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The Blue Train Challenge 2017

18 - 22 September 2017

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The Blue Train Challenge

The Blue Train Challenge is an imaginative new Endurance Rally Association event from the same thoroughbred stable as the highly successful Flying Scotsman and Alpine Trial.  Designed from the ground up for enthusiasts with pre-1948 Vintage and early post-war ‘Riviera Sports Cars’, the Blue Train will re-capture that nostalgic 1930’s age when pioneering motorists set out to beat the famous Train Bleu on its journey across France from the English Channel to the Cote d’Azur.

L’Express – Blue Train Newsletter

Click the image left or the links below to find our current and earlier edition Blue Train “L’Express” newsletters written to enhance the flavour of what’s in store for participants. Keith Baud, the Blue Train Challenge joint Clerk of the Course and route designer is something of a Francophile with a fondness for the quirky and the unusual. In our latest edition “L’Express” newsletter Keith recounts the remarkable, almost unbelievable, motoring story of French restaurateur Francois Lecot.

Blue Train – “L’Express” – Newsletter Three –  Spring 2017
Blue Train – “L’Express” – Newsletter Two –  Winter 2016
Blue Train – “L’Express” – Newsletter One –  Autumn 2016

Introducing the “Riviera Cup”

Following numerous requests from owners of 1950s and early 1960s sports cars to be part of the inaugural Blue Train Challenge, we are now giving them the opportunity to enjoy the driving experience and participate for their own “Riviera Cup” trophy on this exciting new event.

Keeping with the original vintage car ethos of The Blue Train Challenge, only limited entries are available for appropriate “Riviera Sports Cars”. As such, the organisers will consider applications for sports cars, manufactured between 1 January 1948 and 31 December 1962, which would have graced the French Routes Nationales on their way to the Côte d’Azur.

Encouraged by the quality of the pre-1948 vintage entries received to date and responding to enquiries from owners suitable later cars we believe that the addition of these “Riviera Sports Cars” can only enhance the appeal of the Blue Train Challenge to competitor and onlooker alike.

About the Event

In a contrast with the ERA’s longer events, the Blue Train fits comfortably within a week without diluting the enjoyment and sense of achievement.  From the Deauville start we enjoy five days of enjoyable motoring to the glittering Mediterranean. Along the way sporting action is provided with regularity and time control sections – navigated by way of easy to follow tulip instructions and marked maps. Special tests on private land add spice to raise a head of steam and., as ever, the ERA’s legendary sweep mechanics will never be far away to help overcome any mechanical difficulties.

The Route

Driving a vintage car across the length and breadth of France should be a pleasure to savour. The Blue Train route will be competitive without being too demanding for Vintageant cars.  The daily schedules will provide plenty of time to enjoy the experience, and soak up the atmosphere at carefully chosen coffee breaks, lunches and overnight halts.  From the Deauville start we enjoy five days of enjoyable motoring to the famous Cote d’Azur.  Find out more on the Route Outline page

The History

In an age before autoroutes and budget air travel, Le Train Bleu, the luxury overnight express from Calais to the Mediterranean, epitomised the civilized way for travellers to exchange the gloom of the British winter for the glamour and sunshine of the French Riviera. This combination of luxury train travel and the Golden Age of continental motoring was the period that gave birth to the ‘Blue Train Races’ when a number of motoring pioneers raced the train on its journey across France.

The most famous of the Blue Train races was the record breaking drive by Bentley Chairman and Le Mans winner, Wolf Barnato, in March 1930. However, the first bids to outpace the train were actually made by Dudley Noble in a Rover Light Six, just two months earlier.  Noble was thwarted on his first attempt, but a few days later he tried again and beat the famous train by 20 minutes! It is these heroic drives by Noble and Barnato that the Endurance Rally Association celebrates in this week long motoring adventure in September 2017.

Enquire

Potential participants can be assured that The Blue Train Challenge will be carefully planned to be suitable for the specific needs of driving a pre-war vintage car, and organised with the same attention to detail that the experienced ERA team have used to bring you the very best in vintage and classic rallying for the past 25 years.

The Deauville start is conveniently situated for cross-channel ferries from the UK and is an easy drive from other European countries. If time or inclination preclude you driving home, one of our car transport partners will be able to help or perhaps it may be possible to return home by Motorail from Nice. The entry fee includes six nights in the best hotels available, all meals including the Gala Prizegiving, Rally Plates, Routebooks, Awards, and the services of the experienced ERA Team including mechanical back-up, doctors and marshals.

To find out more please call Annette, Eleonora or any of the Rally Office team or email us for your copy of the event brochure and entry form. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and offer any guidance you may need.

