The Blue Train Challenge 2017

18  -  22 September,  2017

DAY ONE - SEPTEMBER 18, 2017  -  Fontevraud l'Abbeye

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



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