The Baltic Classic Rally

28 May - 10 June 2017

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The Baltic Classic Rally 2017

The Baltic Classic is a two-week rallying adventure started in Copenhagen on Sunday 28th May 2017. The route takes in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland before finishing in Berlin on Saturday 10th June.

Open to both Vintage and Classic cars, the event loops around and across the beautiful Baltic Sea and will see plenty of gravel driving and exciting forest sections on roads made famous by events such as the Rally of the Thousand Lakes and Rally Estonia.

The Baltic Classic is aimed at both newcomers to long distance historic rallying as well as experienced ERA competitors. The route has been chosen to combine the finest scenery this spectacular region has to offer while visiting areas steeped in rally history.

The chosen route takes in acres of spectacular sub arctic forests, miles of beautiful rolling countryside and long hours of daylight, making this a rally to remember.

The competition element of the event will be familiar to those with experience of past ERA events, comprising regularity sections on wide, flowing gravel roads as well as special tests on private land and will be held entirely on non-damaging roads.

The event concludes in historic Berlin where the results will be calculated before a splendid poolside lunch and prize-giving ceremony.

Naturally as much attention has been paid to the comfort of the crews when they’re out of their cars as to the automotive challenges when they’re in them. Participants can expect to enjoy the finest accommodation and the best dining in each of the countries we visit. As part of the route, competitors will also enjoy two crossings on board luxury ferries which sail the Baltic Sea.

The entry list is now complete with a wide variety of vintage, vintageant and pre-1976 classics for what is guaranteed to be a fantastic 14-days of rallying and another tremendous ERA event.

The Baltic Classic – Participants

Updated  25th May 2017 

Num Participants Motorcar cc
1. Vintageants – Pre 1932 type cars
1 Bill Cleyndert(GB) / Jacqui Norman(GB) 1925 – Bentley 3-4½ 5300
2 Lars Rolner(DK) / Annette Rolner(DK) 1928 – Bentley 4½ 4398
3 Roland Frey(CH) / Helen Frey(CH) 1928 – Bentley Le Mans Tourer 4398
5 Clint Smith(GB) / Dawn Smith(GB) 1929 – Bentley Speed Six 6597
7 Nicholas Phillips(GB) / Barbara Phillips(GB) 1928 – Ford Model A 3285
8 Mark Winkelman(NL) / Victor Silveira da Conceicao(PT) 1932 – Plymouth PB3 Coupe 3213
9 Graham Goodwin(GB) / Marina Goodwin(GB) 1925 – Bentley Super Sports 4500
12 Charles Bishop(GB) / Nellie Bishop(GB) 1924 – Vauxhall 30/98 4250
14 Andrew Boland(IRL) / Ann Boland(IRL) 1934 – Talbot AV105 2969
2. Vintageants -1932 to 1948 type cars
4 Anton Gonnissen(B) / Inge Willemen(B) 1929 – Bentley Speed 8 5600
11 Arthur Manners(GB) / Anna Manners(GB) 1933 – Lagonda M45 4500
16 Melvin Andrews(USA) / Barry Douglass(USA) 1936 – Bentley 4¼ 4250
17 Dougie Lawson(GB) / Kate Lawson(GB) 1936 – Lagonda LG45 4453
18 James Gately(USA) / Tony Brooks(GB) 1937 – Cadillac Convertible Sedan 5670
19 Peter Gordon(GB) / Griselda Gordon(GB) 1937 – Talbot 110 3377
20 John Whitelock(GB) / Nicole Whitelock(GB) 1938 – Ford Coupe 3622
24 Stanley Bauer(USA) / Merle Bauer(USA) 1949 – Bentley Speed 8 6000
3. Classics 1949-1961 and  Classics 1962-1969 up to 2000cc
6 Giselher Stauzebach(D) / Rainer Wolf(D) 1965 – Mercedes-Benz 220 SE b 2195
25 Monte Gingery(USA) / Phil Putnam(USA) 1954 – Oldsmobile Super 88 5300
27 Marco Rollinger(LU) / Marianne Hengesch(LU) 1957 – Lancia Aurelia 1950
28 Jesse Smaal(NL) / Jack Boers(NL) 1956 – Studebaker Power Hawk 4200
30 Henk Verkou(NL) / Lady Verkou(NL) 1967 – Jaguar MkII 3442
32 Urs Mezger(CH) / Denise Mezger(CH) 1962 – Triumph TR4 2138
37 Hermann Frye-Hammelmann(D) / Gisela Hammelmann(D) 1964 – Jaguar MkII 3800
38 Ray Scherr(USA) / Janet Scherr(USA) 1965 – Alfa Romeo GTC 1300
42 Julian Reddyhough(GB) / Gus Pope(IRL) 1965 – Rover P6 1978
52 Jim Grayson(GB) / Simon Spinks(GB) 1969 – Ford Escort 1600
58 Adrian Hodgson(GB) / Mark Bramall(GB) 1970 – Morris 1800 S 1950
60 Nick Mezger(CH) / Oriana Schoeni(CH) 1966 – Triumph TR4A 2138
4. Classics – cars of Swedish origin
29 Peter Holmes(GB) / Cliff Clifton(GB) 1959 – Volvo PV544 Sport 1796
31 Tom Smith(USA) / Don Polak(USA) 1961 – Volvo PV544 1778
34 Harald Krauspe(CH) / Caterina Hurlimann Krauspe(CH) 1963 – Volvo 122S 1780
35 George Coelho(GB) / Margo O’Brien-Coelho(GB) 1974 – Volvo 144 DL 1985
36 Mike Harrison(GB) / Lorna Harrison(GB) 1963 – Volvo PV544 1778
44 Claudine Bloom(GB) / Andrew Twort(GB) 1965 – Volvo Amazon 122 1780
45 Fredy Niggeler(CH) / Mike Gnani(I) 1965 – Volvo PV544 Sport 1800
47 Tim Wheatley(GB) / Matt Wheatley(GB) 1966 – Volvo 122S 1780
51 Jean-Pierre Demierre(CH) / Mireille Demierre(CH) 1968 – Volvo 123 GT 1985
66 Matthias Bittner(D) / Thomas Bittner(D) 1974 – Saab 96 1698
75 Ludovic Bois(F) / Julia Colman(GB) 1969 – Volvo Amazon 1986
5. Classics  – 1962 to 1969 over 2200cc and Porsche 911 under 2000cc
21 Sharlie Goddard(GB) / Suzy Harvey(GB) 1971 – Morgan Moss Box 3500
33 Joerg Lemberg(D) / Petra Lemberg(D) 1971 – Ferrari 365 GTB 4390
39 Alan Beardshaw(GB) / Tina Beardshaw(GB) 1965 – Aston Martin DB5 3995
41 Vincent Duhamel(CAN) / Anne Charron(CAN) 1965 – Ford 350GT Shelby 4942
43 Jayne Wignall(GB) / Paul Wignall(GB) 1965 – Sunbeam Tiger 4261
48 James Alexandroff(GB) / Alessandra Alexandroff(GB) 1968 – Aston Martin DB6 4200
49 Philip Prettejohn(GB) / Christopher Strakosch(GB) 1968 – MGC GT 2912
50 David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB) 1968 – Triumph TR250 2498
53 Hans Geist(A) / Herbert Pinzolits(A) 1969 – Mercedes 280 SE 2778
54 Barry Nash(GB) / Malcolm Lister(GB) 1969 – Rover P5B 3500
57 Roman Kainz(D) / Christian Naegele(D) 1970 – Mercedes Benz 280SE 2778
59 Andreas Pohl(D) / Robert Peil(D) 1970 – Mercedes 280 SL 2748
61 Gavin Henderson(GB) / Diana Henderson(GB) 1965 – Porsche 911 1991
62 Stan Gold(USA) / Brant Parsons(USA) 1965 – Porsche 911 1991
6. Classics – 1970 to 1975
15 Trevor Finn(GB) / Lorna Hackett(GB) 1974 – Jaguar E-Type 5343
46 Filip Engelen(B) / Ann Gillis(B) 1972 – Ferrari 365 GTC 4 4390
56 Stephen Hardwick(GB) / Ashley Bennett(GB) 1970 – Datsun 240Z 2393
63 Roy Stephenson(GB) / Peter Robinson(GB) 1971 – Datsun 240Z 2393
64 Rachel Vestey(AUS) / Owen Turner(GB) 1972 – Austin Mini 998
65 Rene Declercq(B) / Eric Claeys(B) 1972 – Datsun 240Z 2398
67 Yves Faymonville(B) / Remy Tangeten(B) 1973 – Mercedes Benz 450 SLC 4520
68 David Danglard(USA) / Susan Danglard(USA) 1973 – Porsche 911 2700
69 Steve Robertson(GB) / Julia Robertson(GB) 1974 – MGB GT V8 3528
70 Jan Hradecky(CZ) / Dana Hradecka(CZ) 1974 – Porsche 911 2700
71 Lorenz Imhof(CH) / Adrian Bielser(CH) 1974 – Rover P6 3528
72 Edmund Peel(GB) / Sara MacDonald(GB) 1977 – Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2700
73 Graham Briggs(GB) / Julian Pitts(GB) 1978 – Mercedes Benz 280S 2746
74 Richard Phillipson(GB) / Catherine Phillipson(GB) 1978 – Opel Kadett Coupe 1979