Phone:   +44 (0)1235 831221

Email:   [email protected]

The Blue Train Challenge – Participants

Updated 16th September 2017

Num Participants Motorcar Engine size
1 Dominic Manser(GB) / Jack Manser(GB) 1924 – Bentley 3-4½ 4398
2 Thomas Henne(CH) / Barbara Wernle(CH) 1927 – Bentley 4½ 4500
3 Michael Cotter(IRL) / Andrew O’Donohoe(IRL) 1928 – Bentley 4½ Blower 4398
4 Roland Frey(CH) / Helen Frey(CH) 1928 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans 4398
5 Bill Holroyd(GB) / Olivia Holroyd(GB) 1927 – Bentley 4½ VDP Tourer 4500
8 Beat Hirs(CH) / Elisabeth Hirs(CH) 1932 – Alvis Speed 20 3571
9 Simon Skelding(GB) / Jim Bunting(IRL) 1933 – Lagonda M45 4453
10 Alex Vassbotten(N) / Anne Vassbotten(N) 1934 – Alvis Speed 20 2500
11 Nigel Dowding(GB) / Mary Antcliff(GB) 1934 – Aston Martin MkII 1495
12 Wilfried Schaefer(D) / Sandra Hubner(D) 1934 – Talbot 105 Alpine 3300
14 Andrew Boland(IRL) / Ann Boland(IRL) 1934 – Talbot AV105 2969
15 Urs Mezger(CH) / Denise Mezger(CH) 1935 – Lagonda M45 Rapide 4500
16 Jan Hradecky(CZ) / Dana Hradecka(CZ) 1935 – MG PB/Q 1030
18 Neil Lawson-May(GB) / Paul Rivlin(GB) 1936 – Buick Special Convertible 4467
19 Jeff Urbina(USA) / Chris Pike(NZ) 1936 – Ford Cabriolet 4200
20 Paul Gregory(GB) / Nick Savage(GB) 1936 – Invicta S Type 4667
21 Anders Thorell(SE) / Ulf Forsberg(SE) 1936 – Morgan 4/4 Roadster 1122
23 Jean Steinhauser(LU) / Anne Steinhauser-Collard(LU) 1937 – Bentley Derby Open Tourer 4410
24 James Gately(USA) / Tony Brooks(GB) 1937 – Cadillac Convertible 5670
25 Richard Schneider(USA) / Noel Schneider(USA) 1937 – Riley 15/6 Special 1500
26 Bjorn Schage(N) / Anne Berit Schage(N) 1938 – Alvis Speed 25 3498
27 Christian Brash(GB) / Matthew Brash(GB) 1938 – Aston Martin 15/98 Sports 1958
28 Tim Eades(USA) / Jim McLaren(USA) 1938 – Chevrolet Fangio Coupe 3850
29 Andrew Laing(GB) / Sandy Mitchell(GB) 1938 – Frazer Nash BMW 327/8 1971
30 Philip Lunnon(GB) / Michael Draper(GB) 1938 – Jaguar SS100 3500
31 Richard Jeffcoate(GB) / Tom Jeffcoate(GB) 1938 – Riley 16/4 Special 2500
32 Colin Weekley(GB) / Veronica Weekley(GB) 1939 – Dodge Business Coupe 4300
33 Michael Kershaw(GB) / Marlies Kershaw(GB) 1939 – Bentley 4¼ Saloon 4250
35 Francis Rhatigan(IRL) / Marie Rhatigan(IRL) 1937 – Lagonda LG45 4500
37 Denis Robson(GB) / Penny Robson(GB) 1939 – Railton Fairmile III 4168
38 Max Sowerby(GB) / Andrea Sowerby(GB) 1939 – Talbot Lago T120 2996
40 Keith Wickham(GB) / Brian Spearman(GB) 1948 – Bentley Le Mans 8 6250
41 Kate Wickham(GB) / Sophie Wickham(GB) 1948 – MG TC 1250
43 Chris Townsend(GB) / Thomas Townsend(GB) 1949 – Bentley Special 4250
46 Arthur Stuhlinger(CH) / Kelly Stuhlinger(CH) 1952 – Jaguar XK120 3442
47 Simon Brien(GB) / David Gomes(GB) 1953 – Jaguar C-Type 3400
48 Gerard Bas(NL) / Janet Bas van Oijen(NL) 1954 – Arnolt Bristol Bolide 1991
49 Jack Baldwin(USA) / John Hoskins(USA) 1957 – Chevrolet Bel Air 4600
50 Xavier De Sarrau(CH) / Lucas De Sarrau(CH) 1957 – Porsche Carrera 1500GS 1500
51 Edward Hughes(GB) / Charles Gooding(GB) 1959 – Austin Healey 3000 Mkl 3000
53 Ron Hughes(GB) / Steven Dixon(GB) 1961 – Jaguar E-Type 4235
54 Richard Nicholl(GB) / Victoria Nicholl(GB) 1962 – Jaguar E-Type 3800
55 Roland Singer(A) / Hans Malus(A) 1955 – Volkswagen Beetle 1192

Enquire

To find out more about The Blue Train Challenge or any other ERA rally event please call Annette, Eleonora or any of the Rally Office team or email us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and offer any guidance you may need.

Phone:   +44 (0)1235 831221

Email:   [email protected]

PAUSE PLAY

The Blue Train Challenge – Route Outline

In the 1920s and 1930s, heyday of the legendary Train Bleu, motoring the length and breadth of France was an adventurous undertaking and one to savour. The route of the inaugural Blue Train Challenge recaptures that nostalgic age of travel with an exciting five day journey of discovery. While not religiously following the tracks of the original Blue Train, our route planning team of Keith Baud and Anthony Preston have combined some of the most beautiful and spectacular landscapes with a fine selection of driving roads and venues to provide the perfect blend of competition and adventure.

