, colonial architecture, glorious weather and the beauty of the scenery in the surrounding valleys.
Day 16: Salta to San Pedro de Atacama
Today promises to be one of the epic drives of the event. We head north west from Salta to cross back into Chile at the Paso Jama, the most northerly border between Argentina and Chile. The road over the pass is now all tarmac but rises to a height of 4,300 metres (14,100 ft.) at the border and continues to rise to 4,810 metres (15,780 ft.) around 100 kms west of the actual crossing point. From the highest point the road drops to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Considered as the archaeological capital of Chile, San Pedro also benefits from the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Our home for the next two nights is the incredible Explora Hotel where the team of guides will help you through the wide range of activities available.
Days 17: San Pedro de Atacama – Rest Day
A day off to relax, unwind and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the Explora Hotel in this amazing setting. Get involved with the range of activities, explore the local area, or just chill and enjoy the wonderful food and wine on offer.
Day 18: San Pedro De Atacama to Iquique
From San Pedro we head west through the “Valle de Luna”, named for the incredible rock formations which look like the surface of the Moon, and on past the town of Calama, home to the largest open pit copper mine in the world. We are now in the heart of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest landscapes on earth with an annual rainfall of only 5mm. Seeking refuge from this desolate environment, we make for the Pacific Ocean which will accompany us for the latter part of today’s journey north to Iquique. This bustling port city was actually part of Peru until the latter part of the 19th Century.
Day 19: Iquique to Arica
Leaving the coast behind, we climb back up into the Atacama Desert, where the eeriness of this almost alien landscape is brought home with a morning stop at the deserted Saltpetre mines at Humberstone. Here we join the Panamerican Highway which speeds us north towards the Peruvian border. With a relatively short day in prospect, we have the chance to explore some of the wonderful gravel roads in the area for a brace of challenging test sections before arriving at our overnight halt in Arica, the northernmost city in Chile and only 18kms from Peru.
Day 20: Arica to Arequipa
We have a short day today, to allow time for the border crossing into Peru. Once across the border we head to Tacna, clearing the cobwebs from the engine and the pedal with a test at the local circuit, before heading northwest to our overnight halt in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. Arequipa is located at 2,328 metres above sea level so will allow everyone a little time to acclimatise for the next few days spent in the higher altitudes.
Day 21: Arequipa to Puno
A beautiful and stunning driving day, climbing ever higher into the Andes as we explore the many gravel roads on offer before arriving at our overnight stop in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca – the largest lake in South America. Out hotel is set right on the water’s edge, surrounded by stunning scenery with Peru on one side and Bolivia on the other.
Day 22: Puno to Cusco
Another fabulous driving day travelling along spectacular roads with incredible scenery on our way to Cusco, the historical capital city of the Inca Empire, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Cusco will be our base for the next three nights, giving everyone time to explore the cultural and historical highlights of Cusco and to visit Machu Picchu.
Days 23 and 24: Cusco – Rest Days
No trip to this part of the world would be complete without a visit to the magnificent Machu Picchu. The Incas built the citadel in around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known to the local population it remained undiscovered by the outside world until 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to the attention of the wider world. As the site was undiscovered by the Spanish Conquistadors, it was not ransacked, and it is highly significant as an important archaeological and cultural example of Inca life before the arrival of the Western, Christian world. There is no road linking Machu Picchu to the outside world so we will take the train that runs from Cusco to a station at the foot of the hills and a short walk up to the ruined citadel.
Day 25: Cusco to Nazca
Today sees a long day on the road as we head down from the high Andes to the lower altitude of the Nazca Desert and the world famous Nazca Lines. This will be a tough drive but crews will be rewarded by more stunning scenery and some exhilarating driving experiences.
Day 26: Nazca to Paracas
We set off at lunchtime today, giving entrants the chance to take a morning flight over the “Lines” and to explore this incredible area at their leisure. The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Scholars believe the Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, killer whales, and lizards. Leaving Nazca, we have a short afternoon’s run through the desert to the coastal resort of Paracas and a final dinner before the drive in to the finish in Lima.
Day 27: Paracas to Lima
One final race circuit awaits us, a last chance to unleash the throttle on your car, before our final run along the Pacific Coast to the finish in Lima and some well-earned champagne at one of the city’s finest hotels. In the evening we will celebrate the end of this epic adventure with a sumptuous Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony.
Day 0 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
November 12 2016
Way down in the South Atlantic, the last rally of the year for the ERA is about to begin. The 2016 Rally of the Incas is the second time we’ve visited these parts and we’re pleased to say that a stellar line up has decided to join the fun alongside us as we explore the best of Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Fifty intrepid crews therefore are now assembled in Buenos Aires, which is a beautiful and lively city on the southern bank of the River Plate. We’re also very glad to report that our reigning South American champions, Chuck and Pam Lyford are included in this number after their win on the 2013 Vintage Cape Horn Rally. They, their Chevy and as yet un-named and life-sized stuffed monkey, will no doubt give us plenty of sport and entertainment over the next month.
Alongside them are many old friends and a healthy dose of new ones all keen to sample what this continent and the Rally has to offer. They’ve also brought with them a truly marvellous mix of machinery which ranges from a 1925 Bentley Super Sports driven by Graham and Marina Goodwin right through to a 1973 Jensen Interceptor crewed by Serge Berthier and Jacqueline Thome ep Berthier.
The cars were collected from the warehouse yesterday with the invaluable help of Charlie from Cars Europe and Carlos, our man on the ground. Yesterday evening, Rally Director Fred Gallagher hosted a welcome drinks and dinner party on the roof terrace of the Hilton Hotel. Today the all-important business of scrutineering and form filling was the order of the day and as a result, Andy Inskip and his band of sweeps, Jamie Turner, Tony Jones and Bob Harrod were found working away in the Stygian gloom of the underground carpark.
Eleonora Piccolo, the ERA Office manager, meanwhile set up shop in the light and airy atrium and ensured that everyone had the route books, the map book and was correctly accounted for and documented before passing them into the capable hands of Pete Stone and Dr Delle Grimsmo for matters GPS and medical, respectively.
For the most part, this administration was taken care of well before lunch after which, John Spiller, the Clerk of the Course kicked the sands of the desert out of his boots and delivered his ‘lecture’ on matters of timing and general procedure.
The Rally will be flagged away from Buenos Aires tomorrow morning at 9.01am and ahead of it lies some 10,000km of roads, gravel tracks, mountain passes, lava fields and coastal highways.
Argentina is a huge, beautiful and welcoming country and we’re all chomping at the bit to get stuck into it – not to mention the steaks at dinner.
Day 1 – Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata – The Flag Drops
At 9.01 this morning, rally director Fred Gallagher had the solemn duty of waving the cars away from Buenos Aires with the Argentinian Flag. Designed by Manuel Belgrano in1812, the so called ‘Sun of May’ was just about the only ray of sunshine we saw as the clouds built and the thunder rolled.
Whilst it was Sunday morning and there was no traffic to contend with the heavy rain which ensued gave the crews something else to think about as they by passed the runners taking part in the Buenos Aires marathon and made their way to the autopista which would whisk them out of town and on to the road to adventure.
The first test arrived after 55 km at the Autodromo Mouras a high quality tarmac facility which allowed the crews a chance to blow away any cobwebs which might have gathered after the long journey and the lay over in BA. The rain was still falling heavily though and appropriately enough it was Paul Carter and Vincent Fairclough who arrived in pole position and were first onto the track with their boat tailed Bentley Derby.
It’s fair to say that everyone enjoyed this first foray against the clock, even Lars and Annette Rolner who were unlucky enough to suffer a puncture on the first lap but set to and changed the wheel by the side of the track. Amid all of this splashing, the squealing tyres and the screaming engines Anton Gonnissen and Inge Willemen whooped with joy on the very first bend for their journey here has perhaps been a little trickier than most.
Once clear of the autodromo, the mid-morning time control gave the soggy crew’s a chance to take on a hot drink and use the dryers in the ‘rest rooms’ to dry their hands and whatever else required dehumidifying before setting off once again for the first regularity which was a 35 km gravel run from Interlagos.
The route crossed acres of neatly fenced pampas filled with grazing cows and horses. Luckily the rain hadn’t reached this area, so the hard packed clay was still navigable and allowed some to engage in a bit of showboating through the many corners. The likes of Philip and Laurette Macwhirter in their 1969 – Morgan Plus 8 delighted the small crowds of rally fans who lined the route and applauded appreciatively.
By now most of us had worked up quite an appetite and as we progressed down the Ruta Costa Atlantica lined with shacks selling BBQ’d meat, honey and salami our thoughts turned to food. In the event, our lunch at the Estancia las Viboras was a fabulous affair which combined both a delightful setting with superb cuisine. Empanadas and hot salami rolls were followed by hunks of beef cut from an open pit asado whilst a posse of gauchos performed one of their traditional mounted games with two teams of riders and horses circling and wheeling in what can only be described a four legged commotion.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end though but the post prandial run across the swampy pampa humeda which took us to the last regularity of the day at Old Macedo Station made us realise that there’s more to life than eating and drinking especially when the sun is high in the sky and there’s 40 km of gravel to play with.
The drive into Mar del Plata, the biggest seaside resort in Argentina, saw the clouds we’d left behind this morning gathering again though and, as the last cars pulled into the carpark the heavens opened once more with an impressive display of thunder and lightning against the setting sun.
Tomorrow we head to Fangio country with more track time planned and a visit to the museum.
Day 2 – Mar del Plata to Bahia Blanca – Fangio Tastic
An early start today, but a relaxed one as well if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. As the sun rose over the sea any hint of last night’s tempest had disappeared and the sky looked promisingly blue.
Most crews took on a light Sheraton breakfast before firing up their engines and making the short hop to the Fangio Museum in the town of Balcarce. With a generous endowment from Mercedes this museum is internationally renowned for both the quality and quantity of its exhibits with many priceless racing cars from every era on display. But, in a case of all that glitters isn’t gold, the Chevrolet Fangio Coupe rally cars stood out for many of us as a pair of mud encrusted jewels amongst the sea of shiny Mercedes, Ferrari and Maserati metal.
There’s a great cafe within the museum as well and the busy baristas knocked out gallons of excellent coffee while the gift shop doubtless did a brisk trade in Fangio fridge magnets. Throughout our visit to the museum, one of Juan Fangio’s nephews came along to see the cars and mingled with the crews. He showed a particular interest in the Morgan Plus 8 as he’s building one for himself so he and Philip Macwhirter swapped email addresses and no doubt a few Malvern factory secrets.
Two hours had been allowed for the crews to visit to the museum and to soak up the atmosphere and once back on the road they soon got the chance to see if any of the Fangio magic had rubbed off on them with two tests at the kart track and the Autodromo Juan Fangio.