The Baltic Classic – Route Outline

Day One: Copenhagen to Gothenburg

Flagged away from Copenhagen, the Danish capital, the cars cross the impressive Öresund Bridge – at almost eight kilometres, this is the longest road and rail bridge in Europe. Once into South Sweden, there is an abundance of smooth gravel roads to conquer as we head north through rolling countryside to Gothenburg.

Day Two: Gothenburg to Karlstad

The event continues north to visit another car museum in Saab’s hometown, Trollhättan. Smooth gravel roads take us along the edge of Europe’s largest lake, Vänern, to our night halt in Karlstad, the traditional home of the Swedish round of the World Rally Championship.

Day Three: Karlstad to Stockholm

More smooth gravel regularities and a visit to a rallycross circuit are on the menu before our day ends in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.

Day Four: Stockholm – Rest Day

A day to explore the beautiful city of Stockholm, before the rally boards a luxury ferry to Turku, Finland, via the stunning Stockholm Archipelago. With almost no darkness at this time of year, the incredible views are visible well into the early hours.

Day Five: Turku to Jyväskylä

Finland has a different feel to its Scandinavian neighbour, but one thing that doesn’t change is the quality of the roads. As smooth as those of its neighbour, they rise and fall dramatically to circumnavigate the many lakes the region is famous for. Our destination is Jyväskylä, on the way we enjoy some of the roads used in the aptly named Rally of a Thousand Lakes.

Day Six: Jyväskylä to Helsinki

After a brisk start we break for coffee at a private car museum. Next up is the sinuous, gravel surface of the World Rally Championship Ouninpohja stage, but run at a more appropriate pace than required of the current WRC rally drivers. Heading south we plan a test at a track venue before arriving in the Finnish capital Helsinki.

Day Seven: Helsinki to Tallinn

After a free morning in Helsinki, it’s onto another luxury ferry. The short crossing of the Baltic to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, will take us to our fourth country of the event.

Day Eight: Tallinn to Riga

A short hop to a brief coffee stop and a test at a rally school, then it’s south along the coast. We have devised a route that takes in some of the country’s finest rally roads. Having crossed the easy frontier into Latvia, we progress to our night halt in Riga and a visit to its amazing motor museum. There will be time set aside to admire the city’s ancient architecture and perhaps indulge in its bustling nightlife.

Day Nine: Riga to Liepaja

Today we head west towards Latvia’s premier seaside resort Liepaja and experience some of the area’s great gravel roads. The day ends with a smooth gravel time control section.

Day Ten: Liepaja to Kaunas

Another day, another country, this time Lithuania. On our way south, via a couple of tests on private tracks, we will take in some of this country’s most impressive roads before overnighting at the self-proclaimed party town of Kaunas.

Day Eleven: Kaunas to Mikolajki

We start the day with an excellent test that takes in some forest roads and a race circuit. Then on to another “invisible” border crossing into the Polish lake district and the holiday town of Mikołajki. For the next three days we are the guests of the Polish Automobile Association. Its Sporting Director Jarosław Noworól is an old friend of the Endurance Rally Association having helped with the Peking to Paris.

Day Twelve: Mikolajki to Sopot

There is lots of competition on the schedule today starting with a test on the Polish WRC rally superspecial stage. Then we head north-west to lunch where the days competition ends before a short run to the seaside resort of Sopot, west of Gdansk.

Day Thirteen: Sopot to Szczecin

Heading west, roughly following the Baltic coastline once again, our destination is Szczecin. A great challenge today will be a long regularity on a disused Cold War airfield. Then onwards to Szczecin, a seaport on the river Oder for our final night in Poland.

Day Fourteen: Szczecin to Berlin

The rally’s final competitive element will be a test at the start of the day. We guarantee all who take part will talk about this for years to come. Then we follow the River Oder southwest to the German frontier and our final time control. It’s a short drive to the German capital and our five star hotel by the Brandenburg Gate where the traditional end of rally Gala Dinner will be held.



Rally Reports

Day 0 – Prestart in the land of Lego – and Hamlet

May 27, 2017 – Copenhagen, Denmark

As the Bard himself declared, brevity is the soul of wit, so this should be but a short introduction to both the proceedings and the dramatis personae.

The Baltic Classic is possibly the most northerly rally that the ERA has done. Only the forays into Alaska and Canada during the Around the World in 80 Days in 2000 and the 2012 Trans America Challenge come anywhere close to its overall latitude.

The route has been put together by the ERA Rally Director Fred Gallagher and local boy Hans Sylvan who both know this neck of the woods well from ‘way back in the day’; so we’re looking forward to lots of sub-arctic action on the type of gravel piste and three dimensional roads more usually seen on the WRC circuit.

Applying the rules of the rally to the runners and riders is Mark Appleton who joins us for the first time as Clerk of Course with the very same Hans Sylvan as his deputy.

We’re in Copenhagen, the fine capital city of Denmark and, in the carpark of the Clarion Hotel it was pre start business as usual. Andy Inskip and his band of rude mechanicals were busy with all manner of spannering, scrutineering and reviewing the assembled fleet of motorcars. And, as usual the assembly set before them was indeed an impressive one, which remarkably featured what we think are the first ever Ferraris seen on an ERA event. The Modanese prancing horses are crewed by Joerg and Louis Lemberg who are more usually seen in a vintage Lagonda and Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis who are with us for the first time.

Much of the day was taken up with the signing on and paperwork protocol which was led once again by Eleonora Piccolo and Jill Cotton. The navigators then sat with their road books in anxious huddles taking in the scale of the challenge that was laid out before them.

Any free time which was left saw some crews taking to the roads of Copenhagen for a short shakedown and some sightseeing although for one crew this all that they would see of the event from a classic car. In an act worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy, Monte Gingery – ex Peking to Paris – saw his Oldsmobile drop an engine valve which means that his rally is over before it has even started. He’s going to continue in rental car though and simply enjoy the ride.

The Clarion Hotel was busy all throughout the day with crews reacquainting themselves with old friends or just chilling out. Lorens Imhof and Adrian Bielser are with us for the first time in a  Rover P6 and they’ve come to explore new countries, make friends and enjoying the English style of rallying with plenty of regularity to keep them on their toes.

Fred Gallagher and Mark Appleton addressed the rally before dinner outlining what lay before us: 8 countries in two weeks is quite some adventure.

Finally it’s worth mentioning the fact that ten years to the day the 2007 Peking to Paris was pulling away from the Great Wall of China. David and Jo Roberts and Joerg Lemberg last seen tucking into tonights meal hold the bragging rights to being in attendance both events.

The building blocks of another fine event are now in place and tomorrow we’ve got to get on with things. There’s a rally to be run and look what procrastination did for Hamlet!

Syd Stelvio

Day 1 – Copenhagen to Gothenburg – Danish Pastry

Subscribing to the maxim ‘when in Rome,’ breakfast for many of us today comprised one or possibly two pastries. Danish naturally.

Thus fully sated, the inaugural Baltic Classic was then flagged away from the Clarion Hotel by Fred Gallagher waving his trusty Dannebrog. Under a deep blue sky and with only a smattering of light Sunday traffic the route took the cars almost immediately across the impressive Öresund Bridge. At a smidgeon under eight kilometres, this is the longest road and rail bridge in Europe. Luckily for us a data cable also spans the bridge and provides the backbone for internet transmissions between central Europe and Sweden / Finland which could be the reason you’re reading this.