The event begins in Deauville, just two hours from Paris, and with easy access from the UK. With its film festival heritage, opulent marinas, fine villas and sumptuous hotels, Deauville is one of the most elegant and exclusive resorts in France and provides the ideal and relaxed start location for the Blue Train Challenge. Our pre-event base at the luxurious and spacious Hôtel du Golf, part of the prestigious Barrière Group, is conveniently located a few minutes from the heart of the town.

Day 1: Monday 18 September  – Deauville to Fontevraud

From the Start in Deauville, the route south uses quiet country roads to explore the orchards of Calvados. It then motors on into the Alpes Mancelles, a beautiful area of quaint stone built villages more like the Cotswolds than the Alps!

We then make for Le Mans as no motoring journey through this part of France would be complete without a visit to this famous circuit. Fast traffic-free roads then speed us south through the afternoon to the Loire Valley, and our end of the day at Fontevraud l’Abbaye.

After the excitement of the first day, a night at Fontevraud offers an incomparable experience. Not only was the abbey once the largest in France, but it was founded by Henry II, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine – Plantagenet King and Queen of England. A very special place…

 

Day 2: Tuesday 19 September –  Fontevraud to Vichy

A longer day lies ahead as we follow the rivers Vienne and Creuse across the empty heart of France. However, fast roads allow good progress, so there should be time to enjoy some of the beautiful chateaux that pepper the landscape in this part of Anjou.

The planned lunch stop is at a private race circuit before we continue east into slightly more hilly terrain. This is the northern edge of the Massif Central, an area of dramatic volcanic peaks. The twisty roads here provide the first real driving challenge of the event before you slip into the spa town of Vichy, a welcome meal, and your bed for the night at the fine Hotel Celestins and Spa.

 

Day 3: Wednesday 20 September – Vichy to Lyon

It is not a great distance from Vichy to Lyon so today’s run is relatively relaxing giving us the chance to explore the wooded heights of the Monts de la Madeleine before we re-cross the Loire and head into the hills of the Beaujolais.

After lunch the route takes in some interesting roads before crossing the Saône and an afternoon regularity or two leads to the day’s final checkpoint at a fascinating motor museum in an 18th Century Chateaux. Of 150 vehicles on display at least 21 are unique in the world. From the museum a short untimed run takes us to our overnight hotel where the reception area alone tells you that this is another rather special place. The hotel is in the oldest part of Lyon within a short walk of the Roman Amphitheatre and the magnificent Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

Day 4: Thursday 21 September – Lyon to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

An early start may be necessary to pack in all there is to enjoy on today’s journey to Provence. Once clear of Lyon, we climb the flanks of Mont Pilat and then motor into the remote hills of the Ardèche, which has been a heartland of French motorsport for many years.

After crossing the mighty Rhône south of Valence, we enter the Drôme, a landscape of sun-bleached hills, rocky outcrops, vineyards and your first lavender fields. Still undiscovered by many, the Drôme is how Provence used to be before mass tourism…

Looming ever large to the south is the brooding mass of Mont Ventoux, a fabled mountain revered by cyclists and motoring enthusiasts alike. The views from its 2000m high summit are staggering; the snow-capped Alps to the north and east, and the shimmering Mediterranean to the south. By the time you descend from Ventoux you will be ready for a relaxing drink on the terrace of your hotel overlooking the clear, babbling waters of the River Sorgue.

Day 5: Friday 22 September – L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Cannes

The final push to the Cote d’Azur. East of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a string of pretty Provencal villages lie along the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. Ancient stone walls divide sun baked fields of olive groves and apricot orchards, colours vivid in the clear bright light so beloved of artists past and present.

Once across the Durance, vast lavender fields stretch to a horizon edged with the jagged peaks of the Alps. After skirting the impossibly blue waters of Lac St Croix, the route plunges into the Grand Canyon du Verdon, the second largest in the world. A 30-km drive along its very edge and over the limestone plateau of the Plan de Canjeurs finally brings you to the more familiar landscape of the South of France; ancient perched villages, expensive villas, and the journey’s end in Cannes – where Woolf Barnato’s legendary race against the train began 85 years ago.

Our French agents are already busy making arrangements for the Grande Arrivée on the famous Croisette, with a Gala Prizegiving at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Martinez where you finally lay your heads after a memorable weeks motoring.

PAUSE PLAY

The Blue Train Challenge – Route Outline

In the 1920s and 1930s, heyday of the legendary Train Bleu, motoring the length and breadth of France was an adventurous undertaking and one to savour. The route of the inaugural Blue Train Challenge recaptures that nostalgic age of travel with an exciting five day journey of discovery. While not religiously following the tracks of the original Blue Train, our route planning team of Keith Baud and Anthony Preston have combined some of the most beautiful and spectacular landscapes with a fine selection of driving roads and venues to provide the perfect blend of competition and adventure.

The event begins in Deauville, just two hours from Paris, and with easy access from the UK. With its film festival heritage, opulent marinas, fine villas and sumptuous hotels, Deauville is one of the most elegant and exclusive resorts in France and provides the ideal and relaxed start location for the Blue Train Challenge. Our pre-event base at the luxurious and spacious Hôtel du Golf, part of the prestigious Barrière Group, is conveniently located a few minutes from the heart of the town.