The tight and twisty kart circuit was first and served merely to sharpen the appetite for the second test on the much larger and altogether more grown up 4.5 km circuit which climbed to the dizzy height of 210 m. In an area as flat as this, believe me, this is worth mentioning. Later in the day however the Rally would hit a low point, literally, when we found ourselves at 17 m below sea level on the run in to Bahia Blanca.
With such a playground at their disposal it was hardly surprising that everyone made the most of their track time and Joost van Cauwenberge in his 2012 London – Cape Town Porsche 911 barked and howled his way from apex to apex while Gavin Henderson, no stranger himself to a circuit race, slotted his own Tuthill 911 pocket rocket with effortless grace from brake to throttle and back again. In both cars, their navigator wives had nothing else to do other than to hang on and enjoy the views. So keen was Joost’s wife Christine that she begged him not to drift too much through the many corkscrew turns as this would only cost him valuable time. Dirk de Groen and Alexandra Lespinasse meanwhile toured through the test in their 4×4 rental car. Their well travelled Mercedes Ponton being stuck somewhere on the high seas between here and the last hurricane.
Amid the watching crowd, three trackside bomberos nodded and clapped at all the right times and murmured muy bien almost continually.
This sort of morning is well known for bringing on a hunger, so the lunch at Necochea was a welcome sight and in the car park of the beachside restaurant the open car crews rounded off their meal by slathering on plenty of factor 50 sun cream and adjusting their headgear as the mercury climbed to 30°c.
The afternoon featured a long hot trek across miles of flat and sometimes swampy pampas with roads lined with clumps of eucalyptus trees shielding the isolated estancias from the worst of the wind though offering nothing in the way of shade to the traveller. Traffic was very light though and the road was good, so progress was rapid.
A passage control at Tres Arroyos – at the halfway point – gave the crews an ideal opportunity to compare their tan lines and other heat related afflictions. Philip Noble for example was heard complaining about certain dermal adhesions in the, ahem, gentlemen’s department. Mary Healy admitted to nodding off briefly in the lovely white Peugeot 404 so she took the opportunity to take on a shot of coffee as well but sadly for Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell their tea drought continued ……..
With little in the way of distractions on the dead straight highway, some of the crews took to looking at the wildlife and along the road today, our sharp eyed Clerk of the Course John Spiller had spotted a couple of good looking birds and was keen, along with another noted ornithologist Rikki Proffitt, to discover if anyone else had spotted the flightless rhea.
Tomorrow’s another long day, the longest in fact and there’ll plenty to do and see along the way.
Day 3 – Bahia Blanca to Puerto Madryn – A Whale of a time
A long day needs an early start, so at 7.30am crews began leaving the hotel carpark and making their way through the suburbs of Bahia Blanca, lined as it is with grain stores and truck parks. The wide and well metalled highway led us to the first of many fruit and vegetable controls and on to the Planicie des los Vientos, another salty, swampy swathe of pampas.
Soon enough though the first Time Control arrived at Pedro Luro on the estuary of the Rio Colorado where a signpost formally welcomed us to Patagonia and the second fruit control of the day hit us hard. Word had got out that we were in town and an Argentinian TV crew was waiting for the cars to arrive and to speak to one or two of the drivers. Luckily for them – and indeed us – we have the ERA Office Manager Eleonora polyglot Piccolo travelling with us this time and she was able to answer the reporter’s questions and gave a short piece to camera.
Full of coffee and gasoline the Rally pressed onwards past fields under the plough and yet more skilful gauchos cutting, corralling and cajoling herds of recalcitrant young steers into the correct pens to await whatever was in store for them. After a journey under what seemed to be an endless blue sky we arrived at the venue for the two tests which had been planned for this morning. The Autodromo Viedma, just over the Rio Negro was where our medics, Dr Delle Grimsmo and Dr Louise Shanahan were tasked with starting the clock and flagging cars away, almost a case of a GP at the GP track if you prefer.
As has become the custom lately, and perhaps because they were still infused with the spirit of Fangio, there were many crews eager to push themselves – and their machinery beyond what could be described as their comfort zone. Certainly we saw some of them giving more than 100% and some managed to do a pretty good job of controlling the inevitable oversteer and then the understeer, all within the same corner.
Pete Stone and Jim Smith who were manning the final timing point at the track, reported that they’d never seen so many white knuckles in such a short space of time. The drive to the Regularity along the fabulous and rugged Camino Costale, allowed any surges of adrenalin to dissipate as a herd of vicuña ran along beside us and the South Atlantic crashed and sparkled only metres away from us. The Regularity itself was named Moby Dick for it ran along the bleak but impressive coastline of the Golfo San Matia which is famous for spotting cetaceans and other marine mammals – there is a distinction. Today we had to make do with a couple of curious seals and a gull although tomorrow’s rest day promises more such opportunities on the Valdez Peninsula.
Some crews will be a little busy with he spanners though before they can think of taking time off. At the final passage control in San Antonio Oeste, a service station with decent coffee and a fine selection of alfajores we learned of one or two minor woes which had occurred along the road.
Richard Martin and Travis Cole, early pace setters had suffered an ‘electrical issue’ before the track test and, as a result were pretty much limping for most of the day. Travis however is a master of improvisation and repair having pretty much built and rebuilt the 240Z himself whilst on last year’s Trans America rally. He’s also served time as a Sweep on this year’s Peking to Paris, a role he found himself revisiting when we found him alongside Ronald Vetters and Ann Puts whose 1967 – Chevrolet Camaro was running a bit hot. Some power steering fluid had leaked as well so they finished the day on the end of a rope and will be looking to get things sorted in the morning.
Michel Leempoel and Francis Blake’s 1972 – Peugeot 504 Coupe’s points had closed up, but an intervention by the ace sweep team of Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod quickly got things sorted for them. Andrea Hammelmann and Paul Henschel’s 1964 – Jaguar MkII has what is most likely to be an alternator issue which will need looking at tomorrow. Brian and Colin Shields 1929 – Buick 25X meanwhile was running a bit hot towards the end of the day and was leaking a little oil from the axle but they’re confident that they’ll get this sorted.
The mood at the night halt in Puerto Madryn was just what you’d expect on the eve of a rest day – excitable. It had been another great day with John Crighton echoing the sentiments of many and was fulsome in his praise for the route, ‘especially that section along the coast’.
The concierge this evening was doing a brisk trade in whale boat bookings. Let’s hope they put on a show for us.
Day 4 – Puerto Madryn – Rest day
There was a well deserved lie in this morning for our travel stained crews and a well deserved session in the laundry for their travel stained clothing.
Puerto Madryn is a bustling seaside town and after breakfast some crews took a boat trip to watch the whales in the Golfo Nuevo while others drove onto the Valdez Peninsula to take in the seal colonies and the nesting grounds of the Magellanic penguin. Sadly there were few sightings of the mighty orca which patrol these waters but just looking for them was pretty good sport. The peninsula itself was listed as a world heritage site in 1999 and possesses both a rugged beauty and the ability to throw all four seasons at you in about one hour flat.
The promenade in Puerto Madryn is also well known for restaurants and cafes so, throughout the day the regular clientele were treated to the sight of the odd Bentley, Mercedes or Porsche parked up outside. All of which provided an excellent background for a quick selfie.
While the weather could easily be described as bracing, the atmosphere was decidedly chilled-out as the crews rolled back into the hotel for an early night.
Tomorrow we’re off to Esquel via the Welsh Villages. No doubt there’ll be a welcome in the hillside for us. Now, there’s lovely.
Day 5 – Puerto Madryn to Esquel – iechyd da
Today we leave the Atlantic Ocean, which has been our point of reference and companion for the last week and strike west towards the Pacific. In between though there’s the small matter of The Andes to negotiate and, by way of a warm up, today’s drive was pretty much uphill all the way, albeit very gradually in places.
We’d also been promised lavish morning refreshments along the route, so many crews wisely skipped the hotel breakfast and held out for this.
The sheer scale of Argentina never ceases to amaze us and as well as huge tracts of land, if there’s one other thing that the Patagonians aren’t short of though it’s wind, and very soon we found ourselves driving through a forest of wind turbines on the way out of Puerto Madryn. Once over the Rio Chubut – which we would be following for most of the day – we pulled into the first test at the Autodromo Mar y Valle where we saw the usual displays from the fast, the furious and the faint hearted. Bob Harrod and Jamie Turner, manning the final time control, gave the crews the good / bad – delete as appropriate – news regarding their performance as measured against the all-important bogey time.
A Welsh tea break in Ty Gwyn-Gaiman – came soon afterwards where the Rally was, as promised, treated to a magnificent spread of sandwiches cakes and tarts served by waitresses in traditional costumes. Time had naturally been allowed for the crew’s to sample the best of this town and, a group of local children performed a charming dance while a young lady melted our hearts with a soulful Welsh ballad. Upon our departure from this eisteddfodic interlude, the guest book had filled considerably with page upon page of fulsome approbation.
With the last sips of tea and the remaining crumbs of cake disappearing we remounted and pressed onwards over an impressive desert plateau where, in an echo of yesterday, sightings of orca were more common than non-rally traffic. The Lyford monkey kept a lookout for the fruit police though, while Chuck and Pam settled into their usual rhythm. Peter Thornton and David Garrett were also up with the pack today in their 1939 – Ford Coupe which was last seen on the Sahara Challenge and cut a fine figure against the scrubby green backdrop and endlessly smooth blacktop. This was turning into another excellent day on the road.
This billiard table run wasn’t to last however and soon after the passage control at Las Plumas, where we once again crossed the Rio Chubut, the tarmac took on a more variable quality. The landscape changed as well and shades of Death Valley and the Grand Canyon started to appear all around us. Lunch was another excellent asado of lamb at the time control in Paso de Indios (alt’ 520 m), the most southerly point of this Rally. Soon afterwards we turned off the main road and made our way through the salt flats and dry lakes onto the gravel for the day’s two regularities. The Pampa De Agnia and the Colan Conhue.
These two sections totalled around 152 km of gravel and dirt and, between the two sets of timing points were a few small villages where crowds of rally fans stood by the side of the road and waved enthusiastically. Their efforts were repaid with all manner of flashing, honking, tooting and hooting.
Along this section of high plateau, we also got our first glimpse of the snow capped Andes with brilliant white lenticular clouds sitting high in the troposphere above us as plumes of dust marked the position of every car as far as the eye could see. It was a truly epic sight.
After a section such as this it was hard to see how things could get any better, but the run into Esquel was truly superb and, to many crews was reminiscent of our drives from the Mongolian border to the Altai Republic. Super smooth tarmac with nothing but snow-capped mountains filling the windscreen and a line of telegraph poles on the right. What would Borghese have made of this?