On the way across the bridge however, the well travelled and fiercely competitive crew of Lars and Annette Rolner waved goodbye to both their homeland and any such imagined advantage as the first test of the rally was actually in Sweden.

Sweden itself is truly a land of superlatives and weather like we had this morning really shows it off to its best. This is the fabled land of the solid and reliable Volvo, the dazzling, timeless and uplifting Abba, the swift, sleek and innovative Saab motorcars, the moon trotting Hasselblad cameras; and IKEA flat pack furniture. So proud are they of this last fact that seemingly all of the towns are named after pieces of furniture and, driving through the countryside is akin to an automobile tour of the contents page of their latest catalogue.

The test itself took in two laps of the Sturup Raceway, a superb piece of tarmac where corners were cut and fractions of seconds were shaved here and there. The all female crew of Suzy Harvey and Sharlie Goddard were grinning from ear to ear as they slotted from apex to apex but as usual the look on Lars Rolner’s face was one of grim determination as he wrestled ‘Bent’ through the bends with Annette calling out the directions through the chicanes. Jesse Small and Jack Boers meanwhile cut a mint green dash through the sunlight in their Studebaker Power Hawk and along with Arthur and Anna Manners in a Lagonda managed to pick up one or two penalties for missing a coned chicane on the way round.

With the adrenaline still coursing through the crew’s bodies and the octane still pumping through the car’s fuel lines, there was then a good fast run to the first regularity at Stehag. A mixed tarmac and gravel section where the navigators prowess with time and motion came into play but Henk and Lady Verkou managed to pick up a penalty here however for failing to stop at Jim Smith’s timing point whilst one or two crews wrong slotted and also lost valuable time.

This first regularity was a short one however and soon enough the cars were back to the beautiful rural roads of Southern Sweden. Charles and Nellie Bishop’s venerable Vauxhall was seen to scythe its way through fields of rape, past white clapperboard churches, windmills and Dutch style barns and expertly missing an errant hare who didn’t appreciate the pace of a well prepared 30/98.

Along the road we spied a classic car show in Klippan, a town named after a mid range and comfortable two seater sofa and, as it’s Swedish Mother’s Day there were plenty of families out enjoying the old cars. The second regularity around the town of Hallandsåsen led to an exhilarating combination of swooping tree lined farm roads and a motorway section which took the by now hungry crews to an excellent and well timed lunch in Östrooö at a sheep farm. Graham and Marina Goodwin left a little later than they planned to as a detached rev’ counter cable kept them and Andy Inskip busy in the car park as the clock ticked away.

The fairly short afternoon session which followed comprised a choppy and nadgery gravel regularity through the woods around Svarta and a quirky final circuit test in the environs of the legendary Billdal rally facility.

As truth is generally stranger than fiction it is here that the Volvo of Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman, who were limping this afternoon with a blown head gasket, is going to spend the night. They arrived at the test with a minute to spare, they nursed their Amazon around the circuit, checked into the MTC and then handed over the keys to the ever eager engineers at Billdal who are more than confident that they’ll be up and running at full speed again tomorrow.

Also enjoying the overnight hospitality there is the Ford 350GT Shelby of Vincent Duhamel and Anne Charron. The clutch needs work and the Billdal boys are sorting it for them.

The day one leader board tells us that there’s a Bentley one two three so far with Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman leading the Vintageants from Graham and Marina Goodwin with Lars and Annette Rolner in third.

The Classics are headed up by Jane and Paul Wignall with Gavin and Diana Henderson chasing hard. The Volvo of Mike and Lorna Harrison is sitting in third place.

The Radisson Blu Riverside in Gothenburg is where we are settled for the night rather like the fog which has rolled in from the Kattegat.

Tomorrow we head to Karlstad with a few treats for us to enjoy on the way.

Syd Stelvio

Day 2 – Gothenburg to Karlstad – History Lessons

Today we continued our journey north and visited two more car museums. The first in the morning at Saab’s one time hometown of Trollhättan and the second right at the end of the day, private Lasse Jonsson Museum in Karlstad. In between we drove some simply fabulous roads and enjoyed another highly commended lunch.

We woke to a damp and dreary Gothenburg morning and, as we threaded our way through the roadworks and bridge repairs the very idea that we could finish the day in yet more beautiful countryside and with yet more amazing weather seemed fanciful.

There was some brightness in this misty gloom though. True to their word, the Billdal boys had managed to get both the Volvo Amazon of Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman up and running, as well as the Ford 350GT Shelby of Vincent Duhamel and Anne Charron. A great effort and one very much appreciated by all of us in Rally World.

As we left the city and headed to the first regularity at Upphärad the modern, dual carriageway – urban landscape slowly gave way and the backroads of Sweden took over. Freshly laid tarmac swapped places with well graded gravel along roads lined with lupins and milk churns – sat awaiting the tanker.

Chris Elkins had the honour of starting this first regularity with spots of rain falling on his check sheet, whilst Ed Rutherford waited some 12km away ready to clock the crews in. Arthur and Anna Manners chose not to fit wet weather tyres to their Lagonda this morning and paid the price with a low speed slide into a drain. The only real damaged sustained was to their pride and a small area of rear mudguard. A little attention with the wheel changing mallet soon put matters right though.

There was a coffee halt scheduled at the Saab museum and time had been allowed for crews to explore this cathedral of motoring memorabilia. Long time Saab devotee and Cadillac navigator Tony Brooks, had dug out an old ‘made in Trollhättan’ T shirt sadly too cold and damp to show it off properly but in true grid girl tradition he stripped off his jacket to strike a pose next to a Sonnet which took him and his T shirt right back to the ’80s.

There was a slight sense of sadness however. A once great company, an icon of motorsport and a pioneer in so many ways was now only a name on souvenir mugs, mouse mats, keyrings and other trinkets for sale in the gift shop.

We’re sure though that the spirit of the Trolls, who made the Saab’s in Trollhättan for all of those years, would have been very pleased to see Matthias and Thomas Bittner’s Saab 96 with a rally plate on the bumper; still doing what it was built to do.

Any depression though was soon cast away as we headed for some fun and games at the Saab Rally Cross circuit, a mere 5km down the road. Crews were given free rein over two laps of a tight, mixed circuit where we saw ambitions and talents competing with horsepower and traction. The small crowd gathered at the corkscrew downhill offered friendly and no doubt valuable advice to some of the crews but sadly it was all in Swedish and they ploughed on heedless.

Jan Hradecky and Dana Hradecka’s Porsche enjoyed itself so much that at one point it was seen to actually jump for joy whilst Hans Geist and Herb Pinzolits got the tail of their Mercedes wagging happily, like a dog with a bone.

Two further regularities in the vicinity of Lake Vänern, Europe’s largest, took the rally to lunch in Baldersnas, through birch forests, over slow deep rivers and alongside fields full of wild flowers and lush grasses.

The afternoon resumed with rapidly clearing skies and a hot sun under which the crews had the third and final regularity to tackle around Edslan. The gravel road pitched and rolled through low lying wetland, forests and lakes as freshly cut timber filled the air with the scent of pine.

Anywhere there was habitation saw small knots of rally fans cheering and waving each and every car with one enterprising group being seated in the elevated bucket of an earth moving tractor to give them a better view.

Our night halt is in Karlstad, the home of the Swedish round of the World Rally Championship but, before we hit the hotel and got on with the spanner checks, the repairs, the laundry and the evening meal, we were lucky enough to be able to pay a visit to the small, but perfectly formed and superbly curated Lasse Jonsson Museum. Here, Mercedes, Porsche, Chevrolet and Ferrari rubbed shoulders in the showroom just as easily they do on an ERA rally although one set were considerably cleaner.

The leaderboards have had a slight reshuffle – but enough to keep things interesting.

Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still head the vintageant class with Graham and Marina Goodwin second and Lars and Annette Rolner in third.

Gavin and Diana Henderson however now lead from Jane and Paul Wignall in the Classics division with Mike and Lorna Harrison still in the hunt in third place.

Finally, it’s John Cotton’s birthday today and we’d like to wish him many happy returns.

Tomorrow the road leads to Stockholm.