Day 1: Monday 18 September  – Deauville to Fontevraud

From the Start in Deauville, the route south uses quiet country roads to explore the orchards of Calvados. It then motors on into the Alpes Mancelles, a beautiful area of quaint stone built villages more like the Cotswolds than the Alps!

We then make for Le Mans as no motoring journey through this part of France would be complete without a visit to this famous circuit. Fast traffic-free roads then speed us south through the afternoon to the Loire Valley, and our end of the day at Fontevraud l’Abbaye.

After the excitement of the first day, a night at Fontevraud offers an incomparable experience. Not only was the abbey once the largest in France, but it was founded by Henry II, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine – Plantagenet King and Queen of England. A very special place…

 

Day 2: Tuesday 19 September –  Fontevraud to Vichy

A longer day lies ahead as we follow the rivers Vienne and Creuse across the empty heart of France. However, fast roads allow good progress, so there should be time to enjoy some of the beautiful chateaux that pepper the landscape in this part of Anjou.

The planned lunch stop is at a private race circuit before we continue east into slightly more hilly terrain. This is the northern edge of the Massif Central, an area of dramatic volcanic peaks. The twisty roads here provide the first real driving challenge of the event before you slip into the spa town of Vichy, a welcome meal, and your bed for the night at the fine Hotel Celestins and Spa.

 

Day 3: Wednesday 20 September – Vichy to Lyon

It is not a great distance from Vichy to Lyon so today’s run is relatively relaxing giving us the chance to explore the wooded heights of the Monts de la Madeleine before we re-cross the Loire and head into the hills of the Beaujolais.

After lunch the route takes in some interesting roads before crossing the Saône and an afternoon regularity or two leads to the day’s final checkpoint at a fascinating motor museum in an 18th Century Chateaux. Of 150 vehicles on display at least 21 are unique in the world. From the museum a short untimed run takes us to our overnight hotel where the reception area alone tells you that this is another rather special place. The hotel is in the oldest part of Lyon within a short walk of the Roman Amphitheatre and the magnificent Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

Day 4: Thursday 21 September – Lyon to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

An early start may be necessary to pack in all there is to enjoy on today’s journey to Provence. Once clear of Lyon, we climb the flanks of Mont Pilat and then motor into the remote hills of the Ardèche, which has been a heartland of French motorsport for many years.

After crossing the mighty Rhône south of Valence, we enter the Drôme, a landscape of sun-bleached hills, rocky outcrops, vineyards and your first lavender fields. Still undiscovered by many, the Drôme is how Provence used to be before mass tourism…

Looming ever large to the south is the brooding mass of Mont Ventoux, a fabled mountain revered by cyclists and motoring enthusiasts alike. The views from its 2000m high summit are staggering; the snow-capped Alps to the north and east, and the shimmering Mediterranean to the south. By the time you descend from Ventoux you will be ready for a relaxing drink on the terrace of your hotel overlooking the clear, babbling waters of the River Sorgue.

Day 5: Friday 22 September – L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Cannes

The final push to the Cote d’Azur. East of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a string of pretty Provencal villages lie along the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. Ancient stone walls divide sun baked fields of olive groves and apricot orchards, colours vivid in the clear bright light so beloved of artists past and present.

Once across the Durance, vast lavender fields stretch to a horizon edged with the jagged peaks of the Alps. After skirting the impossibly blue waters of Lac St Croix, the route plunges into the Grand Canyon du Verdon, the second largest in the world. A 30-km drive along its very edge and over the limestone plateau of the Plan de Canjeurs finally brings you to the more familiar landscape of the South of France; ancient perched villages, expensive villas, and the journey’s end in Cannes – where Woolf Barnato’s legendary race against the train began 85 years ago.

Our French agents are already busy making arrangements for the Grande Arrivée on the famous Croisette, with a Gala Prizegiving at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Martinez where you finally lay your heads after a memorable weeks motoring.

DAY

00

SEPTEMBER 17, 2017 - Deauville, France

Welcome to Deauville

Deauville Pre Start

The inaugural Blue Train Challenge is raising a head of steam today in the charming French seaside resort of Deauville where forty five elegant and mature voitures, have assembled at the suitably impressive Hotel du Golf on a hill on the outskirts of the town.

There are two categories running this Rally, the first being for the pre war ‘vintage’ motorcar and a second one for sports cars originating from the 1950s and early 1960s. This latter group will compete for their very own Riviera Cup.

Keith Baud and Anthony Preston,  (of Alpine Trial fame) are no strangers to creating demanding French events, and together they have devised this five day route to the Riviera resort of Cannes, which will surely both delight and challenge the crews here assembled.

We have with us, the usual eclectic mix of machinery ranging from a skeletal 1030 cc, MG PBQ driven by the popular Czech duo of Jan and Dana Hradecky, through a sumptuous, 4168cc Railton Fairmile III crewed by Denis and Penny Robson to an unusual 1954 Arnoldt Bristol Bolide with Gerard and Janet Bas in the cockpit.

The low slung, powder blue, 1939 Talbot Lago T120 of Max and  Andrea Sowerby meanwhile certainly turned heads in the carpark as it growled up the drive. The first time one of these French, Italian and British creations has ever graced an ERA event we think.