Silence might be golden but dinner tonight was a noisy affair; there was just so much to say.
Day 6 – Esquel to Bariloche – A head of steam
After yesterday’s epic drive, today was scheduled to be a shorter day to better allow us to appreciate the stunning scenery which got better with every passing kilometre.
Shadowing and running parallel with the famous Ruta 40 for most of the day the Rally set a course to the north and basked under a blue sky along roads lined with purple foxgloves and a vivid yellow broom. To say that the scene was picture perfect would not do it justice.
From the minute we left the hotel car park, our windscreens filled with the jagged and snow topped Andean peaks of the Parc Nacional los Alerces, a full 2,630 square kilometres of mountains lakes and rivers along the border with Chile complete with forests comprising alerce, larch, pine and birch. A rugged gravel piste twisted and turned on the balcony above the Lago Futalaufquen and the Lago Verde with some crews reporting that they were racing alongside the Patagonian mara – a monogamous herbivore of the hare family.
As well as enjoying the beautiful landscapes though, there was some ‘real rallying’ to be done and soon enough we arrived at the first regularity named “Butch Cassidy” in honour of the (in)famous American bank robber who according to legend fled to Argentina in 1908.
This 32 km section was nothing short of breathtaking, but when the crews arrived in El Maiten for the lunch time control they were in for another treat. Our visit had been timed to coincide with the National Steam Locomotive Fair and, as the crews tucked into generous plates of meat, spiced empanadas and a little salad on the side, Ed Howle – a lifelong steam train enthusiast and a noted air cooled VW driver – took charge of matters on the footplate. Down on the platform meanwhile the hundreds of steam train enthusiasts and rally fans who’d gathered mingled with the crews and swapped their stories of old machinery.
There was one more regularity after lunch and a circuit test to negotiate before the crews were free to take up their two nights of residence at the fantastic Llao Llao hotel in Bariloche on the Lago Moreno and Nahuel Huapi.
Tomorrow is a rest day, but there’s so much to do and see here that taking it easy might not be possible.
Day 7 – Bariloche – Rest Day
At an altitude of 850 m the Llao Llao hotel is a good place to start our slow acclimatisation process for what’s coming up in the next few weeks and a great place to chill out and appreciate what’s gone before. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, this is a great hotel. It’s place as one of the leading hotels of the world is well deserved.
Last night’s dinner was another lavish occasion and many of the crews, thirstier by the day, needed an extra hour in bed before tackling the breakfast banquet and getting on with the business of a rest day. Obviously the cars needed looking at first and down in the carpark under another blue sky we saw all manner of fixing, fettling and cleaning.
Paul Carter and Vincent Fairclough were like many others performing some basic spanner checks with Vincent going the extra mile by poking and pulling at some of the several thousand insects which had met their end in the radiator grill of their Bentley Derby.
Stephen Partridge and Peter Thornton were both looking to repair fractured brake pipes, damage sustained yesterday, but they reckoned would be easily rectified today. The bezel on the speedometer of Brant Parsons Porsche had worked itself loose and, at one point it looked as if the car had swallowed him whole, as he lay head first into the front luggage compartment trying to refit the instrument.
Andrew Long was swapping the air filters around in the engine bay of his MGC GT. Tonight he’s planning on giving them and himself a good long soak in the bath to get rid of the dust. Clemons Lansing was under his car checking and greasing his trusty Mercedes Benz Ponton while wife Agneta tried in vain to clean some of the dust out of her cameras and lenses. One is beyond redemption apparently and a replacement is winging its way to us as we write.
Leon Bothma has had a rattle from one of his wheels for a few days now and this morning he set about trying to isolate the cause. The big old Bentley MKVI, which has been dealing with the rally very well, was having a full brake check thrown in for good measure. Dominique Vananty and Daniel Spadini skipped most of the tests yesterday and came straight to the hotel with their 1966 – Citroen DS21. They’ve got an issue with a gasket which has been causing the cabin to fill with fumes, today the bonnet was up bright and early and we’re all hopeful that they’ll get the problem sorted soon.
Brothers, Chris and Tim Clemons, both experienced Peking to Paris competitors, have had some trouble with their 1952 – Sunbeam Talbot 90 lately. A half shaft came adrift, followed by a fuel pipe union working itself free and then finally they suffered a puncture. They say that things come in threes so they’re very much hoping that this will be last of their woes.
Philip Noble and David Brown meanwhile have a potentially serious issue with the rear suspension of their 1937 – AC 16/80 Sports. They’re not hopeful of getting it repaired locally which means that for the most part they’ll be taking it easy from now on and missing all of the fun bits although they do expect to make it to the finish.
Away from the car park, the spa was kept busy, the pool was full and the gymnasium was getting a lot of use. Tomorrow morning will come far too soon we think.
Day 8 – Bariloche to Pucon – Chile – Con carnets
we predicted it was a difficult departure this morning and the breakfast buffet – as mountainous as the surrounding landscape – was only one of the attractions which we’d miss about the Llao Llao hotel.
Softening the blow of leaving however, was the fact that straight from the hotel was another glorious drive along the lakeside of Lago Nahuel Huapi and then over the crystal clear Rio Lima into the Nahuel Huapi Parque Nacional. On a road lined with the by now familiar vivid yellow broom, we sped past countless fishermen trying their luck with rod and line overlooked by impressive rock towers, buttresses with cypress and pine trees clogging to the hillsides.
The first time control in Confluencia would have been a superb place for a coffee if they’d got the machine working but, without an excuse to linger we pressed on to the first regularity of the day on and ultimately over the mighty Passo de Córdoba. This rolling and loose gravel section in the Parque Nacional Lanin tested the traction of the cars to the very limit on the way up and on the way down, with the big Citroen DS of Dominique Vananty and Daniel Spadini chucking all manner of ’shrapnel’ out from its front wheels as it struggled for grip.
Near the top of the climb at around 1200 m and, close to the final timing point we came across Peter Thornton and David Garrett whose 1939 Ford Coupe was still struggling with an ongoing radiator leak. These guys have been unlucky with this issue but they did manage to limp into the night hotel and are optimistic about getting the problem sorted overnight.
For those still running though, the route blasted down the hill past the Lago Melquina and on to the lunch halt MTC in San Martin de Los Andes on the shores of Lago Lacar and the Sunday lunchtime boulevardiers could hardly believe their eyes as the first few Bentleys throbbed into town. As today was a border day, the first such crossing for the Rally, the days timing was stopped at this point to allow crews the chance to have a leisurely lunch and approach the border at their own pace.
The route to the border however was another treat, smooth tarmac whisked us most of the way, over the Rio Malleo and onwards once more to the Parque Nacional Lanin. When the blacktop ended and we drove through a forest of monkey puzzle trees with a huge snow covered and cloud capped volcano on our left while a herd of wild horses skittered to and fro alongside.
The Argentina / Chile border itself was efficient and thorough. Thanks to our agents on the ground we bypassed the local traffic and took our place in line for the paperwork inspections and the by now commonplace fruit and veg checks which were carried out with the usual efficiency and lack of fuss. Once the passports and carnets had been stamped we were free to start the long easy downhill into Pucon and out night halt at the Villarrica Park Lake Hotel.
As usual, the sweep teams of Andy Inskip, Jamie Turner, Tony Jones and Bob Harrod were on hand in the carpark to help with all manner of mechanical woes from the loose exhaust mounting on Nigel Dowding and Mary Antcliff’s Aston Martin or the fuel filter which needed changing on the big Mustang of Hans Middleburg and Jurgen Grolman. Chuck Lyford had a similar issue with the filter into his carburettor while Graham Goodwin was looking to rewire the alternator once again on his Bentley Super Sports.
Something that looks impossible to repair in the carpark though is the low slung AC 16/80 Sports of Philip Noble and David Brown. As well as a suspension problem there’s now an issue with the transmission and it’s feared that the centre pin has sheared in the differential. The crew are looking at all options including a low loader and a rental car!
Tomorrow we tackle the lava fields of this remarkable country.
Day 9 – Pucon to Concepcion – Under the Volcano
While some of us were tucking into a pretty decent breakfast, there were other less fortunate souls who began their day, not with a hot buttery croissant in hand but rather a cold greasy spanner and a bit of a problem to solve.
John Crighton was one such unfortunate. The universal joint on his little blue MG all but failed yesterday and he limped into the hotel hoping upon hope that it would last the distance. The ever ebullient Stephen Partridge thought that he might have had a spare one somewhere in the spares kit of his Morris Oxford but sadly this proved not to the case.
Another day of limping was the order of the day but by a stroke of luck, the concierge at the night halt in Concepcion found an auto dealer with just the right part. John performed a little jig before dinner and alone with wife Marion is looking forward to getting back down to business tomorrow.
Lars and Annette Rolner were also up early and, alongside Andy Inskip they were looking into the engine of their well travelled Bentley. They got a whiff of fuel and a leak was suspected. While Annette fired up one of her signature espresso’s, Andy and Lars set to in the carburettor department and had the problem sorted minutes before their departure time ticked over.
This was going to be another epic day, certainly as far as the scenery was concerned but there were also a couple of regularities to contend with as well. The first on the Ruta Interlagos ran along a heavily wooded unmade road with many bridges with more twists and turns than a Sherlock Holmes novel. It certainly was a challenging section leading to much excited chatter at the time control in the excellent Cafe la Terraza in Melipueco. Over coffee and meringues Graham and Marina Goodwin described it as “stonking” despite wrong slotting and having to execute a three (or maybe more) point turn to rejoin the route while Paul Carter simply said it was “an excellent section”. Keith and Norah Ashworth rolled in a few minutes later than they planned having had to stop to change a wheel along the way.
There was something rather special to come next along the road when we entered the Conguillio National Park, home to the volcano of the same name which last erupted in 2008 although thankfully today was a medium risk day according to the sign at the entrance. Along the road through the Park the crews saw some phenomenal views with black basalt, white snow and a blue sky filling their windscreens
Garry Boyce and Ken Williams were seen stopped by the side of the track with a loose underpan on their 1964 Mercedes Benz 220SE but a new bolt and ten minutes with a spanner had things sorted though and they were able to join the rest of the rally at the marvellous Lago Arcoiris with its hundreds of petrified tree stumps and crystal clear water.
Two Time Controls, in Yungay and Angol gave us a chance to cool down with a cold drink or an ice cream. The temperature had climbed to 36°c now but the wide, fast and empty tarmac roads didn’t give any problems as we sped though fruit groves and orchards to the final Regularity of the day. This was another belter. A sinuous, rolling, tree lined helter skelter of a road. What it lacked in distance it made up for in the precision required ….. and the amount of dust it kicked up.
