The Blue Train Challenge 2017

18  -  22 September,  2017

DAY THREE - SEPTEMBER 20, 2017  -  Lyon

From water to wine

We woke to another grey morning with the threat of rain hanging in the air although the beaming face of James Gately more than lit up the breakfast room when he bounced in. He's never led a rally from day one - unlike his navigator Tony Brooks - and as well as admitting to feeling the pressure he's also thoroughly enjoying it.

A shorter day had been slated for the Rally today, a mere 273km but what it lost in distance it more than made up for in interest and, to get us out of town a little used traffic free route had been planned. An evocative mist hung in the hills which ring Vichy, a town famed for its water and hydrotherapy and we climbed straight up into the twisty and remote Monts de la Madeleine for the first Regularity which had the cars scrabbling for grip and the crews peering through the gloom to keep themselves on schedule.

The morning time control in the town of Les Noes gave the Rally a welcome breather, and a decent coffee, before the descent into and the crossing of the Loire Valley and its river to the north of Roanne. We are now entering wine country and the sunshine which is so essential to the vine welcomed us with open arms.

The next climb up from to the second Regularity at Cuinzier and the misty Monts du Beaujolais was a tough one. The right road wrong time maxim never rang more true than today as many crews reported that they’d taken more than one wrong turning here.

In the middle of this map reading melee though we came across an unhappy Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner who looked to have suffered a transmission failure shortly before the town of Belmont sur Loire. They feel that the rally is over for them and their Talbot but we sincerely hope not.

Bill and Olivia Holroyd also suffered here having lost third gear but they made it to the lunch halt and will no doubt be busy this evening with the spanners.

Jan and Dana Hradecka's MG PBQ needed some help with an alternator issue, but they made it to the end the day without further incident.

Edward Hughes and Charles Gooding had trouble keeping the doors on their Healey closed over the course of the morning and, at times we saw them wrestling with the wheel, the routebook and a flapping door. Quite the multitaskers!

With the regularity over and done with then there was a straightforward run to lunch via the heavily wooded Col des Aillettes which also marked the high point of the Rally so far at 712m.

The lunch halt itself was at the extremely agreeable, well situated and by now sun soaked Terrasse du Beaujolais, some 24 km further along the road. This was a welcome sight for the hungry rally and, over the terrine starter and pork main course we overheard various  drivers and navigators calmly discussing the finer points of map reading and trip meter usage. There's a circuit later this afternoon though, so we fully expect more such conversations this evening albeit concerning the throttle / steering and braking inputs.

Still, the afternoon afforded the crews a chance to wipe the slate clean and, after tackling the Col de Durbize, the third Regularity of the day appeared with almost 22km on the tripmeter. The Croix du Beaujolais, led the Rally south from the town of Beaujeu where the vendage has just started and occasionally we spied groups of pickers, young and old, busily plucking away in the rows of ripe fruit.

Col after col, bend after bend, this 21 km section had engines and brakes glowing in equal measure. Forearms were tensed, sweat formed in beads on brows on this whitest of white knuckle rides. The views through the trees were spectacular when they appeared but not many had the time to spend much time with a camera.

From the regularity's end, a 44km section whisked us to the North of Villefranche sur Saone and into the first - and last - test of the day at the Circuit Auto Thurigneux. This was a highly entertaining exercise and the two laps which the crews were required to complete, demanded even more of their already tired bodies although in a nod to the endurance element of rallying, the more it hurt the more they smiled.

And, as well as the usual throaty roars and screaming staccatos of the rest of the engines, the Bentley of Michael Cotter and Andrew O'Donohoe made its progress around the track backfiring like a birthday salute.

The end of this Test marked the beginning of the home run towards the MTC, which was at the impressive Musée Henri Malartre in Rochetaillée sur Saône before our arrival at the exquisite Fourvière Hotel in Lyon.

Much like the Abbaye in Fontrevaud, this former Convent of the Visitation has more recently disregarded any of the plain living and asceticism of its former occupants to deliver a unique experience to its guests.

At the day's end there is news of retirements and a shake up of the classification. Unfortunately both Talbot 105s have succumbed to mechanical maladies. Wilfried Schaefer and Sandra Hubner’s Talbot with a broken axle while lying in third place and that of Andrew and Ann Boland, who had been in sixth place, suffering a blown head gasket after some serious overheating. The Railton Fairmile had retired earlier with a broken differential but Denis and Penny Robson are continuing in a hire car.

Consequently in the Vintageant category, the Cadillac of James Gately and Tony Brooks is still at the top having increased their lead over the chasing pair of Richard and Tom Jeffcoate in the Riley 16/4. Beat and Elisabeth Hirs however have moved to third place in their Alvis Speed 20.

The first three places in the Classics category remain unchanged with De Sarrau Porsche still leading from the Manser Cobra and the Brien & Gomes C-Type in third, while the Chevrolet Bel Air of Jack Baldwin and John Hoskins has taken over fourth place from the E-type of Richard and Victoria Nicholl. 

Tomorrow is a longer day so let's hope the crews get a good night's rest before the 7.15am restart.

Syd Stelvio.



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