Syd Stelvio

Day 3 – Karlstad to Stockholm – Stockholm Syndrome

Crews trapped in the same car for days on end can develop a strange bond with each other whereby unspoken words, gestures and even body language can take on a whole new meaning. With three days under their wheels it’s clear that this having its effect.

Today, we were to enjoy more smooth gravel punctuated by three regularities on a west / east cross country route which was topped off by possibly the highlight of the rally so far. Two laps of the incomparable Västerås Motor Stadion and a night in the fine Winery Hotel in Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm.

The day got off to a more mundane start for most of us although Adrian Hodgson woke up to a slightly unsettling feeling, as he walked to his Austin 1800 he noticed that things didn’t seem quite as firm as they were last night. Naturally he was troubled so the first person he called was Jamie Turner who, thankfully diagnosed nothing more serious than a leaking hydro elastic suspension unit.

Whilst they were able to quickly patch this up and run with it throughout the day he was quick to quip that ‘there goes my rest day in Stockholm’ as a more in depth look at the problem might be required.

Sadly, there was rain almost right from the start today and, as the first regularity at Alkvettern in the Garphyttan National Park got under way the small knots of Swedish rally fans, waiting patiently in the woods for the cars to arrive; smoked, joked and pulled the hoods of their jackets a little tighter against the downpour.

This first regularity was a real belter and worth the wait with more twists and turns and turns than Dan Brown’s Davinci Code, just keeping the car on the right line was at times a result in itself. John Cotton, looking older than he did yesterday, set them off while wife Gill booked them a full eight minutes later – according to the ideal time.

A second regularity followed soon after at Bergshytten and then thoughts turned to the lunch halt, especially for the open car crews, who were a little on the damp side by now. Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman’s Volvo suffered an untimely puncture on the way to the lunch but, for such an experienced and capable crew this proved to be but a small problem.

For the third day in a row we enjoyed an excellent sit down lunch. This time it was courtesy of the Farna Herrgard Hotel and Spa and many crews remarked on the excellent fruit crumble offered as a desert.

The extensive roadworks we encountered after lunch however meant that Mark Appleton, the Clerk of the Course, was kept very busy with his orange arrow redirection kit but thanks must also be given here for the excellent work done by the 48 hour. This quick thinking and problem solving led the rally to the final short regularity of the day around Skultuna before the fireworks of the Västerås Motor Stadion.

Here we found a filthy, slippy, blast of a track which had all the ingredients needed to aid the digestion of the aforementioned lunch. Over two laps of the test the crews negotiated a section of steep banked oval, tight tarmac turns and long muddy shale drifts. There was even a jump where Edmund Peel’s Porsche managed a little airtime.

Upon leaving Västerås, the seventy filthy cars along with their seventy exhilarated crews had only 100km of easy motorway driving to negotiate before the night halt at the exclusive Winery Hotel.

There was some drama for Lars and Annette Rolner even on this easy section though. Within 5km of the hotel, they broke a half shaft while pulling away from traffic lights. They’re 100% confident though that the replacement will be fitted in time before they have to roll down to the docks tomorrow evening.

Sharlie Goddard and Suzy Harvey have been here in the lap of luxury a little longer than the rest of us though. Their Morgan has got transmission trouble and they didn’t take part in the competition today. They opted to drive straight to Stockholm to await a new gearbox which hopefully will be fitted on the rest day tomorrow and they’ll sail with us to Finland as scheduled.

Steven Hardwick is probably looking for both a physiotherapist and a mechanic this evening as he has a sore left elbow caused by having to operate his windscreen wipers all day. The electric motor has failed and the manual solution, a bungee cord tied to the blades and fed through the window, has taken its toll.

The Vintageant leaderboard is unchanged tonight. Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still lead from Lars and Annette Rolner with Graham and Marina Goodwin waiting in third. The Classics category however has been shaken up, Jane and Paul Wignall have lost their lead after an uncharacteristic error which means Gavin and Diana Henderson now lead from Mike and Lorna Harrison with Rene Declerqc and Eric Cleys in third.

Tomorrow we rest and repair before boarding the overnight ferry to Finland.

Syd Stelvio

Day 4 – Stockholm – Rest Day

Rest days are highly prized on a long distance rally and today was no different.

There’s a chance to sleep a little longer, get the laundry done, catch up with the real world and to fix the car. In an ideal world there’d be a sensible balance of all three and for the most part many crews were lucky enough to achieve this.

Some crews opted to explore Stockholm before booking into the ferry port but not many were in a hurry to leave the environs of the fine Winery Hotel with its coffee machine and high speed internet.

As usual, the entire sweep team, comprising Jamie Turner, Tony Jones, Bob Harrod and Andy Inskip were up bright and early this morning. And, wrapped up against the persistent drizzle were lending a helping spanner wherever it was needed. Thankfully there were no big dramas in the car park but downstairs in the bowels of the hotel a much more precise operation was in progress.

The Bentley Boys were all scrubbed up and were performing delicate transplant surgery on one of their own. Lars Rolner’s half shaft had arrived on an early morning flight and, Bill Cleyndert along with Lars himself, Graham Goodwin and visiting registrar Phil Putnam, set to with mallets and spanners to fit it. The telephone hotline to Vintage Bentley HQ was kept open and, our junior team of mechanical medics were guided through the intricate procedure remotely by the consultant surgeon himself. Since the patient had been prepared for surgery the previous evening the procedure itself was a relatively quick one and soon Bent was in the recovery ward and accepting visitors.

Steven Hardwick busied himself with his faulty windscreen wiper motor as Mike and Lorna Harrison were out chasing a new worm drive for the speedometer. Luckily it’s for a Volvo and in Sweden such a part was fairly easy to source.

Sharlie Goddard and Suzy Harvey had a tense day waiting for their gearbox to arrive which was stuck in airport limbo back in the UK. They’re going to spend another night at the Winery and hopefully receive the parts and have them fitted tomorrow. As with the Rolner Bentley the patient has been prepped for the operation so the next stage of the operation might be a quick one.

The atmosphere down at the docks had a distinct holiday flavour, the route through the archipelago is tight, twisty and spectacular so let’s hope the navigator is good with their tulips.

After a good dinner and a restful night on board tomorrow we’ll wake up in Finland.

Syd Stelvio

Day 5 – Turku to Jyväskylä

We’re not going to the Arctic Circle, so today the Arctic came to us.

One and all agreed that we had indeed enjoyed a fantastic voyage with great food, a ‘unique’ cabaret, clean and comfortable cabins, wine and beer on tap and views to die for. The fact that the Baltic was on its best behaviour also helped somewhat and any rolling and pitching during the night had nothing to do with the sea state.

Upon our arrival in Turku we saw that Finland has a different feel to its Scandinavian neighbour, but one thing that doesn’t change is the quality of the roads. Tarmac or gravel, they are as smooth as those of its neighbour, they rise and fall to circumnavigate the many lakes that the region is famous for. Our destination today is Jyväskylä and on the way we enjoyed some of the famous roads used in the aptly named Rally of a Thousand Lakes.

With all crews disembarking smartly from the ferry on time at 7.00am, and all paperwork having been taken care in advance, we set off at a brisk pace for the MTC some 10km from the port. This brief drive and subsequent short stop for a coffee had some crews looking at the sky which prompted the open car crews to don extra layers and, where possible fixed their hoods.

It was a chilly morning from the off, and by the time that the first test got underway at Ylikä it was a brisk 7°c and raining to boot. Things however were going to get much worse as the day progressed and, local intelligence informed us that this was the coldest June day since 1960.

The second test was found in the woods outside of Tammiainen and the combination of a myriad of tracks and, perhaps a little navigational inattention, saw some cars taking wrong turns and racking up significant penalties. The mercury fell to a low of 3°c at one point while we were here and thick wet sleet blew through the birch forest.

By now we were well on our way to lunch in Tampere though and the organisers, mindful of the fact that the ferry might not have arrived on time had allowed a little slack in the schedule which meant a good long break in the warmth of a well appointed cafeteria. Comfort food was the order of the day for most with bowls of pasta and mugs of hot chocolate being popular choices.

Over lunch we also learned that Julian Reddyhough has a special connection to this very town as his great grandfather was killed in Tampere during WW1.