The 90 km into Concepcion was yet more trouble free tarmac alongside the wide and slow flowing Rio Biobio towards the coast. As the night halt, and the Pacific, drew near we could taste the tang of the sea on the cooling breeze and, by the time the last crews pulled into the night halt the temperature had fallen to a relatively chilly 19°c.
Despite this, Paul Carter and Vincent Fairclough were looking a bit hot and bothered. The radiator of their trusty Bentley Derby had shaken itself to bits and they were desperate to get hold of some soldering equipment to plug the leak.
The super sweep team of Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod however were late in this evening having nursed Andrea Hammelmann and Paul Henschel’s 1964 – Jaguar MkII into the hotel. More news when we get it.
Once again dinner was a noisy affair as once again everyone had tales to tell. Tomorrow sees an early start. We’ve got a fair few miles to munch up the Pacific coastline.
Day 10 – Concepcion to Vina del Mar – Raising Dust
The Rally woke to find the weather a little cool and a little damp this morning. The Pacific has certainly made its presence felt over the last 24 hours.
Overnight there was good news of a sort when we learned that the clutch issue which slowed the 1964 Jaguar of Andrea Hammelmann and Paul Henschel last night was found to be only a leaking slave cylinder which will be fairly easily repaired. The crew are planning to get it fixed in town and play catch up later in the day.
Andrew and Gina Long also suffered a clutch misfortune in their 1968 – MGC GT but this time it happened in the carpark. As they were leaving they lost a thrust bearing which means that there’ll be a little convoy coming up the road on the rest day. Paul Carter and Vincent Fairclough meanwhile worked till around 11.00 pm last night and managed to repair their leaking radiator getting back on the road with the rest of the pack bang on time this morning.
Although it was scheduled to be a long hot day on the road there was a cool little regularity to be tackled first through a series of Chilean vineyards, eucalyptus trees and rolling hills. As we’ve seen over the last few days though there was a lot of dust to contend with and although a polvo (dust) control lorry had been sent to dampen some of the fine powdery stuff, in an area such as this is it was about as much use as peeing on the fire of London.
The first time control in San Carlos gave the crews a chance to regroup and to fortify themselves for the long – and by now hot – drive to the night halt.
For the majority of the day we sat not he excellent Ruta 5 which is also called, perhaps more romantically, the Panamericana. This is Chile’s longest road and is part of the larger Panamerican Highway, a network of roads measuring about 48,000 kilometres and stretches almost continually from Alaska down to Cape Horn. Although it passes through many climate zones, as we drove our relatively small section of the route there was a definite Mediterranean feel to the day.
The agriculture and the climate obviously suited the miles of vineyards and acres of fruit trees stretching as far as the eye could see. There was so much fruit on display in fact that we half expected to see the man from Del Monte manning one of the time controls. Sadly we didn’t. Chile is actually the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world, and is the ninth largest producer and those amongst us with an oenophilic bent, and there are a few we’ve seen lately, certainly had plenty to look at and indeed to think about today. You could almost hear them licking their lips as we passed by towns such as Curicó which, according to the roadside adverts has both red and white wine varieties on offer but seems to be most widely known for its Chardonnay.
The lunchtime Time Control fell at the excellent San Fernando service area and from there it was a cross country jog to Vina del Mar and the night halt.
Sadly for Brian Shields and Colin Shields’ Buick, today might be the end of the road. Their timing chain broke and, the crew and car were brought into the hotel on the back of a truck. Tomorrow they’re going to see what can be done and we’re all hoping that they’ll manage to get things sorted.
Tonight we’re staying at the excellent Sheraton Hotel on the very shore line of the Pacific Ocean. Tomorrow’s rest day could be quite a lively one as there are plenty of distractions to take the crews’ fancy.
Day 11 – Vina del Mar – Rest Day
Like the African savannah or the Amazonian jungles of Brazil, the garage on a rest day can be a dangerous place where many fear to tread, wary no doubt, of unleashing some beast of a problem that has lain dormant, and indeed may still lie dormant, for many miles.
Today however, goaded into action by his fellow competitors, we saw the lesser spotted Beardshaw down on his knees next to his venerable and it must be said, generally reliable Sunbeam Tiger. Gingerly, Alan opened up his shiny new tool-roll and began his spanner work. First he checked his nuts – a good start – and thankfully all were present, correct and just where he’d left them. Next he jacked the car up and continued with his inspection while David Roberts and Keith Ashworth, themselves more than familiar with freshly unleashed ‘rest day beasts’ kept a lookout for him.
Paul Kirkham’s ‘Ford called Sheila’ has had a slight radiator issue for a couple of days and he and mechanical marvel, Tony Jones, set to work stripping it out for repair. When they finally got it away from the car, Marielle was dispatched to the welders with the offending part while Paul set to with the rest of the car. They know we’re heading into the hills now so they want the best cooling possible.
Over in Bentley corner we saw Anton Gonnissen tinkering and checking. He has swapped his tyres around this morning as he’s unhappy with the wear rate of the new rubber, after only 4000 km they’re pretty much worn out. He’s got four new ones on order but was looking enviously at the Blockleys on Robert and Mark Wilkinson’s Bentley parked the next bay.
Robert and Mark themselves were making some running repairs to their 1926 Bentley Speed Six. They slid into a ditch yesterday and have damaged the steering control rods. It’s nothing that can’t be sorted with a bit of judicious tapping and straightening though.
Graham and Marina Goodwin meanwhile are pretty pleased with the way that things have been going for them. Their own Super Sports has been carrying them along in fine style and they’re already looking to the next adventure, which will most likely to be Peking to Paris they think.
Richard Everingham was under his 1953 – Bentley R Type. Yesterday the half shaft slipped causing two wheel studs to shear and damaged the rim to boot. Today he’s fitted new studs and is using oversized nuts to secure the wheel. Other than that it’s all fine and he’s looking forward to an afternoon off.
Their fellow South African Bentley crew, Hesther and Leon Bothma, were fashioning a gasket for their radiator cap. There’s been a bit of cross threading here and as a result the seal isn’t quite as good as it should be any more. Hopefully this little rubbery disc will do the trick.
Dennis Varni who first visited this area twenty years ago was one of several crews changing their jets for the long climb tomorrow and the altitude we are about to start dealing with. The grunty 1961 Ford Falcon GT however is otherwise performing faultlessly.
Chuck Lyford’s Fangio (aka Fang) has had the battery mounting plate come loose so he was busy this morning rigging up a solution. Ideally he says the battery would be inboard but luggage requirements meant that the cabin couldn’t accommodate it.
Joost van Cauwenberge has had an intermittent issue with his trip meter but obviously there’s still nothing wrong with his throttle. Hermann Frye-Hammelmann and Jamie Turner were busy under the bonnet of the 1963 – Mercedes Benz 300SE looking to see if they could sort a minor fuel pressure issue.
Andrea Hammelmann and Paul Henschel are back with us after arriving late last night. Their 1964 – Jaguar MkII is all sorted. Ronald Vetters and Ann Puts are also back in the fold, albeit in a rental car. Their 1967 – Chevrolet Camaro gave up the ghost on day two and despite several attempts at engine rebuilds along the way and playing a heroic game of catch up they’ve decided to ship it home and just enjoy the rest of the journey.
Brian and Colin Shields meanwhile drew a blank with the Buick Club of Chile who were hoping to engineer a solution to their problem. They’ve decided to ship ‘Benson’ home and continue in a hire car. Similarly Peter Thornton and David Garrett have thrown in the towel and are boxing up their 1939 – Ford Coupe to concentrate on just enjoying the journey.
Tomorrow we start climbing again, through the Andes and back into Argentina. Rest assured we’ll be having a high old time.
Day 12 – Vina del Mar to San Juan – High as a Kite
Last night the Rally buzzed with rumours of a Chilean customs strike which would have meant that our planned crossing back into Argentina would have proved impossible.
Some, it must be said, were perfectly happy to spend another day cosseted in the luxury of the Sheraton hotel. In the end however, the matter was settled for us when word came through late in the evening that a deal had been struck and the border was working as usual – at a suitably glacial pace given its situation high in the mountains. At 7.31 am therefore the cars began rolling out of the carpark bang on schedule and set their sights on the way back to Argentina.
Initially the day was an easy one which might have lulled some into a false sense of security but sitting on a three lane highway isn’t what endurance rallying is all about and, so it was that after 111 km we turned off to begin the one regularity of the day at Cajon de los Valles. An 11.4 km jaunt might not sound much but this one was on very twisty, broken asphalt and gravel which was so steep in places that even the mountain goats took the chairlift. Cacti stood like sentinels at almost every hairpin and when we finally topped out at 1320 m the high Andes loomed large in the windscreen. Although we didn’t know it, this amazing little section was but a taste of things to come.
Immediately after the regularity and on getting back to a tarmac road we started climbing, all the way to the border in fact, via the incomparable Paso de los Libertadores where our little Garmin friend on the dashboard recorded an altitude of 3178 m.
Those new air filters and freshly installed jets which some crews had diligently fitted yesterday were paying dividends. The air was indeed thin here and as we clawed our way up the road via the 25 numbered curves every throttle seemed to be pushed right to the floor. Surrounded by an endless deep blue sky, countless jagged peaks and snow domed mountains we breathed in lungfulls of dry, crisp and rarified air. Luckily it got cooler the higher we climbed but this didn’t stop Christoph Ley and Alfred Reichhart’s Mercedes Benz Ponton from suffering a fuel vapour lock in the Tunnel del Cristo Redontor, one of the many tunnels. The quick thinking crew however used a wet towel to better cool the lines and they were very soon on their way.
Getting out of Chile was the easy bit, however getting into Argentina took a bit longer although there are worse places to spend time, sitting as we were under the shadow of Aconcagua, waiting for the formalities to be completed with Eleonora Piccolo, speaker of many tongues and Charlie from Cars UK also on hand to speed things along.
This area was once served by the now disused Transandine Railway which passed through on its way from Mendoza to Los Andes in Chile. The line opened in 1910 and closed in 1984 and as we pointed ourselves downwards we followed much of its rusted and twisted route. There are moves to rebuild the line and given the amount of trucks we saw today that can’t be a bad thing.
Once through the border though, with all of the paperwork in place it was a short 8 km to the Time Control / lunch halt at Los Penitentes where our two doctors, Delle Grimsmo and Louise Shanahan were given the job of stamping the time cards.
On reaching the valley floor, there was a choice of routes from Uspallata, a more scenic trek looping north of Mendoza or the more direct loop southwards. The northerly route was described as the more challenging of the two but this was to do it a disservice as it actually proved to be 54 km of pure motoring ecstasy.
