The Blue Train Challenge 2017

18  -  22 September,  2017

DAY TWO - SEPTEMBER 19, 2017  -  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



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