While some might have been happy to sit a while longer in the snug, fug of lunch pressing on was the order of the day. There was a tarmac circuit test at Kaanaa Auto centre which had the crews powering through never-ending bends lined with beautiful mature trees and gave the trackmeisters among our number something to brag about.

The best of the day had however been saved for last and the third regularity was run along the route of the Humalamaki stage of the Rally of a Thousand Lakes with its multitude of signature rolling off camber turns.

From here the night halt at Jyväskylä was but a short drive and in the carpark of the hotel, the rally legend that is Juha Kankunnen turned up to chat to the drivers and admire the cars.

Juha, who holds the world record for driving a Bentley Continental GT on ice, reckoned Alan was ‘mad to rally an Aston Martin’ to which Alan quickly replied, “I don’t think so, you’re the one doing 200mph – on ice”.

Bill Cleyndert, listening in must have wondered what he could get out of his own vintage Bentley given the right conditions. He and Jacqui Norman still lead the Vintageant category though with Graham and Marina Goodwin in second and Lars and Annette Rolner third. There’s no change in the Classics either. Gavin and Diana Henderson are holding on tightly to the top spot from Mike and Lorna Harrison and Eric Claeys and Rene de Clercq in third.

Finally we’re happy to report that while this is definitively the most northerly point of this rally it’s not the most northerly point of an ERA event. That honour goes to Fairbanks Alaska which we visited in 2012 during the Trans America Challenge. Fairbanks Alaska sits at 64° 50′N  while Jyväskylä is 62°14′N.

Tomorrow there’s a lot more fun and games in store for the crews as we drive through the Thousand Lakes to Helsinki.

Syd Stelvio

Day 6 – Jyväskylä to Helsinki – Fun & Games

Unfortunately it was another cold, damp start today and, unbelievably for June, the thermometer dropped to 2.5° at one point. The open car crews are proving to be real heroes on this event where even some of those in classic cars lucky enough to have a roof are feeling the chill.

Whatever they were driving though and however chilled they were, today was to turn out to be a real rollercoaster of a ride in the rally theme park that is Finland.

Soon after leaving the hotel, the first test at Ruuhimäki set the scene for much of the rest of the day. Birch trees, pine trees, lakes and miles of rolling gravel led us past tumbledown wooden barns and through freshly planted fields where the green shoots of spring were brave enough to show themselves above the jet black earth.

The second test at Puolakka saw us enjoy more of the same with the addition of freshly cut stacks of timber waiting by the side of the road. We might be using it as our playground but this is also a well managed working landscape.

Another hot and hearty lunch was taken at Jämsä and, any signs of hyperthermia slowly disappeared with generous helpings of pork, vegetables and rice laid on by the organisers.

The third regularity of the day was soon after the midday halt at Ouninpohja. This is possibly the most famous rally stage in the world and there were many crews eager to pit themselves against it and the three dimensional roads which this region is famous for.

Part of the section was set as a regularity to give the navigators something to think about and the rest wasn’t, presumably to give the drivers something to think about and both ‘Flying’ Trevor Finn and Lorna Hackett in the big long E Type looked happy enough as they powered up and down this most special of stages.

Some bragging time, a quick coffee and a little bit of car culture was up next as we visited the excellent Mobilia museum alongside Längelmävesi Lake. The Mobilia Foundation is dedicated to Finnish automobile history and the Rally Hall of Fame is one of their permanent exhibitions which drew much admiration from the crews.

The final fun and games of the day came courtesy of a self contained forest stage in Saukkolan and those who’d been inspired by the visit to Mobilia could once again pit themselves against the real thing.

A team of local motor club marshals were on hand to man the stop / go boards and had also strung miles of warning tape along the course. Photographers and rally fans lined the more tricky sections and appreciated the show put on by the likes of Yves Faymonville and Remy Tangeten whose silver and red Mercedes seemed to move more earth than a JCB digger ever could.

Following their exertions here, the crews were treated to coffee and cakes in a snug clubhouse before pointing themselves south to the night halt in Helsinki.

Most off the rally have had an absolute blast today but unfortunately, Charlie and Nellie Bishop have had a difficult day, they lost a piston soon after lunch and their Vauxhall 30/98 is now undergoing a thorough examination and assessment by Charlie himself and the sweeps. As we bed down for the night, the plan is for parts and mechanics to be flown out from the UK tomorrow and the car to be towed to the docks and then on to a workshop for repairs.

Despite the tough day that we’ve had, the leaders of both categories are showing no sign of cracking under pressure. Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still lead the Vintageants with Graham and Marina Goodwin in second and Lars and Annette Rolner third. Gavin and Diana Henderson are holding on to the top spot in the Classics from Mike and Lorna Harrison and Eric Claeys and Rene de Clercq in third. Jim Grayson and Simon Spinks are now fourth though and charging hard in their Escort.

Tomorrow is a half rest day followed by a sailing to Tallinn and hopefully the Bishop’s will be with us.

Syd Stelvio

Day 7 – Helsinki to Tallinn – Capital Ideas

Today saw us enjoy a free morning in cosmopolitan Helsinki, the capital of Finland, where most crews took the opportunity to do a little shopping and sightseeing in the quayside market which had handicrafts, fresh fruit and seafood delicacies on offer. The Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral loomed impressively over the wharves and piers and some crews made the effort  to walk up the hill to take a closer look.

There was no such downtime for Jim Smith and Pete Stone though. They had stepped in manfully to tow Charlie and Nellie Bishop’s stricken Vauxhall to the ferry terminal  and then onward to Tallinn where a crew of mechanics from Blakeney Motorsport had flown in with the requisite bits and pieces.

For the rest of the rally though it was as if they had not a care in the world and, after a mid morning coffee or perhaps an early lunch it was time to make the short drive to the docks board the boat for the second crossing of the Baltic to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, and our fourth country of the rally.

Luckily, the sun was shining, the sea was calm and while it was brisk it wasn’t at all cold. After the last few days of epic battles against the elements and the clock, the change of weather and the change of pace were more than welcome. The on board eateries did a good trade during the two hour crossing and one or two cigars were either smoked – or chomped.

From the docks to the Swisshotel it was less than 1.5km which left a few hours to explore another town before dinner.

Our Classics leaders, Gavin and Diana Henderson tell us that they’re both enjoying the rally and the pressure that leading it has brought while not taking anything for granted. They’ve got many long distance events under their wheels now, and a combination of a reliable car, sharp navigation and consistent driving could be the key to a maiden win in Berlin.

Similarly, Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman are still looking cool under pressure but, as they took a win in the Sahara Challenge in 2015 they know all about judging the pace and applying just the right amount of pressure.

We’re at the halfway point of the rally now and tomorrow, the restart sees the Baltic Classic head to Riga in Latvia for the second half.

Syd Stelvio

Day 8 – Tallinn to Riga – Pulling Power

Tonight, quite remarkably we will spend our third night in the capital city of a different country, Helsinki, Tallinn and now Riga.

We pulled out off the leafy suburbs of Tallinn today on a bright and sunny Sunday morning. There was thankfully very little traffic to slow us down but there were still many traffic lights to negotiate. Some of us decided to put into practice a theory coined by Dick ‘regularity’ Appleton in the 48 hour car. With little to do improving on an already thorough route book he had worked out that 48kph was the magic speed needed to get through as many sets of traffic lights as possible while they were on green. After a faltering start – presumably because we hadn’t reached the required velocity – the theory was proved to be correct and we sailed though mile after mile of traffic controls without further hindrance.

This was good, because it meant that we got to the mornings main event all the more quickly. The Laitse Rally Park was about to play host to us this morning one and all were very excited as they pulled into the carpark, took a coffee and awaited their start time.

First out of the blocks were Charlie and Nellie Bishop. Their Vauxhall 30 / 98 is back with us, new head gasket and all thanks to a generous hand baggage allowance and a bit of midnight oil. While their old warhorse trotted around the course in a most stately fashion, there were some who threw caution to the wind and, to coin a phrase, gave it full gas and no-one could blame them. Shale, tarmac, hairpins and straights were linked with a tunnel and a flyover, which meant that those crews who had finished their turn and were in the grandstand to cheer on team mates or rivals, always had something entertaining to watch.

Two Mercedes, crewed by Giselher Stauzebach and Rainer Wolf looked like a pairing who could have played there all day, or at least until something broke. Luckily for them though the organisers had only scheduled one lap of the track and all emerged unscathed.