Those who took this route were initially rewarded with views of the entire Aconcagua range in the rear view mirror but once they’d disappeared, gravel, hairpins and altitude were all served up in equal and generous measures. This road was the Stelvio on steroids or, if I may, a length of spaghetti draped over an Ande (s). It was sinuous, it was narrow and, according to Clemons and Agneta Lansing, it was a privilege to be up there.
This remote area is also well known for wildlife including the elusive puma, today we saw an Andean fox which approached some crews with evident curiosity. Ronald Vetters and Ann Puts newly ensconced in a 4×4 pick up truck fed it cookies while another crew reputedly offered it salami and a slice of ham.
At the end of this section it was Chris ‘master marshal’ Elkins and Matt ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ Bryson who were at the time control outside Villa Vicencio to welcome those intrepid crews who’d chosen this route.
The rally came back together at Jocoli Viejo on the outskirts of Mendoza before the run into San Juan and the night halt where the carpark was once again buzzing with tales of the day and the sound of Jim Smith’s welder as he re-attached Lars Rolner’s mudguard.
Day 13 – San Juan to La Rioja – The Heat is on
Straight after breakfast Robert Wilkinson was seen out and about with Andy Inskip, and a tape measure. Naturally our curiosity was aroused, but the reason for this odd triumvirate was actually pretty humdrum. The Bentley’s low speed slide into a ditch some days back had not only bent a steering rod but it also affected the tracking. Andy was simply helping to get everything lined up again.
As well as an early start the sweeps had also enjoyed a late night along with Marco Halter trying to sort out the fuelling issues with his Ford Falcon. Jamie Turner diagnosed a dodgy carburettor and they’re all hopeful that on today’s run the crew will see an improvement.
While some were out spannering with the larks though the rest of the Rally was gathered around the breakfast table and, Len Treeter, a one time Canadian casino hand was describing the various ways that the house could defeat the professional card sharp via the dynamics of the four card shoe. This being a casino as well as a hotel, we couldn’t help wondering if he’d tried his luck at a different sort of table last night.
The first test of the day came soon after leaving the hotel at the Autodromo El Zonda, Eduardo Copella, and the crews had to complete two laps of the track and against the dramatic and rocky backdrop of the Sierra Del Tigre. As the tyres squealed and the engines roared we saw Chuck Lyford, Graham Goodwin and Paul Carter trying their very damnedest to steal a second or two from each other. As vital as they are to a rally crew however, the navigators were reduced to the status of mere ballast for this section.
Once the chequered flag had dropped and the red mist had cleared it was then out across the dam of the Río San Juan and then, just for fun, onto a 19 km gravel road. There was then a long straight pull, due north, still alongside the Sierra del Tigre and thereafter to the Time Control and a welcome break in San Jose De Jachal. Here the espresso machine saw double duty for a couple of frantic hours before the crews began the drive to the regularity in Lunar Valley or Valle De La Lune if you prefer.
The drive to the regularity itself was a real delight, a narrow ribbon of tarmac due east through the Sierra de Mogna and passing by the Embalse los Cauquenes, the only standing water for miles around. This is dry territory indeed and, upon our approach basking lizards scuttled from the hot highway and into the brush while the cicadas ramped up their cheery chirping. Save for the meagre width of the road this could easily be mistaken for Arizona with thousands of priapic cactus littering the landscape.
The regularity itself was wide, three lanes in places and fast, with uphill, corkscrew turns and nothing but rally cars on it. The first time on this Rally that we’ve had a tarmac section such as this and what a way to start. Matt Bryson lit the blue touch paper as the marshal on duty at the start of this section while Chris, ‘stop the clocks’ Elkins brought proceedings to a halt some 20 km later and at an altitude of 1407 m.
This was a day of big wide open roads and the drag into the lunch Time Control at Patquia gave the crews plenty of time to ponder the scale of their surroundings; and decide what they’d be eating. Amin Hwaidak and Jens Jarzombek however had other things on their mind. Their Mustang had lost a rear wheel bearing almost 90 km out and we saw them, along with Jamie Tuner and Bob Harrod lending a hand and with Jim Allen, who loaned a gas burner to heat the ring, and the Toyota Hilux air conditioning unit to cool the shaft. With just the right amount of expansion, contraction and percussive persuasion the task was completed and the crew were on their way.
Marco Halter, as we heard, was pretty pleased to be rolling today, with a freshly repaired fuel system thanks to a liberal application of midnight oil, but, as luck would have it he also snapped a shock absorber during the morning’s run. Thankfully this was also quickly repaired with the able assistance of Jim ‘sometimes a sweep’ Smith. By the time he got to lunch he was hoping that things didn’t come in threes.
Refreshed and refuelled then it was on to La Rioja, sitting under the Sierra de Mazan in the Region Norte this quiet little town was to be the venue for both the final test of the day and our night halt, and things were definitely hotting up when we arrived. The mercury had risen to 37°c and as at the San Juan track this morning, certain drivers were once again on fire, metaphorically at least, desperate to post the fastest time and to climb up the leaderboard.
Having completed their two laps the crews had a paltry 4.4 km left to go until they reached the hotel where a cold drink or two was consumed by some.
Day 14 – La Rioja to Tucumán – A Ford and some Sierras
Today was to prove another hot day in the saddle for the Rally as it struck ever northward towards the more arid parts of Argentina.
As for La Rioja, this sleepy little town which we’d pulled into last night proved that it was also capable of an early start as the traffic built outside of the hotel from 5.00 am sharp. Our departure though was a pretty orderly one thanks to the grid system of one way roads and traffic lights, which also made our American crews feel right at home.
The big news over breakfast however was that of the death of Fidel Castro. Throughout the day, every gas station and cafe with a TV, and that’s most of them, beamed live comment, speculation and punditry about the future of Cuba and the legacy of ‘Comandante en Jefe’. At least we think that that’s what they were talking about.
Unfortunately, the first regularity at La Lancha couldn’t be run, the 24 hour car, comprising Dick Appleton and Stuart Wood sent message back that the track wasn’t in a suitable condition any more so it was onwards to the first Time Control. Along the long straight road with the mountains of the Sierra de Manchao on the left and those of the Sierra de Alcastio del Alto on the right past fruit sellers and between miles of olive groves.
Lunch was taken at the Hosteria el Rodeo. A large cool building with thick stone walls and a tiled floor and, at 1304 m, a reasonable breeze which also helped to keep us a little less warm.
Further down the road and across an entertaining water crossing; or a ford if you prefer, we arrived at the Sierra de Manchao which played host to the afternoon’s regularity – El Serpiente where the tarmac road, twisted and climbed like a snake, for 16 lovely kilometres.
The thermometer hit 39°c on the way to the passage control in Villa Alberdi sat beneath the Sierra Aconouija and over a choc’ ice or two some of the sharper crews commented that there are more Sierras here than in Dagenham.
The last leg into the night halt in Tucuman was a swift one on a superb newly built highway and soon the crews arrived hot and sticky in the Sheraton carpark they were greeted with the welcome news that it is forecast to be a lot cooler over the next few days.
Finally, we must say a big hello and welcome to Mario and Catherine Illien who have joined us at last having been delayed at home by a family bereavement. We hope that they enjoy the rest of the rally in their well travelled Citroen.
Day 15 – Tucuman to Salta – What a Difference a day Makes
How wrong can you be? You wake up in a nice hotel, enjoy a good breakfast check out the route book and look forward to an easy day on the road. On paper, today looked to be short and probably uneventful. A regularity in the morning, a spot of lunch, a track test in the afternoon and then quickly into the hotel for a few drinks before dinner. What could go wrong?
Yesterday we’d spent the day hot, dusty and on pretty good tarmac. Granted it was long but everyone made it. This morning, we had no reason to think that today was going to be any different. Although it was raining heavily this might have given us a clue as to what would happen next. Mario and Catherine Illien, about to start their first day, could also have been forgiven for thinking that they were about to ease into things gradually but in a day torn straight from the annals of the 1972 John Blashford Snell Darian Gap expedition, they were spotted slithering, sliding and splashing with the best of them.
The first regularity came and went in a drizzly 15°c with some crews mistaking this rally for the Flying Scotsman. Turn after turn through dense woodland, the section progressed without incident until the timing point just before the village of Villa Nogues.
The Sierra Acongjui was making its presence felt here with thick cloud hanging low as we topped out at 1460 m and on the way down in Lomo Bola we spotted Nigel Dowding and Mary Antcliff’s Aston Martin stopped by the side of a wet road with the crew making some adjustments to it. So far, so unremarkable.
The next stop was the Time Control in El Jardin, and this is where things began to get interesting. Crews were met on the dusty high street of this one-horse town by crowds of cheering rally fans. The entire population had turned out to greet us, a banner had been strung over the road and the police had set aside parking for us along the main road to the exclusion of all other traffic. There was even a coffee shop, open especially on a Sunday morning, doing a brisk trade from a thirsty rally.
As per the route book the next section was 117 km long and the description of it from both the recce team and the 24 hour car was that it was not a sealed road and it was spectacular. We were naturally all keen to see it and quickly realised that this was not the full story on either count. Today, many of us found our own epic, driving through a full blown rainforest along the most basic of tracks cut into cliff faces, along and through the Rio Sin Nombre – the River with no name – and over several similarly nameless 2000 m passes. Along this road, the RP6, we passed through settlements which were about as off grid as it is possible to be, Inca el Sauce and Carahuasi for example via hundreds of river crossings and steep slippery climbs.
Flocks of parakeets wheeled and screamed overhead, an owl sat on a fence post with a bemused strigiforme expression, herds of pigs rootled and rafters of turkeys strutted their stuff. Occasionally we’d even see human life, a man strumming a guitar for example on a wooden decked porch while Paul and Marielle Kirkham slid past him at a full 45° angle to the way that they were travelling.
At every river crossing, at the foot of every hill, queues of rally cars were found waiting for their turn to tackle the obstacle while the crew cheered on those already in the thick of the action. Robert Wilkinson and Len Treeter exchanged a few cross words however when, in one such queue Len set out his deck chairs, picnic table etc and opened a bottle of wine only to discover that Robert had singularly failed to supply any bar snacks.
There were some displays of heroism and some of bravado whilst Richard Everingham simply made a big splash – while also forgetting to close the sunroof. Needless to say the big Bentley coughed, spluttered and stopped as soon as it hit dry land. Luckily for him though, Jungle Jim Allen was quickly on the scene with Hilux and tow rope at the ready. Serge and Jacqueline Berthier’s Jensen Interceptor, perhaps an unlikely rally car but one that turns heads wherever it goes also proved that it could mix it up in the mud as well as the street. A determined Serge needed no help at all to get the low slung masterpiece from West Bromwich up one of the more tricky parts of the piste while Jacqueline walked alongside and shouted encouragement.