Whilst the cars might be very old but there are some among the crews who are, to put it bluntly, very young. Olivia Holroyd for example is only 19 and in her first ever rally, is looking to keep her father Bill and their 1927 – Bentley 4½ VDP Tourer on the right road at the right time. Similarly, another teenage navigator, Thomas Townsend is here with his father Chris who describes them as being ‘total rally virgins’ along with their bright red 1949 – Bentley Special.

Dominic and Jack Manser who were last seen in France in an ‘unusual’ diesel powered Bentley during last years Alpine Trial have today arrived in another replacement vehicle. A 1960’s AC Cobra, having suffered another setback in the preparation of their 1924 – Bentley 3-4½. We’re told however that it will be worth waiting for.

The renowned ERA sweep team comprising Andy Inskip, Jamie Turner, Tony Jones and Bob Harrod lined the vehicles up in the car park where safety and compliance issues were sorted and checked. The Little Blue MG of Kate and Sophie Wickham, which has already pleased crowds of rally fans in the Flying Scotsman and the Alpine Trial is also here and today it received some attention of a different sort due to a malfunctioning trip meter. The four sweeps and one fellow Geordie – Brian Spearman – soon had it sorted though so if they’re not on the top step of the podium by Friday ……..

Bjorn Schage, last seen in the swimming Morgan during the 2016 Peking to Paris, has brought his wife Anne along to the Blue Train and a new car, an Alvis Speed 25. Likewise, his compatriot and fellow Peking to Paris veteran, Alex Vassbotten has brought his wife Anne along with another Alvis, a Speed 20. The only troubles they seemed to be having were getting their numbers accurately aligned on the car doors.

Back in the hotel itself, Eleonora Piccolo, the Rally Office manager, manned the Rally check in desk and ensured that the necessary paperwork and protocols were correctly completed before neck danglers were assigned and routebooks were issued. Soon after, knots of anxious looking navigators were found in dark nooks and shady crannies poring over the pages of instructions and notes, and looking out for anything which might trip them up later on along the route.

Tomorrow at 8.01 the talking stops and the clock starts ticking when the Mayor of Deauville will wave us off towards a fantastic five day adventure.

Syd Stelvio

DAY

01

SEPTEMBER 18, 2017 - Fontevraud l'Abbeye

Deauville to Fontevraud

La Manche to the Val du Loire.

This morning saw a misty autumnal start for the runners and riders lined up in the grey dawn light outside of the Hotel du Golf in Deauville.

Overnight rain had drenched the fairways and filled the bunkers, but in the breakfast buffet nothing had dampened the spirits of the crew’s who were clamouring to get started. The two ‘George Clooney’ style coffee machines were working furiously to keep up with the pace of consumption and the piles of croissants and pastries kept disappearing as fast as the waiting staff could rebuild them.

Outside, along the boulevard, the rally cars were neatly teed up in number order for their first drive of the day and, it was the Mayor of Deauville, stood at the end of the avenue of trees who did us the honour of waving the Drapeau Tricolore to formally open proceedings.

The first action of the day thereafter came good and early with a twisty track test at the Circuit de Deauville and, with little time available to him to change to wet weather tyres, we were treated to sight of Andrew and Anne Boland slipping and sliding their big blue Talbot deftly through the sinuous circuit. Their fellow Talboteers, Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner fared little better much to the amusement of the onlookers.

From the helter skelter of the track though, soon enough it was back to the public roads for a long run through the rapidly drying Norman countryside and its famous bocage. There was little in the way of drama along here save for the fact that the Riley of Richard and Noel Schneider shed one of its panniers on the approach to Saint Quenle Le Pin. Nothing was lost thankfully and after a bit of re securing the car and crew were quickly on their way with the rest of the Rally to the to the first time control in Marechalerie and then to a regularity, the Pays  de Camembert. As you’d expect from a Baud / Preston event however, there was some precision required from the crew’s and, after what must have been merely a moments inattention we witnessed more than one car sail past a well signed junction in the town of Bonnebosq.

The Regularity itself took in part of the August 1944 circuit and as tonight’s results attest, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks put in a studied performance in their big Cadillac which struggled with its width on  roads designed around the 2cv.

In years gone by, entire squadrons of tanks have disappeared into these deep sunken lanes so what chance does one diminutive MG PBQ stand? The end of this Regularity was fittingly placed at the Montormel Memorial which commemorates the Polish armoured division who successfully blocked the German retreat in 1944.

Away from the bocage, we pressed on to the Time Control in the picture perfect village of Ceneri le Gereivia along fast rolling roads passing heavily laden orchards and thousands of cows busy producing the local speciality, Camembert cheese.

After this brief coffee halt then, the second Regularity, the Alpes Mancelles, reared up in the windscreen and, much like the last one this was a section which demanded the fullest attention.

An excellent lunch was taken at the Porsche Experience Centre in the middle of the world famous Le Mans track complex which also allowed enough time for the crews to think about just how they were going to get the best out of the opportunity offered to drive down the intimidating Mulsanne Straight and through the long and beautifully cambered Arnage Corner to the two regularities of the afternoon, Le Casseau and the Pays Baugeois. As we found this morning, any lack of attention was quickly punished but some crews enjoyed themselves so much in the lanes that they managed to squeeze in a second lap as they criss-crossed, U turned and zig zagged their way to the various timing points.

