The Himalayan Challenge
21 September - 11 October 2018
OCTOBER 11, 2018
Lucknow to Agra - Finish
Upon pulling under the finish arch, within touching distance of the Taj Mahal, Mike Velasco and Peter St George were one very happy rally crew. This, their maiden victory in fact, follows in a long line of first time wins this year.
Back in March Graham and Marina Goodwin along with Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt took the overall honours on The Road to Saigon. In June it was the turn of David and Jo Roberts who reigned supreme on the Trans America Challenge. And, in September, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks finally got their just deserts with victory on the Alpine Trial having also won the Vintage category on the Trans America Challenge.
The Himalayan Challenge has been one of the toughest rallies that the ERA has ever run and, getting to the finish was quite an achievement in itself.
For Mike and Peter, and the rest of the rally therefore, today was only ever going to be about getting into Agra and celebrating the end of this incredible adventure. With this in mind, a late start was planned followed by an easy 300km down the brand new expressway, without so much as a single hairpin bend, unguarded drop or stray cow.
From the hotel, the route took an easy run out of central Lucknow, where we enjoyed modern three lane highways. Here everyone kept to their own side of the road and waited, or at least paused, for red traffic lights. This reintroduction to the rules of the road though was short lived and once we’d cleared the ring road the Indian version Highway Code was reapplied, with gusto.
The expressway itself was a revelation. Traffic free, billiard board smooth and straight as an arrow. “Surreal” was how one of the crews summed it up, “after all we’ve been through it was like a runway”. Indeed there was one section which appeared to be exactly that.
There was one Passage Control for the day, situated in a rest area after a mere 220km shortly before we crossed our old friend, the Yamuna River which we’d last seen at Paonta Sahib on day 10. And, getting into Agra was easy. The local police, along with the ERA marshals had a section of road cordoned off just before the entrance to the Taj Mahal, along which the cars could triumphantly process.
It took the builders of the Taj Mahal 22 years to finish their job, but luckily Jim Smith and his team of finish line arch inflators fared a little better and once it was full of air, the cars had the honour of being flagged over the finish line by Mohd Mohsin Khan, the chief of the Taj Police force.
There were plenty of family and friends who’d flown in to Agra for the finish and after parking the cars, there was then just time for a quick refreshing drink and a wash and brush up before they were able to nip next door and take a leisurely wander around the Taj Mahal itself, surely one the wonders of the world.
The gala prize giving dinner in the Oberoi Amarvilas was, as usual, a glittering affair, most of the crews arrived dressed in turbans and various types of local dress. A full Indian buffet was on offer after which the speeches were made and the prizes were handed out. A full list can be found over on the results page.
As well as the overall and class awards there were, as usual, some discretionary awards. The Spirit of the Rally went to Bob Harrod and Dana Hradecka. Jan, Dana’s husband, died almost a year ago in Namibia and this was a fitting tribute to a well liked and much missed competitor. The Against All Odds trophy then went to Jo and David Roberts who returned to the rally twice after two serious mechanical issues.
Summing the event up, the Clerk of the Course John Spiller, a man now very much in need of a short holiday, sighed with relief and said that “this was always planned as a challenging event, we knew that the landscape and terrain would be the things to beat but, as we saw in Manali we were thrown a curve ball with the most testing set of circumstances on an ERA event since 1997. I’ve been impressed with the way the crews have risen to this challenge and taken everything in their stride with unfailing good humour and common sense”.
In a final tongue in cheek aside John also announced that this event would almost certainly be running again ….. “in twenty years time”. Competition Director, and assistant potager, Guy Woodcock, here on his first ERA long distance event, echoed this and added that “ it’s the people who make a great event and, we’ve got some great people here”, he also went on to thank the entire ERA team here on the ground for their hard work and fortitude.
For Mike Velasco, ending up as top banana, was a plum result. After years of trying and many rallies “this almost makes up for not winning in Morocco” said Mike, referencing his loss on the Sahara Challenge in 2015. “This has been a great event, despite the appalling weather early on and all of the subsequent problems. Not getting to the high mountains was naturally a disappointment but we made the best of it and the Organisers rose to the challenge with some clever re routing”. He signed off by saying “Just driving these roads is a challenge, never mind competing on them”.
Artur Lukasiewicz and Adam Tuszynski, winners of the Vintage category and second place overall were also delighted. This is their first ERA event and they’re using it as a shakedown for Peking to Paris. “We like a challenge so we’ve really enjoyed pitting ourselves against the rest of the rally. We also like a hard drive and we’re not afraid to say so. This was a preparation for next year's Peking to Paris and, now that we’ve seen this, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve beaten a lot more modern cars so second overall isn’t such a bad place to be.”
The party then went on late into the night and may have even slipped into the next morning.