Many crews had trouble getting going, but for Philip and Laurette Macwhirter it was stopping that proved the big problem for them. They were forced to sit and wait for Andy ‘the fourth emergency service’ Inskip when their Morgan Plus 8 suffered brake failure, thankfully on an uphill section.
Dirk de Groen and Alexandra de Lespinasse along with Ronald Vetters and Ann Puts went above and beyond the call of duty today by towing several crews out of the mire with cheerful efficiency.
Once out of the woods, the crews still had a track test to complete and, on the way to Salta, in the Valle de Lerma and just over the Rio Rosario, we caught up with Travis Cole refuelling his Datsun from a can. He and Richard Martin were rushing to make the Time Control and they just squeaked in with minutes to spare.
Dinner in the Design Suites Salta, was another boisterous affair with all of the talk around the tables being of mud and proving once again that the best weekend is a dirty weekend.
Day 16 – Salta to San Pedro de Atacama – Touching the void
According to Jon Krakauer, the way to Everest is not a yellow brick road, but we can attest to the fact that the way to Chile is well worth the effort as today we soared with the condors and drove high into the thin air of the Altiplano. Truly we travelled a landscape of superlatives, from Salta which sits at an altitude of 1196 m we topped out at more than 4,500 m.
As we’ve seen recently the mornings can give a false impression of what’s coming for the rest of the day and today was no different. We started out under grey skies and heavy drizzle and the first regularity through El Disconicidos, a mining area alongside an alluvial stream, was blanketed in thick fog. The route climbed along the wide flat valley, through another forest of cacti clinging precariously to the sides of scree slopes past patches of grass and small stands of cypress trees.
A long easy climb on really good tarmac followed this section and some began to wonder how hard this high altitude stuff really was. Our twin Sherpanis, Shanahan and Grimsmo had struck out early with oxygen supplies and as crews arrived at the viewpoint of Abram Blanca at a mere 4102 m they were busy checking the ‘sats’ levels of anyone who’d stop long enough for them to get the finger probe on.
At the Time Control in Los Cobres which followed soon after, the proprietor of the cafe had a high plateau meal on offer for us and with sandwiches and pastries to fuel the inner man, everyone was in high spirits. The Rally Organisers had also laid on fuel for the cars that they’d need for the long uphill pull that was coming next.
The fog was but a distant memory now and all around us was dusty and piercingly bright. The tarmac road ended soon enough and as the Rally progressed along the 255 km to the border, via the RN 51 and the impressive 4560 m Alto Chorillo pass, the unique landscape of the altiplano with its vast size and characteristics began to appear. Largely the route was uninhabited save for a few mining settlements so we had the way to ourselves as it threaded past massive salt marshes such as the Ralar del Rincom, and tracks which led to abandoned mud buildings and then onwards to …… wherever.
Life was obviously difficult to sustain here although we did see vicuña and guanaco and perhaps a few llama and alpaca as well which are kept as pack animals and for their meat and wool.
The road was hard for the cars too. Dominique Vanity and Daniel Spadini’s 1966 Citroen DS21 lost an exhaust and then several fuel pumps early on in the day. Andy Inskip and Tony Jones, sweeps extraordinaire, were never far away though and, as usual made sure that they arrived safely at the night halt. Erik van Droogenbroek now travelling with his wife in the red Ford Mustang kept losing power in the thin air despite the best efforts of Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod. Ronald Vetters and Ann Puts, towing heroes of yesterday, unbelievably suffered two punctures on their rental 4×4. As usual though an ERA truck was quickly on hand to help replace one tyre and to plug the other one.
By the time we reached the border post at 3800 m it had already been a pretty full day for some and thanks to the good offices of Charlie Neal from CARS UK and Lucas, our incomparable Spanish fixer who both spent the day at this small and isolated outpost, the whole crossing took no more than half an hour.
Erik van Droogenbroek and Ronald Vetters swapped cars here, the former went into the rental car while the latter took on the Mustang to see if they could understand what was causing the lack of power issues while Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod tailed them / towed them until the road pointed itself downwards.
Len and Layne Treeter had broken axle on their Cowboy Cadillac (a Chevrolet Impala) but had heroically repaired it themselves despite the conditions and, as an ERA Hilux rolled up alongside, the only help that was required was to repack the ample trunk of this beast of a car. Len is a veteran of Peking to Paris and the Road to Mandalay and knows this car inside out while Layne is a pro snowboarder and as such knows all about being high.
Geographically at least it was downhill all the way from here and both cars and crews began to breathe a little easier. By early evening, the scenery was at its best and the scene was pretty much picture perfect with a flock of flamingoes on Laguna Taiyato being the icing on the cake and we were beginning to feel that we were on the home run and mentally made plans for dinner tonight and the rest day tomorrow.
Richard Everingham and Seonaid Beningfield however will be looking for a fuel pump before they do anything as their 1953 Bentley R Type finished what had been a magnificent day on the end of a rope.
The hotel this evening is truly fabulous, small, discreet with an impressive location and with a great car washing service. With ostrich on the menu and a well stocked bar, the Atacama is making the rally feel well at home.
Day 17 – San Pedro de Atacama – Rest Day
This tiny little desert town has dished up possibly the most chilled out day of the Rally so far. San Pedro de Atacama, in the Antofagasta Region of Chile sits at around 2,400 m. It’s hot, dry and remote but like yesterday there’s plenty to see and do.
The rally is split over two ‘boutique hotels’, the Tierra Atacama and the Alto Atacama both of which offer a range of activities, sightseeing or otherwise. Possibilities included trips to hot springs, drives through the lunar landscapes or just lying back and enjoying a revitalising massage or ‘ritual’. The level of luxury is astonishing.
Today however we realised that we weren’t the only petrol heads in the vicinity. It transpired that there were other ‘car folk’ in and around the town and we hear that there was great excitement among the crew of a certain new Jeremy Clarkson – Amazon Prime motoring show this morning when they heard that the ERA were here.
A huge team was engaged in the filming, securing the location and prepping the cars and, one or two of us popped along to see them shooting some sort of low slung, orange sporty looking thing but as far as we know none of them dropped by to see us working on our exotic machinery. What a treat they missed.
The night sky here is also very dark, so some of us, including Dennis and Cathy Varni opted for the stargazing experience comprising both a lecture and a viewing session and we came away very much impressed.
The world’s largest observatory and telescope is also close to the town, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) leads the world in gaining a better understanding of the universe.
Dinner tonight was a traditional barbecue under the stars in the ‘quincho’ and armed with our newly acquired knowledge we opined long into the night on all matters astronomical.
Thanks to Dirk de Groen for the spy cam’ photo.
Day 18 – San Pedro de Atacama to Iquique – Send Them Down
After the heights of the last few days the crews might have been forgiven for thinking that things today would be all downhill. In the event this wasn’t quite the case, even though the eventual night halt was on the coast and breakfast was taken at 2400 m.
So, after a sublime rest day the rally rolled its way through the Atacama Desert due west to the Pacific and there was a long drive in the route book from San Pedro de Atacama through the Val de Luna with its signature sandstone peaks. At one point we climbed to just over 3300 m to cross the Cordon Barro Arana. Oddly, it was cool and cloudy as we began the day but this did nothing to dampen the mood of the starters at the dusty MTC near to the Vale de Luna.
We were one crew short today however and will be for a couple of days at least, Gavin and Diana Henderson have flown home for a must see matinee so, Fred Gallagher has sportingly taken the wheel of their Porsche until they return, although they’ll lose their hard fought for third place.
The rest day maintenance will no doubt pay dividends further down the road and, thanks to the efforts of various couriers and taxis, both Anton Gonnissen and Phillip Blunden were riding high on new tyres which they’d fitted to their Bentley and their Healey respectively.
Paul Kirkham was also in full running order today thanks to Matt ‘mig welder’ Bryson and Jim Smith who sacrificed most of their rest day to reattach various parts of the rear suspension to a ‘Ford called Sheila’.
The first Passage Control of the day was in Chuquicamata and the route led us past a huge opencast copper mine, the Mina de Cobre whose dust added to the already hazy morning. The first Regularity though, the Sin Nombre, came shortly afterwards and blew away any lingering atmospheric particles. This was a short and sweet blast through the desert which began at an altitude of around 1200 m. As the route progressed though it was plain that we were dropping very quickly towards the ocean which had just appeared on the horizon.
Another Passage Control at Tocopilla, right on the sea front ensured that everyone was on the right route and, in this busy little port town we turned to run almost due north up the coast to the second regularity of the day at Desvio, along a craggy unmade road clinging to the blasted rock face for 6 km. This was a challenging section but the views from the top, for those who dared to look, were well worth it.
The timing point at the end of this section concluded the sport for the day and now it was a case of getting stuck into the excellent road along the coast, metres from the Pacific Ocean through tiny and seemingly deserted shanty towns such as Posada to the Time Control in El Loa where they did a mean Chicken and Avocado roll and gave Hans Middleberg time to sort out the issue with his Mustang’s starter motor.
Along the Chilean Route One, the Pacific Highway we had high desert on the right of us and rolling ocean on the left. Clouds rolled and hung from the towering sandy, dune like cliffs as seals surfed alongside.
Soon enough, on a road as good as this, the night halt arrived in the seaside town of Iquique where yet more running repairs were being carried out in the carpark. Paul Carter was reattaching a wing to his Bentley with a ratchet strap before setting to with a stick welder to make the repair more permanent. Serge Berthier was looking for someone weld a split in his fuel tank. The low slung Jensen has done really well so far but it only takes one rogue rock to cause hours of frustration.
We’re all breathing a little easier this evening, the oxygen rich air suits both us and the cars but it’s to be a short lived respite. We’ll be climbing again soon enough.
Day 19 – Iquique to Arica – Run What You Brung
Philip Macwhirter was looking a bit tired over breakfast this morning, he’d worked late into the night repairing a broken spring along with Paul Carter and a whole ‘League of Nations’ worth of other competitors who also lent a hand getting the little Morgan back together.
He tells us that when he and Laurette started flagging he was dragged out by ankles, told to go and get some dinner and then South Africans took over. They’re back on the road today and will be looking to repay a few of those favours at the earliest opportunity no doubt.
We had a straightforward sort of schedule for today, two track tests began and ended the day with nothing but smooth Atacama desert tarmac in between. The first track test was at the Autodromo Iquique. A basic municipal facility a mere 20 km from the hotel which also had a distinctly local feel to it. Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell saw fit to give Viktor the Volvo his head and they tell us that he thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that he was back for more during the afternoon session some 300 km away.