Edmund Peel and Sara MacDonald were flat out as usual, their Tuthill Porsche once again took every turn with inch perfect precision. Efficient certainly, but not as entertaining as the Power Hawk of Jesse Smaal and Jack Boers which seemed to use every inch of its steering lock and suspension travel in every corner.

Rachael Vestey’s little orange Mini was scrabbling for grip on the loose stuff and spun just before the crossover tunnel finally rocking to a halt in a cloud of dust as Yves, ‘the earth mover’ Faymonville tore up the track in a typically sideways attitude.

Once finished with the rallycross we changed down a gear to take to the public roads on a beautiful cross country run to Järkavandi and the first regularity of the day. This was a dry and dusty lope, alternating between farmland and woodland and led seamlessly to the second at Moisakulä and then onto lunch at the Hallinga Hotel and a chance to visit the nearby Motor Museum of the same name.

The afternoon took us south along the pine lined Baltic coast and then, without any warning other than a welcome sign, we were across the border into Latvia. No checks, no barriers and no paperwork to hold us up, EU freedom of movement at its very best.

If only everything in life was this simple though, there was another regularity to get through at Vitrupe and, for some crews this one proved to be bit more tricky than they expected with many tracks running through a sometimes dense forest.

Certainly the navigators feel the pressure most on these sections. Juggling time, speed, distance and direction is no easy matter but as Ed Rutherford quipped, it’s better to be on the right road at the wrong time than to be on the wrong road at the right time.

Unfortunately, Tom Smith and Don Polak hadn’t been given this advice before they set off on their own cross country adventure. Finding themselves somewhat lost, Tom also managed to slide the car into a ditch. Unable to drive it any more, he alighted from his Volvo and ran – more than a mile (setting a personal best he was keen to stress) – before finding a farm which was under the watchful eyes of six slavering hounds. Once a human had been located and the dogs had been called off Tom was able to bring Google translate into the mix and a towing tractor was soon organised. It only had one seat though so Tom jogged along beside it back to the stricken car which was quickly extracted from the mire.

John and Nicole Whitelock also tried some ditch digging as they swerved to avoid a fox, close to the end of the last regularity section. They were fortunate enough not to need a tractor as both Andy Inskip and Jamie Turner’s trucks were close at hand and they quickly formed up a twin engine Toyota train to haul the big Ford Coupe back onto the straight and level.

Once we were all out of the woods, an easy run to the Riga Motor Museum was all that stood between the rally and the night halt.

Despite the ferocious and varied competition we’ve throughout the day, the leader board hasn’t changed yet again although there has been a bit of shuffling further down the list.

Tomorrow, there are plenty more opportunities for a shake up but, as the end rushes ever closer, those who can hold their nerve might well be the ones who also hold on to their placing.

Syd Stelvio

Day 9 – Riga to Liepaja – Endurance

Today the plan was to put a bit more endurance into the endurance rallying we’ve been enjoying of late.

A damp early morning track blast at the Riga Motor Museum and Bikernieki track was followed by a long section along the largely un-metalled byways of Latvia, to a passage control deep in the low lying landscape around Ziemassvetku. The navigation wasn’t difficult, the pace was relatively easy but what the section did demand was driver concentration. For anyone with long distance rallying aspirations this sort of day comes with the territory and it’s often on these sort of unmade roads that any car preparation issues are shown up.

Obviously man can’t live on gravel alone and the excellent lunches continued today with pasta Bolognese, pork cutlets or fish served up in the traditionally styled Tavern Eglieni and the generous portions surely caused many crews to reassess their power to weight calculations.

The tempo quickly resumed after the mid day break though and we soon found the route winding its way through a more open landscape than we’ve been used to with fields of vivid yellow rape giving some colourful relief against the various shades of green we’ve become used to. Occasionally it was as if we were diving through a land that time forgot and, in many of the small villages we passed through, the roads were once again dotted with small groups of smiling, waving and very curious locals. Even the nesting storks, sat imperiously on their telegraph poles, seemed to nod their approval in our direction.

Two regularity sections kept the navigators occupied while the final 100 km of the day gave the drivers a chance to explore their cars dynamics between the time controls in Kuldiga and Medze.

The roads through this section reminded us of epic routes through Africa, Mongolia, South America or Alaska (take your pick) and braking, steering and acceleration all needed to be done with a light touch, balance and precision. In short it was a drivers road and, as one nameless navigator once commented, she could hear the hairs on his chest growing – mile after mile.

London Cape Town veterans, Jean Pierre and Mireille Demierre know all about rough roads and, at the sweeps car park party this evening, they recounted the story of the day the wheels came off their wagon on the infamous Marsabit Road to their fellow Swiss Volvo drivers, Harald and Caterina Krauspe.

Jack and Merle Bauer were seen sat by the side of the road late on the day, awaiting some sweep assistance, the big Bentley was running too hot for Jack’s liking and he wanted a second opinion before firing it up and continuing to the night halt in sunny Leipaja, Latvia’s premier seaside resort.

Once the Bauer’s were back on the road though and, in the spirit of endurance rallying, Henk and Lady Verkou in their Jaguar took it upon themselves to shadow them into the town.

Before we sat down to dinner we saw that the Classics leaderboard has changed – albeit only slightly in that Lorna and Mike Harrison have swapped second for third place with Rene de Clercq and Eric Claeys. Gavin and Diana Henderson are still in first place, which will be greeted no doubt, by sighs of relief in Marblehead Massachusetts (population 20,000). The Vintageant top three are unchanged with Bentley still comfortably leading the constructors championship.

Something of a pattern is emerging here and with the end game fast approaching, anyone who has been keeping their powder dry now needs to think about letting off some fireworks.

This evening, even though the sun is shining and we’re by the seaside having a great time, the day has been tinged with sadness. This morning we learned that one of our own ERA family ‘members’ has left us. Chuck Lyford, the winner of both of our South American rallies in 2013 and 2016 succumbed to the injuries he sustained during the Spokane Festival of Speed in the USA after crashing in his Elva Mk 7. Many crews with us here today will doubtless remember duelling with him through the Andes, into Patagonia and over the Altiplano.

Chuck, along with his wife Pam, their full size stuffed monkey and Chevy Fangio lit up these events with his driving, his energy and his witty dinner time repartee. A man of the world and a man of many talents, Chuck was an accomplished racing driver, an exceptional hydroplane competitor, a legendary pilot and from what we saw, a loving husband. His motto “every day counts” was one he lived by and, the email from his own account, which announced his death to the world, was signed off with it. Fred Gallagher led the tributes to Chuck over dinner, glasses were raised and many of us silently promised to make every day count.

All at the ERA send their condolences to Pam and the Lyford family.

Syd Stelvio

Day 10 – Liepaja to Kaunas – Another day, another country

Today we arrive in Lithuania, the sixth country on our Baltic grand tour and what a green and pleasant land it has turned out to be. For the second day in a row we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine – and the dust which accompanies it – on the miles of gravel roads we’ve driven over.

After the sweeps party of last night there was a sympathetic start to the day with a straightforward roll out to the first regularity in the woods around the tiny village of Siksni. Following this it was back to the blacktop and through the very much unremarkable border crossing into Lithuania. As with the crossing into Latvia there was no paperwork required and the entire rally sailed through without stopping before turning to a passage control in Gruslauke and regrouping at a time control in Plunge. The coffee and apple cake on offer here was excellent and for those so inclined the hotel also had its own bowling alley.

This short but civilised culinary interlude then led us straight into a set of three closely spaced regularities through stunning rolling farmland before a lunch halt / time control in Kryzkalnis and then, as yesterday a hard charging set of gravel roads which needed some  input from both sides of the car to stay on schedule.

Barry Nash and Malcolm Lister however, arrived at the last time control in Kalnujai a little breathless and a little late. Inexplicably for such an experienced crew they’d missed a turning out in the countryside and, unable to make the time back in such a short and challenging section they incurred a penalty and dropped from 14th place to 32nd.

After such a day, the motorway run into Kaunas came as something of a trouble free relief to many, although Margo O’Brien and George Coelho were spotted with the bonnet up on the forecourt of a fuel station. Their Volvo had just been washed and buffed to perfection but was reluctant to start and a vapour lock was suspected. Soon enough though they joined the rest of the pack in the carpark where all manner of cleaning, fixing and fettling was going on.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see Julian Reddyhough and Gus Pope take the start today. They broke their differential yesterday and the Rover P6 is definitely out of the rally.