However much the crews had enjoyed their afternoon in the countryside though, the hotel in Fontevraud – l’ Abbaye raised the bar significantly. Originally built in 1101 this impressive building is now a Unesco World Heritage Site and the former Saint Lazare Priory is now a luxury hotel and luckily for the weary travellers who arrived this evening, the ancient monastic tradition of offering hospitality still holds good.

Tonight the leaderboard then is as follows, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks lead the Vintageants in their Cadillac from the Talbot of Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner. The little Blue MG of Kate and Sophie Wickham is sitting in third.

In the Riviera Cup, Xavier and Lucas De Sarrau’s Porsche Carrera is in first place ahead of Jack Baldwin and John Hoskins’ Chevrolet Bel Air with Richard and Victoria Nicholl’s – Jaguar E-Type third.

Tomorrow, the Rally heads to Vichy.

Syd Stelvio

DAY

02

SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

Fontevraud to Vichy

River dance

River dance

Since its conversion to a luxury hotel, the call to Prime, or early morning prayer, which has echoed through the walls of this ancient Abbey for centuries was absent this morning. This didn’t mean that we got a lie in though as many crew’s were up early, as usual, praying that their cars would start and kneeling before them checking such things as tyre pressures, wheel nuts and fluids.

The 8.01am reseeded restart also flew in the face of the Christian convention which tells us the last will be first and first will be last. On this, day two of the Challenge however, James Gately and Tony Brooks could get on with defending their lead as soon as possible.

The day itself started with a straightforward southerly run towards the town of Loudon, after which the fun and games began with two regularities in the forests of and fields of Touraine and Anjou. The first at Dercé ran across wide open freshly ploughed farmland whilst the second cut its way through the densely wooded Pays de Ruisseau.

The miles of singletrack roads we drove along were lined with fields of sunflowers with their heads drooped awaiting their fateful date with the scythe and dozens of brooding and tightly shuttered Chateaux stood sentinel over their vast estates.

From our start on the River Loire, the morning’s route saw the Rally cross the River Vienne and then run along the River Creuse before calling into the Time Control and coffee halt in the beautiful village of Angles-sur-l’Anglin, on the River Anglin.

Martin Thomas and Steve Turner, ERA Marshals du nord were running this control which was situated in the charming Salon du Thé No 15. An exceptional establishment run by an expat’ English couple, Nadia and Nick Wall. Nick is a classic car enthusiast and owns an Austin Healey 3000 and today celebrated his 50th birthday. Sadly though it seemed to us that it was the Rally who got all the cake. A big thanks to both however and a bon anniversaire from all of Rally World.

So, full of coffee and cakes, the Blue Train refilled its boiler released the brakes and slid along the tracks to the third regularity of the day at the  Val D’ Abloux.

Bjorn and Anne Schage needed to stop to sort a minor brake issue with help from Andy Inskip and Tony Jones but for the rest of us it was a clear run to the lunch halt at the small but perfectly formed motor sport venue of Chateau De Mornay.

However, before they were allowed to sit down to enjoy the fish pate followed by chicken in a mushroom sauce, cheese and a chocolate moelleux, the crew’s had to work for it.

There were two laps of a superb private circuit to be enjoyed and as usual, the mixture of red and white kerbs, gravel run offs, endless corners and a number on the door worked its magic.

Hannah Taylor and Christopher Jenkins, the ERA medical crew, were on cone duty whilst Chris Elkins, Nick Reeves and Ed Rutherford sat with the clocks at the start and finish.

Andrew Boland and Wilfried Schaefer once again explored the limits of adhesion in the vintage category whilst Simon O’Brien in a Jaguar C Type and Gerard Bas in the Arnoldt Bristol Bolide showed that a more modern vehicle can slide as well as anything on big skinny tyres can.

Jack Baldwin and John Hoskins were forced to stop mid way through their second run however when their Chevrolet Bel Air threw its air filter cover. A couple of new nuts and bolts over lunch though had the offending piece secured and their day continued smoothly.

Rain was falling as the crews left lunch and headed for another two laps of the track and then on towards the third and final regularity at Pont De Rameau during which the heavens opened once again. Luckily, some sanctuary and a hot drink was to be found at the last Time Control of the day a mere 35 km away in the cafe at the Gorges de la Sioule.

The day’s competition was done by now and the run into Vichy, some 42km away was an easy one and the sight of the Celestins Spa Hotel, a welcome one.

At the end of such a challenging day then, what of the leaderboard? There have been some changes and, in the Vintageant category, the Cadillac of James Gately and Tony Brooks is still at the top but are now being chased by Richard and Tom Jeffcoate in their Riley with Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner charging along in third place in a Talbot.

Likewise, the Classics category has been shaken as well. Xavier and Lucas De Sarrau’s Porsche is still leading with Dominic and Jack Manser’s AC Cobra now in second place and the Jaguar C-Type of Simon Brien and David Gomes in third.