Following the fun and games on the raceway, we had a Time Control in Humberstone, a deserted saltpetre mining town which is now a museum. This fascinating piece of recent history has a perfectly preserved church, an opera house, a school and some old railway engines on display. Until the early 20th century, almost all of the world’s saltpetre came from the Atacama Desert. Known as ‘white gold’ saltpetre was needed for fertiliser and explosives. Humberstone was one of many of such mining towns in the Atacama.
When the First World War broke out, the British blockaded exports of saltpetre to Germany which led to the invention of a synthetic substitute that could be used to make fertiliser and this was one of the main reasons behind the collapse of the once thriving industry. They might not mine saltpetre anymore but today the gift shop did a roaring trade in ice lollies and sun hats.
There’s no coastal road along the sea shore here so, once we’d left Humberstone, we ran up Ruta 5 alongside the Pampa del Tamarugal some 40 km inland towards the lunch Time Control in Cuya, ‘Muchas Tabernos’. This was pretty much arrow straight and pancake flat until we crossed the Pampa de Tana where we caught up with long distance specialists, Ed and Janet Howle chewing up the miles in Stewball their venerable VW.
The scale of the dusty brown hills through which we were travelling is staggering, there’s little water anywhere save for a few quebradas, hundreds of metres below us where scrubby bushes just about hang on to life. This is the only vegetation in this wide open country and it was also blowing a gale along the way to lunch giving Lars Rolner cause to say that it felt like he was doing 200 kph instead of the statutory 100 kph.
As well as the speed limit signs, sharp eyed crews might also have noticed that along this part of the route we drove past a British cemetery in Tiliviche where no other than James T. Humberstone is buried.
After lunch it was up and over the Pampa de Camarones to the second track for the day, the Autodromo Sergio Santander situated meters from the roaring ocean. Like the venue we all enjoyed so much this morning, this was another unpretentious little ribbon of tar which, once again featured many changes of direction and a variable surface.
One corner in particular proved so popular that some crews did 360° tours of it. In what can only be described as balletic performances, Mark Winkleman, Dennis Varni and Mario Illien delighted the spectators with pirouettes, slides and lunges. Quite what their navigators made of this though is unknown.
The night halt was only a short drive away and many crews took the opportunity afforded by the proximity of the ocean to go for a quick dip before starting work on the car.
Tomorrow we set our sights on Peru. The border is only 20 km away but it’s an early start.
Day 20 – Arica to Arequipa – The Final Frontier
Today turned out to be a day of two halves and, the paradoxes and contradictions contained within it, neatly embodied the spirit and ethos of endurance rallying. We began in Chile and finished in Peru. We awoke at sea level and slept at 2300 m. We ran along a spectacular traffic free coastline and climbed through the high Desiertio de la Clemesi. We passed sleepy fishing villages, vast bird sanctuaries and mighty industrial complexes. We had a test that was on a track set in a sandy wasteland. The second was set in a busy urban environment.
From the massive and overwhelming dry rocky desert, sprang oases of fertility comprising rice paddies, fields of potato, onions and garlic. In short it was a fascinating journey.
As the reveille bugle sounded though, the early start we’d been warned about came around. Today we were due to cross from Chile to Peru, the last border crossing of the Rally and, as any passage through an international frontier, it did tend to concentrate the mind and sharpen the senses. For most of us that is. There was one crew, who shall remain nameless, who had a narrow escape even before they’d left Chile thanks to the sharp eyes of Mark and Colin Winkelman. The ever attentive Porsche crew found the paperwork (carnet, passport etc) belonging to another car fluttering in the breeze. It had, it seems, been left on the roof of the car while they were refuelling and they’d driven off without it.
Once everyone was accounted for and safely through the border, the first test of the day roared into life at the Autodromo Tacna which was, according to Fred Gallagher, the world’s friendliest circuit. Certainly the track staff and marshals were looking forward to our visit having laid on music and a free bottle of Pisco for all.
Early arrivals, Paul Carter, Vincent Fairclough and Lars Rolner took the time to walk the circuit before driving it and were seen sagely rubbing their chins and sucking their teeth. They certainly looked as if they meant business and in the event they certainly put on a good show for us, with forearms tensed, wind in their hair, sweat on their brows and on opposite lock they set the track alight. The two laps of this spectacular desert piste also fired up the rest of the crews and there was much excited chatter in the paddock after they’d taken their turns although after pulling back into the pits, Garry Boyce and Ken Williams needed a bit of help from Andy Inskip and Tony Jones to get their Mercedes Benz going again.
Following this track time it was straight back to the main road and, via a quick customs check some 55 km up the road, we began the stunning drive detailed above. Our first port of call was the Passage Control in Corralitos and then onwards to the lunch Time Control in El Fiscal where crews dined on emapandas under a fresco of the last supper.
The Puente Freyre, over the Rio Tambo is where we finally turned away from the coast and began our climb inland through yet more impressive scenery and it was here that we spotted Serge and Jacqueline Berthier’s equally impressive Jensen Interceptor by the side of the road. The gearbox had failed and despite the best efforts of the sweeps it was left to Charlie Neil from Cars UK to arrange its collection and delivery to the hotel.
The climbing continued and, slicing through the trucks and buses heading into Arequipa, we arrived at the final test in the Kartodromo Mostajo which was at 2300 m. This facility could best be described as compact, or as Layne Treeter put it, ‘a driver training school’.
Such an arena was obviously not the natural playground for the Bentley Brigade but it was the ideal habitat for the smaller more agile machines such as our four Porsches. Joost van Cauwenberge was all adrift – as usual whilst Brant Parsons quipped that it ‘was a real tight one for sure’.
Gavin Henderson and Diana Henderson are safely back with us after their short absence and are looking to wrestle their way back to at least the third place they held before Marco Halter and Claudia Engelhardt snatched it from them on the way to the Altiplano. Today, on fresh tyres the Porsche looked to be relishing the challenge.
There’s a two hour time difference – the wrong way – between Peru and Chile which meant that there were some sleepy crews looking to get an early night this evening. Tomorrow we’re off to Lake Titicaca.
Day 21 – Arequipa to Puno – Keep on trucking
The mission today was to get to Puno and to see the magnificent Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and coincidentally the home waters for the entire Bolivian Navy.
It was a short day by endurance rally standards but that didn’t mean it was an easy one as for pretty much the entire way we were set on an uphill trajectory back towards the Altiplano. From Arequipa we were lucky in that it was a Saturday morning and that the truck traffic, which is a feature of this area, was relatively light. A plume of ash from volcanoes in the far distance along the Cordillera Chilca reminded us just what an incredible area we were travelling through.
At 4011 m we dutifully heeded the warnings to keep an eye out for vicuña and to respect the 55 kph limit alongside the Laguna de Pampa Blanca and quickly we found ourselves at the first Time Control at Patahuasi el Chinito where Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod sat in their oxygen tent stamping the proffered time cards and admiring the view. Then came a long rolling road over a high plateau to the next Time Control at Santa Lucia just in time for an early lunch then into the only regularity of the day at El Pais. A simple and short affair but one which drew the attention of several rally fans from the local village.
The highlight of the day though for the weary crews must surely have been the wedding which we gatecrashed in the village of Vilque. The entire population had turned out to dance and celebrate along with the happy couple at the very minute that the rally came through so there was no option other than to strop engines and join in the jamboree.
Keith and Norah Ashworth, Chuck and Pam Lyford, Anton Gonnissen, Inge Willemen, Graham and Marina Goodwin and Lars Annette Rolner fully joined in the celebrations dancing along with the villagers and allowing them to pose with and to sit in their cars.
The grinning groom and blushing bride got to sit in Keith Ashworth’s Bentley and posed for countless pictures as a band struck up a rousing tune. Sadly we had to leave before the ‘la hora loca’ but not before everyone had wished the happy couple all best wishes for the future.
Soon enough, we got our first glimpse of Titicaca but for a place which is supposed to be the birthplace of the sun it was unfortunately a remarkably dull evening. This didn’t stop many eager crews from taking a trip onto the lake and visiting the famous floating islands which belong to the indigenous Uros people.
Finally, in a coincidence which definitely needs mentioning, as we pulled into the car park of the Libertadore hotel this evening what should we come across? Another wedding so, to mark the double, Fred Gallagher put his hand in his pocket and bought the entire bridal party a round of drinks.
Tomorrow we head to Cusco where the prospect of a two day rest period beckons.
Day 22 – Puno to Cusco – The Route of the Sun?
With supreme irony today’s route traced the so called Route of the Sun from Puno all of the way to the ancient Inca capital city of Cusco. But today, we awoke to a temperature of 8°c, rain which had forgotten to stop following the overnight downpour, and low cloud threatening even more.
With these conditions afoot, and with Christmas decorations and festive songs playing in the lobby of the Libertador, those of us from the northern hemisphere felt right at home.
Once we’d pulled out of Puno, with Titicaca behind us, we struck north to the town of Juliaca which was a seething frenzy of rickshaws, road works and food markets. Crews in the open cars found themselves once again in the thick of local culture as vegetables, chickens and that peculiar local delicacy, guinea pigs, were traded right over their bonnets.
Leaving this fascinating but busy town, via the flamingo festooned Laguna de Chacas, came as something of a relief and soon we arrived in the relatively deserted village of Lampa, which we entered via an impressive town arch. Wide and empty boulevards led us to the first and indeed the only regularity of the day on the Pico Mocco. Rising to 4100 m, velvety smooth tarmac and countless curves pushed the crews onwards to the Time Control in Pucara for a quick coffee and a glance at the online weather forecast to check the conditions for the next section.
The Abra la Raya at 4338 m, marks the divide between the Puno and Cusco regions of Peru, and the carretera 3s, the road to the summit, also known locally as Apu Chimboya can be closed by snow at any time of the year.
From the now familiar barren Altiplano on the way up, the way down saw us passing through fertile farming country with stands of trees making sporadic appearances as we steadily lost height.
A long drag took us to the next Time Control in Feliphon, alongside the Cordillera Vilcanot, where a welcome hot lunch had been laid on by the organisers mindful of the paucity of decent eating establishments in these remote parts.
By the time we arrived at the night halt though, any worries about finding good eating establishments had been wiped from our minds. Cusco is sophisticated and cosmopolitan and, with the cars safely parked in their own secure compound the crews began the job of relaxing.
For the next three nights we’re billeted in the luxurious lap of the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, a former monastery – as its name suggests – as the Rally has been given two rest days here to enjoy the sights and unique culture of the area including the amazing citadel of Machu Picchu.
Day 23 & 24 – Cusco – Rest Days
Despite the fact that this was the start of the much heralded and almost unprecedented two day rest period there was much hustle and bustle early this morning with crews scurrying for the early morning trains and buses headed to Machu Picchu.