We’re overnighting in the self-proclaimed party town of Kaunas, but how many of the crews have any energy left to take advantage of the local “amenities” is anyones guess.

Although the top three are still the same in the Classics category, Mike and Lorna Harrison have admitted that they are feeling the pressure. Although they’ve only got a one second deficit over the Claeys / Declercq Datsun, the Grayson / Spinks Escort is charging hard and they’re worried that their lack of power on the tests could cost them a top three position. The Henderson’s 911 though is still leading them all.

The Bentley Boys (and girls) have the same stranglehold on the top three Vintageant spots that they’ve enjoyed for almost a week now and are joined by the newly ensconced fourth placed Clint and Dawn Smith in their Speed Six. Surely the constructors championship is all over now?

Finally, before signing off, we have touching story of human kindness to report. The hotel manager from our stay in Leipaja drove 300 km to deliver Brant Parson’s phone to him as a courier company wouldn’t take it because of its lithium battery.

Tomorrow we’re going to Poland.

Syd Stelvio

Day 11 – Kaunas to Mikolajki – Silly cone implants

The Endurance Rally Association last had the pleasure of visiting Mikolajki in 2007, during the latter stages of the Peking to Paris Rally. Today we head back there through some impressive countryside and some amazing roads.

Richard and Catherine Phillipson sadly didn’t start this morning. their lusty little Kadett Coupe needed some transmission repairs but the clutch bearing was seized and couldn’t be shifted. It was sad to leave them and we hope that they can get something sorted and catch up with us.

For the rest of us though, our early morning wake up call came in the form of a lap of the Nemunas Ring. A tarmac track with steep climbs, precipitous drops and helter skelter corkscrew twists. Throw in a few cone chicanes and stop astrides and you’ve got all the ingredients for a great day out. A team of local marshals was brought in to support Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford in running this test and if we thought that there was a lot of rubber on the track before we started there was a lot more on it by the time we left.

The track also gave the results the first shake up that we’ve had in days. Bill Cleyndert and Graham Goodwin, first and second in the Vintageant category both took penalties in the same chicane and one of them broke into fluent Anglo-Saxon as he left a squished plastic cone trailing in his wake.

While the Bentley is a fantastic long distance rally car, we can’t help thinking that WO hadn’t build the steering rack for this sort of test; but we’re sure that the on-board to telemetry recorded all of this and sent a note back to the pits thereby ensuring that the constructors championship is still within their grasp.

The Classics category also took their share of penalties here, including the long term leaders Gavin and Diana Henderson who wacked the very same cone as Bill and Graham had just minutes earlier.

The Volvo PV544 Fredy Niggeler and Mike Gnani seemed to find that taking one of the sections on three wheels minimised the risk of clipping anything and, as if to prove this theory, Tom Smith and Don Polak also in a PV544 demolished a cone while on four wheels.

There was some great entertainment, and the knots of spectators and marshals behind the Armco on in the watch towers were treated to sights such as Edmund ‘spin cycle’ Peel launching a cone skywards with a powerful Porsche pirouette and sending the offending plastic off into the gravel. Alan Beardshaw announced his arrival on the track with a cloud of smoke so thick that there were some in the crowd who were convinced that a new Pope had been elected.

After the fun and games on the track though we were soon back to reality and a section of mixed gravel and tarmac for the circuitous, but much more agreeable route to Marijampe and the Polish border at Salaperaugis. Once again the frontier proved to be no obstacle at all and our entrance to the seventh country of the rally passed without incident.

For the next three days we are the guests of the Polish Automobile Association. Their Sporting Director, Jarosław Noworól is an old friend of the Endurance Rally Association having helped with the route of last years Peking to Paris, so we know that we’re in safe hands!

Unfortunately though there were some crews who were suffering, Mike and Lorna Harrison who were worried yesterday about their lack of power on the tests were found by the side of the road with a broken Panhard rod. Luckily for them Andy Inskip and Tony Jones were in the vicinity and quickly got them back on the road. Sadly this delay meant that they’ve now dropped to 31st place.

The Mercedes-Benz 220 SE of Andreas Pohl and Robert Peil was also stopped by the side of the road – with fellow Mercedes drivers Giselher Stauzebach and Rainer Wolf lending a hand. There was a big oil leak making mess of the engine bay and after a lot of wiping a failed head gasket was diagnosed. With bit of work this evening though there’s a good chance that the crew will be up and running again tomorrow.

Further along the road, those cars still running were pressing on to the lunch halt via another two regularities and were treated to a short muddy forest section where both the rally fans and photographers along the route were subjected to a vampiric onslaught by the local bug life. Pity the poor marshals, John and Gill Cotton, who’d also been thoroughly fly blown in Siberia last year, mid way through the Peking to Paris Rally.

After lunch another pair of regularities bookended a remote and challenging time control section and the Polish Air Force had kindly arranged a helicopter flypast to get proceedings started.

The pace of the rally was hotting up but in the case of Jim Grayson and Simon Spinks’ Ford Escort it was getting a bit too hot. Just as they had during Peking to Paris, they experienced a small engine fire but with the help of the sapeurs et pompiers team of Rene Declercq and Eric Claeys it was brought under control and remarkably, after fitting a new air filter, the crew rolled into the MTC penalty free.

By the time we arrived in Mikolajki, a holiday town near the banks of Lake Śniardwy and its river system, the rally looked like it was ready for a rest but there was still work to be done. Mark Winkelman and Victor Silveira da Conceicao had to take their Plymouth Coupe into a workshop to have some broken gearbox mounts welded. Arthur and Anna Manners’ Lagonda needed a radiator repair and Charlie Bishop had lashed up a mudguard mounting for his Vauxhall with a spanner as a splint and a series of jubilee clips. Vincent Duhamel and Anne Charron’s Ford 350GT was also in a workshop having a piston problem sorted along with John and Nicole Whitelock’s Ford Coupe which was waiting to find out what was wrong with its gearbox.

After such a day then it’s only to be expected that the results will have a had a shuffle and while the top four Vinatageants are unchanged, the Classic category sees Jim Grayson and Simon Spink’s flaming Escort move into third place with Jane Wignall steaming into fourth.

There’s more to come tomorrow.

Syd Stelvio

Day 12 – Mikolajki to Sopot – If you go down in the woods today

After the hectic schedule of the last two days we took our foot off the gas somewhat today and enjoyed a half day run to a fish restaurant for lunch before tackling the road to Sopot, a seaside resort neighbouring Gdansk, which like Mikolajki itself, we also visited in 2007.

Before departure this morning we were pleased to see that Sharlie Goddard and Suzy Harvey were back with us. Their Morgan has been reassembled and both it and the crew are keen to enjoy the remaining two days to Berlin.

On a beautiful blue sky morning, the Mayor of Mikolajki himself, was kind enough to flag the cars away from the main square this morning and, as the town is famous for world class rallying, a test had been planned at the Super Special track but, after a last minute inspection, Mark Appleton, the Clerk of the Course, decided that the surface was too rough for us to use after the long hard winter the region has endured. Safety first being the watchword, we pressed on, via a set of three regularities on some heavily wooded tracks which are used on the WRC event for which this town is famous. They were in turn; narrow, overgrown, loose and had plenty of changes of direction to make them just a bit more challenging. When the route did burst out onto open ground, clumps of poppies and cornflowers brushed against the bodywork as tractors and mowers went about the important business of haymaking.

This was rural Poland at its very best and, on the way to the time control in Nowe Bagienice where a quick coffee was called for, we counted more than 20 storks nesting along a 1km stretch of road. Easily the highest density of Ciconiidae since the rally landed in Estonia.

The run to lunch, via Dobre Miasto, thundered along traffic free and tree lined tarmac. The sun was shining, the temperature was rising and with a big (and necessarily hot) V8 in front of them, Steve and Julia Robertson proclaimed that they were glad of the shade.

Fish was on the lunch menu in Paslek Okon fish bar. We’d been missing it since we left Finland, but this was the local freshwater speciality, pike perch (or zander if you prefer) served with fries and a salad.