Denis Robson, the driver of the Railton Fairmile 3 knows France like the back of his hand and was fulsome in his praise of the route, telling Keith Baud, one half of the route design crew, that he’s seen some exceptional roads so far. Keith assured him that there was much more to come. Tomorrow we have a shorter day but from a glimpse at the route book it looks likes no one will be disappointed.

Syd Stelvio

 

DAY

04

SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

Lyon to L'Isle s/l Sorgue

Fontevraud to Vichy

River dance

Since its conversion to a luxury hotel, the call to Prime, or early morning prayer, which has echoed through the walls of this ancient Abbey for centuries was absent this morning. This didn’t mean that we got a lie in though as many crew’s were up early, as usual, praying that their cars would start and kneeling before them checking such things as tyre pressures, wheel nuts and fluids.

The 8.01am reseeded restart also flew in the face of the Christian convention which tells us the last will be first and first will be last. On this, day two of the Challenge however, James Gately and Tony Brooks could get on with defending their lead as soon as possible.

The day itself started with a straightforward southerly run towards the town of Loudon, after which the fun and games began with two regularities in the forests of and fields of Touraine and Anjou. The first at Dercé ran across wide open freshly ploughed farmland whilst the second cut its way through the densely wooded Pays de Ruisseau.

The miles of singletrack roads we drove along were lined with fields of sunflowers with their heads drooped awaiting their fateful date with the scythe and dozens of brooding and tightly shuttered Chateaux stood sentinel over their vast estates.

From our start on the River Loire, the morning’s route saw the Rally cross the River Vienne and then run along the River Creuse before calling into the Time Control and coffee halt in the beautiful village of Angles-sur-l’Anglin, on the River Anglin.

Martin Thomas and Steve Turner, ERA Marshals du nord were running this control which was situated in the charming Salon du Thé No 15. An exceptional establishment run by an expat’ English couple, Nadia and Nick Wall. Nick is a classic car enthusiast and owns an Austin Healey 3000 and today celebrated his 50th birthday. Sadly though it seemed to us that it was the Rally who got all the cake. A big thanks to both however and a bon anniversaire from all of Rally World.

So, full of coffee and cakes, the Blue Train refilled its boiler released the brakes and slid along the tracks to the third regularity of the day at the  Val D’ Abloux.

Bjorn and Anne Schage needed to stop to sort a minor brake issue with help from Andy Inskip and Tony Jones but for the rest of us it was a clear run to the lunch halt at the small but perfectly formed motor sport venue of Chateau De Mornay.

However, before they were allowed to sit down to enjoy the fish pate followed by chicken in a mushroom sauce, cheese and a chocolate moelleux, the crew’s had to work for it.

There were two laps of a superb private circuit to be enjoyed and as usual, the mixture of red and white kerbs, gravel run offs, endless corners and a number on the door worked its magic.

Hannah Taylor and Christopher Jenkins, the ERA medical crew, were on cone duty whilst Chris Elkins, Nick Reeves and Ed Rutherford sat with the clocks at the start and finish.

Andrew Boland and Wilfried Schaefer once again explored the limits of adhesion in the vintage category whilst Simon O’Brien in a Jaguar C Type and Gerard Bas in the Arnoldt Bristol Bolide showed that a more modern vehicle can slide as well as anything on big skinny tyres can.

Jack Baldwin and John Hoskins were forced to stop mid way through their second run however when their Chevrolet Bel Air threw its air filter cover. A couple of new nuts and bolts over lunch though had the offending piece secured and their day continued smoothly.

Rain was falling as the crews left lunch and headed for another two laps of the track and then on towards the third and final regularity at Pont De Rameau during which the heavens opened once again. Luckily, some sanctuary and a hot drink was to be found at the last Time Control of the day a mere 35 km away in the cafe at the Gorges de la Sioule.

The day’s competition was done by now and the run into Vichy, some 42km away was an easy one and the sight of the Celestins Spa Hotel, a welcome one.

At the end of such a challenging day then, what of the leaderboard? There have been some changes and, in the Vintageant category, the Cadillac of James Gately and Tony Brooks is still at the top but are now being chased by Richard and Tom Jeffcoate in their Riley with Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner charging along in third place in a Talbot.

Likewise, the Classics category has been shaken as well. Xavier and Lucas De Sarrau’s Porsche is still leading with Dominic and Jack Manser’s AC Cobra now in second place and the Jaguar C-Type of Simon Brien and David Gomes in third.

Denis Robson, the driver of the Railton Fairmile 3 knows France like the back of his hand and was fulsome in his praise of the route, telling Keith Baud, one half of the route design crew, that he’s seen some exceptional roads so far. Keith assured him that there was much more to come. Tomorrow we have a shorter day but from a glimpse at the route book it looks likes no one will be disappointed.

Syd Stelvio

DAY

05

SEPTEMBER 22, 2017 - Cannes

L'Isle s/l Sorgue to Cannes

The sweet smell of success

The sweet smell of success

Today’s route took us through the famous lavender fields of Provence and we passed close to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. The two leaders, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks and Xavier and Lucas De Surrau surely must be able to scent victory from here. Surely?

A bright clear Provençal morning greeted rally today albeit one with a slight autumnal froideur hanging around. Wisps of clouds hanging high in the azure firmament were matched one for one by the criss cross con’ trails of jets, doubtless bringing the friends and loved ones into the Riviera for tonight’s gala prize-giving dinner.

