The Blue Train Challenge 2017

18  -  22 September,  2017

DAY FIVE - SEPTEMBER 22, 2017  -  Cannes

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



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