Once they’d eaten their fill, the crews remounted and were free to make their way to the chic seaside resort of Sopot along the fast and free flowing Polish motorway network and most of them checked in just in time for a stroll along the beach and a quick ice cream before turning in.

Despite the morning’s regularities, none of the leaders have changed and maybe they’re just beginning to think that there’ll be some silverware with them on the way home.

Syd Stelvio

Day 13 – Sopot to Szczecin – Reshuffling the pack

Today, the established order, the settled view, the whole deck of cards was thrown up into the air and reshuffled. There’s been a few changes to the our leaderboard as well.

Heading west today, our destination was Szczecin and, with only two days to go, there’s nothing like being lulled into a false sense of security. The end of the rally is fast approaching and yesterday we had a lovely cross country run, a trio of regularities, and an agreeable lunch. Nothing too taxing and, on paper at least, today looked like being pretty much the same.

The two regularities of the morning passed without incident, a mixture of short gravel sections and newly laid tarmac around Pomieczyno and Mirachowo took the crews through miles of ancient Pomeranian forests filled with more bug life than an entomologists conference.

There followed another idyllic run along tree lined avenues on tarmac which we had all to ourselves. A couple of passage controls in Kolti and Porost kept the rally together and pretty quickly a hungry rally arrived in Czaplinek for lunch. The 48 hour car is now no longer required (as there’s less than 48 hours to go) so the advance crew lent a hand chipping and booking the crews in and out.

Andreas Pohl and Robert Peil are back in the hunt with a new head gasket fitted to their Mercedes and, whilst the Morgan of Sharlie Goddard and Suzy Harvey is running they’re taking it very easy.

The great challenge of today turned out to be a long regularity on a disused Cold War airfield in Broczyno immediately after lunch. Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford had raced ahead to secure the site and remove anything which could have given the navigators anything to orient themselves with for this was to prove their sternest test yet.

As with most things it looked simple on paper, but faced with acres of empty tarmac apron and a plethora of possible exits and entrances to the next instruction, those unlucky enough to find themselves in the map seat had to be decisive, accurate and instantaneous with their instructions. On a section such as this it was all down to them and their trip meter.

The course itself comprised a mixture of near perfect tarmac, horribly broken concrete and perimeter tracks filled with loose sand, judging distance and maintain the correct average speed was tough and, once time had been dropped the vicious equation of more haste equals less speed kicked in.

Soon the air was thick with choking dust and blue with the sort of language that only comes when the clock’s ticking and the tripmeter doesn’t match up with the tulip.

There were quite clearly some in car relationships which were tested to the limit and, those crews who share any sort of domestic arrangement might be looking to make amends over dinner this evening.

Through the waist high grass, flashes of cars were glimpsed along with the screaming of engines and the squealing of tyres as the rally cars criss crossed the site in sometimes futile attempts to marry up the all important speed and distance conundrum. It was all great fun however and Fredy Niggeler and Mike Gnani enjoyed it so much that they actually did part of it twice.

When the crews finally did escape the perimeter fencing and tangle netting and reached the main road there was a simple run into Szczecin, a seaport on the River Oder which will be our final night in Poland but there was a small drama for Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman on the way into the hotel when they suffered a puncture and were seen to be receiving help from a local before Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod arrived.

Once the timing chips had been fed into the computer and the results compiled, the full scale of the damage done by the Battle of Broczyno became apparent.

Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman are now looking pretty unassailable as first place Vintageant with the Goodwins and  Rolners maintaining their second and third places but Andrew and Anne Boland in a Talbot 105 have moved into fourth to break the Bentley stranglehold at the top of the table although the Cricklewood crew still lead the Constructors Championship.

The Belgian pairing of Rene Declercq – a commercial pilot – and Eric Claeys, understandably held their nerve on the runway and now lead the Classics category with Gavin and Diana Henderson sadly dropping to second. David and Jo Roberts also did well today and now find themselves sitting in third.

Tomorrow there’s a treat for us in Szczecin city centre before our triumphant procession into Berlin. Rest assured there’ll be some crews pushing hard and pressing on. It’s their last chance.

Finally we sign off by saying happy birthday to Adrian Hodgson and wishing him many happy returns.

Syd Stelvio

Day 14 – Szczecin to Berlin – Street Style

It was the last hurrah today and, after the wild ride we’ve enjoyed over past last two weeks it would have perhaps been acceptable to enjoy the procession into Berlin, the German capital. But no such luxury was afforded the rally today.

A Monte Carlo style street circuit was to be enjoyed / endured (delete as appropriate) early this morning and over two laps it featured cobbles, cambers, climbs and kerbs in quick succession.

Tyre choice would prove crucial this morning and, crews like Arthur Manners in his Lagonda and Nicholas Philips in the Ford Model A had gone for a soft semi slick compound with a few extra cuts – balancing grip for extra stability through the corners. What tyres their Vintageant rivals were running however remained a mystery, shrouded as they were in period style tweed tyre warmers.

The organisers, along with the West Pomeranian Motor Club in Poland  had pulled out all of the stops for this blast through Sczeczin, scores of marshals, miles of warning tape and a thumping euro disco beat added to the tension already hanging in the air. Jack and Merle Bauer sat on the start ramp in their big Bentley, nervously gunning their engine as the seconds counted down. Finally, and with a wave of the flag from the Mayor Szczecin they were off and the rest followed, at one minute intervals.

In two tight and twisty laps of the track the drivers wrestled with the sort of dynamic forces they thought that they’d left behind on the track in Kaunas. Well secured undergarments were a definite advantage this morning to counter both the G forces through the corners and the turbulence over the cobbles. Any body parts not correctly contained were at the mercy of the laws of physics.

Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey literally flew through one section in their little Mini whilst an audacious and much more terrestrial overtaking move by Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman was thwarted by Lorenz Imhof ’s and Adrian Bielser’s big Rover.

In places along the course, the enthusiastic crowd stood three deep and it was good to see our old friend, Joost van Cauwenberge, along with his wife Christine amongst them, they’d come to support their Belgian compatriots, the current leaders of the Classics category.

This test was definitely one that will live long in the memory but all good things must come to an end and, once their track time was up the crews headed almost directly back to the highway and onwards to Berlin where the chequered flag was waved at the iconic Brandenburg Gate and the inaugural Baltic Classic rolled to a halt. Fourteen days, eight countries and six capital cities from where it started.

Our night halt was the equally iconic Aldon Kempinski where the prize giving dinner was also held. Rally Director Fred Gallagher led the evenings entertainment where the class awards and individual winners trophies were presented by the Clerk of the Course, Mark Appleton and the ERA’s Eleonora Piccolo. The Spirit of the Rally – a discretionary award – was given to the well liked and well travelled crew of Charles and Nellie Bishop with their Vauxhall 30/98.

A delighted Eric Claeys, driver of the winning Datsun 240z captured the zeitgeist perfectly when he told us that their win was inspired by a ‘certain Theresa May’s strong and stable mantra’. Eric had brought a strong car, which he’d built himself, and along with Rene they were a stable team. The difference between the Belgian Rally crew and the British Prime Minister of course is that the former were popular outright winners.

Rene Declercq his co driver, felt that along with winning, the best thing about being on the rally was meeting old friends and making new ones.  Along with his good friend Joost van Cauwenberge he’s now an ERA rally winner and declared that he will come back next time to defend the victory – in a faster car.

This is the second long distance ERA rally that the Belgians have won in succession following the Rally of the Incas, and Fred Gallagher appealed to the audience to “come on guys, its time to up your game”.

Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman winners of the Vinatgeant Class were similarly delighted and Bill recounted that for him, driving WRC stages as we had done was a real thrill but the entire route was fantastic. The others crews were great to rally with and the ERA organisation was as brilliant as ever – if not more so. All in all it’s been a fantastic event enjoyed by everyone I’m sure and I’d like to finish by saying big thank you to everyone involved. Jacqui herself added that it’s been a “fabulous rally with some really tough navigation to keep us on our toes. I thought that we’d blown it in the airfield regularity and was very relieved to see that everyone else had as well”! This is the second long distance ERA rally that Bill and Jacqui have won, the first being the Sahara Challenge in 2015.

Following the dinner, a tired but satisfied rally headed out into Berlin to wring the last drops from this fantastic adventure.

Every day counts.

Syd Stelvio