Down in the car compound, Andy Inskip and Jamie Turner sat twiddling their tools as there was barely anything meaningful for them to do, so, along with Tony Jones and Bob Harrod they resorted to that old favourite of sorting the washers from the bolts and then looking for the nuts to complete the set.
Lars and Annette Rolner were spotted, cleaning and polishing their Bentley while Andrew Long, flying solo in the garage simply needed to solder the relay from the alternator to give him back his battery charging capability. He’s still coming to terms with the expert way his clutch was put back together in Concepcion by an army of back street mechanics and lathe operators and fears that they’ve now been bitten by the long distance rallying bug.
Such was the draw of this hotel and its location, that some wives, partners and friends had flown in to meet their nearest and dearest and to spend a few days with them. Len Treeter’s wife Laurie, last seen with us on the Road to Mandalay, had already done the sacred valley and along with Len and Layne were about to take a trip up to Macchu Picchu and were planning to spend the night there.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the Spanish took over in the 16th-century and in 1983 Cusco was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Our hotel is about as central as it’s possible to be in this busy little city and, it was but a short walk to the Plaza de Armas with its many churches, cathedral, museums, cafes and restaurants and tonight, many of us will doubtless sally forth to explore them.
Day 25 – Cusco to Nazca – Stop all the Clocks
A day on an endurance rally doesn’t always have to involve timing. Sometimes all you need to elevate a day’s drive to epic / endurance status is the weather, the topography and the geography of the landscape through which you’re travelling.
Today was one such day and, as we struck out from the old monastery onto the road to Nazca we knew that we were in for something special, with more ups and downs than a day in an elevator testing facility. The organisers also knew it would be a tough day so, showing their softer side they hadn’t scheduled any timing save for the early morning start which was quite apt for a place that used to be a monastery.
Mooching around in the car compound just after dawn we saw crews and cars laden with usual rally paraphernalia and bags full of handicrafts and trinkets. Indeed from what we saw we fully expect that shares in Peruvian knitwear will have been sent soaring this morning and we hear that the overtime ban on alpaca shearing has now been lifted.
Leaving Cusco however was an uphill struggle for some and Keith and Norah Ashworth joined forces with Phillip and Lynda Blunden to push and then stop the traffic to allow their Bentley and Healey respectively to negotiate some of the steeper sections of the downtown district. Once clear of Cusco, the Rally enjoyed a roller coaster of a ride down to 2000 m then back up to 4000 m via bridges, along rivers all the while criss-crossing the Cordillera Vilcabamba.
Women carrying baskets of coca leaves and gangs of workers busy lopping the heads off ripened maize plants took time to stop and watch the cavalcade.
Seen through the windscreen, this early part of the route was a never ending set of hairpins, seen on the Garmin screen however this was a veritable intestine of a road whose grandeur was only slightly dimmed by the low cloud which obscured the presumably magnificent views
Once the top had been crested, the long downhill took us towards the town of Abancay, which had plenty of fuel stops and restaurants for those in need of such things and then on to the valley floor where we drove along the Rio Lambrana. The road here passed through a well surfaced canyon whose rocky walls were pockmarked with caves and studded with succulent cacti and gnarled shrubs.
The Passage Control in Tampumayo was more of a lunch halt which offered an excellent chicken noodle soup. The well tended gardens and manicured lawns, complete with tame lama, were enjoyed by all but we feel were much improved by Chuck Lyford’s impromptu rearrangement of some of the hard landscaping. The following climb up to Negro Mayo, via the 4552 m Abra Huasshuccasa was a good way to shake off any post lunch lethargy.
A slow run up the valley before a staircase of hairpins had been 28°c at bottom but at the top it was a different matter as hail and sleet made an unwelcome appearance as Layne and Len Treeter were forced to pull over to side of the road with a transmission fluid leak. By now the mercury was at 15° and falling fast.
Chris and Tim Clemons set about swapping drivers in the magnificent setting which at times resembled the famous Glen Coe in Scotland but at around four times the height and with lamas running in herds in thick woolly coats.
The broad flat plateau of the Cordillera de Huanzo (part of the Cordillera Occidental) stretched as far as the eye could see and some of us despaired of ever seeing sea level again. Dropping down into the passage control in the town of Puquio the sun did break through and, over a coffee we learned that Barry Nash and Malcolm Lister’s Rover P5B has only got first and fourth gear but the crew have been soldiering on gamely.
Further up the road however, Leon and Hester Bothma’s Bentley had reached the end of its road. ‘It’s f*&%@d’ mumbled Leon from under the big saloon, ‘the differential has gone and we need a tow truck’. Andy Inskip and Tony Jones swiftly arranged recovery of the vehicle to Puquio while the crew were brought to the night halt to consider their options.
The long drop through the Reserva Nacional de Pampas Galeras and the drive over the Abra Condorcenca marked the end of our high altitude adventures. For the next two days it’s all low level driving but, the experiences we’ve all been through up in the clouds, not to mention all of the extra haemoglobin we’ve generated, will stay with us a while longer.
Nazca tonight – a full 4000 m below the day’s high point – is quiet and dark save for a small party celebrating the birthday of Diana Henderson. Many happy returns.
Day 26 – Nazca to Paracas – Nazca Racing
After the twists and turns of yesterday, today the rally was treated to a much more straightforward day along the main road to Paracas.
It was also a much more leisurely start, with time allowed for crews to either have a lie in while the peacocks in the hotel grounds patrolled and shrieked or take a pleasure flight over the nearby Nazca Lines, which was probably the more peaceful option.
These Lines are a group of geoglyphs etched into the desert sands. Covering nearly 1,000 sq. km and composed of over 10,000 lines, we saw the hummingbird, the hand, the whale and the monkey. Some of the figures measure 30 meters wide and stretch more than 9 km and the figures are most visible from the air or nearby hilltops. The Lines were declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1994.
The route for today was a short one with only one regularity, the Rio Grande, which comprised a short steep loop off the main road and on the approach we shared the road with trucks laden with cotton, potatoes and onions.
There was drama even before this section started when Andrew and Gina Long who had obviously spoken too soon when they dared to congratulate themselves on getting their MGC to the finish line with only a day to go. An engine fire at the start of the regularity brought back memories of their ill fated Classic Safari when their Crossley gave up the ghost also on the penultimate day of the rally,
Luckily for them though, Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod were nearby and after an hour or so of working on the car they got it going again with the aid of some split pins and springs to replace the carburettor linkages which had melted away. The air filters couldn’t be salvaged however so Andrew was praying for a grit free run for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately for him and those crews in open the cars, we were back in desert country today and the road from the regularity to the night halt was swept by sand from the Grand Tablazo de Ica carried on a savage westerly crosswind. After the mountains of recent days, David Roberts quipped this morning that the ‘Happy Valley Rally Club’ had now morphed into something akin to operation desert storm as its members, past, present and future, saddled up for some serious sand blasting as the route progressed.
Lunch was taken in the small town of Ica where the chicken and chips ‘menu del dia’ was devoured gratefully by one and all.
The night halt this evening is the exceedingly well appointed Paracas Resort where the, by now traditional, sweeps party is in full swing in the car park.
Day 27 – Paracas to Lima – The Day of Reckoning
There were perhaps few sore heads this morning. Last night’s sweeps party being the main cause of this but tomorrow, we fear there will be a few more once the Gala Prize Giving dinner has concluded.
The routebook showed that we were in for a lovely fast run right up the coast today on the famous Pan Americana Sur highway and also that there were only two short tests which could possibly upset the applecart. Joost van Cauwenberge and Chuck Lyford therefore must have been feeling quietly confident as they took the start and chipped out of the carpark.
In the event nobody suffered any problems and some 258 km up the road the finish line outside the Lima Country Club was buzzing. Friends and family who’d travelled to Peru see the crews arrive after their amazing journey were waiting excitedly and, as the cars rolled over the finish line and under the arch the crowd grew exponentially. The cheers, laughter and congratulations rang out so loudly it caused a family of parakeets to move their roost to somewhere a little less rowdy.
Tankards full of well deserved cold beer were handed to all with the victors champagne and a laurel wreath being offered to Chuck and Pam Lyford in the Vintageant category and Joost van Cauwenberge and Christine Landtsheer in the Classics.
For Joost, this win was a sweet one but it was one that we’ve been expecting for a long time. The only other ERA trophy he’s taken home so far however was the Spirit of the Rally Award from the 2015 Road to Mandalay which was given to him for the vast quantities of gin he dispensed every evening throughout event.
After a difficult London – Cape Town in 2012, a bravura performance on the road to Mandalay and a disappointing Peking to Paris run he’s finally got the silverware he deserves. Along with his wife Christine, Joost took an early lead in his Porsche 911, held onto it in a cool calm and gentlemanly way and was understandably delighted with his win. This was the first time he’d visited South America and he said ‘the event has been great one both in terms of the route and the competition’.
Chuck and Pam Lyford on the other hand are no strangers to the podium in this neck of the woods having taken the win in the Vintage Cape Horn Rally in 2013 way down in snowy Ushuaia. Today, they and their monkey and their remarkable Chevy, Fang to his friends, did the double. Chuck said that he knew he’d do well here as soon as he packed his lucky chequered shirt, the one he won with last time. By way of a victory speech he then led the assembled throng in a rousing three cheers for the organisers.
The True Grit trophy was awarded to Ed and Janet Howle who have nursed their old Beetle, Stewball, through thick and thin – uphill and down dale for almost a month. They were popular winners.
Anton Gonnissen gave a moving and reflective speech about the special world that is the Rally World, one which supports and looks after its members whatever they’re going through and one that we’re all privileged to belong to.
He was then asked to present the Spirit of the Rally award, to his wife Inge, for coming back to Rally World after the events of the Road to Mandalay, and for making us all so happy.
At the end of an emotional and an amusing evening, the ERA Rally Director, Fred Gallagher said that ‘the second foray into South America for the ERA had indeed been a great one. The landscapes we’ve driven through and the way that the Rally has unfolded had been amazing. The competition has been amazing and the competitors have been brilliant. Well done to Joost, Christine, Chuck and Pam and we very much look forward to seeing them again very soon. The next iteration of the Rally of the Incas, is already being planned for 2019’.
It certainly has been an epic rally and a quick interrogation of Montana, our little Gamin friend on the dashboard, reveals some impressive numbers to back this up. We achieved a maximum altitude of almost 4,600 m and plunged to a minimum altitude of – 53 m. We managed a total ascent of 66,311 m alongside a total descent of 62,940 m while temperatures ranged from 41°c right down to 5 °c.
The bar in the Lima Country Club was a pretty well stocked one this afternoon with ice filled Pisco liqueurs proving popular with thirsty crews. By tonight the shelves were looking a little lighter and we fully expect them to need a total resupply by tomorrow morning.