Back on the ground though and with only 297km between them and a possible podium place there were some anxious spanner checks in the car park this morning.

Crews were treated to a glimpse of and a run through Gordes, an impressive hilltop village as they romped along to the first Regularity at Lioux. The low sun rose in their windshields, trying its hardest to burn off the skeins of mist hanging in the vineyards and olive groves whilst hundreds of Cypress trees stood sentinel at the gates.

Richard and Tom Jeffcoate – Riley 16/4 Special – Blue Train Challenge Winners – Vintage Category

The Regularity itself was suitably short and sweet coming so soon after breakfast and rose through the Falaise de La Madeleine.

The second, soon after at Oppedette led us through the fantastically named Colorado de Rustret to the Time Control and coffee halt in Reillanne at the Domaine de Pradous run by Yves and Sheila Lefay, proud owners of a 1964 E Type.

Vintage cars are controlled with the hands, feet and the seat of the pants but on a morning such as this every other sense is engaged as well. Woodsmoke, wild thyme, mint and the sharp tang of espresso and Gauloise from the village cafes swirled through the open cockpits as we crossed the craggy and broken landscape of the Luberon and, the relaxed vibe of a sunny south of France in late September reflected well the mood of the Rally.

Bridging the wide but dry Durance in Manosque meant that the third Regularity, Champs de Lavande was on its way via acres of netted fruit orchards along the Ravin du Vallongue.

The section itself was not a long one at 15km but the long straights, the changes in elevation and the many turns asked that both navigator and driver took notice.

By now the crew’s were in full flight and no doubt looking forward to their last rally lunch which today was at the Hôtel du Grand Canyon du Verdon, a further 60km through the maquis. Spirits were high as we were served terrine along with beef stew and fig crumble to follow and it’s fair to say that no one left hungry.

The afternoon comprised two Regularities, the Col de St-Arnoux and the Montée du Tanneron on the shore of Lac de St Cassien. This hillclimb is often used on stage rallies such as Rally Antibes and the Café Restaurant des Voyageurs at the top was an excellent spot for the crews to cool down and collect themselves before the last 30km into Cannes and the finish arch in Square de Verdun beside the glistening Côte d’Azur.

For Jim Gately and Tony Brooks though this section turned into a nightmare. The long term leaders in the Vintageant category were down and out. Unbelievably and within sight of the Riviera they “fried a rear wheel bearing”, were simply unable to get the Cadillac moving again and had to retire. Their dream of a maiden victory was in tatters but the rest of the Rally pressed on and made for the finish line on the famous Croisette where Keith Baud was waving them in and in the final reckoning it was Richard and Tom Jeffcoate who took the vintage category laurels in their 2½ litre Riley 16/4 special.

The evening’s gala prize giving dinner in the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez was a glittering affair where the silverware was handed out to the deserving crews who dined on foie gras and osso bucco along with their assembled guests.

Our friends at Henriot Champagne were also with us tonight as proud sponsors of the Nations Cup which was narrowly won by Great Britain in a closely fought fight with Switzerland.

The Lady Mayor of Cannes, Claire Anne Reix. Presidente du Palais Des festival et Des congress de Cannes et Conseillère Municipale, did us the honour of presenting the prizes along with Christine Arnal the ERA’s go to woman for all things French.

As well as the category and class awards which can be seen in full on the website, there were a few discretionary prizes given out which include the Tin Top Trophy which went to Colin and Veronica Weekly, the Concours d’elegance which went to Bjorn and Anne Schage and the Spirit of the Rally prize which went to Max and Andrea Sowerby.

At the close of proceedings, the joint Clerks of the Course, Anthony Preston and Keith Baud declared themselves well pleased with the inaugural Blue Train Challenge and commented that “they were delighted with the way that event had been supported and  that it was a real pleasure to showcase the beautiful parts of France that they didn’t know existed”.

Lucas and Xavier De Sarrau – Porsche Carrera 1500GS – Winners – The Riviera Cup

As for the winners then, it was a father and son double act in both categories and the crews were keen to emphasise that the time they’d spent together was just important as the competition.

Richard Jeffcoate, driving a 1997 Peking to Paris Riley was stunned, delighted but at the same time, generous in victory when he said that he could simply not believe Jim’s bad luck this afternoon. This is his first ERA win and only the third navigational outing for his son Tom who is ‘good with numbers’.

Xavier and Lucas De Surrau are in their first ERA event. Their spotless white Porsche never seemed to put a wheel wrong and whilst they’ve done a few ‘father and son events’ they’ve done nothing on this scale.

Now they’re hooked and even though Lucas is going work in Dubai he’s looking at ways of getting back to Europe to do more of them. Xavier puts their success down to a  having  strong car, a simple tripmeter and lots of concentration.

The delightful Martinez Hotel was a Cannes landmark even before the Blue Train arrived but tonight, with 45 rally cars parked outside it’s drawing a lot more attention.

Syd Stelvio

PAUSE PLAY

The Blue Train Challenge 2017 – Rally Reports

Find Gerard Brown’s photographs in Blue Train Challenge – Photo Gallery

Follow the menu links on the left to find Syd Stelvio’s reports from the Blue Train Challenge.